Sunday, April 27, 2008

Running Buddies - Heidelberg Half Marathon

Running buddies – Team Harmony Run and Team Sparkasse – Me (with the red head) and Ellen (with the beautiful smile)*

„Only“ a halfmarathon, but again a great training experience, especially on this hilly and scenic route. My goal was just to run it and enjoy it as a training run - one step more towards the big goal. With a 10 hour-walk 2 weeks ago, a 12-hour run coming up next weekend in Basel and a couple of extra pounds I had no intention of trying to beat last year's time. (My final time: 2:28 - way at the end of our age category even, but I was happy! It is not the result but the attitude that counts, I have learned or am still learning.)

It was great that Ellen, an on and off running buddy since about 2 years when she or I are not travelling, was able to run after an injury. Although we promised to run at our own pace if one of us felt like going slower or faster, we ended up running almost all the way together. In the beginning I pulled her and slowed down a couple of times, towards the end, when the sun affected my cardiovascular system, she was pulling me and finally even went ahead a few hundred meters. (I just hope the 80 km running part in August will be afternoon, night and morning.)

The weather was great – cool and sunny in the morning, warming up, but with a fresh breeze and some hazy clouds towards the end. Nature was gorgeous: the trees had just put on their ligth green spring foliage, fragrant white and mauve lilacs were greeting us from the gardens along the Neckar, apple and cherry trees were in bloom ...

The first 7 k of the course are basically flat - through the old city, across the old bridge, back along the Neckar for a loop through Neuenheim, where friends spotted us and cheered us on – nice energy boost!

Spectators seem to become more enthusiastic from year to year: there are grown up people (and of course lots of children, too) banging on children's and other drums, clapping away with all kinds of instruments, cheering, calling your name which is printed on the number, offering water, coke, bananas, apples – on halfmarathon day the whole city seems to becomes a joyful, dynamic, selfless family.

After this „warm-up“, the first uphill section starts, quite steep and winding. We reach the Philosophenweg with its spectacular view down to the Neckar valley and to the castle on the opposite side, and again, people are cheering all along the way. From the blazing sun we soon enter into the shady forest, with softer ground under our feet. The noise subsides, we can hear the birds and the sound of the runners feet. More uphill, Ellen is lagging. She did not really carboload properly (sandwich and croissant yesterday!), so I offer her some of my raisins, not to swallow, but to chew to absorb the fruit sugar. They seem to help, she is picking up. Soon we have reached the highest point (after km 10) and start rolling downhill, into an open part of the forest with tall beeches covering the hillside. It feels like in a cathedral of nature – only instead of heavy cold stone there is organic soft, green foliage high up with the sunlight peeping through and glimpses to the Neckar. Some runners – and swimmers – say nature is their church. Ellen says, she feels like running is her meditation. I fully agree.

Down along a brook towards the monastery and up the next steep hill in open sun. Running we are slower than some walkers – never mind. Music, cheers, water and energy drink at the top, a short break waiting for my running buddy – I am not in a hurry and prefer staying together. It is more joy and can give more energy when you need it, and I am not in for a personal best anyway.

In Ziegelhausen, before crossing the Neckar, I get my head under a fountain to cool off a little. A few minutes later, in Schlierbach, the next „heartbreak hill“ starts. I run-walk, Ellen runs – same speed. We are still cutting jokes and laughing a lot. I am thinking of my friends at the 10 day race in New York, on a semi-eternal journey or running pilgrimage. Here, only 5 more kilometers to go - „piece of cake“! It feels so short having run it so many times. We remind ourselves to enjoy it – it will be over so soon! Schlosswolfsbrunnenweg – the road passing the castle – always seems to stretch longer than expected, but soon we reach km 19 - and here is the castle! „Only downhill from here“ a helper is cheering us. Ellen seems to be rolling faster now, we still stay together for a bit, then I encourage her to go at her own speed. She feels I will catch up with her again. I do catch up finally – after the finish line! (She is a few months younger, so that's o.k.)

After several cups of water, a roll, some Apfelschorle (water and apple juice) and coffee I bike home, take a shower and go to our Sunday meditation place. What a great feeling of inner joy and peace and fullfilment. Running is like clearing the path for something to come to the fore from within. The concentrated silence of meditation, making the mind calm and focussing on the heart, intensifies this inner experience and expands it. Later I sit in the garden in the shade for some time, again in meditative silence, looking down over the Neckar valley, just enjoying. Feeling so grateful – for the beauty of it all. And priviledged.

Getting hungry I treat myself to an open-air Greek salad and Cappuccino at the Pizzeria on the „Ziegelhäuser Plaza“, legs and aching feet up on a second chair, enjoying the sun and overhearing a couple at the other table talking about their half-marathon experience. Life can be so simple and so good!

Later I will go for a short 1 hour bike-ride along the Neckar, in the setting sun, and finish off with a Feta-tortilla and some Hägendaz icecream in town later in the evening. (That evens out the daylong web workshop on Saturday.) My feet are grateful to be soaked in some "Efasit" before going to bed, they cooperate much better the next day - I am learning to take better care of my body with increasing training intensity.

