QUEENS — Talk about an endurance challenge.
Devoted runners are plodding a repetitive 3,100 miles around a single Jamaica Hills block. The draining event will make 5,649 circuits and last up to 52 days.
Sarah Barnett has been running the course for six weeks now, spending 18 hours a day on the monotonous concrete and sleeping only three to five hours a night in what she described as the biggest challenge of her life.
Barnett, 37, from Australia, is one of 12 runners participating in the 17th annual Self-Transcendence 3,100 Mile race, the brainchild of the late spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy, who founded a meditation center a couple of blocks away.
“It’s a spiritual journey, but sometimes it’s really challenging mentally,” said Barnett, who is an experienced long-distance runner.
“It’s not like you are in a beautiful forest," said Barnett who put her cleaning business on hold to participate in the race, which began June 16. "You go through moments of loneliness and you are asking yourself: ‘Why am I running around this concrete?’”
The runners tirelessly circle around Thomas A. Edison Career and Technical Education High School, along the Grand Central Parkway and 84th Avenue, a spot chosen by the famed and controversial guru because of its proximity to the movement's spiritual center.
Each lap of the 5,649-lap race is 0.54-miles long. The event is equivalent to 118 marathons.
Originally, it was called the 2,700 Mile Race, but the distance was upped to 3,100 miles in 1997.
Just five runners finished it that year.
The runners have 52 days, in sweltering heat or pouring rain, to complete the challenge, which the organizers call the world’s longest certified footrace. The race is scheduled to end on Aug. 7.
“It’s like Mount Everest,” said Sahishnu Szczesiul, one of the race directors. “It’s there and people want to climb it.”
Chinmoy, whose philosophy had personal fitness as a central theme, set the length of the race at 3,100 miles because he was born in 1931, and 31 was one of his favorite numbers, organizers said.
The neighborhood has welcomed the runners. Some residents have joined them for a couple of laps. Also on the block is Jamaica High School, a playground, a baseball field and apartment buildings.
This year’s runners, most of whom are disciples of Chinmoy, come from eight different countries, including Austria, Finland, Russia, Bulgaria and Ukraine.
In order to finish 3,100 miles, the runners must complete an average of about 60 miles a day, or about 109 laps around the block, Szczesiul said.
Each lap is registered by organizers holding clipboards at a check point, where participants get snacks and water and where volunteers sing and play spiritual music.
“A lot of them may not even have the chance to finish but they will stay in the race for the experience,” Szczesiul said.
The record for the 3,100 mile race was set by Madhupran Schwerk from Germany who, in 2006, completed the race in 41 days and 8 hours. He ran an average of 75 miles per day, Szczesiul said.
The runners have two to three half-hour breaks during the day when they eat and relax.
Szczesiul said they take in anywhere from 7,000 to 10,000 calories a day, eating meals that include ice-cream, sticks of butter, grain products, watermelon and vegetables — Chinmoy’s followers are vegetarian.
Some lose up to 30 pounds during the 52 days of the race, he said.
Participants also lose a lot of salt, Szczesiul said, and some have to get IVs with saline solution.
“We are running on cosmic energy,” joked Atmavir Spacil, 35, from the Czech Republic and who is currently leading the race with 2,584 miles logged as of Thursday afternoon.
Spacil, who was wearing a baseball hat and compression arm sleeves that reduce soreness and fatigue, was smiling and talking energetically at 8 p.m., after 14 hours of running.
This is Spacil’s seventh time in the race. “For me it’s all about fulfillment,” he said. “I never give up.”
Baladev Saraz, 37, from Slovakia, said that for him the experience is a form of meditation.
“This race is not about running,” he said. “You must go inside, meditate and find spiritual strength.”