Running the longest race in the world...
So how did I get myself into that one?
Well, you certainly wouldn't have guessed it from my childhood. I wasn't really the sporty type; I was too small and clumsy for the local Gaelic football team (it turns out being small can actually be beneficial when running super long distances, though!), and I was more into books and reading. I did a degree in theoretical physics in Trinity and eventually went on to do a PhD in the same field.
One thing I developed an interest in around this time was meditation. I really liked the idea of being able to tune into a deeper source of awareness and happiness, and I started doing it by myself for about a year and a half after reading some books a friend gave me. After a while I felt I really needed to go deeper and make more progress, and I found some meditation classes run by some students of Sri Chinmoy in Dublin. I really had some very profound experiences during these classes, and I felt that my meditation became noticeably better. So I decided to try meditating with the Sri Chinmoy Centre.
Sri Chinmoy felt that meditation was not an escape from the world; instead, you could use meditation to improve whatever you were already doing - be it music, art or sport. For example, my brother Sadanand is a musician and also a student of Sri Chinmoy; he tours all over the world playing music, and also has opened up a music shop in Dublin's Temple Bar District called Gandharva Loka. In the sporting world, Sri Chinmoy encouraged us all to stay fit and run races, partly because you get so much satisfaction from just challenging yourself and reaching your goals. The first year I became Sri Chinmoy's student, I was inspired to run the Dublin City Marathon, and I finished in a time of 3:23. Thereafter, I would do one or 2 marathons a year until 2008, when I became inspired to try longer races. So for the next few years I would do these kinds of races. However, there was no way I was going to do anything longer than that.
Of course, I thought to myself I would start with the Six Day Race; so I started training for that and I did my first 24 hour race in London that autumn. A few weeks after I did the 24 hour race, I had another interesting experience. One thing I really love doing is giving meditation classes and sharing meditation with the general public. I was giving a class that evening, and for some reason at the end, some of the audience were really interested in the link between meditation and running, and I remember going home from the resulting discussion really energised and inspired. The next morning when I was meditating - a kind of inner feeling came to me; if it is going to be such an amzing experience, why not do it for ten days instead of six? So I signed up for the 10 day race instead.
The race itself was really exhausting, but I had trained quite well, and thankfully I was able to stay running for the entire ten day duration. I really had some amazing experiences during the race. Somehow, during these races the mind somehow goes away, and you are able to really get into a very nice space. I remember thinking halfway through the race being so grateful that I had chosen the ten day race, because if I had chosen the 6 day then it would have been almost over already (I will admit it wasn't always like that!). On the last day, I was able to stay up all night and put in 91 miles for a 622 mile (1000km) total and 4th place.
Actually, it was during this race that I started thinking about the 3100 Mile Race. And the only reason I was thinking about it was that I realised my performance was far exceeding my expectations (my goal when I started was 500 miles) and getting close to the unofficial qualifying mark - 600 miles, or 60 miles a day, which is what you need to do on average in the 3100 mile race to finish before the cutoff. I didn't really know what to think about that; I think part of me was hoping I wouldn't make 600 miles! But I did, and so after the 10 day I started wondering whether I should do the 3100 Mile race.
It actually took me quite a few months to get back to full running speed after the race. I still really didn't know whether to do the 3100 Mile race or not, and one day at the beginning of the year, I decided to call the race director and see what he thought. He said he could squeeze me in if I really wanted, but he would recommend to train hard and do the 3100 next year. While talking to him, I also realised it actually would be the best thing to wait, in terms of my own schedule. So I decided to do the 10 day race again that April, and I ended up with 702 miles. (I was quoted in an article about the race in the Wall Street Journal, and also in article on the back page of Morgunblaðið, the Icelandic daily paper)
How did you end up in Iceland?
I lived in Dublin from my college years, all the way to November 2013. Then I got a request from a good friend of mine, Snatak Mathiasson, to come and work as his care assistant. Snatak has been dealing with ALS for many years now; despite that, he organises an acapella choir that tours all over the world called Oneness-Dream, as well as owning a music store called Sangitamiya in downtown Reykjavik. He has been meditating for over 30 years now, and I must say he is a real advertisement for what meditation can give you, in terms of equanimity, peace of mind and staying happy. I really like Iceland. I'm doing my best to learn Icelandic too - at the moment my pronunciation is ömurlegt, but the Icelanders are a patient people.
What do you do when you're not running?
I used to make my living from making websites, and still do a lot of voluntary work on sites connected to our meditation centre. One of the sites I help with is actually the 3100 mile race website, so I'm not sure what I'll do if something happens to it during the race. I have also written quite a few articles on different sites - a few years ago, some articles of mine ended up in a book compiled by my friend Tejvan Pettinger called Happiness Will Follow You, which also included some charming stories by Sri Chinmoy.
Nirbhasa is a pretty unusual name!
I guess it is. As far as I know, I'm the only person in the world called Nirbhasa. (Although I do remember a conversation with some lady who cold-called me trying to sell me something; she really liked my name and was going to recommend it to her sister who just had a new baby. Inwardly I was like 'Don't even think about it!', although I was too polite to say anything.)
Funnily enough, it sounds kind of Irish - a lot of people in Ireland just assume it is, and they pronounce the bh as v, just as you would pronounce it in Irish. The name was originally found in ancient Indian scriptures and (to heavily paraphrase) it means the light that shines from within to do good things for the world, or good things for other people. I wasn't born with it - my parents gave me the name Shane, the name Nirbhasa comes from my meditation practise. So my Mam and Dad still call me Shane (only fair, since they went to all the trouble to give it to me) and everyone else calls me Nirbhasa.
I had it changed legally a couple of years ago, which was actually quite a fun process. The solicitor who had to sign the papers said she has had to deal with people looking to change their name to Evil Kneivil and Stevie Wonder, so my case wasnt such a stretch in comparison. She had actually been to India herself, and was really interested in my name and what it meant. I had brought my youngest brother to be a witness to the deed - she jokingly asked him why he wasnt getting his name changed too! (Being the youngest brother, Aidan has managed to accrue himself a fair share of nicknames - Scut, Spud, Feacair to name but three - so he'd have no shortage of choices at the deed poll office.