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The air is stale on the 40th day of running around an unremarkable city block in Queens, New York City.
Commuters rush along to work, coffee in hand, as the 55-year old Russian Vasu Duzhiy clips off his 2,500th mile, while his 52-year old Ukrainian counterpart Stutisheel Lebedev reaches mile 2,312 with a subtle gesture of prayer. They run for peace and do so with heavy hearts in the wake of the tragic events unfolding in their homelands.
The invasion of Ukraine in late February has brought much uncertainty to the region. The Kremlin received international condemnation after illegally invading Ukrainian territory, claiming it as part of Russia. Russia’s unprovoked action in Ukraine is Europe’s most significant military escalation since World War II. Like most conflicts, a formative struggle over power is at the heart of the dispute. Putin sees the two countries as one people. He sees them as familial, and they should be in charge.
Despite the events in Ukraine, these two runners from the region are displaying humanity’s innate potential for peace and love through the Self-Transcendence 3100-Mile Race.
Along with ten other participants, Stutisheel is a former CEO of a tech firm from Kyiv, Ukraine, and Duzhiy is a foreman in a lumber company from St. Petersburg, Russia. The two highlight the shared humanity between us through the teachings of Sri Chinmoy, what the race represents, and the two runners’ insights — despite ongoing conflict in Eastern Europe.
The Origins of the Race
In 1997, the spiritual teacher, athlete, and humanitarian Sri Chinmoy (1931-2007) founded the Self-Transcendence 3100-Mile Race. From his adolescent years at an ashram in India, Sri Chinmoy was an advocate for world peace.
The race takes place annually, with runners traversing a .55-mile loop 5,649 times around a sports field, playground, and high school in the New York City neighborhood of Jamaica, Queens. Runners have 52 days to complete the 3,100 miles around the half-mile block. To complete the run within the allotted time frame, participants must average 60 miles daily. The course opens each morning at 6 a.m. and closes at midnight, alternating directions each day. Along the busy New York City streets, runners must weave through those with whom they share the concrete sidewalks.
The event is the longest certified road race in the world and was chronicled in 2018 by James Beard Award-winning filmmaker Sanjay Rawal in 3100: Run and Become. Rawal explores the race’s essence through sharing other running cultures, too.
“I’ve had the opportunity to document a number of traditional running cultures, from the Navajo and Hopi to the San Bushmen of the Kalahari and the Marathon Monks of Japan,” said Rawal. “Everything I saw in those cultures’ practices is embodied by the 3100.”
Rawal captures the essence of the human spirit and inspiration that has propelled the race forward since its inception. The self-transcendence aspect is the bedrock of Sri Chinmoy’s teachings and a cornerstone for the runners. A key marker of the race is to leverage the infinite spiritual power within.
Duzhiy, the Russian runner, explains how our relationships with one another crystalize this. “If I live in peace with other men, I should have this man in my heart, and this man has me in his heart. Only in this case can we say that we are living in peace,” said Duzhiy. “We cannot say that peace is when one guy is superior to another. We cannot say peace is superiority; that’s peace only for those who are on the top.”
During such difficult times, Sri Chinmoy’s message and race provides a beacon of peace.
“This race serves as a tool for humanity to promote more peace in the world,” said Duzhiy. “Sri Chinmoy says that ‘Real peace is between people based on love, acceptance, and self-respect,’” referencing a passage by Chinmoy:
Can be achieved
When the power of love
The love of power.
– Sri Chinmoy, 1997, Peace-Lovers
Drawing upon Hindu principles, Sri Chinmoy’s teachings explain self-transcendence as striving to do better than we did before. It is self-improvement by pushing beyond our previous accomplishments, capacities, and results. The 3100-Mile Race serves as a platform for affirmation of his teachings on self-transcendence, an opportunity to exemplify each participant’s hidden potential.
The Race Through Their Eyes
With the help of a translator, Vasu Duzhiy underscored his message of peace and respect for humanity when speaking of the race.
“This race is the goal of my life. It helps me to make my spiritual progress,” said Duzhiy. “Through this race, we inspire people around us to be better citizens of this world and to transcend themselves.”
While still on the move during the race, Duzhiy explained how the event is an endless source of inner peace and inspiration. “Through this race, I gain peace and happiness,” he said. “I’m really joyful running this race. This race is very long, and it inspires me for self-transcendence and reminds me about my own inner race that never ends.”
For the Ukrainian runner, Stutisheel Lebedev, the race is precious because it serves as a conduit to discover hidden capacities and inner strength.
“This race is the best practice, the best training for crisis management. To be positive. To have a plan B. To never give up. To go one more step further when you feel you cannot,” said Lebedev. “It’s an amazing learning opportunity as well. It’s really hard. It’s a tough race because of conditions; it’s the longest race in the world!”
“This race is very long, and it inspires me for self-transcendence and reminds me about my own inner race that never ends.”
The multifaceted aspects of the race bring unique challenges. The concrete surface of the race wears on the body over time. Given the excessive nature of the event, runners often perform surgical adjustments to their shoes, removing the toe box or cutting out the heels to alleviate pressure on their swollen feet. Runners often tape their entire feet to prevent excess damage.
After taping his big toe and the ball of his foot, Lebedev will go through 12 pairs of shoes on this run, while Duzhiy occasionally wears sandals to run.
“It’s pretty challenging for your body, but the good thing is our bodies are quite flexible,” said Lebedev. “With the right approach, you can train the body. You can train your spirits. You can also train what I call the inner strength when everything is combined.”
Between gulps of coconut water, Lebedev explained how their efforts may inspire people, an expression of humanity’s unlimited ability to achieve goals.
“To quote Sri Chinmoy, ‘We are truly unlimited if only we have faith in ourselves and dare to try,’” said Lebedev. “So, we are daring to try to finish the race. And I think this inspiration goes worldwide.”
Indeed, much of this inspiration is having a tangible influence in Ukraine.
“I just spoke with one of my students, whom I train in running,” said Lebedev. “She’s in the military, almost on the frontline. But she’s watching our progress. And when I got to halfway, she was so inspired. She told me, ‘Let you win yourself, let you win your inner spirit’s race, and we will win the war here in Ukraine.’” Lebedev took a pause. “We see that inspiration and motivation is spreading like wildfire.”