Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Sri Chinmoy 7-Hour Race report

To be honest, I don't know where or when I heard about this race. I think I was aware -- at least faintly aware -- of their recurring 2-mile race series, since it shows up on local race calendars. I think maybe they entered my consciousness when I heard about the 3100-Mile Race, held annually in New York City. (More on that at another time...)

But the the last couple of years this race has been knocking around my consciousness. And this year, I screwed up my courage and signed up. I was nervous -- I mean, how far COULD I run in 7 hours? Remembering, of course, to factor in that I hadn't run longer than 13.1 miles in months and months and months...

Race day dawned with a drizzle. I packed up some extra clothes, spare shoes (in case my feet got soaked), a water bottle with some energy drink, and some snacks (sausages, quinoa cakes, and paneer) and drove out to Magnuson Park for the race. Daulot, the race director, had sent really helpful instructions before the race... trust me, it's easy to get pointed in the wrong direction inside Magnuson Park!

well signed, and nicely detailed driving directions -- always a good omen!
When I approached the start/finish area, I spotted a couple of runners and knew I was in the right place. No one was moving with particular speed, but then again most of them had already been running for OVER FIVE HOURS. I parked the car, hyperventilated nervously for a minute or two, then got out and went to the registration table. 

they drew stars on my bib -- how cute are these people?!?

Everyone was SO AMAZINGLY NICE it was ... totally disarming. I said that I was nervous and everyone -- runners and volunteers alike -- all were cheerful and optimistic and supportive. I picked up my race number and nice long-sleeved tech tee ("the women's shirts were running large, so I went one size down for you") and then looked around a little, trying to calm my nerves. 

There was a nice banner:

"If we believe in our own Self-transcendence task, then there can be no unreachable goal." - Sri Chinmoy

And a set of information boards about Sri Chinmoy -- whose face really exudes kindness, I think!

perhaps the epitome of "run happy"?

I am both intrigued and delighted by a person who believes that we can achieve transcendence -- SELF transcendence -- through exercise in general, and running in particular. And in the hours to come I would have a LOT of time to think about it.

This public art work, "Fin Art", was the last stretch of each loop. I came to use the fins as something to lean on to dig gravel out of my shoes, and it was with a little relief that I ran through them each time.

"Fin Art" is made from decommissioned submarine parts -- and grouped like the fins of a pod of orcas
But the kindness of the volunteers and spotting some running pals still wasn't enough to calm me down, so I went to sit in the car for a few minutes. Breathe in, breathe out...

With about 15 minutes before the start, I went back to the starting area to take a look around. I was introduced to my counter. That's right, I had my own personal counter who would track my laps and splits. 

We had a brief pre-race talk. The course was marked with orange flags on the left-hand side of the route, except where the course turned right, then they would be on the right-hand side. Simple. (And really, really well marked.)

Everyone looked a little nervous -- well with a couple of exceptions. But most of us had never attempted this sort of thing before and had a "well, we'll see" sort of attitude. 

We had a moment of silence and then Daulot blew a horn, and we headed off. 

I was really nervous that I would somehow lose the route and get lost ... so I might have run a little too fast at first, keeping up with the fellas for most of the first mile. But then I realized that the course was really well marked, so relaxed and forced myself to walk intervals to "save my legs".

The course was really nice -- a mix of paved roads, packed gravel, packed dirt, and even some springy grass and bark. You might think that a loop of 1.54 miles, run repeatedly, would be really boring -- but it's not that bad, really. First, there were a lot of different "feels" along the course, from the paved road (like a walkway in an urban park), then the packed gravel around grassy knolls, past baseball diamonds and a mixed use soccer/ultimate frisbee field, then into a forest trail, then onto a disused road, then through the grass and bark (and Fin Art) back to the finish.

It occurred to me that the course was something of a mandala -- a repeating pattern to help you meditate. But then again I got pretty tired and endorphin-goofy along the way...

Janice (a Mainly Marathons / Sweet Quadzukilla fellow traveller) told me that she (and some others) had an early start at 8am so they could wrap up at 3. I was surprised by this, and wished, momentarily, that I had known about that option. However, it was POURING early in the morning -- and for me, the rain never was stronger than a drizzle. So clearly the universe was smiling on me and my fellow standard-start 7-hour runners!

I had decided to run short intervals to try and save my legs: 2 minutes running, 1 minute walking. Lather, rinse, repeat. This actually lasted for quite a while, with the exception of the first lap after the top of each hour, when I would pick up some food and eat it while power walking along. I actually was even banking time. See, I had set my goal at 50K -- for which I would need to complete 21 laps. So, three laps / hour.

It actually went okay for the first or so hours. I was ahead of pace, moving well, and feeling pretty optimistic. But then my hip started hurting (perhaps a storm was a-comin'?) and I decided to back down my intervals to 1:15 / 1.

I sent Wil a text just before 3:30:

a little good news, a little bad news...

So at the halfway point, I was well past my mileage goal. However, the wheels had pretty much come off.

