The Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team was formed in the fall of 1977 by members of the Sri Chinmoy Centre, who were students of the Indian meditation master, author, poet and philosopher Sri Chinmoy. The athletic looking teacher had been a champion decathlete, sprinter, soccer player and volleyball coach at the spiritual community where he lived for 20 years. He had begun requesting his students to place more emphasis on their physical fitness as a means of enhancing and complimenting their practice of meditation. He felt that running was a perfect sport to enhance fitness and well being. Many had begun to practice athletics, particularly long distance running, walking, cycling and swimming.
In 1976, 33 members of the Sri Chinmoy Centre organized and ran a continuous , non-stop relay through all 50 states, carrying a flaming torch and calling themselves the Liberty Torch Bicentennial Relay. Sri Chinmoy wished the runners to spread the message of dynamism and kindle the flames of love of country. They covered nearly 9000 miles of running, many runners averaging 100 miles a week in the process. Soon members of other countries conducted relays to show that spiritual people could also be dynamic, responsible members of their communities. We also entered 200 members in the 24 hour bike race in Central Park, garnering numerous awards and developing an appetite for training and racing.
As a service to the running community, the Marathon Team was formed to organize races of various distances. Sri Chinmoy felt that holding races for the public would give the running community joy and an avenue for friendly competition. He encouraged his students to train daily and compete often. On October 2, 1977, our first race of ten miles was held in Greenwich Ct. To make it special Sri Chinmoy had us offer split times every mile, have water and refreshment drinks every mile as well, and to provide enthusiastic support along the whole course. We even had singers line portions of the course and sing uplifting, encouraging songs about running and transcending.
Sri Chinmoy himself began long distance training, running every day and practicing for any and every local race. His enthusiasm was contagious. We began to search for courses in parks and on the streets of New York. We would even look for the hilliest stretches of road for important resistance training. A giant chart with everyone’s weekly mileage was erected on the wall of our meeting hall and gym. Much inspiration was gained from seeing our daily and weekly totals in full view of everyone. Sri Chinmoy began to train for marathons and eventually ran 20 himself, with a best of 3:55:07 at the Heartwatchers Marathon near Toledo, Ohio, on March 25, 1979.
We also conducted a monthly lecture series featuring famous local and national runners, who gave talks about their running and encouraged us in our training. Some illustrious athletes included Ted Corbitt, Joe Kleinerman, Nina Cusick, Tom Fleming, Cahit Yeter, Craig Virgin, Bob Beamon, Calvin Smith and Carl Lewis.
In August of 1978 Sri Chinmoy suggested a 47 mile race in celebration of his birthday of 47 years. We hastily organized a 47 mile invitational race amongst the students, with help and advice from Ted Corbitt, the legendary runner and father of ultrarunning in the USA. Fifty-six out of 57 starters finished the race. Our interest in ultramarathons had been created. This particular race provided a springboard for excursions into longer and more demanding events. Talent began to emerge as well from our own group. Virendra Gauthier’s time of five hours nine minutes still stands for the men, while Dipali Cunningham heads the women’s standard in just over 6 hours, as well as having won the race 14 times for the ladies. Sri Chinmoy himself entered the race a few times and completed it in 1979 within the 13 hour limit with his inspiring determination.