54-Year-Old Suprabha Beckjord Runs 3,100 Miles Around Same Block

D.C.’s Suprabha Beckjord is the only woman ever to enter and complete the Sri Chimnoy Self  Transcendence 3,100 mile race in Queens, N.Y., the longest recognized race in the world. A new documentary, The Spirit of a Runner, details Beckjord’s journey to this unlikely record, showing audiences what it’s like to run 3,100 miles around the same block in Queens for up to 60 days in a row.

You’re known as a very quiet, humble person. How did you handle having a movie made about you?
SB:
I liked the idea of having the film made, because the race gets very little attention. I’ve been doing that race for 13 years, and there’s day-by-day coverage on the website during the summer, but it doesn’t get the sort of media coverage a marathon or ultra gets.

Tell us about the Sri Chimnoy Self Transcendence 3,100 Mile Race.
SB:
The race is set on a single block in Queens, N.Y. There’s a vocational school on one end that’s busy with kids, a big playing field in the middle, a track for running on one end, and Grand Central Parkway on another with intense traffic. During the last five years, we’ve had about 12 to 14 runners. The course can’t handle more than 15. There’s quite a few repeat runners, but I’m the only American who’s done it recently.

And you’re the only woman who’s ever run it. Why do you think that is?
SB:
Not everyone can devote the time for that sort of endeavor. We have six-day and ten-day races in the spring that get a lot more runners. I’m sure some other women will do it eventually. There are plenty of runners out there who could. I don’t know why they haven’t yet. Maybe it’s a matter of the time commitment involved. You have to be ready to spend your summer devoted to that one thing. But as time goes on, there may be more Americans involved.

Does running the same half-mile block make the race harder or easier?
SB:
It would certainly be more interesting to run the 3,100 miles straight out somewhere and back, but in order to take care of the runners, it has to be a small course. Also, it would be exhausting if your surroundings were perpetually changing. It’s actually better if everything’s familiar. You need that familiarity to get through those miles.

How do you train to run 3,100 miles?
SB:
During the last couple of years I’ve been focusing on strength training. I used to do a number of shorter distance races to build up to the 3,100 miles, but I haven’t been able to fit in as much running recently. Basically, I’ll run 45 minutes a day with a longer run on the weekends and just try to be fit and strong at the beginning of the race in the summer.

Is finishing this distance a case of mind over matter?
SB:
Not so much the mind as the heart. The mind is so boggled with just the idea of that distance. The mind says you’re tired. I have to go beyond the mind and run this race with my heart, which is full of eagerness and joy. It’s a pilgrimage. I always go inside and meditate. You have to be aware of your surroundings of course, but for me, and for a lot of people, running is a way to quiet your mind a bit, and to feel happy just to be outside. To be outside all summer like that, from 6 a.m. to midnight sometimes, is a special thing.

Are you looking forward to this year’s race in June?
SB:
I haven’t decided if I’m going to run it yet. I have run 13 editions of the race, and 13 is such a nice number. The next number I like is much higher, so maybe this is a good time to stop. We’ll see.

Is running a normal race like the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler anticlimactic after running the Self-Transcendence?
SB:
Not at all. I ran the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler a few years ago and I loved it. Every distance is fun for me, and it’s not like I’m raring to go after finishing a marathon. I’m tired like everyone else.