From that moment on, I probably didn't run another step.

See, I discovered that, for me anyway, it's much easier to think "okay, just 5 more miles left" or even "okay, just 10 more miles left" than it is to think "okay, just 3 and a half more hours left". HOURS. It was clearly a mental effort that I wasn't prepared for.

However, right before this point, I passed a man on the course. He asked how I was doing, and I said, "okay" but without much enthusiasm. He said, "You should be proud of your all you have accomplished so far ... and you should be kinder to yourself."

In my tired and endorphin-addled state, this was enough to make me burst into tears. But I kept thinking about it, over and over, as I moved around the course. It's good advice for all parts of my life, frankly. (I also went off on a tangent in my mind about "if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him" phrase one often hears; but then thought "if I met the Buddha on my run, I'm guessing he just gave me good advice"...)

Many of my fellow runners had shirts with Sri Chimney quotations on them. One of my favorites: "Exhale the dust of the past, inhale the perfume of the future."

The course included a couple of spots where runners would pass each other, and I would always exchange greetings with everyone. But after 3, when a lot of "early starters" finished their 7 hours, the course got pretty lonely:

But that was okay, because each time I came into the start/finish area, the counters would let out a cheer ("Sunny! It's Sunny!") and the person manning the tracking board would give me a little encouragement ("double digits!"). And if I went over to the snack or drink table, someone would gently refill my water bottle and suggest a treat before sending me back on my way. Really sweet, really gentle. 

At around 5:30 I was balancing against one of the "Fins", digging out gravel from my shoe, when a passer-by said, "Don't worry, you're almost finished!" in an encouraging voice. I said, "Yes! Only 90 minutes left!" and they looked really confused. "No, really -- it's just around the corner!"

Occasionally I would be approached by someone who asked what on earth we were doing, and they always looked at me with horror... "But ... but ... SEVEN HOURS?!?!"


I started doing math in my head ... I knew that partial laps wouldn't count, so unless I got back to the start/finish with, say, 23-27 minutes to go, I wouldn't make it around in time. Then I realized I couldn't think that far in the future or I'd start to self-sabotage -- that is, make sure I didn't have enough time for a last lap! 

So, round and around I scuttled, across the road, down the paved walkway, along the "causeway" through the swampy bit, around the grassy knoll, back along the causeway, up the hill and past the increasingly deserted playing fields, into the woods, through the bushes, along the abandoned road, on the turn through Fin Art, and past the start/finish to cheers from the counters. Tootsie Roll Midgee, Dixie Cup of Coke or ginger ale, and a little mental reset, and I was back out on the course. 

In the end, I limped in -- and yet was still hailed as a conquering hero -- with 17 minutes to spare having completed 19 laps. Two laps shy of my goal, but still more than a marathon -- so I felt pretty great about that. 29.26 miles. Oof.

this board showed everyone's lap count -- maybe I could squeeze one more lap in in the remaining 14 minutes? nah...
I made a point of thanking all the counters for being so supportive -- they told me that every time I came through they all sang "Sunny" amongst themselves -- and stood near the finish to cheer the rest of the runners in. It was pretty astounding to watch. I mean, look at that board -- some of the people ran dozens of laps in their 13-hour day. Crazy.

Once it hit 7:02 (the races had all started at :02 past the hour), Daulot blew the horn again and we all whooped. Everyone had come in and now it was time to celebrate, commiserate, and EAT.

Silence Heart Nest restaurant in Fremont had brought in a delicious vegetarian dinner and all the volunteers quickly got it set up: mashed potatoes (seriously, some of the best I have ever had), mushroom gravy (sooooo good, and when I used Bing to look up the URL for their restaurant, the second suggested result was "Silence Heart Nest mushroom gravy recipe"), "Neat Loaf", their hearty vegetarian meatless loaf, and a spinach salad. I inhaled a plate and resolved to eat in the restaurant sooner rather than later!

Then there were medals for all, and awards divided into three age categories. And well, this was a surprise:

trophy? I got a trophy???
A pie raffle, pie and cake for all, and then the party broke up. I had managed to let myself get really cold, so hurried to the car and shivered all the way home. (Full disclosure: I got home, stood in a hot shower for a long time, and then collapsed on the couch for hours.)

There were many times that I thought, "I can't finish this" and "I'll NEVER do this again". But the kindness of the volunteers and my fellow runners ... has me thinking about running next year already.

Race information at http://us.srichinmoyraces.org/Seattle7and13.


  1. Awesome Sunny! Thank you sooo much for writing this up. and for the great pictures too. Good memories. Thanks for the kind feedback "really sweet, really gentle" - that was me at the food and water tables. So glad you felt nurtured. We so look forward to seeing you next race!

  2. Sweet Julie! Thank you again, so much, for the kindness you bestowed on me and all the other runners. We truly couldn't have done it without you and the other volunteers!

  3. Great article!

    I liked it very much!

    Thank you for sharing your experience!

  4. Sunny, you are the most!
    Love, Gretch