Self-Transcendence 6-hour


I recently had my first taste of running longer than the marathon distance and after this race, I will have experienced what its like to run a different type of race, best known as a self-transcendence run.  

The concept was started with the guru Sri Chinmoy.   Basically, the runners aim to complete as many laps on a small looped course in a given block of time, which in my case this weekend, was 6-hours.  

I was understandably nervous before the start of the race for a few reasons.  I woke up at 3:30am in order to drive from my sister's house in Guelph, to the race site at the Royal Military College in Kingston for the 9am start.  

In an effort to stay awake while driving, my breakfast was little more than some cereal with a Rockstar to wash it down.  

When I arrived at the site, it was fairly obvious I was the new guy on the ultra circuit, as everyone else seemed to already know each other and be familiar with how this type of race operates.  

It was awesome to see the wide variety of food provided for the runners at the aid station, as well as the race bibs with only names on them, no numbers.  Even though I had reservations about running for this long, I was excited about this new type of race experience.  

Early on in the run, I settled into a gentle pace I thought I might be able to maintain, for a few hours at least.  The time seemed to fly by fairly fast since I was chatting with several different runners while plodding through laps of the 880m loop.  

Much to my surprise, the short, repeated distance was anything but boring.   It allowed for a lot more interaction with the other runners, because no matter what pace you were running, you'd always find yourself close to someone familiar.  It only took 2 or 3 hours to get to know many of the regulars of the Ontario Ultra Series.  

Between two and a half and three hours, I experienced my first "low" when I was feeling tired, sore and began to struggle mentally.  My sinuses seemed all stuffed up, I had a runny nose, and my stomach was becoming increasingly sensitive to anything I consumed.  I wasn't sure if I'd be able to keep up running for another 3 hours.  As sure as the sun rises each day, conditions did not remain the same.  Before long, I was feeling okay again and just kept on going.  However, after I passed the marathon distance, there was much less talking going on.  

Just as I hit a wall around 45k in Canberra, things began to seem much more difficult after four hours.  Another 2 hours of running was starting to seem close to impossible.  

It was soon after this second "low" that I began to experience more of this thing they call transcendence.  I started using some meditation mantras in order to keep my mind from wandering and creating stories.  I came to the realization that most of my difficulties were psychological and not actually physical.  After letting go of my "stories in my head" and simply being aware of everything that was going on in my body, I realized that my mind hurt more than my body did.  

This interesting concept served as my main meditative focus as time went on, passing the 50k mark in about 4:39'.  Don't get me wrong, my body was feeling a fair amount of discomfort and fatigue, but the main source of my struggle was psychological.  

With a little less than an hour to go, my post marathon slump seemed to be easing with this newfound sense of separation of my mind and body.  I have long ago experienced the benefits of an asana practice for running and now I was learning more about how mindfulness practices can be used to help me in a race. 

I have never experienced such a clear separation from the grip of the mind, feeling a sense of peace, while still pushing my body's limits to the edge.  It was a very fine balance between maintaining that peace/focus and simply crashing and giving in.   Somehow, I just kept going as time neared the 6-hour mark.  

I might have pushed harder to run the last couple laps, but there was no sprint left in me.  After the finish horn sounded, I just stood there, maybe stumbled around a bit as the fatigue started to settle into my muscles. 

Surprisingly, my feet felt okay and there was no real pain in my joints, possibly since my pace was much more relaxed right off the start.  My digestion was likely the most discouraging factor in this run as I was unable to eat or drink anything without feeling like my stomach was being tied in knots for most of the second half.  

My official total distance was 62.47km, almost equal to one and a half marathons.  I was surprised at how I was able to complete it and feel as good as I did by the end.  It was most interesting to learn how things change so much in those last couple hours and the power that mindfulness has during those stages.  

Not every runner will ever experience those types of feelings, especially when just starting out, but there is that potential in everyone to test their limits.  When a limit is approached, it can only be push further away using the strength of mindfulness. 

Many of the most powerful lessons on mindfulness can only be learned by experience, but it can certainly help to have a few tools to use when times start to get tough.  Training your body so that when you face those challenges, you will be ready physically is just a common sense form of self-preservation.  

This race was certainly not my fastest running, but possibly the most spiritual experience I have had while running, and has only inspired me even more to build Mindfulness Running into a complete training program so that I can share this sense of peace and joy, in what seems like a physical torture to most people, to anyone brave enough to test their own limits.   

After the awards were given out, I was downing another Rockstar and on the road.  I made it to the Moksha Five Year Anniversary party in Pickering, just in time to get some dinner.  The rest of the night, I took it easy.  I slept over at the Robertson Farm before driving the rest of the way home in the morning. 

© Brian Groot 2016