When Sri Chinmoy was a young man in his teenage years and throughout his twenties he grew up in a spiritual community called the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, southern India. Sports was an integral part of daily disciplines for many members of this unique ashram, including Sri Chinmoy who loved running on a track, barefoot most of the time. He was also a very good soccer and volley ball player, developing his speed and strength through these various disciplines. But his favorite sport was running, track and field in particular. He was the decathlon champion for ten years and the fastest sprinter for many years as well. But during this time of his life in the ashram, even a half mile or 800 metre race was a long run for him. After leaving the ashram at age 32 in April of 1964 and coming to the United States, Sri Chinmoy ended his running career, or at least for a time anyway.
Many years later, in the late 1970’s, Sri Chinmoy felt inspired to get back into running, but this time it would be long, slow distance compared to his running career from decades before. In his oneness with his disciples, many who were inspired by him to train for long distance racing, he also trained for longer distances. His first official long distance race was in September 1978 in Greenwich, Connecticut, where he ran the Sri Chinmoy Ten-Mile Race in 1 hour, 45 minutes and 21 seconds, which translates into a 10:31 per mile pace. This was quite a feat for a 47 year old Spiritual Master who always had been a fast sprinter in the past and had not been running for decades.
I remember that race, as I also ran it. It was a very hilly course, totally different than running on a track. I lived and worked in Greenwich for a while and I was used to training on these roads. But Sri Chinmoy was not used to all the hills and he worked very hard to get in shape to survive this long and difficult course. There was a point in his training where Sri Chinmoy got very serious about training on hills. He would ask some of his disciples to look for long hills to train on. Some of them were one mile long hills or courses with many miles of up and down hilly terrain. Many years after Sri Chinmoy ended his running career we had a four mile race on one of his hilly training courses. It was one of the toughest middle distance races I ever ran!
Soon after his long distance racing career got started, Sri Chinmoy began seriously challenging himself to run faster and longer. He ran another ten mile race on Dec. 1, 1978, this time in 1 hour, 28 minutes and 22 seconds, an 8:49 per mile pace. In a little over two months he was able to improve his ten mile time by 17 minutes, or 1 minute 42 seconds per mile faster! Unbelievable progress for anyone at any age in that short amount of time between races. Only 30 days later, on Dec. 31, he ran a 7 mile race in 56:24, or an 8 minute and 3 seconds per mile pace. One could easily see at this point how serious and determined Sri Chinmoy was in his newly found sport of long distance racing.
That was just a warm-up for what was to come in the following year of 1979. Training quite seriously throughout the coldest months of January and February, Sri Chinmoy prepared himself for his greatest running challenge up to this point, a full marathon race, 26.2 miles, or 42 kilometers. Fortunately, the race was held in a relatively warmer climate than his hometown of New York City. On March 3 in 1979 Sri Chinmoy ran the Bidwell Classic Marathon in Chico, California. It was quite a memorable, historic and exciting day as this middle-aged former sprinter and track star who was an adept at meditation and a great Yogi of the highest caliber, took on the challenge of running what was then the most revered and feared, long distance race ever. He finished the race in a respectable time of 4 hours, 31 minutes and 34 seconds. Considering his age, the amount of time he prepared, and his lack of distance background, it was an excellent first time marathon.
Many of his disciples started training for and attempting to run marathons now as they were inspired by their running Guru and his many songs and poems he had composed about this particular distance race. But most importantly, here he was now bravely challenging his own body and mind to struggle through the months and months of training and the hours and hours of actual racing that is involved in this epic event. Sri Chinmoy considered the marathon distance very special and unique, and now he was experiencing it firsthand.
Here are some comments about the marathon that he made in 1979: “The marathon is a long journey. Of course, there is also the ultramarathon, but the marathon is unique and it will always remain unparalleled among long-distance runs. Just as the marathon is a long journey on the outer plane, so is spirituality a long, longer, longest journey on the inner plane. Your own spiritual run is birthless and deathless; it is endless.”
He goes on to say, “When you run a marathon, you are trying to accomplish on the physical plane something most difficult and arduous. When you do this, it gives you joy because it reminds you of what you are trying to accomplish on the inner plane. As you are determined to complete the longest journey on the outer plane, the marathon, so are you determined to reach the Goal in your inner journey. The one journey will always remind you of the other. The outer journey will remind you of your inner journey toward God-realisation, and the inner journey will remind you of your outer journey toward God-manifestation.”
