by Arpan De Angelo (New York)
In 1980 Sri Chinmoy was personally fully immersed in long-distance running, which he had just begun in June of 1978. He had trained seriously for the rest of 1978 and into 1979 to run his first marathon on March 3, 1979 in Chico, California. Even though he had not been running for many years prior to 1978, he had a very good athletic background when he was growing up. He was a top track and field athlete in his youth, excelling in short sprints and track races, and for two years he was decathlon champion in his spiritual community. He was an excellent soccer and volleyball player as well.
But fitness can be lost quite rapidly if an athlete does not keep up the training into middle age. Sri Chinmoy decided to bring back that fitness and even go beyond the endurance and strength he had in his youth by beginning his training seriously again at the age of 46. By doing this he inspired many younger students of his to start getting into shape, whether they had previously been athletic or not.
Training for a marathon was a serious and arduous undertaking which most of the younger students of Sri Chinmoy had not attempted up to this point. Seeing how serious and enthusiastic Sri Chinmoy was in training himself inspired many of those who either had not yet run a marathon or wanted to improve their previous marathon times. In his first year of training Sri Chinmoy ran 7 marathons within 10 months. After his first marathon of 4:31:34 he ran another marathon three weeks later in 3:55:07! That’s an improvement of 36 minutes in less than a month. That was not only an inspiration to all of his students, but almost miraculous for a 47-year-old spiritual Master and former sprinter.
By 1980 Sri Chinmoy felt that his students needed more inspiration to train and race seriously, especially in the cold winter months of the Northeast when one can easily lose fitness with the excuse that it is too cold out to train or race. That lethargic notion was soon to be shattered when Sri Chinmoy sprang a marathon on his students in January 1980 in the subfreezing weather of Vermont. He travelled up to Vermont from New York to give a concert and decided that everyone could draw much inspiration from running in the beautiful countryside. Many of his students had made the long trip up north and were used to bringing their running clothes on overnight trips. But little did anyone know that they would be running a full 26.2-mile marathon! Those of us who were prepared to run took the challenge and ran the marathon. Others helped with the administration of the race.
It was an incredibly energizing and inspiring experience for those who had not even dreamed of running a marathon in subfreezing weather. Sri Chinmoy was helping the runners conquer not only lethargy but also unfounded fear and apprehension of something as harmless as a little cold weather. It also inspired everyone to also train in the winter and to be in shape for marathons scheduled early in the year, before the summer months. After that event, Sri Chinmoy instituted this race on a regular basis in the first week of February for the next three years in nearby Hampton, New Hampshire. He himself ran this cold but scenic race twice, in 1981 and 1983, when it followed the beautiful shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean in southern Nw Hampshire.
For a few years this iconic race was popular among serious local marathoners who wanted to qualify for the famous Boston Marathon. It was one of the last marathons available to potential qualifiers for Boston, which was a difficult race to get into at that time. The Boston Marathon, inaugurated in 1896, was the oldest annual running marathon. It became so popular by the 1970s that runners had to achieve qualifying times for their age groups to get in. Since Boston is always held in April, a serious marathoner has to train throughout the winter months to prepare properly for it. Sri Chinmoy’s Inspiration Marathon was a perfect race to encourage and inspire those runners who wanted to compete in Boston, which also was not too far away from Hampton, New Hampshire.
For many reasons the Inspiration Marathon was truly a jewel of a race and a gift to all those serious runners who, at least during that time in the early ’80s, wanted to derive not only fitness but also inspiring motivation and joy in their marathoning pursuits, and thus in life as well. I am grateful to be one of those runners who still benefit from that experience. I owe a debt of gratitude to Sri Chinmoy for that race as well as many, many other races, short and long, that he inspired over the decades through his involvement in the running world.