I have participated in seven New York City marathons, one Marathon du Medoc, and literally dozens of half-marathons. So, I’m no slouch when it comes to long distance running. But watching the runners in this film absolutely blew me away – their focus, their strength of purpose, their indomitable spirit, and their ability to overcome obstacles.
The Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race is the world’s longest certified footrace. Created in 1997 by Sri Chimnoy, he dedicated his life to fostering peace and felt that it could be manifested through silent meditation, music, poetry, art, and sports, especially running. The “3100” is a race which can test anyone’s mettle. It takes place each summer in New York City’s sweltering heat and humidity. And it stretches a runner’s physical and mental limits for a total of 3100 miles over 52 days on a one-city block circle in Queens. There are no cheering throngs, no bands playing; just the relentless sun, rain, and one’s own thoughts.
The Monks of Mount Hiei, Japan in Sanjay Rawal’s 3100: Run and Become
This is the immediate focus of 3100: Run and Become. But there is so much more to this documentary than simply a very long road race. The film delves deep into the hearts and minds of people who strive to finish it. Needless to mention, there are not many who even attempt it. Each year, there are just a handful, including Ashprihanal Aalto, an unassuming newsboy from Finland; and Shamita Achenbach-Koenig, a cellist from Austria. We get an up-close look at their efforts; and it’s not always pretty. There is a lot of pain, blisters, sickness, waning health; and of course, the sheer drudgery of the race.
Following hour after hour of this race might be more than anyone could possibly stand. But director Sanjay Rawal wisely chose to expand his film to include long distance runners and walkers from around the world. We meet Shaun Martin, a Navajo runner whose mission is to run 100 miles to honor his father and the old ways; Gaolo of the San Bushmen of the Kalahari, who is determined to do one last hunt on foot, even though it’s now against the law and punishable by death; and Gyoman-san, one of the Monks of Mt. Hiei, Japan who must walk 1000 miles in their quest for enlightenment or die in the attempt.
Ashprihanal Aalto running in the 3100 mile marathon in Queens, New York
As they pursue their journeys, we hear their inner thoughts and are treated to stunning cinematography: the towering sandstone cliffs of Canyon De Chelly, which have been Inhabited by Native American peoples for millennia and where Shaun ends up being just a speck in the distance; the quiet shuffling of the monk, dressed in all white against a background of green ferns; and the fleet-footedness of Gaolo, as he replicates his ancestors’ sacred rituals.
In fact, my only complaint is that Ashprihanal Aalto, the ostensible “hero” of the film, is a bit flat. His voice is a monotone and he emotes little, even at the end of his nearly 2-month race. The one time he comes alive in the film is when he reminisces about his mother, who died just after her 50th birthday.
But this documentary is still a remarkable achievement on many levels. Three years in the making, Sanjay Rawal has managed to capture the souls of his subjects in a way that is penetrating but never intrusive. And the concept of running has never been made so expansive. You run to celebrate life, you run because it is a form of prayer, you run for enlightenment, you run to heal, you run because you must. To quote Sri Chimnoy, “I compete only with myself, for my progress is my true victory.”