A brief history of the Sri Chinmoy ultramarathons

The Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team was formed in the fall of 1977. Its first public race was a 10-mile race held in Greenwich, Connecticut. From the beginning, Sri Chinmoy set the highest race standards, requesting that split times, water and refreshments be given after every mile along with enthusiastic encouragement and music. Later he introduced the flat, one-mile loop course in order to provide maximum support to the runners.

The Team's first ultramarathon was a 47-mile invitational race, held on Sri Chinmoy's 47th birthday in August 1978. This event has been held annually ever since.

In 1980, the Team organised its first 24-hour race, again in Greenwich, Connecticut. In that race, Marcy Schwam set women's world track records for 50 miles, 100 km and 100 miles. Kirit Makita, a last-minute entry with no ultramarathon experience, won the race with 111+ miles. The following year, in the same race, Cahit Yeter set a North American 24-hour best of 155+ miles, and Sue Medaglia set a women's 24-hour world record of over 126 miles.

1984 saw the appearance of the Greek legend Yiannis Kouros at the New York Road Runners Six-Day Race, in which he set a new standard for 48 hours and broke a 100-year-old record by running 635 miles in six days. A few months later, Yiannis came back to New York to run in a 24-hour race organised by the Marathon Team, in which he established a new road best for 100 miles in 11 hours 46 minutes and smashed the 24-hour absolute best with 177 miles. (Sri Chinmoy's remarks following that race are given on page 17.) A year later, in the same race, but running in the teeth of high winds from Hurricane Gloria, Yiannis broke his own record with 178 miles.

Since that time, many ultras have been organised by the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team, not only in New York, but in various cities around the world. Distances have included 50 km, 50 miles, 100 km, 70 miles, 100 miles, 6 hours, 12 hours, 24 hours and 48 hours. These races have yielded numerous national and regional records and a few striking world records, such as a world 100- mile women's record set by Ann Trason in New York at the 1989 Sri Chinmoy USA/TAC 24-Hour Championship; a world record of 300 km (188 miles) in 24 hours on a track set by Yiannis Kouros in Adelaide, Australia, in October 1997; and another world best of 290 km in 24 hours on the road set by Yiannis Kouros in Basel, Switzerland, in May 1998.

The first super-long ultramarathon organised by the Team was the Sri Chinmoy 1,000-Mile Race held in May 1985 in Flushing Meadow Park, the first race of its kind in this hemisphere in this century. Three out of fifteen runners completed the distance in the allowed time-frame: American Don Choi (finishing in 15 days 6 hours), Canadian 6-day record-holder Trishul Cherns and Emile Laharraque of France.

In November 1985, the first Sri Chinmoy 5-Day Race was held. The race was held annually for three years.

In June 1985 Sri Chinmoy took up weightlifting, working his way up from being able to lift only 40 pounds to eventual massive numbers of pounds with his special one-arm lift, along with many other unusual feats of strength. His lifting of 200 pounds with one arm on 6 March 1986 was the inspiration behind a special 200-mile race held in Flushing Meadow Park from 16 to 20 March that year. Twenty-seven of Sri Chinmoy's students participated. This was the first multi-day experience for the women's winner, Suprabha Beckjord, who came in second overall behind men's winner Trishul Cherns. (Sri Chinmoy's remarks after that race are given on page 14.)

The second Sri Chinmoy 1,000-Mile Race, held in May of 1986, featured five finishers under 15 days, with New Yorker Stu Mittleman setting a new world record of 11 days 20 hours, followed by Siegfried Bauer of Germany (the previous world record-holder), Trishul Cherns, Alan Fairbrother and Dan Coffey. At the closing ceremony of that race, Sri Chinmoy announced that the Marathon Team would expand the race the following year to include two new distances: 700 miles and 1,300 miles.

No one completed any of the distances within the allotted time at the first Ultimate Ultra-Trio, held in June 1987. Marty Sprengelmeyer of the USA led the way with 1,250 miles, setting a world record for 2,000 km. Izumi Yamamoto set a women's 1,000 km world record and Sulochana Kallai broke her own 1,000 km world record for women over 50.

