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In this race, runners circle the same block in Queens for 3,100 miles

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

In late August, 14 runners from around the world began circling a single block in Queens, and they wouldn't stop for 52 days. Their goal? Running more than 3,000 miles. This tedious route is said to be the longest footrace in the world, and it ended just last week. Reporter Lauren Vespoli has the story.

LAUREN VESPOLI: On a recent Thursday night in Jamaica, Queens, Italian ultrarunner Andrea Marcato jogged along the busy Grand Central Parkway. He had less than five miles left in the Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 3,100 Mile Race.

ANDREA MARCATO: This is a very simple life. Basically, you eat, you run, and you sleep. There is a night break from midnight to 6 a.m., and then we come here again the next day.

VESPOLI: Trim, bald and wearing red shorts and a red shirt, Marcato shared his strategy for persevering.

MARCATO: The first problem is boredom, you know? You must have some tools to keep the mind calm and your emotions under control. Every morning, I do meditation and concentration exercises. They help me a lot.

VESPOLI: Spiritual guru Sri Chinmoy founded this race in Queens in 1997. He saw distance running as a means to transcendence and enlightenment. He died 16 years ago, but he still has thousands of disciples around the world. They include the runners, like Marcato, and the race volunteers, who feed them six times per day or provide medical care, like retired physician Garima Hoffmann.

GARIMA HOFFMANN: It defies anything you ever learn in medical school about physiology, what these runners can do. This year we're really lucky. Several had really bad shin splints, but they managed to go through it, and now they're running.

VESPOLI: Kaneenika Janakova, a Slovakian runner doing the race for the sixth time, was taking it slow.

KANEENIKA JANAKOVA: I'm not really making the miles, but I'm just doing my best - whatever comes. In the first thousand, I ran, and then I started walking. So, yeah, I think it's now over a thousand miles I've been walking.

VESPOLI: On a cool clear evening, a small crowd had gathered near the balloon arch marking the finish line.

(CHEERING)

VESPOLI: A few minutes later, Marcato bounded across the finish line, winning the Self-Transcendence Race for the fourth year in a row after 43 days, 13 hours and 33 minutes. He stood in front of an Italian flag and a portrait of Sri Chinmoy, holding a bouquet of white roses as the crowd serenaded him with songs written by the guru.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Thirty-one-hundred miles, 31...

VESPOLI: Winning this race doesn't come with any prize money, but there was a cake with - congratulations Andrea - written in orange frosting.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARCATO: Many, many thanks, and don't eat all the cake. Otherwise, I can't eat.

(LAUGHTER)

MARCATO: Yeah, leave a piece more for me. I lost almost 26 pounds.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Wow.

MARCATO: Now I should get it back.

VESPOLI: While they looked forward to long naps and big meals once they finished, many of the other runners said they'll be back next year, ready to attempt another 3,100 miles around the same block in Queens.

For NPR News, I'm Lauren Vespoli in Jamaica, Queens. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Lauren Vespoli

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