By Alex Christodoulides
If Suprabha Beckjord were a car, she would have had about a dozen oil changes. But in 12 years of running one annual ultra-marathon, she will have reached the 37,200-mile mark racing on her own two feet, and has done so without traditional marathon training.
“Training for this is as much training the mind as the body,” Beckjord said. “You have to stay strong.”
And where traditional marathon runners train by ramping up their mileage each week in perhaps four months prior to race day, it is impossible to train in a similar fashion for the Self-Transcendence Race, which takes weeks instead of hours to complete.
Beckjord, 52, of Washington, D.C., is the only woman to run each year since the inception of the annual 3,100-mile Self-Transcendence Race for which the Briarwood-based Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team is best known. Sri Chinmoy, an Indian-born philosopher and guru who died in October at the age of 76, encouraged his disciples to perform feats of strength and endurance, of which this race — advertised as the world's longest footrace — is one.
On Tuesday, day 17 of the race, Beckjord was in the middle of the pack, having completed 917 miles to date.
“Years ago, I did much more training. But it's a lot of time to be away from my work, so I just try to stay very fit,” Beckjord said. “Three days a week I run for about two hours, and I do exercises to strengthen my upper body. Years ago I did two hours [running] a day.”
She is one of the most prolific ultra-distance (longer than a marathon) runners in the world, having competed in 14 multi-day events in the 1990s, and has run the Self-Transcendence Race since 1996 when the distance was 2,700 miles. Sri Chinmoy increased the distance from 2,700 to 3,100 miles in 1997, and Beckjord made the transition. And where drivers change their car's oil about every 3,000 miles, Beckjord looks ahead to the next race and keeps running.
Since 1996, the race has taken place around and around the block occupied by Edison Technical and Vocational High School at 84th Avenue and 168th Street in Jamaica Hill. This year it began June 15 and is expected to last about 52 days, although the first finishers may complete the 3,100 miles in less time and later runners may take several days or weeks more to cross the finish line.
Runners begin pounding the pavement daily at 6 a.m. and complete the day's repeated looping after dusk, often an 18-hour, 60-mile day. A traditional 26.2-mile marathon requires at least four months of training, typically building up the mileage each week until the runner can manage 20 miles, and takes anywhere from 2 1/2 to six hours to finish, depending on the runner's speed and stamina.
But to train for a 3,100-mile race there is no way to approach it like one would a marathon, no way to increase one's daily mileage to that point.
“I don't train specifically for this. I go to six-hour, 12-hour, 24-hour races and in between I run 20 to 100 miles a week,” said Ananda-lahari Zuscin, 33, of Slovakia.
Beckjord is one of 14 runners in this year's race. The runners persevere despite high heat and humidity, in the rain and wind, and even with injuries. Two are running with shin splints and another developed a skin condition when his sunblock and the sun reacted badly.
Zuscin thinks about anything but running while he is out pounding the pavement.
“I think about different things. I listen to music, I concentrate on my heart. It helps when we chat with each other,” he said. “Sometimes I pray.”