It is the world’s longest certified foot race: a 4,989km run that takes participants around the same New York block 5,649 times.
Thousands of people have climbed Everest — but just 49 have completed the Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 3,100 Mile Race, organizers say.
Runners finish more than two marathons a day for almost two months, on less than five hours of sleep a night.
They cannot rely on changing scenery to keep them motivated as the route is a 883m loop on a concrete sidewalk around a high school in Jamaica, Queens. To mix things up a bit, they alternate between running clockwise one day and anti-clockwise the next.
“Definitely monotony,” said this year’s winner, Andrea Marcato, describing the biggest test of the race.
“The first week is quite challenging, especially for the mind, but after a while you get used to it. You have to accept that every day is going to be the same,” he said.
Participants have 52 days to run 4,989km, meaning they must average 96km every day.
They run, walk and hobble between 6am and midnight, eating as they go to make up for the estimated 10,000 calories they burn during every session. For the day’s other six hours they sleep, wash and care for their blistered feet in nearby accommodation.
Only ultramarathon veterans who have completed six-day races are allowed to enter.
“It’s a test of stamina, strength, inner determination and talent,” race director Sahishnu Szczesiul said.
Harita Davies, the only woman among this year’s seven competitors, said the race takes a physical toll, but “the kind of unbelievable thing is that as the days and weeks go by your body actually does adapt, you do get stronger.”
Indian spiritual leader Sri Chinmoy, who lived in New York before his death in 2007, founded the run in 1997. He advocated “self-transcendence,” using spirituality to go beyond the limits of what a person thinks they can achieve.
Runners in the 25th edition, which began on Sept. 5, said achieving a meditative state was key to completing the race.
“If the mind is focused, you don’t have other thoughts or fears or worries or doubts,” 39-year-old Marcato said.
However, meditating while navigating the loop around Thomas A. Edison Career and Technical Education High School is not easy. Runners go past a busy highway and basketball and handball courts. The route is not cordoned off from everyday life and twice a day 2,000 schoolchildren flood the sidewalk.
Forty-seven-year-old Davies listens to music, audiobooks and recordings of inspiring quotes.
“When you first come here you think: ‘Oh my god it’s a concrete jungle,’ but you can find beauty everywhere. You can look at the sky, the trees, the birds, the people,” the New Zealander said.
The runners, who are also from Taiwan, Japan, Russia, Slovakia and Ukraine, have a small aid station at their disposal where a doctor is on hand to tend to blisters and shin splints.
Volunteers hand participants copious helpings of food — from healthy vegan meals and juices to donut holes, ice-cream and sometimes Chinese takeout.
A recreational vehicle with a bed provides for quick power naps, while a rickety scoreboard displays the number of kilometers completed by each runner.
Supporters come by to clap, while residents shout words of encouragement, although not everyone is sure what is going on.
“I grew up here and had no idea that it was a race. I just figured they were really into jogging,” 34-year-old Julio Quezada said.
The race returned to New York after occurring in Austria last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Marcato, from Italy, completed the race on Sunday in less than 43 days, with an average of more than 116km per day.
He tore through some 16 pairs of shoes in the process and receives a trophy but no prize money.
“This is the ultimate. It was my dream and here I am,” the ultra-marathoner said. “The last two laps I was completely disconnected from my body. I didn’t feel any pain. It was a really special sensation.”
When the race ends, the healing process begins, which means lots of rest, sleep, food and patience, but one element of the recovery is perhaps the hardest.
“Getting used to being back to regular life,” Davies said. “This race really simplifies your life, because you don’t have to think about anything else except running.”
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