Looking back: 40 years of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team
About the author:
Rupantar has been the race director of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team since 1985, having been asked by Sri Chinmoy to serve in that capacity. As well as working on the big races the US Marathon Team organise each year - the 3100 Mile Race and the Six and 10 Day Race - he also spends a considerable amount of time archiving the Marathon Team's 40 year history on this website.
The Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team celebrates its 40th birthday this year. Local Marathon Team director Sahishnu Sczcesiul writes about how the Marathon Team grew from Sri Chinmoy's philosophy of self-transcendence to the largest organiser of ultradistance and endurance events.
The Marathon Team is named after its founder and guiding light, spiritual Master Sri Chinmoy. The meditation leader had been a stellar athlete during his youth in his native India, excelling in sprinting, decathlon, soccer and volleyball in the spiritual community where he lived. Based in New York since 1964, he inspired his students to live a fulfilling life integrating the peace of meditation with the dynamism of action, particularly sport. The “self-transcendence” aspect of his philosophy was complemented by service to the world.
Sri Chinmoy resided in Jamaica, Queens, NY, in a quiet community, where he was joined by many of his followers. Like their teacher, they, too, were becoming runners, with his constant encouragement. Beginning in 1970, the Sri Chinmoy Centre Sports Day provided an annual opportunity for them to participate in track and field events. But long-distance running would become the hallmark of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team. In 1976, 33 students of the Master ran the non-stop Liberty Torch relay through the fifty states, carrying a flaming torch to honour America during the Bicentennial year. Long-distance running soon featured prominently in the spiritual life of Sri Chinmoy’s students—for itself, and for the symbolism of the endless journey to perfection.
Sri Chinmoy urged his students to offer running races to the public—for dynamism, energy and joy, as well as fitness and health. The first running event in the history of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team took place on October 2, 1977, in the hills and dales of Greenwich, Connecticut.
The sprinkling of running races on the SCMT calendar would eventually become a flood, as new events of varying distances emerged (2 miles, 10K, 10 miles). Sri Chinmoy himself ventured into long-distance running in 1978, completing his first marathon on March 3, 1979 in 4:31:34 and, just 22 days later, his fastest, in 3:55:07. Twenty more marathons and two 47-mile ultras followed. He was vividly demonstrating both his own pursuit of physical excellence and the power of his energizing message, even as he reached the age of 47 years and beyond. By 1980, the Marathon Team was sponsoring marathons, 13-mile races, five-mile races and even a 24-hour event. Triathlons joined the schedule, as well as 70-mile races and weekly two-milers.
But the biggest and best was yet to come.In 1985, Sri Chinmoy encouraged the Team to stage a 1,000-mile race, the first of its kind in the Western hemisphere. In 1987 he increased the distance to 1,300 miles. In 1996, “the longest race in the world” became 2,700 miles; the next year it jumped to 3,100 miles, and so it remains every year: still the longest certified footrace in the world, held on a one-mile urban loop.
Conservatively, it is estimated that the Team has hosted nearly 2,000 running events in New York since 1977—including 124 multi-day races since 1985.
The expansion of the Marathon Team reached worldwide, and many countries continue to schedule running events, long-distance swimming races, bicycle races, triathlons, marathons and ultras of various distances under the SCMT banner. Just like the New York races, all events strive to maintain the lofty standards of precision and personal service established by Sri Chinmoy himself, with proper runner splits and timing, multiple aid stations, enthusiastic support and—importantly!—great vegetarian food.
The theme of the races offered by the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team continues to be “self-transcendence”—going beyond one’s perceived limitations and finding new capacity, which ultimately leads to real satisfaction. May the Marathon Team always treasure the self-giving principle that Sri Chinmoy offered to the world: “Never give up, never give up. You can always do more, you can always love more, you can always offer more.”
On behalf of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team, we, the volunteer staff, offer gratitude to all the athletes of the last 40 years for running our races and giving us the joy of serving our fellow travelers on life’s great journey.