It’s easy to be impressed by someone who completes, or even runs, a traditional marathon. Now try to imagine running one that is 3,100 miles long and takes more than 50 days to complete. As impossible as that may sound, add to that the fact that those competing are doing so around one square block (approximately a half-mile once around) in Jamaica, Queens, New York, requiring them to cover nearly 60 miles per day on average. They can run at whatever pace they want, take breaks, eat drink, nap, but most are in such total control of their bodies that they have to be forced to stop for any reason by those tracking their progress.
This endurance test is the world’s longest marathon, the Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Run, created by Indian spiritual leader Sri Chimnoy and captured by director Sanjay Rawal (Food Chains), who profiles the small number of participants while also taking a larger look at the practice of long-distance running around the world for the purpose of unlocking something spiritual or honoring those in our life. But whether he’s showing us a Navajo man running through the deserts of Arizona to pay tribute to his father or a Japanese monastery that includes daily runs for hundreds of days as part of its rituals, the filmmaker always brings us back to that block in Queens.
3100: Run and Become’s primary subject is Ashprihanal Aalto from Finland, who achieves spiritual enlightenment through this level of physical exertion. When we meet him, he is the world record holder for the 3100, and even watching him train hurts the eyes at times, despite the fact that he makes it look far too easy to run 60 miles a day for the better part of two months. He seems happy, even when he’s exhausted. In fact, the trait many of the runners featured here have in common is that they all seem to suffer in silence and with a peaceful look on their faces. We also meet Shamita Achenbach-Koenig, a cellist from Austria, who nearly died 20 years earlier from overexertion and a refusal to fall behind. The communication between her and her husband is often quietly tense, as that summer’s brutal New York heatwave puts an end to many of the runners earlier than normal.
I’m not sure 3100: Run and Become could be described as inspirational, but it’s certainly intriguing and an eye-opening look at a way of living most of us will never understand or emulate. At a certain point, you start to feel the pain and the heat and the chafing, and that may be too much for many. I found it almost hypnotic watching these competitors, who rarely acknowledge each other for being so focused; I found the film to be as captivating as it is curious and mysterious.
The film opens for a weeklong run at the Gene Siskel Film Center. Director Sanjay Rawal is scheduled to appear for audience discussions after the screenings today at 6pm and Sunday, September 23, at 5:30pm. There will also be a special showing of the movie on October 6 at 1pm, the day before the Chicago Marathon.
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