Committed runners talk about getting “in the zone,” the “zen” nature of the exercise, letting your mind go places unconnected to the path your body is covering one step at a time.
But can it lead to a higher consciousness?
That was the thinking behind guru Sri Chinmoy’s creation of the 3100 Miler Self-Transcendence Race. An avid sprinter himself, the late Indian mystic believed that “the inner life and outer life” come together when you’re running.
So he and his followers concocted a New York ultra-marathon, 52 days of covering at least 60 miles a day, “the longest certified road race in the world.” The idea was if you send runners onto a half mile circuit of part of the city, lap after boring lap, they’re going to figure out things about themselves, their bodies and their connection to the world in the process.
“Sometimes he will run to reach the goal, at times the goal will come to him,” Chinmoy preached.
I don’t know about that. But if you’re making a documentary — “3100: Run and Become” — about this annual race (the 2016 running of it is what is documented), you’re going to have to have “characters” you follow, interesting characters, preferably. And you have to find ways to open up the picture. Because a half mile circuit? That’s ridiculously boring, just reading about it.
Filmmaker Sanjay Rawal decided to focus on a a fellow who came to dominate the race over the years, a Finnish man who runs to deliver newspapers every day in Helsinki.
And when even that wasn’t enough, Rawal broadened the film and burned through Sri Chinmoy cash flying to the Kalahari Desert, where bushmen no longer allowed to chase down prey while hunting still run the desert, to Navajo country in Arizona to meet Native American ultra milers and to Japan to follow a Buddhist monk walking the 1000 day spiritual “walking race,” kaihgyo, around Mount Hiei in Japan.
Ashprihanal Aalto, 45, is the Finn, who has to talk himself into taking on the race again in the opening scenes of “3100.” I’ve run so much. I’ve run enough, you know,” he tells his mentor.
But he’s a devout believer and determined to participate in this annual marathon to honor his spiritual leader. If you’ve been given a new name that means “inspiration fire inside the heart,” you’ve got a lot to live up to.
We follow Aalto as he stands at the starting line with a couple of dozen other competitors — from all over Europe and America (all white, most over 40) — and gets the pep talk from race chairman Rupantar Russo.
“No matter how well you do…you will be changed, and changed for the better.”
And they’re off, in the middle of a heat wave, hoping to run through rain, blisters, chafing and cramps for 52 straight days, a few of them hoping to dethrone the race’s undisputed master.
“It exposes everything about you, whether you want it to or not — emotions, weaknesses.”
When that gets boring, we travel to Africa where Gaola and Jumanda Gakelebone talk about laws that changed their traditional way of life in the bush, but not their need to run.
Then we meet Gyoman-san in Japan, explaining the rituals, attire and spiritual benefits of his 1000 day quest.
Aalto recalls running in a Navajo marathon a while back, which was filmmaker Rawal’s introduction to this new culture and a chance to bring other mystical/religious connections to running into his film.
“Running is prayer you’re praying with your feet,” marathon organizer and distance-runner Shaun Martin tells the competitors. Stunning scenery awaits this crew as they cover 35 miles of breathtakingly beautiful high desert wilderness in this race.
The film, like the enterprise itself, can be a rather tedious affair, with proselytizing woven into the spiritual journeys all these runners take on different pieces of ground, and for different beliefs.
And we don’t know if this enlightenment/higher consciousness thing really takes root. The runners of the 3100 are generally focused on that latest blister, that next meal. Aalto, speaking mostly English but some Finnish here, comes off as a simple soul who’s found a religion and a guru he can work with.
But then again, he did that long before he ever came to the starting line of the 3100.
MPAA Rating: unrated
Credits:Directed by Sanjay Rawal. An Illumine Group release.
Running time: 1:20