In 2006 Sri Chinmoy made an announcement after the Self-Transcendence Marathon in Rockland State Park that he would like to hold another marathon for his elite running students in April, open to all of his students around the world who can run his fastest marathon time – 3 hours 55 minutes and 07 seconds – or under.
When I heard this – after finishing in a respectable 5.25 – it totally thrilled me! To be able to cheer on the best runners in our spiritual family and watch them complete in this gruelling but spiritually rewarding event…. I couldn’t wait!
April came around and I spent 4 hours cheering my throat dry and clapping my hands raw. Every time I saw the runners I got an inner thrill, I had to keep myself from bursting into tears at the finish. For anyone who knows me, you will know that I am not a ‘cry at the drop of a hat’ kind of girl.
Fast-forward a year and a half and I am at our annual Joy Weekend in Christchurch, it is on the same weekend as the Christchurch marathon. I had been kind of training for it, not really following a programme, just doing a few runs during the week, a long run in the weekend, and a few speed work sessions with my flatmate. She had been complaining about how hard her 200m repeats were, so I did a few weeks with her. That whole misery loves company kind of thing. Can’t say they were pleasant days running, or that I could really function for the rest of the day, but I did them, flatmate duty over.
Anyway, back to the Christchurch marathon. I had made a pact with myself that if I could do under 4.15 for the marathon then I should train properly and try and break 4 hours. If it was over 4.15 I would start training for the 24-hour race. My best time before this race was a few years ago 4.40. Both prospects were daunting for me, the commitment and determination needed to follow a programme and push yourself to the limit was something I was lacking. But in the spirit of self-transcendence I would give it a try.
The day was perfect, the gun went off and we slowly made our way to the start line. I had one of the best races in my life, the first half was fantastic, it got a bit horrible at 25 km’s but with 10 km’s left I perked up, just repeating, ‘it’s less than a hour, it’s less than a hour, it’s less than an hour’. And miracle of miracles – I DID 4.03!!!!!! I crossed the finish line with a mix of joy and disbelief, if it wasn’t such a well marshalled course with absolutely no way of going off course I would have believed that I inadvertently cheated. But no, I did that time all on my on steam.
My friend Pip was at the finish, deep in the crowd of supporters screaming, ‘Oh my God you are so fast’! All I could say in response was, ‘I KNOW’ grinning ear to ear.
A few weeks after the euphoria of the race was subsiding I started to think about the promise I had made. Trying to prepare myself for the task ahead. Sri Chinmoy has written so much on running and self-transcendence. One book that I poured over was ‘The Inner Runner and the Outer Runner’, I found a few quotes that struck a core so wrote them out and put them on the back of my door. I then found a programme that was titled Under 4 Hour Marathon, well yep that was my goal, it looked achievable so up that went on my door. Come November my training started, with the Taranaki Marathon my goal race to break 4 hours. A mere one-month before the April Marathon I was trying to qualify for.
I became dedicated and determined, my one goal was to give it my all. That meant after 11 hours working Toshala would run with me, as it got dark on Tuesday nights, pushing me along when all I wanted to do was close my eyes and go to sleep. Well I would close my eyes for longer than normally needed to blink on those runs, but never fear I stayed upright. Sophie would run home with me after our shift at the Blue Bird Café at 9pm on a Friday night, rain, hail or gale force winds! Then there was the speedwork! You see I don’t have that athletic marathon runner look about me, my running style is not the best and when I am tired or not concentrating I go into an old man hunch. So hill sprints, 1 mile repeats and 200, 400 and 800’s were done but, to make sure I did them to the best of my ability it was usually in a public place so that I would try and look like I knew what I was doing, but looking at me – which a lot of people walking by did – you would of thought, oh that poor girl is just starting to run, oh well it will get easer as she gets fitter. A strange way of using my ego to go faster and smashing my ego all at the same time!
My speedwork was getting slower, my long runs were getting harder and harder to do, my mantra at home became ‘I am so tired’, I never seemed to get enough to eat, but I kept going. Writing this I can’t believe I had that determination.
But 16 weeks later and race day has finally arrived, it is a point to point course, starting at the base of the mountain and finishing at the beach. Running down hill, now that must mean a fast course right? The whole gravy thing, I will be flying down! Yeah right. As any runner will know – which I did know in the back of my mind, I just tired to ignore it – running downhill is hard on your old body, especially the quads.
The first half was great, this was where most of the downhill was, so yes I was flying, doing an excellent time, I think I hit halfway at about 1.52, well within my time frame to break 4 hours, but as the second half started my quads decided to let me know just how much they didn’t like the down hill, and as the km’s progressed my legs screamed and slowed and I started to get worried. My flatmate Garbitashri – a sub 3 hour marathoner – had told me, that when it gets painful just push through it as it won’t last.
Well hello you could of let me know that you meant it would stop when I stopped running!! Runners started passing me and encouraging me, telling me I was nearly there, with sympathic smiles. Which I was grateful for, any word of encouragement I was greedily eating up to get me through this pain. When 10 km’s to go, my flatmates were screaming at me to speed up and not slow down! A little hard nose encouragement was definitely what the doctor ordered so I gritted my teeth and pushed on. With 3 km’s to go, I was surrendered to whatever the fates give, my body was just hanging in there and I would make it to the finish no matter what.
As I turned into the park with about 300ms to go, I could hear Garbitashri screaming ‘sprint or you won’t make it’! Let me tell you she has some lungs on her when she wants to use them and a way of saying it that in my exhausted state all I could do was obey and off I sprinted…. Well I started to run a lot faster, don’t think you could ever call it a sprint.
But it worked, I made it…only just,,,, but I made it 3.54.11 scraping into the Invitational Marathon by 56 seconds. I just stood there in disbelief and gratitude.
Stacey (third from right in pink) with some of the friends who helped to inspire her
And then I tried to move.
I had stopped so my leg muscles decided that meant they could pack up and leave me for a while! So along with my hunch – that I had perfected over the last 21.1 km’s – I now had a shuffle to go with it. Grinning in a post marathon daze I slowly shuffled my way to my Dads waiting car.
April 14th rolls around – the start of the Invitational Marathon – I know where I will come in the pack – last or close to it – but I don’t care. I am here, running the marathon that gave me such an inner thrill. I am running with the elite runners of our spiritual family, me, someone who only two years ago clocked a 5.25 marathon.
One aphorism by Sri Chinmoy that I always tried to remember during my training and running was:
“We are all truly unlimited,
If we only dare to try
And have faith”
Aspiration-Body Illumination Soul Part One by Sri Chinmoy
~ Stacey Marsh – Auckland May 2011
In August 2011 Stacey Marsh ran a 4.14 marathon and then two days later competed in the Sri Chinmoy 47 mile race – so she hasn’t hung up her running shoes yet!
Stacey finishing the Self Transcendence Marathon in August 2011