Sri Chinmoy 48 Hour Track Festival, AIS Athletics Track, Canberra, Friday 26 – Sunday 28 March 2021
This report commences with an apology – to every runner who is not named herein, and to their personal helpers, family and supporters. Victory and triumph are achieved, experienced, recorded and appreciated in multiple dimensions and by numberless criteria – not just who ran the furthest or the fastest in which category or race. We chronicle only what is measurable by our wheels and timepieces: the glory and worth of all that is felt, perceived, given, striven for, offered, sacrificed and surrendered with such wholehearted commitment with each footfall of each hero-runner along the way, can only be appreciated in the inner annals of human aspiration and super-human dedication – and treasured in the heart-depths of those who truly care.
Sri Chinmoy 48 Hour Race, AURA Australian National 48 Hour Championship
The 48 Hour race stands a proud summit: either as a beacon calling the brave to the ascent, or as a looming peril to be avoided by the wise in favour of flatter, familiar terrain. Among the brave souls assembled for this inaugural Sri Chinmoy 48 Hour Track race in Australia, half were tackling this mountain for the first time. While not all were atop the peak to scan the view when the final horn sounded, all certainly reached sublime heights along the way, establishing secure basecamps for future ascents.
While the 6 female entrants might have represented only 25% of the contestants, yet they occupied 3 of the top 6 placings at the finish. Outstanding performance of the Festival surely goes to Cheryl Symons, whose 322.352 hard-earned kilometres to win the Female 50-59 category placed her 1st woman, and 3rd outright amongst a stellar field. Whoever did not know Cheryl before this event, will never forget her absolute concentration, maintained throughout with grace, strength and equanimity in the face of every obstacle. The ever-cheerful Niki Wynd also topped the 300 peak, winning the Female Under 50 category with 304.906km, from Kris Ryan who completed 208.436 km. Rounding out the F50-59s, the indefatigable Saranyu Pearson clocked 141.988 km, while Cassie Smith walked her way serenely to 95.95 km.
Canberra local Paul Mahoney won the M50-59 category with a suburb personal best of 252.448 km, showing his year of training and focus since the 2020 race was cancelled, has been put to very good use indeed. Stepping up from the 24 hours to 48 hours for the first time, after participating in a record 33 Sri Chinmoy 24 Hour races since the early 1980s, Anyce Melham plumbed and offered all the depths and beauty of his heart as though composing a love poem, in winning his M60-69 category with a wonderful debut 256.155. John Timms ranged from the depths of losing almost all energy and inspiration, to the heights of frenetic sprint laps, in taking out the M70+ with 149.021.
In the men’s field (under 50), the race on paper looked to be between proven 24 hour stalwarts, Ewan Horsburgh, Stephen Redfern (both NSW) and Matthew Eckford (Qld). Racing for 48 hours for the first time, Ewan and Stephen each brought their “A-games”, while Matthew also won many admirers for the way he continued with utmost intensity despite setbacks along the way. While all bring their distinct personalities and consciousness to the field of any game, gathering or event, nevertheless in a race of this scale, the attitude and demeanour of the leaders plays a formative role in everyone’s ultimate experience, offering inspiration and aspiration not through words but the force of their sheer presence, deeds and actions. In olden times, any self-respecting King would ride at the head of his troops into battle, so it was only appropriate that the President of AURA should lead from the front. The current AURA President, Ewan Horsburgh ran in a seemingly monk-like bubble, a picture of focus, form and energy-efficiency as the remainder of the field dutifully, and admiringly followed while he tallied a wonderful 48 hour debut of 346.546 km. Stephen Redfern was both an admiring follower of Ewan, and exemplary leader to the rest of us through his nobility, consistency and loyalty to his purpose – and beautiful running form, bringing home another superb 48 hour debut 326.441 km. More familiar with 24 hour and 100 mile racing, Matt Eckford tallied 275.738 km for a PB over the 48 hours, extending his inner resources of courage and perseverance to establish a powerful base for future expeditions in these rarefied, high-altitude realms.
Once again, our apologies, deep respect and gratitude to all the unnamed participants who, like the unmarked graves of the anonymous fallen soldiers without whom no military victory could ever have been carried, complete and enrich this compelling human epic of aching bodies, yearning hearts and soaring souls.
Sri Chinmoy 24 Hour Race
24 hours is a complete rotation of our massive planet; the sum total of every conceivable arrangement of the hands of the clock; the gamut of our physical, emotional and mental perspectives on the passing of hours, minutes and seconds; a choc-full calendar diary page; multiple life-spans of numerous smaller life-forms; an entire season of “24”.
If 24 hours is the standard-bearer of Time, so is running the simplest, purest expression of humanity’s aspiration and progress. So is the 24 Hour Race a perfect metaphor and distillation of the soul’s journey in and through time and space.
While the 48 Hour race claimed lanes 1 and 2, the 24 Hour race offered an equally compelling revelation and inexorably blossoming drama as counterpoint in the adjacent lanes 3 and 4, albeit a story told in a complementary dialect, rhythm and metre. Witnessing both races unfold alongside each other was akin to reading “War and Peace” and “Great Expectations”, or Dante’s “Divine Comedy” and Goethe’s “Faust” simultaneously; or listening to Bach’s “St Matthew Passion” and the “Goldberg Variations” at once; or taking trips to Mars and the Moon at the same time – each perfect, complete, utterly engaging and fulfilling in its own terms.
For observers, one of the absorbing dimensions of an Ultra is the pacing and tactics of the runners, as each strives toward their personal goals, while taking in stride the inevitable setbacks along the way. Those who lead in the early hours, quite often do not find a place on the podium, though they can be winners in the great school of learning and experience.
