The longest footrace in the world is 3,100 miles long and it takes place over 52 days.
It sounds awe-inspiring. Visions of vast vistas float through my mind: images of runners cresting over hills, of those trying the impossible coming out of valleys filled with deep layers of green, the mighty warriors pausing to look out over waves of spreading terrain as they take in its wonder and the caressing hillsides that follow the path of a winding, eternal river.
That’s what a race of thousands of miles would look like, right? Technically, yes, but actually, no. Wrong.
The race takes place in Jamaica, Queens. Yes, in New York City. Competitors try to fight back the sound of a nearby freeway while making their way among daily pedestrians going back and forth from work as they shuffle over worn out pavement between concrete buildings.
In fact, completing the Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race involves trudging through 5, 649 laps of one simple extended city block.
But, if you can hack it, the point of the race isn’t to enjoy the view. It’s reportedly to look inwards, not outwards, in line with the wishes of its inventor, an Indian meditational guru by the name of Sri Chinmoy.
Here are some of the details: competitors participate in the race by invitation only, as one has to be deemed solid enough mentally and physically to have the honor of trying to finish.
How do they do it? Runners have full reign to run the course for about 18 hours each day. Some are said to stop for an hour or so to nap, but not much more.
Competitors are put up in modest overnight accommodation, two to a room, during the event and most sleep just 5 hours a night while thriving on vegetarian meals throughout.
Reports indicate that only a handful of individuals actually attempt the race each year and according to coachmag.co.uk, most wear out around 10-15 pairs of shoes over the entire 52 days.
Their feet also swell an average of two extra sizes.
Runners run an average of 59.62 miles (95.95 km) every day for almost two months, and cover a daily distance equivalent to about two marathons plus an additional 7 miles, tacked on at the end.
All of this for the prize of a t-shirt and a plastic trophy, and hopefully an irreplaceable sense of mental stamina.
Chimnoy, who has since passed away, used to live up the street from the course and many of the race’s competitors knew him personally.
Last year’s winner was Ashprihanal Aalto, a 44-year old courier from Finland, commented on his past victory to Runnersworld.com, saying:
“It (winning) was like an inner journey also. I felt like [I was] doing it for my spiritual teacher [Chinmoy], in memory of him. He once told me, after I finished my first race here, he said, ‘You can do much, much better, so you come next year and break the record.’ I’m very happy that I was able to do it.”
Fulfilling Chinmoy’s prophecy obviously made Aalto very happy and seems to have answered the question that experts say motivates ultra endurance athletes to do what they do.
“Endurance sports are consistent with a counterculture motif,” Yale sports history lecturer Angela Gleason, has been quoted commenting to newsweek.com. “They have an appeal for athletes who don’t necessarily gravitate toward team sports. In team sports, the question is, Will we win? In endurance sports, the question becomes, Can I do this?”
For a select few, the answer is ‘yes’.