Transcending the Olympics

The Olympics. That curious time once every four years where I find myself glued to a television set, physically unable to take my eyes off the screen for even a second, and suddenly think…‘Why am I watching Rhythmic Gymnastics?’

What came first – The Leap Year or The Olympics? And were they called Leap Years in honour of the Long Jump? Was Leap Frog an event back in the early Greek days? If it was, how did they manage with all that toga fabric in the way? And if it really is the event that unites nations, why did I distinctly see a bloke mouth “you fucking wanker” at a member of the opposition during the water polo last night? These are just some of the thoughts running through my head today.

Another thought – that Grahak Cunningham’s a bloody legend, isn’t he? A top Australian and real role model, even if you’re not sport orientated.

What’s that? You haven’t heard of him?

In fairness to you, neither had I until I stumbled across a story about him in the ‘Strange But True’ section of the news the other day. Probably because he’s not a Rhythmic gymnast. In fact, he’s not involved in The Olympics at all.

Grahak Cunningham (no, that’s not a typo. I imagine he hates being called Graham as much as I hate people calling me Karen) is a 35 year old extreme fitness junkie from Western Australia who last week won the world’s longest certified foot race, held in NewYork, in what was his fourth attempt. It’s a ridiculous achievement in what sounds to be a ridiculous event.

This is Grahak crossing the finish line. I stole this picture from http://www.abc.net.au

The dubiously titled Self Trancendence 3100mile Race is run around an 889 metre cement block in Jamaica, Queens. According to Cunningham’s website, competitors start running at six o’clock every morning, run for 18 hours a day, and have a maximum of 51 days to complete the 5649 laps required. Ol’ Grahak finished in first place in just over 43 days. Not only that, but when he crossed the finish line having run 3100 miles, or the equivalent of 4989 kilometres, he decided to run 11 MORE KILOMETRES just so he could finish on a nice, round figure of 5000km. During the race, he wore through 10 pairs of running shoes (that’s got to be expensive), lost five toenails (ouch/yuck in equal measure), and developed a nasty skin infection (best not to ask).  Yeah, the dude’s mad.

Now, I’m astounded by this story. Obviously at a human level, to be able to get up every day and run like that requires a combination of both physical and mental stamina most of us average people could never even hope to maintain. I struggle to walk my dog for more than half an hour every day, and that’s when I’m feeling energetic.

Secondly, why on earth anyone would travel to the most fabulous city in the world just to spend a month and a half running around a block of concrete in scummy old Jamaica, Queens is well beyond my comprehension (okay, last time I was in New York I probably spent a bit too much time skulking around Tribeca in the hope of spotting Meryl Streep being fabulous somewhere, but at least I occasionally had a break and went to visit a Broadway show or something, you know?).

Yet what I’m most amazed by is that no one seems to be talking about it. With the exception of an article in The Busselton Mail a few days before he left for New York, and the story I saw on the ABC News website, I haven’t seen a thing. I know the world has been otherwise occupied with stories from London – Aussie swimmers who’ve supposedly let us down, Californian pole vaulters who are way too hot to be pole vaulters, something about William hugging Kate during the cycling and showing too much of her belly. I understand there have been other important things to focus our attention on sporting wise, but surely there’s room in there somewhere to devote a bit of time to Grahak Cunningham?

Is it too soon to say that I think a guy who runs for so long his body shuts down kind of makes the adulation surrounding Usain Bolt’s 9.63 seconds of glory seem over hyped? Not to take anything away from Bolt, because it really is incredible how fast he can run, and he has obviously trained hard to get where he is, but is he really the god everyone’s making him out to be? I mean, how much introspection goes into 30 minutes of parading around in a lycra onesie while the crowd chants your name, before a moment that took less than 10 seconds to complete, and culminates in you wagging your finger at the crowd with a smug ‘I told you so’? Surely it’s whatever the reverse of introspection is to get you that pumped? Actually, what is the reverse of introspection? Is extrospection a word? Gah, I dunno.

Anyway, all of this comparison is irrelevant, because competitors don’t enter the race for fame and glory (which is lucky really, as I suspect those two things wouldn’t be enough to sustain you through the pain of running on concrete with missing toenails). As Cunningham himself says, it’s about the journey and the self discovery that goes on within yourself to motivate and push you to the finish line.

And in this, it seems The Self Transcendence 3100 Mile Race manages to transcend Olympic glory altogether, if only for the competitors themselves. I suspect that was the goal all along.

So, Usain, how about giving it a go?

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