TO most casual athletes, the concept of running a single marathon is beyond their endurance capabilities.
Make it between two and three marathons each day for close to seven weeks and you’re getting an idea of what Grahak Cunningham is about to put himself through.
The former Busselton Senior High School student flew to New York on Monday to take part in the Self-Transcendence 3100 mile (4988km) race, the world’s longest certified running race.
Remarkably, this will be the fourth time that the 35-year-old swimming teacher has taken part in the event, the last being in 2009 when he finished second out of a 13 person field, completing the run in just over 44 days and nine hours.
“Each time I swear never to do it again, but something about it draws me back,” he said.
“Knowing you can do better is an opportunity too good to miss.”
The Self-Transcendence race was the brainchild of Indian spiritual teacher and former athlete Sri Chinmoy, and sees runners doing continual laps of a 900m block in the Queens area of New York.
They endure 18-hour days of running in circles with little fanfare and little eventual reward other than personal satisfaction.
“We pay a $US1200 entry fee which covers your food, accommodation and laundry plus people to count laps,” Grahak said.
“At the end of the race we get a plastic trophy and a T-shirt.”
Despite the apparent disparity in effort to reward, Grahak said he found happiness and selffulfilment from what he did.
“If you take the feeling of self-transcendence into even the smallest task, that’s when you can find happiness.
“If you take it into sport it becomes tangible, running faster or running for longer.
“I do a lot of yoga and focus on breathing techniques to stay relaxed and happy because the mind can carry a lot of doubt but you need to stay happy in your heart.
“The key is the idea of the race, to push yourself a little bit and go out of your comfort zone.
“There’s a tremendous feeling of satisfaction in being happy in your environment.”
Now based in Perth, Grahak said he has prepared by running over 220km for each of the last three weeks and going on regular six to eight hour runs.
He also finished second in the Bunbury 50km ultra-marathon last month but despite this punishing schedule, he said nothing can prepare you for the race itself.
“You prepare the best you can to build confidence, but for the first six to eight days you are struggling.
“You are almost training during that early period and then you get into a routine and it becomes easier.
“There are two main challenges, the obvious being the physical problems with your feet swelling.
“Some decide to walk at that point but I push through and find it does go away.
“The other is if you become too focused on the mental side and notice how far you have to go, that’s when you have doubts.”
Grahak plans to spend a fortnight in New York after the race, partly as a tourist and partly because “it’s difficult to move” for awhile after the run, and says he cannot wait to cross the finish line at the end.
“The feeling is euphoric; it is an indescribable sense of achievement knowing you’ve accomplished your goals.”