Running the longest race in the world...

My name is Nirbhasa Magee. I'm originally from County Meath, Ireland; I currently live in Reykjavík, Iceland. You're probably here because you've heard something about somebody running the longest race in the world - I guess that would be me. So far, I have completed the Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race three times - in 2015, 2017 and 2019.

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, and I was more into books and reading. I did a degree in theoretical physics in Trinity College, Dublin and eventually went on to do a Ph.D. 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 after reading some books a friend gave me. I just did it by myself for about a year and a half, but then 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 percussion instruments (particularly the Indian tabla), 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, with the occasional longer race. I was aware that the 3100 Mile race existed (members of the Sri Chinmoy Centre in America organise it) but in no way, shape or form did it occur to me as something I might do. 

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An overview of the 6 and 10 day race, held every April in Flushing Meadow Park in New York

And then in 2012, that all changed. By a chance occurrence, I was in New York when the Self Transcendence Six and Ten Day Race was going on, and I was able to visit the race. The race consists of a six day and a 10 day race taking place at the same time around a 1 mile loop, 24 hours a day. There was three or four of us in a car, and we drove up to Flushing Meadows Corona Park at around eleven o'clock at night, where the race was taking place - it was really quiet and peaceful; just runners steadily making their way around the one mile loop. As soon as I stepped out of the car onto the course, I somehow knew I was going to do this race. I don't know why; just straight away it seemed like the most amazing thing in the world and I knew that was going to do it next year.

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 amazing experience, why not do it for ten days instead of six?  So I signed up for the 10 day race instead.

My first multi-day race

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I really had some amazing experiences during my first 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! 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. That race is an invitation-only race, and you need to have demonstrated some prior experience; the race-organisers use 60 miles per day during the 10 day race as something of an unofficial qualifying mark (60 miles a day is what you need to do on average in the 3100 mile race to finish before the cutoff). I did 62 miles per day, and so after the 10 day I started wondering whether I should do the 3100 Mile race.

One day at the beginning of the year, I decided to call the race director of the 3100 mile race and see what he thought. He said he could squeeze me in if I really wanted, but personally he would recommend to train hard and do the 3100 the following year. While talking to him, I also realised that he was right - it actually would be the best thing to wait. So I decided to do the 10 day race again that April, and I ended up with 702 miles. It definitely was the right decision; it gave me a lot of confidence to do the 3100 mile race.

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 from Iceland, to come and work as his care assistant. Snatak had been dealing with ALS for many years, and he was beginning to need help with all his daily tasks, so I did that from 2013 until Snatak's passing in 2019. Working for Snatak was really a life-changing experience for me; he had been meditating ever since 1985, and I must say he was a shining advertisement for what meditation could give you, in terms of equanimity, peace of mind and staying happy. And active! He founded an acapella choir that tours all over the world called Oneness-Dream, as well as owning a music store called Sangitamiya in downtown Reykjavik. In 2017, a short documentary about Snatak called Seeker premiered at the Reykjavik International Film festival.

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 saying 'Don't even think about it!', although I was too polite to say anything outwardly.)

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 quite a few 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 Knievil and Stevie Wonder, so my case wasn't such a stretch in comparison. 

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