Her face was puffy and blistered, her feet so swollen she could barely walk. And she was suffering from a bad cold and cough. But none of that mattered to Ishita Dam-Widder, who declared with a big grin, "I've never been happier in my life."
The 38-year-old personnel manager at Madal Bal Zurich had just completed her first Sri Chinmoy Six-Day Race.
"I feel like a newborn baby! All I'm going to do now is eat and sleep - just what a baby does."
From April 28-May 4 she had been running and walking virtually non-stop around a one-mile loop in Flushing Meadow Park, Queens, averaging about 52 miles a day.
"It was like a physical and spiritual transformation," she said. "Because you're moving all the time and things are going faster -- even the digestion -- the body is throwing off its poisons and getting purified.
"And because things are moving faster on the inner plane also, if you're in a good consciousness you can make enormous spiritual progress. It's like living a whole lifetime in six days.
"When you're running a race like this, the trees and sky seem so beautiful, so alive. Even colors look brighter and more intense. At first I thought I was hallucinating, but other runners said they had similar experiences. I think that because you are purer inside, you see more purity outside.
"And I was so happy when I was running. I didn't think it would be this great. At one point I felt this could be my whole life. Of course, the body won't allow that, but I was ready to go on running forever."
One of the nice things about this kind of race, she said, was the peace of mind she experienced. "Everything was there: food, clothing, medical help -- all my needs were taken care of. I have so many mental problems at work, but during the race I had nothing to worry about except running.
"I saw Guru twice. I was happy to see him, but it wasn't really necessary because I constantly felt his spiritual presence. They kept the light on in his gazebo, and I could see it from way off; so I felt he was always there.
"He's always with us inwardly, but it's only at times like this -- when you think about nothing but the basics -- that you recognize this so strongly.
"I felt a strong connection with my inner self during the race. I started out with the idea of going to sleep at mid¬night and waking up at four. But each night something got me up earlier. The mind says you need the sleep, but the inner being says get up and run.
"I don't think I slept more than a few hours during the whole six days. If you had told me in advance that I would be sleeping only 10 or 11 hours in six days, I never would have signed up for the race."
Of course there was pain, she said. In the beginning, her stomach hurt and her face was very swollen. Later on, when her feet began to swell, she wrapped them in cabbage -- which drew out the inflammation -- and had to run in oversized shoes.
"I was often sick as a child, so I'm used to body pain. With each difficulty, I told myself, 'This is just another new challenge, an experience that will come, then go.'
"Each time I had a serious problem there was always somebody to solve it - either one of the runners who had gone through the same difficulty, or the medical people. They told me, 'Oh yes, everybody has that. It's normal.' So it didn't bother me, because I knew it would disappear.
"Nobody can run a multi-day race and not go through pain. But when the race ends you forget all the suffering and remember only the good things."
One of the good things she remembers is her new understanding of her spiritual teacher's philosophy.
"When you see so many runners from different countries coming together to do the same thing, you begin to understand Sri Chinmoy's vision of a oneness-world-family.
"In everyday life we don't see the common goal we share with everyone because the world is too big and contains too much variety. But the race reduces our world to a small scale, and it's very apparent that we're all running the same loop. For me, this was a first step toward growing into the consciousness of a oneness-world-family."
Ishita began the race with no expectations. "I've run the Sri Chinmoy 47-miler many times, and each time I wanted to exceed my previous time. But in this race I didn't have even one expectation -- except to do my best, avoid serious injury and try to stay happy. Those were my only goals. I didn't compete, not even with myself. I just wanted to run; I just wanted to be.
"For 10 months I was looking forward to the race. I had such an inner feeling of wanting to do it. Now that it's over, I feel I really achieved some¬thing. You get so much more than you give. And if you don't spoil it, you're able to keep the things that you achieved.
"My first night in a normal bed I felt so sad that it was over. I wanted to go back and continue running. I can't explain it, but even when I was sleeping, in my mind I was still running."
reprinted from Anahata Nada, newsletter of the Sri Chinmoy Centre