The Self Transcendence 12 Hour Walk takes place every year on April 12th at Jamaica Track, Queens, NY. Members of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team from all over the world are gathered in New York at this time for the big celebration on April 13th of the anniversary of Sri Chinmoy's arrival in the West from India in 1964. The 12 Hour Walk itself was inaugurated many years ago in honour of this significant anniversary, and in 2005 as on many previous occasions the race began on April 12th and finished on the morning of the 13th.
2005 was my third attempt at the walk. My first, which I think was in 1998, was one of those occasions when the walk is held in daylight hours rather than overnight. The distances achieved were good, and my 53.75 miles remains my PB, and earnt me 18th position. I pushed myself very heard and suffered a fair bit - the recovery took weeks. A year or two later I entered again - this time the walk was through the cold night and distances were not so great for most participants - I managed just over 51 miles of recorded distance and about 600 yards of "part lap" which was not recorded. This took me into 13th position, and I was very happy with that - although I had not covered as many miles as on my first attempt I felt I had been in a better "consciousness" throughout. This is, after all, what the race is for; not just to cover the distance but to have positive inner experiences. I should say at this point that the event is an "invitational" held by our club, not an open race, and many entrants treat "The Walk" as a meditative rather than athletic event. Personally, I find the physical dimension of a race - the striving, the exertion, the summoning up of inner reserves and inner strength - to be a spiritual process in it's own right. Sometimes I feel myself in a slightly meditative state when running or walking, but usually in a race the experience is more one of "concentration" than meditation proper.
2005 was my comeback year - I had avoided The Walk for several years because of injury troubles, but having finally seen these problems overcome in 2004 I felt there was no good reason not to take part. I did have some reservations - I could remember just how tough this event gets and how hard it is to keep pushing yourself for the whole 12 hours. Anyhow, as we lined up at the start, I was determined to cover a reasonable distance, but also keen to stay in good spirits, enjoy the event, and be happy with whatever I achieved. The race began with a meditation at 7pm - it was a cool evening and we expected it to become very cold indeed by the early hours of the morning. After the meditation, we set off around the track that makes up about a fifth of the course (the other four fifths are a pavement loop around the schools and residential streets that surround the track). A few people went off at a frightening pace, but I stuck to my target of 4 laps per hour, which itself was very testing.
I managed to stay at a decent pace for the first half of the event, drinking regularly and eating solid food every three hours. I am not a trained race walker so I just adopted a simple gait with minimal arm movement - the arms can ache like crazy if you try swinging them for 12 hours and they aren't used to it! The freezing temperatures did not arrive, and we were treated to lots of musical performances from well wishers who set up their instruments at the trackside or simply stood by the roadside and sang. My own group, Ananda, came and played for a while which was great to hear - not sure how Dave managed to keep his fingers nimble enough to play guitar chords but they sounded brilliant and stayed long enough for me to pass them several times as I clocked up the laps.
I had a brief spell of "stardom" as my name got on the leader board - first in 7th place then creeping up to 6th - but in the second half of the walk I couldn't maintain the early pace and a number of athletes with better stamina came past me. Happily, I stayed on course for the distance I was really hoping for - the 51+ miles I had managed several years before - and my spirits stayed high throughout. In the late stages my feet suffered a little - I was wearing racer-trainers for their lightness, but while their cushioning was more than adequate the support they gave my feet was a little lacking - still, you live and learn.I was kept amused at this stage by the lap counters calling out "God Save The King" each time I passed. I never did find out why, but it was always accompanied by laughter and any laughter is priceless when you are hard at it for 12 hours in an ultradistance walk! Sri Chinmoy himself came down to the course by car to inspire the runners just before dawn - he was in a meditative mood as one of his students drove him slowly around the course so he could see every participant at least once.
When the horn sounded at 7am and those 12 eternal hours were finally up, I had covered 51+ miles again on paper, but my final "part lap" that goes unrecorded was about a mile - so while this wasn't my best ever 12 hour performance it was an improvement on my previous outing, and I was well pleased. It was also my best ever postion - 12th place.
I want to thank the organisers - Pratyaya et. al. - for their amazing work in organising this event every year. Long may it continue.