Those who have visited Gandharva Loka over the past few days may have noticed a new face behind the counter. That would be me – Shardul, a keen flute player and music lover. While I do not have a great knowledge of the many wonderful instruments that are available in the store, I have been learning on the job and it has been an inspiring opportunity and challenge. A lovely aspect about working at Gandharva Loka is that the people who come into the store generally derive and express great joy at the wide variety of instruments which represent so many of the world’s cultures. It is a happy space to be in.
The reason I was fronting Gandharva Loka is that the managers of the store, Vajin and Prasasta Armstrong, were away following up opportunities and challenges of their own. As is mentioned on this website’s meet the team page, both Vajin and Prasasta are athletes. This past Saturday Vajin competed in New Zealand’s premier off-road mountain race, the Kepler Challenge – with Prasasta playing the all important role of support crew. Not only did Vajin finish the tough 60 km mountain race, he also won it with a very respectable time of 5.03.27. (Tramping the Kepler track with a pack takes most people three days or more!) I think Vajin’s win surprised a few people because first-timers do not usually win the Kepler Challenge. The course record is 4.37.41 which was set by Phil Costley in 2005.
The race begins with a steep 15 km climb that often takes its toll on the runners. Following that, the downhill and switchback nature of the trail demands great concentration, stamina and technical prowess – mistakes can cause disaster. Reflecting the nature of the race, Vajin’s path to the Kepler Challenge was not all straight lines and tail winds. It all began when he failed to obtain online entry into the race due to the website being overwhelmed with applicants. Entry to this very popular race is limited as it is held on Department of Conservation land and it is a case of first in, first served. This from The Southland Times:
Vajin Armstrong talked his way into the Kepler Challenge but he delivered in emphatic fashion by winning his debut turn in the 60km mountain race.
At 25 on the waiting list, the 30-year-old from Christchurch probably would have made it to the start line for Saturday’s race, which has numbers capped at 400 because it is raced in the Fiordland National Park, regardless.
Not taking any chances, Armstrong approached organising committee chairman Steve Norris ahead of the race and said he was particularly keen to race so he could give defending champion Martin Lukes a serious challenge after training with him in Christchurch.
Norris has got to know Lukes well during his three consecutive wins in Te Anau so he approached the affable Cantabrian and asked if Armstrong was a real threat.
Lukes, to his credit, confirmed Armstrong’s credentials and encouraged Norris to give him a start. Read more >>
There is often a great camaraderie between runners and Vajin related to me that Martin Lukes has always been an inspiration to him and was one of the first people to encourage Vajin, who was initially a middle distance track runner, to take up the challenge of longer distance races.
After finishing Kepler, Vajin high-tailed it back to Christchurch to participate in the Christchurch Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team‘s inaugural Colombo Street Mile which was conceived and organised by the Marathon Team’s Anurakta O’Neill. Seeing the opportunity to host an elite milers event in the mold of the renowned Fifth Avenue Mile in New York as a preliminary event to the Christchurch Santa Parade, Anurakta approached the parade’s organisers who liked the concept and gave it the green light. He had this to say of the race:
Colombo Street is closed for an hour before the Santa Parade begins – a straight, almost perfectly flat road. A few months back it occurred to me that it would be great to have New Zealand’s best milers race on Colombo Street in the tradition of the 5th Avenue Mile in New York as the crowds build up for the parade – something inspiring for both the onlookers and the athletes. Runners in New Zealand do not often get the chance to participate in street races before large crowds like they do in States for instance. On Sunday the crowds responded by cheering on the runners who all commented that the energy and excitement really inspired them to do their best. We also added a kids mile to start the event and that went well too.
I have to say that the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team is really grateful to the organisers of the Santa Parade for giving us the chance to trial this event and we are hoping that it will build up from here and become a feature of the New Zealand road racing calendar. (Race Report and Results)
Being part of New Zealand’s running community and having a good understanding of runners and running, Vajin played the all important role of race commentator for each of the three races that made up the event. Far from being exhausted, Vajin was refreshed and inspired by his Kepler experience and the Marathon Team members were all really grateful for his presence and clear-headed commentary on the day. (View the Sri Chinmoy Colombo Street Mile on YouTube.)
Winning races like the Kepler Challenge does not come easily and it has to be said that, like any dedicated athlete who has solid goals, Vajin has worked very hard at training for this race. “Where to from here?”, I asked Vajin on Monday morning.
For the past two years he has won a 47 mile road race that is held in New York each August to celebrates Sri Chinmoy‘s birthday. Having been Sri Chinmoy’s meditation student for a number of years, Vajin has received a great deal of inspiration from his teachers example of and love for self-transcendence – the art of going beyond previous accomplishments and always looking toward new goals. This year Vajin came within six minutes of breaking the 31-year-old race record so he sees the August 2011 race as being an opportunity to test himself and attempt to transcend that record. He would also like to have a crack at the renowned Western States Endurance Race in the near future. No doubt he has other goals but this week Vajin is looking to the coming weekend and The Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team’s 100 km race in Christchurch’s Hagley Park – an event that sees him playing the role of race director.
What gives life its value
If not its constant cry
– Sri Chinmoy.
- Vajin Armstrong Interviewed by TV3 about winning Kepler – YouTube.
- Kepler Challenge video – The Southland Times.