The Sri Chinmoy 24 Hour Self-Transcendence Race, Ottawa – July 2017

Trek and Run were supported during this event by;

Salba Chia

Brooks Running

Tailwind Nutrition

&

Helly Hansen

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Dave and Virgil from the Trek and Run Team took on the challenge of this 24 Hour Event. Here’s what they thought of the day. First up is Dave’s film, which will give you some idea of the experience.

All photos kindly supplied by Prabhakar Street - http://www.pjtstreet.com/

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Dave – The focus of this event was self transcendence, that is, to try to do better than you have done before. For me that meant trying to remain composed, encouraging and friendly throughout the event, and beating my personal best distance of 194km which I had run on my previous 2 or 3 events of this length. I’d tried so hard to make over 200km before, could I do it this time?

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In an effort to get better at long distance running I’d spoken to a Buddhist monk, asking, is there a way to raise my personal vibration so that I moved more lightly through the world? He’d understood the question but could only suggest some texts that might help me re-think the nature of time and space, and my relationship to it. I’d tried to study before the event but time was short, and in the end I was undone by something much simpler than gravity and a misunderstanding of the spacetime continuum…

Sri Chinmoy was born in East Bengal (now Bangladesh) in 1931. A talented and accomplished athlete in his youth, Sri Chinmoy was for 16 years the top-ranked sprinter and twice the decathlon champion in the spiritual community where he grew up. After moving to America in 1964 he became an active long distance runner, completing 22 marathons and 5 ultras, and founding the race that Virgil and I were so happy to take part in, the ’24 hour self-transcendence’.

I felt like I was moving in the right direction by taking part in this event. There’s so much pretence and stunted thinking on show at most races nowadays, most of it unintentional I’m certain, people want to get/be better but they just have such a hard time thinking critically, our society at large hasn’t encouraged that for a very long time. I mean, we love running in nature so therefore we want to preserve nature, right? Except when we vote with our money and feet to take part in events awash in plastic cups, t-shirts made in ecologically unsound sweat shops, goodie bags stuffed with products tested on animals and such like, with no talk at all of improvement other than a fast time and a place on the winner’s podium. So yeah, this event wasn’t like that, the main vibe was one of spiritual betterment and that was something I was happy to be a part of, and support in some way with our team presence.

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We camped by the racetrack the night before so could lay in until dawn and have a leisurely warm up before meeting our lap counters at 7:45, 15 minutes before the race began. There was no chip timing, rather, our 1.8km laps would be counted by a volunteer, very old school and something I liked very much. We were told to make eye contact and perhaps talk each time we passed so that we made sure each lap was counted.

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I think that some would object to this sort of method which, naturally, could be prone to mistakes; people get tired after several hours, laps could be miscounted. But I didn’t mind, the volunteers seemed great, the counting method fitted in nicely with the ‘human/spiritual’ feel of the event and I knew that I wouldn’t be flying around the course with no time to stop and talk so I’d be able to check up on the lap count each time, no problem. As I said, I wanted to be composed and encouraging on this run, I didn’t want to be one of those guys who think that in order to run hard they’ve got to ‘focus on the horizon’ and run around with an expressionless and angry face like a slapped backside or something else like that. I just wanted to run like a decent human being and I figured that would involve smiling, stopping, making time for people and not pretending that every second counted because it didn’t. This was a 24 hour race, there’d be plenty of time to show my better side and talk to the volunteers as I passed them every couple of km’s…

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The course was almost flat with just a few speed bumps to watch out for. It was a warm day, about 30c from 11am onwards; all runners I spoke to expressed a certain fear of what was to come and I was no different. But even before it got really hot I was feeling bad. Usually I get a marathon under my belt in about 4 and a half hours and am still feeling great. This time the first marathon took me 5 hours and I felt awful for almost all of it. I was looking around for shade, stopping and lying down frequently, seeing runner after runner passing me with what looked like ease, it was like I was running in tar. Ok, I thought, this isn’t going to be my day. Perhaps the Marathon des Sables that I did back in April was still having an effect on me, perhaps I was just tired out from a hard first half to the season and especially the 50 mile race I’d done just 2 weeks earlier. Who knew! All that was certain was that this was going to be one tough 24 hours.

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As I struggled I thought about what self transcendence might mean to me, on this day. I’d thought it meant that as well being selfless during the race I was to try to beat my PB of 194km, or around 120 miles. But now I had a different feeling, that each day we live it’s not just the challenges we face that change but also our ability to deal with them. Last year I had little problem doing 100 miles but this year it looked like I’d be lucky to get to 75, and to even achieve that I’d have to work as hard as I’d ever done before.

For a while I walked with Jess. Jess was 71, had his arm in a sling and a leg brace on, and he told me about when he ran Western States and Leadville. It was a nice way to pass a sunny Saturday afternoon.

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The food on offer at the aid station was intelligently thought out. Pineapple and berries for their anti inflammation properties and water content, melon, chunky fries for carbs and salt, miso soup, chocolate, nuts, electrolyte drinks, water, coke and ginger ale, and a ready supply of ice to dump into caps to ease the intense heat.