(*Ellen's husband is in the US Air Force - sometimes I am amazed at how often I get in contact with (nice!) people connected with the military, abhorring anything military myself, probably due to my last incarnation which supposedly was in the German military, which I do believe for various reasons)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Back from New York

Shrouded in mist - early morning at the Statue of Liberty, before the sun came out powerfully

10 days New York seemed more like a month - packed with endless inspiration and activities, but no swimming in open water. The weather was mostly sunny, yet cold - except for the day of the Harmony Run. I saw water and the ocean several times, glittering magically in the sun, from the plane, helping at the marathon in Flushing Meadows, and when we were taking the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, but it just did not happen (and it mostly did not look tempting on closer inspection, either). Instead I will be in Dover on May 17/18th!

This brief period of meditation, sports, music and meeting with friends from all over the world, a regular annual tradition since long, helped refocus and recharge batteries.

World Harmony Run New York

At the global World Hamony Run Opening Ceremony (which actually took place after the start in Europe!) in New York, April 10th, I had the fortune to meet again one of the most inspiring athletes of the last decades, Carl Lewis, who has supported this international torch relay right from its beginning in 1987, and his mother Evelyn, who only a few days ago had been inducted into the South Jersey Track and Field Hall of Fame for her pioneer work as a track and field coach for girls. They joined our team on the ferry to Liberty Island for a ceremony at the foot of the Liberty Statue and Carl actually saved the day when a security officer did not want to let us bring the suspicious looking Harmony Torch on board and could not reach his superior, who knew about it. Explanations that the torch was needed for a ceremony with Carl Lewis were fruitless, until Carl Lewis himself came back to the security gate. On seeing the Olympic legend, the officer exclaimed in awe: "O, Carl Lewis! Why didn't you tell me?" (which we had) and let us pass immediately.

On the ferry to Liberty Island, with Manhattan in the background

The misty morning developed into a beautiful sunny and hot day, and carrying the torch from Battery Park along 3rd Avenue with New York highschool teens and about 100 international runners was great fun and a nice bit of training. At the end, Carl joined us again and lit the fire on stage at the Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza, where Billie Jean King, some other celebrities as well as ambassadors and representatives of several Permanent Missions to the United Nations welcomed the runners. From here, the torches of friendship will be carried trough more than 100 countries on all continents around the world, including the whole of Europe. After the ceremony, Carl, getting tired of having so many pictures taken of him, went with us across the plaza to pay a personal visit to the international school whose children had performed a beautiful "world harmony song" at the ceremony. The children and staff, of course, were delighted, and went on to take even more photos.

Photo credit: Thomas Lee, "Sing for Hope"

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The "Flying Nun" - Sister Madonna Buder

Meeting inspiring athletes is always a boost in regard to my own discipline and goals. Another special athlete I had the chance to spend time with was Sister Madonna, 77 years of age, who had come to participate in the World Harmony Run.

Sister Madonna running all the way from Battery Park to Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza

A quite unusual nun, she started running in 1978 at the age of 49 , inspired by a priest who told her that running would help harmonize mind, body and soul. She discovered her running talent and qualified for the Boston Marathon which she ran in 1982 and 1983, raising money for Multiple Sclerosis, and then turned to triathlons as a new challenge. She has completed some 31 Ironmen so far (the oldest female finisher in Kona), over 300 triathlons altogether, and is still going strong! One of her mantras, she smilingly told us, is "Praise the Lord, bless his Holy Name", which she often chants rhythmically, sometimes even out loud, when she pounds along the hot tarmac of Kona. It has helped even others who were struggling and heard her chanting and then used it for themselves. The beautiful thing about her: she does not compete for her ego, but for God. If compete is the right word at all. She would have long stopped doing triathlons, but something "inner" compels her to go on - and she seems very happy with it, in spite of all the pain and lows and occasional accidents. She certainly is a shining example of the power of the spirit.

After she attended our Bhajan Concert at the United Nations, which she enjoyed tremendously, we did a long interview with her which may be seen soon on Live Voices.

For her, it does not matter which cultural or theological background a person comes from, "we are all one family", she said at the Harmony Run Ceremony. And she particularly liked the poem on the back of the World Harmony Award Medal she received as a tribute to her own inspiration to others:

"To change the world around you
give the world
what you have
and serve the world
with what you are." - Sri Chinmoy (founder)

A very inspiring article about her incredible feats and her spiritual attitude and wisdom was written by Greg Damian: Sister Madonna Buder . She Glows, She Flows, She Really Goes
One of her mottos: "The only failure," she says, "is not to try."

12 Hour Walk

The annual 12 hour walk in honour of my teacher, Sri Chinmoy's coming to the West on April 13th, started at 7 p.m. on the 12th. I was an hour late because of a meeting and was going to "take it easy" anyway. I am not as hardy as some of my teammates who do the 12 hour walk and then a marathon a couple of days later. My goal was not to challenge my previous best but to do a bit more than the 46 k in Nürnberg. I have to save my feet if I want to do the Heidelberg halfmarathon on the 27th and the 12 hours of Basel on the 3rd/4th of May, where I want to get close to the 80 k of my Channel Triathlon running leg.

