The challenges are aplenty in the world of running. There are 10Ks, marathons and even ultramarathons. But all of those pale in comparison to a competition currently being staged in New York.
As you read this, 12 runners are completing a 3,100 mile (yes, you read that right) race around a single block in Queens. The competition, which can last up to 52 days, involves runners doing 5,649 laps around the .54 mile block of Grand Central Parkway and 84th Avenue.
Dubbed the Self-Transcendence 3,100 Mile Race, the competition was started by the famous Bengali spiritual guru Sri Chinmoy. The location was chosen because of its proximity to the "self-transcendence" movement's spiritual center.
To complete the challenge, which involves running at least 60 miles a day while avoiding pedestrians, construction sites, dog feces and other obstacles, runners must be as strong mentally as they are physically.
“It’s like Mount Everest," Sahishnu Szczesiul, one of the race directors, told Business Insider. “It’s there and people want to climb it.”
Many of the competitors will run from 6 a.m. until midnight, and they only take two to three half-hour breaks during the day. Organizers mark their progress on a clipboard and hand out food and drinks. Szczesiul told Business Insider that runners consume between 7,000 and 10,000 calories per day and are limited to vegetarian items. Most of the runners are followers of Chinmoy, who advocated a vegetarian diet.
The competitors, who hail from all over the world, also come prepared with upwards of 10 pairs of running shoes. Pounding the concrete for nearly two months will take a toll on any sneaker.
"You need to let your heart be in control," Suprabha Beckjord, who has completed the race more than a dozen times, told the Wall Street Journal last year. "The mind is always analyzing and dividing everything up: 'Whoa! There are a lot of miles!' But the heart doesn't analyze and measure so much. So you focus on the heart and find joy in whatever you encounter."
Perhaps the most successful competitor in the history of the race is Wolfgang Schwerk, a German furniture maker and opera singer who set the standing record in 2006 by completing the race in 41 days, eight hours, 16 minutes and 29 seconds. Beckjord was the top female finisher for the first 13 races. In two of the last three years, no woman has finished the race.
The competition is about more than the runners. Whether it's in the form of other followers of Chinmoy who come out to support the runners, people who live in the neighborhood who watch the competitors go round and round, or passersby who are enthralled by the competition, the race becomes an event around which the community coalesces. According to the race's website, this year's event is "another step is mankind’s inevitable progression, according to the remarkable vision of Sri Chinmoy:
Run and Become.
Become and Run.
Run to succeed in the outer world.
Become to proceed in the inner world."