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I began to feel better towards the evening and went from feeling as though I couldn’t run to working up to a jog. A few of the top runners dropped out for various reasons so just by virtue of carrying on I began to climb the leader board and by midnight I could see that if I carried on through the night, and got my food right, I’d probably get 2nd or 3rd place. What I mean by ‘getting my food right’ is this; it’s not just the person who eats the most frequently who does well but the person who eats the closest to their needs. And this entails trying to tune into your body and interpret what the signals are saying to your brain. I didn’t always get it right but as the night went on my decisions got better and better. Did I need water now, or coke? Was the sugar rush going to help or harm me? Should I have fries or lentil soup? The carbs would be good, but perhaps I needed the liquid and the mental boost of this or that particular taste more? Sometimes I skipped the food altogether to give my stomach a rest and instead just drank a bottle of my own Tailwind. My body was constantly having to work out where my blood and oxygen was needed most – in my stomach to digest my food, or in my muscles to help me get forward – and at times it seemed a good idea to give it a helping hand with the calories and salts that Tailwind delivers without the bulk of solid food to digest.

Sunrise was a lovely sight and the final couple of hours were a golden time. They are a prize that probably can’t be appreciated by most non ultra runners as you can’t get them, or perhaps even understand them, without running the previous 22. Virgil and I were both in high spirits each time we met on the track during this final period, joyous and hyper, we were very happy to have had successful races. Sure we hadn’t won but we’d both done the very best that we could considering our personal circumstances on the day and we’d also enjoyed our interaction with the volunteers and other runners immensely. I was pleased with myself, I’d had a tough 24 hours but managed to keep a smile for most of it and had also come in 3rd place with just over 100 miles, which was a welcome bonus considering how bad I’d felt early on.

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All in all I’d say this race is the ultra I’d recommend as my first choice in Canada. It’s on road, yes, and usually trail are my preference but the whole feel of the event surpassed any other I’ve done, by far. The volunteers and organisers really are highly evolved people and the feel of the event, and the details such as food on offer, course set up, HQ arrangement, awards on offer and speeches delivered at the ceremony, reflect that. I certainly hope to be taking part again next year. See you there!

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Virgil – My first 24 hour ultra attempt happened a lot sooner than I expected as I had just finished my longest race distance  to date, a 50 mile trail ultra, just two weeks earlier and I’d finished that thinking I’d take a month or so to recover. That said, I was up for the challenge. There’s something mystical about running 24 hours, something that speaks volumes about how such an effort requires mental stamina and physical discipline, along with grit and determination when things turn sideways. I had read an article about why people sought challenges that put them right at their physical limits and identified with most of it. This seemed like one crazy adventure though – I mean, my foot blisters from the 50 mile race hadn’t fully healed. But I liked the idea of adding it to my list of achievements – the past month had been blockbuster back-to-back weekends of endurance sport including 2 half Ironmans, the 50 miler and a 200k kayak marathon (so in effect this was going to be my second 24h event in as many weeks!).

As I was leaving straight from work it was a tight schedule to get ourselves to Gatineau Park to set up tents beside the track in reasonable time. We made it into the park right at 10pm, which meant doing quick tent setup and settling in to sleep straight away as the race was starting at 8am. Before long the light of dawn and bustle of everyone milling about woke us up, ready to take the race by the horns. I taped up my feet as a precautionary measure with paper tape and foam tape for extra cushioning. Then we set up our own aid station practically beside the start line and did some mental focusing. This was not going to be an easy race, and it would test everything I had. I introduced myself to my personal lap counter and took some pictures. Just seconds before the race start I realized I forgot my heart rate monitor. Doh!

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Here’s a video I shot on the start line; https://www.facebook.com/virgil.the.triathlete/videos/764073340438480/

We ran in 1.88km loops on an asphalt service road that encircled a truck mechanic repair facility, a Department of Defense language school, and what looked like a vocational school of some sorts. There was not much shade as the sun rose and baked us in its relentless heat, though there was a section cutting through a wooded area with tall trees that would later cast a much needed shadow on the road.

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I banged off the first five laps in an hour, which was a bad sign, as I was going too fast. I resolved to slow it down. After all, the first six hours was a warmup. How many runners can say that?

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David was lapping me about every 8km and offering some much needed words of encouragement. That’s why I began to worry when he did not show up as scheduled after 4.5 hours – and I soon came across this unbelievable sight;

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Yup, David was lying on the grass, seemingly unaware that there was a race going on. Well if that could happen to him, that was not a good sign for me. I carried on. He later caught up to me, but he clearly was not having a good day. In fact he said he doubted that he would be able to complete 50 miles. I was relieved that he got stronger as the day wore on. 

