Self-Transcendence 6-Hour Race in Kingston, 9 June 2007

By Hladini Wilson

 

One thing you can count on in the Self-Transcendence 6-Hour Race—no one gets lost. Whether fast, slow or in between, the runners are more companions than competitors as they chalk up the distance on a scenic 1-kilometre route at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario.

This year’s run was scheduled for June 9. As race director, I had been madly dashing around the entire week prior to the run, buying myriad supplies, making sure that all our helpers from Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal were lined up and ready for their pre-dawn drive to the site, getting the t-shirts designed and printed (in fact, reprinted), making lap sheets for the counters and velcro name plaques for the scoreboard, filling and labeling the sandbags…. And now I tried to ignore the throbbing in my tired brain and the knot in my stomach so that I could focus on setting up. The big event was about to happen.

The morning was clear with the slight haze that presages a hot day. A few runners were already there when I arrived at 7 a.m. to open the gates and unload my supplies.

First-timers to our race headed out to check out the course, which loops around the thick stone walls of Fort Frederick and then curves along the shore of Lake Ontario. A lovely breeze wafted across the deep blue water and white sails were just starting to appear among the green islands in the bay. The course goes along a short stretch of road by the Parade Square, veering left under an archway and back inside the walls of the fort, where it climbs the slight rise around the historic Martello Tower (built by Canadian militia to repel the American invaders of the early 1800s) and finally slopes down towards the counting stations.

The only change in our route was a shift in the location of the slight “bubble” we need to make the loop an even kilometre. Because a wedding was scheduled right where we normally “bulge” about 50 metres out and back, the bubble would now be on the west, not the east, side of the circuit—a good change, since it provided a wider turnaround.

As I greeted the runners, I reflected on how lucky we were to once again have our race at RMC. In March, when I contacted the college to finalize arrangements, I had learned—to my horror—that Randy, the incredibly helpful facilities manager at the college, with whom I had been dealing for umpteen years, had found a better job elsewhere. Though still on staff till the end of June, he was winding down this job and had to pass on my file to someone else.

Suddenly, everything that we took for granted—permission not just to use the grounds of the college but also to obtain the necessary tables and chairs for our counting and service stations, tents to shelter our counters, the wheel to measure the course, traffic cones, and other supplies.

Sorry,” said Miss X. “You can use the grounds, but there are no washroom facilities. There is no place for us to put out tables and chairs for you. We don’t supply tents. I don’t have a wheel, cones or any of the other things you are asking for.”

To make matters worse, the building we had used for bathrooms and showers, and electrical outlets for our results team and our coffee/tea makers, was under construction. The workmen were intending to lock up a big metal gate that would literally cut our course in two.

Great. Better call Randy back and ask for advice.

Well, he gave more than advice. On his own time, he made sure that all our needs were met. He also met with the construction foreman and obtained a key for me to unlock the gate that had been placed across the road to the fort.

In addition, after a problem last year with our timing system, Randy managed to secure us a good digital clock and two airhorns to blast out the finish signal so that it could be heard at all points on the course. In previous years, we had stationed cars at various positions, but this time we were seriously short of helpers and could not have afforded to send anyone out there.

In early May, just when I thought things were rolling along smoothly, the online registration system broke down. Suddenly, the site was frozen, and I got no response to my emails or phone calls. Apart from the handful of runners who still mail in their registrations, I had no idea who or how many were signed up for the race. So, I did what any calm, logical person would do. I panicked.

Let me take a few lines here to express my sincere gratitude to OUS director Sharon Zelinski, who repeatedly assured me that everything was fine. Thanks also to Esmond Mah, who kindly responded to my distress signals. Naturally, it was just some computer glitch that sorted itself out in a few days.

So here we were, at 8:30 on Saturday 9 June, setting up two heavy military tents to shelter our counters from the sun. Most runners had checked in and the counters, who last year had wrapped themselves in blankets to keep warm, were now wearing shorts and asking for iced lemonade.

Our trackside service team was ready for the challenge of keeping the runners cool (relatively) with soaking wet sponges, spring water and Shaklee electrolyte drink. The food table offered a rainbow display of sweet and salty snacks, including chips, cookies, chocolate, bananas, oranges, watermelon and dulse (see sidebar). And the medical station was manned by a nurse, a homeopath and a physiotherapist, all of whom were called upon to assist ailing runners at various points in the race.

A couple of minutes past 9 o’clock, the runners lined up at the starting line and I sounded one of the airhorns to signal the start. Much to my dismay, I saw that the clock had not been properly started. My heart sank as I envisaged a repeat of last year’s fiasco, when we ended up with a six-hour and six-minute finish time because our timers had not been properly synchronized.

Fortunately, the problem was easily rectified, and the race proceeded.

Soon the runners reappeared en masse, clocking up their first kilometre. The counters struggled to spot their runners and write down their times without missing anyone else going by. “Did you get me?” “Yoo-hoo, counter 7.” Eventually, as the runners settled in to their own pace, the crowd thins, making it easier for the counters to spot and score their own runners.

Each time the runners--who receive name tags instead of numbered bibs—passed by the counting station, they were greeted with enthusiastic, personalized cheering: “Go, Charlie!” “Come on, Ron!” “Atta girl, Marj!” “You’re fabulous, Hans!” “Lookin’ good, Karin!”

