The fifty-year-old proprietor of the Washington, D.C., gift shop Transcendence-Perfection-Bliss of the Beyond, Beckjord is the only female competitor in the race’s history and the only ten-time participant, having returned to Jamaica every June since the inaugural running. She has logged enough miles around Edison High to circle the equator.
The ultramarathon (any race exceeding 26.22 miles), which attracts a smaller and more fanatical community of athletes, gained brief notoriety in January 2004, when a member of the Colorado running cult Divine Madness banked 207 miles in the forty-eight-hour race Across the Years and then dropped dead. Further afield, the “Marathon Monks” of Japan’s Mount Hiei have practiced spiritual running in a ritual that dates to the eighth century. At the culmination of seven years of training, the aspirant logs two back-to-back marathons per night for three months, carrying a length of rope and a knife so that he can hang or disembowel himself if he fails to complete a run.
The music critic Robert Christgau describes its artwork thus: “On the back cover is a photograph of three men. Two of them are dressed in white and have their hands folded—one grinning like Alfred E. Neuman, the other looking like he’s about to have a Supreme Court case named after him: solemn, his wrists ready for the cuffs. In between, a man in an orange ski jacket and red pants with one white sock seems to have caught his tongue on his lower lip. He looks like the yoga coach at a fashionable lunatic asylum. Guess which one is Sri Chinmoy.”
The 3,100-mile distance of the Self-Transcendence Race celebrates Chinmoy’s birth year; an earlier incarnation, held in 1996, measured 2,700 miles, in honor of his birthday.
Since 1988, when he launched his “Lifting Up the World with a Oneness-Heart” campaign, Chinmoy has ceremonially hoisted more than 7,000 friends and celebrities, including Jesse Jackson; Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Hun San; Ravi Shankar; Moorhead Kennedy, held hostage 444 days in Iran; Mickey Thomas, lead vocalist of Jefferson Starship; and the actresses Mercedes Ruehl and Alyssa Milano.
A selection of titles from the Chinmoy library attests to the breadth of the Guru’s interests: The Earth-Illumination-Trumpets of Divinity’s Home, Part 1; I Play Tennis Every Day; The Ambition-Deer; Einstein: Scientist-Sage, Brother of Atom-Universe; Impurity: The Mad Elephant Mental Asylum; A Soulful Tribute to the Secretary-General: The Pilot Supreme of the United Nations; God Wants to Read This Book; Great Indian Meals: Divinely Delicious and Supremely Nourishing; Gorbachev: The Master-Key of the Universal Heart; Muhammad Ali and Sri Chinmoy Meditate; Come, My Non-English Friends! Let Us Together Climb Up the English Himalayas; The Mushroom and the Umbrella; My Heart’s Salutation to Australia; A Mystic Journey in the Weightlifting World, Part One; Airport Elevation: Questions Answered by Master Sri Chinmoy at the San Juan International Airport, October 29, 1976; I Love Shopping, Part 1; My Ivy League Leaves: Lectures on the Spiritual Life; Niagara Falls Versus Children’s Rise; Religion-Jugglery and God-Discovery; The Sailor and the Parrot; War: Man’s Abysmal Abyss-Plunge, Part 1; Sleep: Death’s Little Sister; Canada Aspires, Canada Receives, Canada Achieves; Yes, I Can! I Certainly Can!!
The offering of sanctified food—called prasad—sometimes flummoxed visitors to the racecourse, as in late July, when the Guru made an offering of Granny Smith apples to a pair of emissaries from Russian TV. The reporter accepted with telegenic diplomacy, but the cameraman froze, plying his camera like a rifle trained on a buck. An hour later, both apples lay uneaten on a table cluttered with audiovisual equipment.
Notably John Cumming’s Runners & Walkers and Ultramarathoning: The Next Challenge by Tom Osler and Ed Dodd.