During the 1988 Ultimate Ultra-Trio, which was the I.A.U. (International Association of Ultrarunners) World Championship, Yiannis Kouros ran an astounding 1,000 miles in 10 days 10 hours, averaging 97 miles per day and breaking the previous record by one and a half days. Sandra Barwick of New Zealand established the world standard for women at 1,000 miles in 14 days 20 hours.

In the fall of that year, the 5-day race was increased to 7 days. Marty Sprengelmeyer narrowly beat women's winner Suprabha Beckjord by 527 miles to 521 miles. The 7-day race was held for eight consecutive years, and Suprabha Beckjord was the women's winner five times.

In the 1989 Ultra-Trio, Al Howie of Scotland became the first person to complete the 1,300-mile distance in a certified race (17 days 8 hours). He was followed by two other finishers: Ian Javes of Australia and Stefan Schlett of Germany. The women's world best for 1,000 miles was claimed by Suprabha Beckjord as she broke Sandra Barwick's record by a mere 27 minutes.

The 1991 Ultra-Trio had a field of over 60 runners for all three races—unheard of, considering the great distances being attempted. Al Howie came back to break his own record for 1,300 miles by 13 hours, and Sandra Barwick became the first woman to complete 1,300 miles in a certified race. After smashing the 1,000-mile standard by two days, Sandy walked the last 300 miles, finishing in 17 days 22 hours. Antana Locs of Canada and Marty Sprengelmeyer also joined the elite group that have conquered the 1,300, each setting new national standards. At the end of that race. Sri Chinmoy shared his vision of organising a 2,700-mile race sometime in the future. (Sri Chinmoy's remarks are given on page 9.)

Istvan Sipos of Hungary claimed the 1,300-mile world record in 1993 with a brilliant run of 16 days 17 hours. That victory was followed by his first-place win in the Trans-America race during the summer of 1994.

In 1994, Antana Locs of Canada won the 1,300-mile race overall, becoming the only person to finish the distance within the time limit three times.

In 1995, at age 52, Georgs Jermolajevs of Latvia set a course record of 578 miles in what was to be the last of the 7-day races and then, just a few months later, reduced the world mark for 1,300 miles to 16 days 14 hours. On the way, Georgs set a new world 1,000-mile record for men over 50.

In 1996 the Marathon Team increased the 7-day race to a 10-day race. Again it was Georgs Jermolajevs who won, but only by a very slim margin, over Dipali Cunningham of Australia. 725 miles to 723 miles.

In June 1996, after nearly five years spent working out the logistics, the 2,700-mile race which Sri Chinmoy had envisioned took place. Six outstanding runners toed the line on a flat, paved course around a park and a school in the neighbourhood of Jamaica, Queens to compete in what was then the world's longest race. Five out of six starters finished. Again Georgs Jermolajevs prevailed, just weeks after his victory in the 10-day race, setting new world marks for 3,000 km and 4,000 km as well as 2,700 miles, in 40 days 11 hours. He was followed by Ed Kelly of Sacramento, California, Suprabha Beckjord, Antana Locs and Trishul Cherns. At the awards ceremony of the 2,700-Mile Race, Sri Chinmoy announced that in 1997 the distance would increase to 3,100 miles.

The first Sri Chinmoy 3,100-Mile Race was held in the summer of 1997. Ed Kelly came back to become the only male finisher in 47 days 15 hours, even running an additional 13 laps to reach the magical 5,000 km mark. Suprabha Beckjord followed two days later to become the only woman to run that great distance in a certified race. Although they were unable to complete the race, both Georgs Jermolajevs and Aleksandar Arsic of Yugoslavia covered more than 2,700 miles. (Sri Chinmoy's remarks following the 3,100-Mile Race are given on page 11.)

1998 saw the addition of a 6-day race, held simultaneously with the 10-day race. In spite of heavy rain every day of the race, Dipali Cunningham established a new women's world record for 6 days on the road with 504 miles.

Istvan Sipos won the second annual Sri Chinmoy 3,100-Mile Race in a world best time of 46 days 17 hours. Ed Kelly and Suprabha Beckjord both finished for the second time, transcending their previous year's achievements. Wolfgang Schwerk of Germany finished fourth and Aleksandar Arsic transcended his own personal best by running 2,831 miles.