Matt Griggs ran the ideal race, the arrow of his aspiration shooting a perfect arc across the span of a full day to land him in the hallowed realm he had so fervently sought – “240+”. While Matt’s winning distance of 244.087 km was streets ahead of the field in the final analysis, yet he was powered forward by many others, providing a slingshot to his efforts – including those like Thomas Allen and Michael Brennan whose own early speed had to bow before the laws of physics and blisters. Special mention also to Ashley Colquhoun (187.77 km, 2nd place); Stephen Kiley (174.598 for 3rd) and Stuart Wallace (171.104, 4th place); and to Aaron Francey whose 162.048 km earned him 1st place in the Male 50-59 category.
Kathryn Austin won the women’s race with her sterling 169.223 km, ahead of a controlled and inspired run from Niboddhri Christie of 151.636. It was also heartening to observe and admire Kree Wright accompany her good friend Kim Falco (1st F50-59) the entire way to clock identical milestones of 100.358 km.
Sri Chinmoy 12 Hour Race
Because the 12 Hour race was the only event sharing lanes 1 and 2 with the 48 Hour runners, the field was limited and hence only 14 starters toed the line; yet what this race lacked in numbers, it more than made up for in quality and performance!
Bernadette Benson was the early shooting star, aiming for stellar records over the 6 hour, 50 mile and 100 km distances, though hampered by badly bruised ribs suffered in a fall only days before the race. Once Bernadette withdrew after 82 km – claiming a new Canadian W50 6 hour record (yet to be ratified) – the contest came into clear focus between 3 strong and steadfast warriors of the track, with a slender 4 laps separating them at the close of their journey from late morning to late night: Joe Ward emerging triumphant with an impressive 125.754 km, just edging out Adam Keighran’s 125.085 for 2nd place, while the dauntless Tia Jones took 3rd outright from the Female 50-59 category, to claim a swag of National W55 records en route, including for 6 hours, 50 miles, 100 km and 12 hours (all to be ratified).
Vice Hazdovic took out the Female Under 50 prime award with 102.72 km; and Lib Smith the F60-69 with 76.474; while Kieron Blackmore was the lone yet glorious representative of the M60-69 brigade, clocking an impressive 92.16 km.
Sri Chinmoy 6 Hour Race
It’s not often in an open running event that the top 3 places outright are taken by females! (and 6 of the top 9 placings…) The largest field of the Festival assembled at the respectable hour of 2pm Saturday for a race into the evening. From early on, it was clear that the men in the field would have their work cut out for them to match the pace, style and stamina of the leading women, especially after the withdrawal of David Reis and Justin Hiatt from the contest: and what a race it turned out to be!
Chloe Skewes-Weir ran a phenomenal race to claim a new Australian National W20 age group record (to be ratified) of 63.097 km, to place 3rd overall. Ahead of Chloe there unfolded an Herculean tussle between the front runners with Simone Hayes ultimately triumphing with 66.613 km, ahead of 2nd placed Cassie Cohen’s 66.419 km – the difference at the finish a mere sliver of 194 metres. Cassie's consolation was a new Australian W25-29 6 hour record (to be ratified). Our thanks to these wonderful runners for staging such an engrossing drama, which kept the spectators and the 48 hour participants on the edge of our seats till the ultimate lap.
Kelly Bennett took out the Female 50-59 category with 51.773 km; while Anne Skewes was first among the F60-69 with 39.984. Gregory Jenkins took out the M50-59 with 53.617.
Sri Chinmoy Midnight Marathon
To most of the world, The Marathon embodies the pinnacle of running endeavour and achievement. In a twist of context, on this weekend of super-human performance, the marathon is the ‘baby’ of races on offer. Starting at midnight on Saturday night, after all the intensity and flurry of the 24 hour, 12 hour and 6 hour races all having concluded on this busiest of days, and the night’s calm and inward quiet has fully descended on the arena, with only the 48 hour warriors still performing their circular devotions on the inside track, 14 fresh faces and eager hearts lined up to commence a new adventure, a sprint over the relative fun-run of a mere 42.2km. Unlike every other race of the Festival, this one had a finishing point defined not by the clock but by an ageless distance, and the faster one reached that goal, the sooner to bed!
Sarankhuu Jargal, having helped for most of the weekend trackside and infused with the energy and inspiration of the occasion, sped out to lead the field home in 2:58:00, breaking 3 hours for the first time. Following were Phillip Aerts (3:22:53) who rode his bike to and from the race, and Oliver Carey (3:29:45). Rick Patzold took the main honours in the Male 50-59 with his umpteenth marathon in 3:52:49; while the only 2 females in the field excelled in their respective age categories: the amazing Susan Archer proclaimed that she felt ‘a bit of a fraud’ running ‘only’ a marathon in the company of such incredible ultra athletes, before taking the Female 70 and Over prize in 4:51:41; while the superlative Jane Sturzaker chalked up Marathon number 302 (having completed the Sri Chinmoy Marathon in Melbourne last Sunday) to take the Female 60-69 in 5:39:51.
Our sincere gratitude to all participants across all races of the Festival and to their helpers, supporters, families and well-wishers; to the staff of the Australian Institute of Sport; to AURA (the Australian Ultra Runners Association) for honouring this event with the title of 48 Hour National Championship, as well as promotional and in person support; to Martin Fryer of Flyer Ultra timing services; to Rebekah Stamatis and her team for medical support; to Jon Schol, Steven Hanley and John Harding; to "My Rainbow-Dreams" café for catering; and to members of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team from Mongolia, the UK, New Zealand, the USA, Perth, Brisbane, Melbourne and Canberra.