Had you said the name Portishead to me 20 years ago I’d have instantly thought of the band. Now I think of stopwatches and swim caps. I think of breakfasting on bread and tea in a squally coastal wind at dawn, and all the many things that happen before second breakfast (a hearty fry-up at the Lido). In short, I think of the annual Self-Transcendence Somerset Try-a-Tri.
No disrespect to the band – the fragile voice of Beth Gibbons got me through many a dark hour back then – but the fact is I’m immeasurably happier now. It might sound eccentric giving up a weekend to travel 9 hours round-trip from York to Portishead so I can stand around with a fluorescent bib and a clipboard to count swim laps at an outdoor pool, but trust me, I wouldn’t want to miss it. There can be few things more heartening than the sight of a hundred novice athletes – of all sizes and ages – giving this challenging and incredibly complicated sport a go. You wouldn’t even catch me out there in my swimmies at that time in the morning, never mind the rest of it.
This is the event’s 4th year, and entries are booked out months in advance. Each athlete seems to have a ready-made support crew of proud parents or offspring waving homemade banners, clanging cow-bells, and belting out improvised chants from the sidelines regardless of the weather, and there’s always plenty of weather. The Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team organises races worldwide – anything from a 1-mile run to a 3100-mile run, as well as swimming, cycling and multi-sport events. The emphasis is on self-transcendence, following the inspiration of its founder Sri Chinmoy. I’m no athlete, and I may or may not become one in this lifetime, but I love the chance to play my little supporting role at these events.
Self-transcendence gives us joy in boundless measure. When we transcend ourselves, we do not compete with others. We do not compete with the rest of the world but, at every moment, we compete with ourselves. We compete only with our previous achievements. And each time we surpass our previous achievements, we get joy.”
The oneness of the Eastern heart and the Western mind, part 3