By Anna Gustafson
As Jamaica Estates resident Dipali Cunningham, one of the world’s best distance runners, recently walked around the colorful tents that now dot Flushing Meadows Corona Park, she constantly waved to champion racers passing by her.
“There goes Madhupran Schwerk from Germany,” she said. “He ran 139 miles yesterday.”
Standing near a kitchen with bright blue and purple walls that serve runners vegetarian meals, she cheered on Slovakia recordâˆ’breaker Kanenika Janakova and Canadian resident Karnayati Morison as the two women ran around the 1âˆ’mile track for the 14th annual, 10âˆ’day race sponsored by the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team that is based out of Jamaica.
Sri Chinmoy was an Indian spiritual leader who emphasized the spiritual benefits of physical fitness. He died in 2007, and the two races are dedicated in his memory.
About 80 runners from Austria to the Ukraine are now at Flushing Meadows to compete in the 10âˆ’ and sixâˆ’day races that will both end Friday. Many of the athletes live in tents by the track near Meadow Lake, and they spend much of their day running dauntingly long distances.
Cunningham arrived early for the sixâˆ’day race so she could spend time with the 10âˆ’day runners and prepare for an event she now loves and credits with not only teaching her how to overcome physical boundaries, but with providing a forum in which to meet new close friends.
“We’re like a family here,” said Cunningham, originally from Australia and now a fitness trainer in Queens.
Last year Cunningham came in first place for the sixâˆ’day race after spending about 19 hours a day on the track and running 467 miles. This is Cunningham’s 30th multiâˆ’day event since she began running competitively in 1991.
“When I first did this in 1991, I was clueless and didn’t understand multiâˆ’day running,” Cunningham said. “I’d feel tired, and I thought I’d never do this again. But I went into my heart and did my meditation, and I learned to go beyond what I thought my capacity was. I broke records I never thought I could.”
Since then, Cunningham has won 22 of the 29 multiâˆ’day races she has been in, and in 2004 she set a world record for the sixâˆ’day race for the women’s 45âˆ’49 age group. In 2001, she ran 700 miles in nine days and 11 hours — the third fastest record for women.
Both Janakova, who trained in Jamaica for the run, and Morison said the Queens race provides some of their favorite memories.
“It’s such a beautiful thing to do,” said Morison, who lives in Ottawa, Canada. “They provide us with food and medical supplies, and I’m really grateful to be here. Who thought running around a loop would give people such joy, but it does.”
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by eâˆ’mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718âˆ’229âˆ’0300, Ext. 174.