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`Ultra' runners battle cold, heat, exhaustion in 1,000-mile race

So you thought marathoners were crazy? Well, their thing is a stroll in the park compared to the little exercise currently under way in New York's Flushing Meadow, where a dozen or so otherwise normal folks have been grinding it out for more than a week now in something called the Sri Chinmoy 1,000-mile championship. Eleven male and two female runners began circling a one-mile loop on Saturday, April 26, and since it takes even the best ones 12 days or so to complete the distance, it should be sometime tomorrow afternoon when the eventual winner hits the tape after Lap No. 1,000. The rest of the field will continue running for as long as it takes each one to reach the 1,000-mile mark or until the 15-day limit is reached on Sunday. If you haven't completed the thousand miles by then, you stop anyway and try again next year.

The pre-race favorite was Siegfried (Siggy) Bauer, a 44-year-old New Zealander who holds the world record for this distance (12 days, 12 hours, 36 minutes). But apparently headed toward victory as the race rolled through its 10th day was New Yorker Stu Mittleman, one of America's best-known multi-day runners.

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By late Tuesday morning the 34-year-old fitness consultant had logged 842 miles, giving him a commanding 37-mile lead over the second place Bauer and putting him well ahead of the latter's world record pace. Barring unforeseen developments, estimates are that Mittleman should finish by mid-afternoon Thursday, perhaps breaking Bauer's mark by as much as 8 or 9 hours.

Running third was Trishul Cherns, Canadian record holder for all distances from 300 kilometers to 1,000 miles, while Britishers Dan Coffey and Alan Fairbrother were fourth and fifth, respectively, in the multinational field, which still included 10 men and one woman at this stage, with one member of each sex having dropped out. The lone woman still running was Sulochana Kallai, 56, of New York, who had completed 455 miles.

In addition to the normal stress of running such incredible distances, the competitors in this year's race have been beset by the vagaries of New York's late April-early May weather, enduring near-freezing temperatures at night in the early stages and now battling 80 degrees-plus heat in the closing days. But Mittleman, who holds several American ``ultra'' records and is also a triathlon competitor, has continued running quite strongly, while Bauer and most of the others also have battled on gamely.

Each runner goes at his or her own pace, stopping to rest whenever and for as long as necessary, while officials keep track of the number of laps completed. Somehow, though, they must average better than 80 miles per day to contend for top honors, and nearly 70 just to get in the 1,000 miles within the 15-day limit.

Putting all this in perspective, a regular marathon -- considered by most runners to be the ultimate endurance test -- is 26 miles, 385 yards. Furthermore, after pushing oneself to the limit to complete this distance, the standard procedure is to rest for days, or even weeks. Female superstar Grete Waitz, for example, says three marathons a year are her limit. And few people would think of attempting more than five or six in that span.

So running back-to-back marathons already represents a feat beyond the scope of most runners -- and 12 in a row is obviously 'way out in left field. Yet even this would not begin to do it for a 1,000-mile race!

A marathon a day for 12 days adds up to 315-plus miles -- in other words, just the beginning. In fact, the top competitors at this distance wind up running the equivalent of more than three full marathons a day for 12 consecutive days! Think about that one, Bill Rodgers.

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Why do they do it? The runners can't really answer that one. Not for money, certainly -- there's no prize money in this strictly amateur event. The competitors talk of the camaraderie, the uniqueness of the experience, etc., but they can't really say what it is that makes them drive their bodies to such incredible lengths.

``Ask me when it's over'' is a standard reply. ``Right now it's kind of hard to figure out.''

Or as Bauer put it after winning another such endurance race a few years ago: ``If I were someone else, I would think I am nuts.'' Quotable quotes

Coach Frank Layden of the Utah Jazz on his stylish counterpart with the Los Angeles Lakers: ``Pat Riley spends more money on a haircut than I do on a sports jacket.''

Billie Jean King on the touring pro's rootlessness: ``With tournament tennis you feel like you just visit for a week and then leave. Nothing ever develops.''

Retired Hall of Famer Margaret Wade on her deceptive composure as a Mississippi high school and Delta State college coach: ``I'm not a very emotional person outwardly, but if I had a Kleenex in my pocket after a game it would be confetti.''

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