Here’s a video of us both approaching the food station table – https://www.facebook.com/virgil.the.triathlete/videos/764242157088265/ 

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Going into the evening things predictably got more difficult as my body was aching from everything imaginable, and the foot retaping job I did earlier in the day seemed to be lacking. I didn’t want to review it again, I knew I was going to be dealing with pain management at some point, and that point was now. I was doing half jog, half walks, along with the majority of the runners now, save for a few superhumans who accidentally registered for the race. Before dusk I was yawning uncontrollably, so I took some energy drinks to re-energize and carry on. Headlights were useful for avoiding any cracks in the road and the speed bumps, though I didn’t need them later as the starlight made most of the race an enjoyable journey and quiet ‘me time’ in the darkness. Meeting the lap counters was a welcome human contact, a reminder of a goal progressing in realtime, and I enjoyed carrying on some light banter with them. I’m sure they enjoyed it just as much, as they were doing their own marathon keeping track of all of us through the night. 

7:12pm – Milestone reached, just passed 72km, now everything is a PR distance. I’m also reduced to a walk at this point.

https://www.facebook.com/virgil.the.triathlete/videos/764310743748073/ 

YESSSS!!! I just unlocked a key ultramiler goal… the 100k mark in 17:31:50! Unfortunately my Garmin 920xt gave up the ghost at 16h50m and I wasn’t able to get the satisfaction of seeing my odometer roll over triple digits (despite running on Ultratrac). Now I’m using my 910xt to record the rest of the night. https://www.facebook.com/virgil.the.triathlete/videos/764425310403283/ 

5:45am – Sunrise!https://www.facebook.com/virgil.the.triathlete/videos/764495613729586/ 

I don’t know how I survived the night, honestly. I’ve never put my body through that kind of voluntary punishment before. I was setting a goal so big that failure was a real, distinct possibility. Of course, it wasn’t failure in the real sense of the word, as I had already surpassed my goal by a whopping margin. It definitely helped that there was big crowd support on Facebook as I was live blogging throughout the day and into the night. Those words of virtual encouragement as I shared my experiences online was key to staying motivated and energized to soldier on. The night sky lit up and turned to sunrise seemingly within one lap, and with just over two hours remaining, it gave me renewed vigour. You can see my elation and absolute joy as I ran the final 200 metres.

The finish line, finally! – https://www.facebook.com/virgil.the.triathlete/videos/764532543725893/

It took a while to register what I had just accomplished, it seemed so surreal. I was quite relieved to finally sit down and pull off all the tape from my feet and reveal the lovely blisters that still formed despite my best efforts. I didn’t have a lot of time, as I still needed to take a shower before the awards ceremony started. That walk to the shower was the most awkward walk with my popped blisters, and the hot water was the most comforting yet painful shower I’ve had in a long time. They went through the awards ceremony and I was so happy for David to hit 100 miles with 16 minutes remaining, and win the Michel Careau trophy award for the best 24 Hour performance for a first time runner at this event.

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It was really gratifying to see him rise slowly but surely from 6th place to 5th to 4th… then finally 3rd after falling off the 7-place  leader board earlier in the day.

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It was a big surprise that yours truly co-won the Hans Maier Trophy awarded to the runner in the 24 Hour Race that fellow runners, volunteers and race organizers voted as the most inspiring. That was a huge trophy! 

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What a thrill that was to co-win the most inspiring runner by popular vote! Thanks, Hans, for making this trophy available! https://www.facebook.com/virgil.the.triathlete/videos/764557377056743/

I officially finished with a distance of 118.395km in 23:55:10, covering 63 laps of the course (a lap was missed at lap 54 which officials graciously amended). After completing this, I’m a bit cautious about doing another 24h race. YOU HAVE TO RESPECT THE DISTANCE. The body truly needs sufficient training to adapt to be able to run such an arduous distance. I felt that I had the fitness to not falter too badly, but had not done enough training to be able to maintain a consistent pace throughout the race. Also, I still haven’t found the right combination of shoes, socks, taping and run form that will avoid me getting foot blisters. This would go a long way, as it caused me to slow down dramatically.

For someone looking to pick a flat 6h, 12h or 24h ultra, this race comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Not only was there a wide selection of food and drink on offer but the small community feel, friendliness of the race volunteers and scenic race course with no outside traffic created ideal race conditions for everyone. Camping out right at the start line the night before and being able to set up your own aid station was a bonus too!

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This would not have been possible without the help of many people. Thanks to the race organizers for running a great race that was executed perfectly, and the volunteers who counted the laps and stocked the food and water stations, and offered ice to fill my cap and provided hot soup when things got chilly. Thanks to Mina for cheering me on and providing aid station support, as well as being an official race volunteer. Thanks to familiar faces on the course, including David Wise for being my ever-present running mentor, David Varty who struggled but did a very respectable distance and my friend Luc Gelinas, who always amused everyone with his loud clown costume.

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I also made a few new friends including GarChun Low and Kirsten Wiley, and hope to see them at future races. Last but not least, special thanks to my Facebook friends who watched my live videos and offered words of support and encouragement, and witnessed my self-transcendence and transformation into a 24h ultra runner. 

To discover more about the Sri Chinmoy event, please visit https://ca.srichinmoyraces.org/SriChinmoyUltrasOttawa

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