New York hosts the world's longest foot race

THE longest foot race in the world is 3,100 miles, long enough to stretch across the continental United States. Those who run it choose a different route, however. They circle one city block in the New York borough of Queens - for two months straight.

The athletes lap the block more than 5,000 times. They wear out 12 pairs of shoes. They run more than two marathons daily. In the heat and rain of a New York summer, they stop for virtually nothing except to sleep between midnight and 6am.

"I think this is what they're looking for: the feeling that you're living life for real," runner Pranab Vladovic said of himself and 13 other athletes now competing in the tenth annual Self-Transcendence 3,100 Mile Race in Jamaica, Queens.

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The 51-day event is sponsored by followers of the meditation master Sri Chinmoy, who teaches his students to excel mentally and physically. Some swim the English Channel or climb a mountain. Those in the race run under the motto "Run and Become. Become and Run."

They eat on the run. They talk on the run. They use a portable toilet. One athlete cruised into a podiatrist to have two infected ingrown toenails removed and was back on the course in two hours. He still ran 60 miles that day.

The athletes brave blisters, bandaged toes, weight loss, limited sleep and a chiropractic nightmare while attempting to stay focused and positive for nearly two months. Their effort, they say, is a gift to humanity.

"Not everyone can climb Mount Everest, and not everyone can run this race," said race director Rupantar LaRusso. "But it's a challenge. It's inspiring and shows that there's no limit to what you can do."

All but one of this year's runners are foreigners, who left their jobs to run the half-mile circuit around Thomas Edison High School and an adjoining park.

"To each his own," local resident Shawn Vernon said, as the runners neared their 2,100th mile, one month into the race, which ends on 2 August.

The runners arrive by 6:07 every morning to begin another 60-mile leg. They run, walk and run-walk in this race of ten million steps.

They know what to eat and when. They gobble down 6,000 calories daily from a vegetarian smorgasbord, much of it bathed in olive oil.

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"They're like little kids in a way," assistant race director Bipin Larkin said. "Their life is really simplified."

"Every minute, every second counts out here. You have to keep moving," Suprabha Beckjord, 50, said, stressing that the competition was not against other runners but the clock. The first-place finisher wins only a T-shirt and a plastic trophy.

Beckjord is the only person to have completed the race every year and has run nearly 31,000 miles, more than the circumference of the Earth.

"Something inside my soul just loves it," she said. "It's like running on love."