A park in Salzburg, in the middle of the Austrian Alps, is currently the scene of the longest race in the world for long-distance runners: almost 5,000 kilometers in just 52 days, that is, more than two marathons every day.
Since last September 13, five athletes have participated in this particular challenge, called “Sri Chinmoy’s Career of Personal Transcendence“, the longest certified career that exists.
After 23 editions in New York (USA), the race is held this year in the “Glanspitz” park in Salzburg, known around the world as the hometown of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
The runners start every day first thing in the morning, they just stop, only very occasionally, to go to the bathroom or rest for a few minutes.
The founder of this particular career, the Indian-American spiritual guide and meditation teacher Sri Chinmoy (1931-2007), he wanted to offer his disciples a challenge of personal improvement that forced them to go beyond what is considered possible for the human body.
The figures are dizzying: participants must run 3,100 miles, that is, 4,988 kilometers, in no more than 52 days, going round and round the same circuit, which opens at 6:00 in the morning and closes at 24:00. On alternate days they can change the direction of travel.
Many of those who run, as is the case with the five participants this year, are also disciples of the meditation school of Chinmoy.
The athletes see the test as “the culmination of their personal spiritual journey,” he tells Efe Smarana Puntigam, member of the “Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team” and Deputy Director of the career.
That is why it is surprising that, once they complete it, most repeat the attempt. Own Puntigam He has run it ten times, although he clarifies that he has only managed to finish two of them.
“It’s like living a whole life,” says the athlete. “The amount of emotions you experience and the physical effort involved … When you finish, all your problems seem smaller, and you feel that you are another person, “he adds.
From New York to Salzburg
Since the start of the race 17 days ago, the five runners they have already completed 35 marathons, going round and round the same public park in Salzburg.
If the race proceeded as before, the athletes would complete the 3,100 official miles (4,988 kilometers) in early November. Whoever finishes the challenge can keep running for a few more days to round those 5,000 kilometers.
Although it is usually celebrated in summer, in the borough of the borough of Queens (New York) where Chinmoy lived, the COVID-19 pandemic forced it to be canceled and the organizers had to look for alternatives.
Priyvadin Reisecker, who has been in charge of move the event to Salzburg, explains that it was the runners themselves who insisted on holding the test.
“They said they were going to run anyway, so we had to find a way to be present“, says the organizer.
The city of Salzburg was chosen because it was the first place they got a team of volunteers willing to take on the task of managing an event that lasts almost two months.
Volunteers are key
In fact, without the volunteers, this particular race it would not work, or at least it would be much harder still for the runners.
They are the ones in charge of preparing the meals, organizing the athletes’ schedules, recording the distance they have traveled, treating their injuries and giving them moral support. Sometimes even they accompany them running for a few laps to have conversation.
Sadanand Magee He is one of the volunteers who is in charge of supporting the runners.
He has come from Ireland accompanying his brother, Nirbhasa Magee, competing in the race. Her admiration for the athletes, like that of the rest of the team, is total.
“People compare it to climbing Everest, but compared to this, el Everest is sucked“, assures the Irishman in statements to Efe.
“Thousands of people reach the top and queue to take a photo. In 24 years of this career, barely 50 people have completed it“, he highlights.
An Italian at the helm
Italian Andrea Marcato leads the group at the moment. They all agree to stand out the impressive display of strength and competitiveness of this runner, who also faces this test for the first time.
They are followed by Magee, with three races in his record, the Austrian You arrive at Muckenhumer, who has finished one, the Slovak Ananda-Lahari Zuscin, with six races, and finally the Czech Milan Javornicky, who faces this challenge for the first time.
They all had to take some vacation from their respective jobs -the majority unpaid- to be able to compete in Salzburg.
No strings attached
Despite being one of the toughest tests in the world, this race it hardly has an international following, and it is, in general, very little known.
As explained Vitin Lerken, an American who has been organizing the event since Sri Chinmoy founded it in the 90s, part of the ignorance is due, surely, to how unspectacular it is see how it unfolds.
Runners go slow, and many times They intersperse sections walking with others walking more alive. Volunteers prepare small bites of very high-calorie food for them that they consume on the go.
Some talk on the phone while walking and, in general, they blend almost perfectly with other people that just walks in the park.
In addition, the team has always remained away from big sponsors, because they want to have “absolute control” in the organization of the race.
According to Lerken, this fits perfectly with the spirit of the test: “They do not compete against others, but against themselves. They seek to improve themselves”.