Our scoreboard team was totally on the ball, and by the end of Hour 2, they had the first seven men and first seven women listed and updated regularly each time the runners completed another circuit.

The span of six hours probably seemed mighty long for the runners—and maybe for the volunteers, who were glued to their positions, but for me, it was over in a flash. At midday, when I finally stopped for a few seconds to take a bite of my breakfast, it had disappeared. “Hey, what happened to my bagel?” I yelled. Reports have it that while I was busy registering the runners and then rounding them up for the traditional pre-race group photo, the king of the seagulls had swooped down, and with a raucous cry of victory, had taken off with my breakfast in his beak.

Meanwhile, the sun was sizzling, and as the clock ticked on, the runners were seriously battling both heat and fatigue. Still, drenched with sweat, they bravely continued racking up the kilometres. One runner—who had been unable to properly train for the event—sped through the first half of the race and then dropped out, exhausted but happy with his effort. Another heroic runner, who was nursing a painful injury, limped valiantly along for 10 kilometres. Some runners seemed to sprint around; others walked with grim determination; still others motored steadily on at an even pace.

Fifteen minutes to count down. The exciting process of handing out sandbags began. This year we arranged them alphabetically and gave ten sandbags apiece to six volunteers. The pace picked up and the level of cheering went up by several decibels. “Come on! You can do it! One more lap!” Amidst the bedlam, we managed to hand all the sandbags to the proper people as they put forward their final effort to gain as much ground as possible before the end.

Meanwhile, two volunteers were strategically placed on the east and west sides of the fortress wall where they could see my arm descend as the clock reached exactly six hours.

Finally it was over. The horns sounded and all runners dropped their sandbags wherever they were. Whew! Time for a shower, a drink and a nice, long rest in the shade.

Two volunteers headed out with the Jones wheel to measure the sandbag distances. As soon as they returned, we crouched over the lap sheets and recorded each runner’s final total on a commemorative certificate.

After a post-race meal, we began our award ceremony with a huge birthday cake and song for the runners whose birthdays were in the month of June.

The first three men finishers were Bruce Barteaux with 72.434 km, Paul Chenery with 71.215 km and Jim Orr with 68.9 km. Women winners were Laurie McGrath with 69.439 km (which made her third place overall), Jan Veen with 64.796 km and Karin McMillan with 63.815 km. (See attached complete results.)

The course records are Victor Hickey’s distance of 81.18 km in 1999 and Deanna Lindsay’s distance of 70.875 km in 1997.

Longtime Ontario Ultra Series runners may remember Barbara McLeod, who began her running career in her late 40s and now lives and competes in the permanent summer conditions of the southern States. In fond memory of her 6-hour race experiences here many years ago, she annually donates a prize for the most inspiring runner—as chosen by secret ballot at the end of the race. This year, the runners chose Laurie McGrath. Barbara also contributes roses for each woman who runs the race.

OUS member John Remington annually provides medals to all juniors (20 and under) and seniors (65 and over) who run the race.

The Self-Transcendence Six-Hour Race, which is part of the OUS series, is organized by the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team, which conducts hundreds of races (mostly ultras) around the world to provide opportunities for people to challenge their own limitations. Currently, for example, a dozen warrior souls in New York City are circling a half-mile block every day from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., clocking over 60 miles per day to complete the Self-Transcendence 3,100-mile race. Sri Chinmoy himself, at age 75, is well-known for incredible feats of strength, which he credits to the inner power he receives through meditation.

Ultra runners are a rare and amazing breed of human being who truly understand and experience the inexpressible thrill of self-transcendence. I am awed and honoured to know these intrepid heroes who continue on in the face of physical, mental and emotional adversity with such determination and cheerfulness. But the most touching thing for me is the incredible oneness among these runners. Though to the outer eye, they may seem a motley crew—all shapes and sizes and ages and capacities—to the inner eye, they are solid allies who have banded together to encourage and inspire each other. No matter what their speed, they are truly winners, one and all.

 

Each new day beckons us to run along the road of self-transcendence.”

- Sri Chinmoy

SIDEBAR:

Dulse—the snack of choice for preventing deadly dehydration—is slowly gaining in popularity. Having taken too many nauseated, shivering runners to hospital for emergency intravenous, we cannot emphasize strongly enough the incredible benefits of dulse—or any kind of seaweed—in replenishing the vital salts that are lost in sweat over long hours of such endurance events. Paramita Jarvis, the nurse who heads up our 6-hour medical team, explains: “Over 29 years of providing medical support for long-distance events, we dealt with runners who collapsed either during or after an event from dehydration. Typically, they were very pale, sick to their stomach, weak, exhausted and sometimes disoriented. In some cases, we had to start intravenous fluids and administer two or three litres of normal saline (salt solutions) to bring them back to normal. Then we decided to try seaweed, which provides a natural salt that the body can easily absorb and assimilate to replace the salts lost in perspiration. I gave a snack bag containing about a cup of dulse leaves to runners who had collapsed in previous years and begged them to eat a small mouthful of it every mile or so, drinking plenty of fluids along with it. To my great joy, those who ate the dulse did not get sick!”