It’s called the Everest of Ultra Running. But Mount Everest has been summitted by more than 4,000 people. The Self Transcendence race has only been finished by 43 people in the 22 years it has been run. It is certified as the world’s longest foot race. Runners run the equivalent of two marathons each day for two months. They do this with only five hours sleep each night. They’ll stress internal organs and destroy from 15-30 pairs of shoes before finishing the race. Almost every racer who enters the race will fail.
Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 3,100 Mile Race
The Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 3,100 Mile Race takes place in New York City on 84th Avenue, along Grand Central Parkway, around Thomas Edison High School, down 168 Street, and back to 84th. It’s the equivalent of running from far north of New York City to San Diego, California. Only elite “ultra runners” are accepted into the event – and few of them are able to complete the race.
The race rules are simple. Runners have 52 days in which to complete the race. They are only allowed to run between 6:00 AM and Midnight. During the six hours the course is closed, they must quickly eat, shower, and sleep. The fastest runner completed the race in 40 days, nine hours, and six minutes (2015) and averaged almost 77 miles per day.
The race requires running around a New York City block 5,649 times. To complicate matters, the race is run in Jamaica, Queens, an area that is not safe even by New York City standards. One runner remembers running the race in 2009.
“In the beginning, nobody would want to leave their car on the street – there would only be a few pieces left in the morning.”
The roads and sidewalks are not closed for the race which means runners must share the sidewalk with everyday pedestrians. They run in the cold, heat, humidity, and rain. The toll on the runner’s body is ruthless. Yolanda Holder has completed 540 marathons in her running career and even she admitted the race was brutal. When she ran the Self-Transcendence race in 2018, she suffered blisters so bad she had to be taken to the hospital emergency room. She pulled out of the race and required more than a year to recover from her injuries.
Racers must eat constantly – like every lap – to take in the 10,000 calories per-day required to fuel the body to drive it through the extreme demands of the race. Some drink 3-gallons of ice cream a day, others down raw eggs, loaded French toast, candy bars, and smoothies. The excessive consumption of food wreaks havoc on the runner’s gall bladder forcing some to consume 5-6 beers a day to stimulate the stomach and gall bladder (oddly, doctors recommend non-alcoholic beer for just this purpose).
The race was started by popular New York spiritual leader Sri Chimnoy, and as per the race’s name, some racers do experience “self transcendence” during their run. One racer explained her experience:
“I saw myself right in front of me. It was very, very scary. The next night, I saw myself again and I said: ‘You go, girl.’ I really tapped into my inner self and spirituality.”
Race organizers work from a single foldable table along the route. Results are posted on a chain link fence at the starting line near the Thomas Edison High School. On most days a small crowd cheers the runners each time they cross the finish line.
Why would a runner put themselves through such agony?
Each runner has his or her own reasons for running the brutal race. One runner explained,
“It’s kind of funny. I guess it’s one of the paradoxes of the human being, with all these different conflicting pieces inside of us. Our body, our mind, would maybe like to go home and rest, but then you’ve got something deeper and that’s just really enjoying being at the peak of capacity. I guess it’s the same reason why people swim the English Channel or do Everest, there’s some part, when you really push yourself, some inmost part of you that just gets tremendous joy.”
Another noted a surreal altercation of their outlook on life in general.
“When you finish the race, you value things differently. Some things are not so important anymore. After the race, the things that used to be big things become small. It used to be ‘oh, no, I broke my phone’ or ‘I lost my keys’ and the mind makes a big deal out of it. But after this race, you’re just like ‘oh, who cares.’”