Self-Transcendence Invitational Marathon 2009

I have to admit I was nervous before this one - first marathon in a long, long time. I hadn't really trained specifically for it - all my long sessions had been on the bike, apart from a handful of "long" runs of 14-16 miles, a half-marathon in March and the Llanbedr to Blaenavon Fell Race (2 hours 42 of hard running). On the morning of the race I felt good though, and as I'd had so many PBs in the previous few months, I set myself a schedule for 3.15 and decided to stick to it as long as I could. My PB was 3.19 and I knew I was in shape to at least challenge it.

The course at Flushing Meadow was a 0.981 mile loop - so with a target pace for the first half of 7.10 per rmile, I worked out I needed about 7 minutes dead per lap. The second half would be an unknown quanity! This was the third running of the Invitational Marathon - Sri Chinmoy set the race up in 2007 just a few months before he left the body. The "invitational" element means that the race is only open to members of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team who have run a marathon in under 3.55.07 (a time set by Sri Chinmoy in one of his early marathon runs). The qualifying time is the same for male and female runners, so there are quite a few more guys than girls in this event. The total fields was about 60 runners, just enought to mean that there was plenty of company on the loop but no problem with getting boxed in. Cyclists rode around in front of the fastest runners, ringing their bells to get the slower runners to move aside and give track to the leaders. Abhinaba, the eventual winner from Holland who ran 2.36 passed me quite a few times, and it was great to see him in full flow. The loop course is not an appealing idea to many runners, but the camaraderie it fosters, and the inspiration that the mid pack runners get from seeing the elites come past, are real positives. Runners who get over their aversion and try racing on a loop course usually end up appreciating it. In the Sri Chinmoy club we do lots of events like this, and we've have all grown to love it.

The race started at 8.07 with a few announcements about the course, the introduction of the lap counters, and then a short meditation at the start line. Then we were off, on a cool and overcast morning, around a loop that was as close to flat as you can get and featured only one tight bend (a full hairpin, but marked out with cones so it was not as tight as running around a post). Everything went pretty muchaccording to plan - I stuck to my schedule right through to around mile 15 when it started to get tough and I was lapsing into 7.15 and 7.25 laps (around 7.25 or 7.35 miles). I started on the energy gels, and kept drinking, but I knew the lack of quality long training runs would make the second half uncomfortable. I stayed in a good mood throughout (though my facial epression may have suggested otherwise) and there were no dangerous aches and pains - the "bad knee" was well behaved. The only problem was an emergency bathroom stop at around mile 15 which added a minute to my lap, but I had been expecting that, and with a loop course pitstops are not a problem as you are never more than a few minutes from civilisation.

As I got closer to 20 miles, the lap times kept slipping by a few seconds, but I still felt strong and the gels were doing their job of staving off the "wall", so I never really hit it. Musicians appeared around the course and that, coupled with the fact that there were lots of people I knew cheering me on at several points on the loop, meant that I stayed cheerful right through (which in turn makes you stronger in the face of painful legs and creeping fatigue). By the time the last lap came around, I knew I couldn't fail in my shot at a PB, and I kicked a slightly quicker lap than the previous half dozen - it felt really fast but in reality was probably only 8 minute pace!

By the time I threw myself over the line the clock was on 3.16, taking some 3 mins off my PB, so I was really happy. I'd put in a reasonable effort and got a good result (by my standards) in return. Most pleasing were the fact that I'd had something left in the tank to kick with at the end, I'd suffered no cramps or flaring up of old injuries and I'd also enjoyed a pretty cheerful and positive mood throughout - the whole race was characterised by that positive, joyful and uplifting mood that everyone shared - runners and helpers alike. Having done so many races recently I've come to appreciate more and more the unique atmosphere that the Sri Chinmoy events have - it's something priceless, and my description doesn't do it justice - you'd have to take part to feel it for yourself.


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