Sri Chinmoy’s incredible accomplishment in this first marathon in Chico was just the beginning of his own personal challenges that were to follow. True to his own philosophy of ‘self-transcendence’, where he says that ‘today’s goal is tomorrow’s starting point’, Sri Chinmoy immediately began to train for another marathon that very same month. Usually after a marathon, especially the first one that a person runs, one needs at least a few weeks of recovery time before starting a training schedule again. But in only three weeks time Sri Chinmoy not only recovered from his first marathon but also trained for another marathon, trying to improve upon his first time and demonstrate the true meaning of self-transcendence in the running world.
On March 25 Sri Chinmoy ran the Heart-Watcher’s Marathon in Toledo, Ohio. He finished in an amazing time of 3 hours, 55 minutes and 7 seconds! In three weeks he had taken more than 36 minutes off of his previous and first marathon time. This was an incredible 1 minute and 23 seconds per mile faster for the whole 26 miles! The term ‘Self-Transcendence’ was never more evident to me and others at this point. Sri Chinmoy ended up running thirteen races that year, 1979. He ran seven marathons in the short span of nine months, as well as five shorter races, and an ultra marathon race of 47 miles!
Although his marathon times did not improve after the stellar 3:55:07 in Toledo, he did improve upon his ten mile time every time he ran it. Many people may not appreciate or understand just how special this is. In less than a year after his very first long distance race of ten miles, he improved on that distance by almost 22 minutes, which means that his pace per mile improved by more than two minutes per mile faster. From a 10:31 per mile he went down to an 8:23 per mile pace for ten miles in just under one year. More amazingly, he did that with 11 other tough races in between, including four marathons and an ultramarathon. But he did not stop there. He finished off the last three months of 1979 with three more marathons, one of them being the very difficult Phidippides Marathon in Athens, Greece, where the marathon was ‘born’.
The following is a poem that he also set to music in a song that expresses the spirit of the Olympic Marathon:
“Marathon, marathon, marathon,
O kindling, streaming flames
Of great Olympic Games,
O Greece-world vision-height,
Divinity’s supreme Grace.”
It is obvious from his races in the following year,1980, that Sri Chinmoy was trying to develop more speed at the middle distances instead of focusing on the grueling and slower marathon. He did not start racing again until March 23 when he ran a 3.5 mile race in 25:29, at a 7:16 per mile pace. A week later he ran a seven mile race at almost the same pace, clocking a 51:18 at a 7:19 per mile pace. Only a week after that he ran a 5K(3.1mile) race in 22 :16 at a 7:11 per mile pace. One could see how he was seriously progressing as he focused only on the ‘shorter’ long distance races. Running as many marathons as he did in his first year of racing at his age can really be tough on the legs and slow down a runner’s ‘edge’ in terms of speed. But Sri Chinmoy worked and raced hard to get some of his speed back as he was determined to make progress as long as his body could stand the amazing demands he put on it.
In May,1980, he improved his time once more, running a 7:09 per mile pace in a 5K race, running it in 22:12. Then at the end of May and the beginning of June he ran two marathons in a one week period. Sri Chinmoy’s reborn running career in its first year or so was like a whirlwind of strength, endurance and speed which showed no signs of stopping. He also started running two mile races quite seriously in 1980. His first two mile race was run in August in hilly Prospect Park in Brooklyn, New York City. He ran a 13:53 there which was not bad for his first attempt. Again, in keeping with his own philosophy of self-transcendence, Sri Chinmoy set his goals very high, and in 1981 he ran 21 more two mile races. His personal best was 13:42 for two miles which is quite good considering his age and all the other longer races he was also doing at the time which tends to slow down the shorter race pace. In the two mile race world, Sri Chinmoy ended up running a total of 76 races, his last one for the 80’s was in 1986 and then he revisited the two mile race again in 1995 and 1996 running 11 more of them. His last official two mile race was on 10 Feb. 1996 in Goose Pond Park, Queens where he ran and walked it in 23:21.
Sri Chinmoy also ran many one mile races during the 80’s mostly. I will continue from this point in Part 2 of this series about Sri Chinmoy’s remarkable running career.