The weather was perfect again - still a bit warm at the start, mostly dry, then getting colder during the night with a short spell of drizzle around 2 a.m. and dry but even colder towards the morning. I felt strong and comfortable, but did not go all out - more an "LSD"-tempo, long slow distance, but still fast enough in a smooth rhythm to feel the joy of "dancing" or "flying" and getting a good cardio-workout. I love the night, its silence and special otherworldly quality, it is easier to concentrate within while watching the stars, the crescent of the moon, listening to the first birds in the morning, rising surprisingly early around 2 a.m., and later watching the sky getting lighter with the rising sun. My heels (a chronic bursitis) were killing me at times, but I could feel the inner joy at the same time. When it became too painful around 6 a.m. and I had done 31 laps (36 miles, about 58 k), I tried to listen within and felt it was o.k. to stop.

It may seem crazy to walk for 10 (or 12) hours around a 1 mile lap in the middle of the night - but it can be a very special inner experience, and most faces were beaming and glowing the next day, in spite of some limping around for maybe 1 or 2 days (not everybody did, though).

I would have loved to plunge my legs and feet (and the rest of myself) into an icy ocean at Jones Beach the next day, but unfortunately nobody had any time or inclination to come with me. The outside temperature had dropped drastically and the wind had picked up quite a bit now. And putting your clothes on by yourself after a prolonged swim in icy water can be quite a challenge - not to speak of safety concerns if you are alone out there.

So welcome back to the pool in Heidelberg now - until the first Dover-weekend of 17/18th of May!

Anybody around London is invited to a great free concert in the Royal Albert Hall on Monday, May 19th, with Boris Grebeshnikov, founder of the Russian Band "Aquarium", and other international artists. Details and free tickets:

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Time Is Flying - Nürnberg - Rome - New York

Running inspiration from Tegla Loroupe at the World Harmony Run in Rome

Only four months to go.

My training is still relatively "easy-going" compared to a serious triathlete. But I know from experience, if I do too much on a daily basis, I will get injuries. In between longer distances right now I am swimming or running for 45 min. or 1 hour a day, plus a little bit of weights. After my meditation-retreat in New York next week, things will get more intense and biking will start.

The 6 hour Self-Transcendence Race in Nürnberg on March 15 with its spring-like temperatures was great cardio-training (more on my German blog - using an online translator can give quite an amusing angle to the German version!), although 46 k in 6 hours is "nothing" compared to some of my ultrarunning friends who are training for the 10 day Self-Transcendence Race in New York, running 40 and 70 k back to back on 2 consecutive days just like that. But it is futile to compare myself to them. I am always happiest, if I can take inspiration from others and try to do my best in a given situation. So I was perfectly happy even though I finished with 100 m less than the year before - due to a bit more body weight and 15 minutes in the medical tent, but speeding up again at the end and feeling fine afterwards. This is what has always inspired me about Sri Chinmoy's philosophy in regard to sports: the main thing is not to challenge others, but to challenge yourself - with the help of others.

What gives life its value,
If not it
s inner cry

- Sri Chinmoy

Team work: my dad (helper on the bike), Pragya (organiser), myself and Inessa (helper)
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The European Opening Ceremony of the World Harmony Run in Rome on March 27th was a very special training: running with former marathon world record holder and UNICEF ambassador Tegla Loroupe and hundreds of children with a flaming torch as a symbol for world harmony and friendship from the FAO to the Colosseum, the Campidoglio and on .... (see the report and more photos on

For me the World Harmony Run, which dates back to 1987, is like an ultra-ultra-ultra-marathon. One may think the goal of world harmony is millions of miles away, if it can ever be achieved. But each little step or contribution of each individual brings the goal closer, and here each little step is so much more joyful than not doing it! Each step even embodies the goal itself. By embarking, as an amateur athlete, on a challenge like the Channel Triathlon I hope to be able to inspire people to feel that with our inner power and vision more things are possible than we normally would dare to dream of.

Next will be the Heidelberg Halfmarathon on April 27th, which is quite challenging due to the hilly route. This week was my last chance to run basically the whole route as a 2 1/2 h training run. It is extremely scenic, winding along the philosopher's path to Ziegelhausen and back on the other side passing above the Heidelberg Castle, with beautiful views into the Neckar valley, and I enjoyed every bit of it, having picked a perfect day and time weatherwise (dry and cool, early evening.)

In regard to swimming I am yearning for open water - the indoor pools are just too warm! But the Neckar is not really tempting, I love clear water. Cold showers have been my only cold-water training this year. Maybe in New York next week there will be a chance to take a dip in the ocean at Jones Beach! The next long swim will be May 1st, just before the 12 hour race in Basel, and then the first Dover-weekend is coming up!