At school, I remember always coming last in a cross-country running race. It was pretty dispiriting to come last. I put it down to bad genes and quickly retired from running around muddy school fields. I did like cycling, but never got into racing – I wouldn't want the experience of coming last again. With my first tentative self-exploration into spirituality, I came to the conclusion that competitive sport must be bad because it was all about name, fame and ego. So I gave up any interest in competing, but when I joined Sri Chinmoy's path, I was surprised to learn that he himself was a great sportsman and encouraged his students to take part in running and other sports. Sri Chinmoy also had great admiration for sportsmen; he saw their athletic discipline as being a step along a spiritual path of self-improvement and self-transcendence.
As a new disciple, I tried running with great eagerness. But, it left me with a very bad knee injury, which prevented me from doing any sport for about three years. When the knee finally healed, I gingerly got back into cycling, thinking it would be better for my knee. After a year of just riding the bike, I thought, ‘Why not enter some races?’ To my surprise, I found myself doing quite well, and soon I was winning a few local time trials (cycle races against the clock). In British time trials, a large portion of the field are often veterans, people over 40. So when you come 1st out of 120, it's not always quite as impressive as it sounds, but nevertheless, it is still very nice to win and I really enjoyed competing with myself and trying to get fitter. Since I started racing in 2004, I have finished in the top 10 in the national Hill Climb Championships on two occasions and came 4th in the 2005 National 100 Mile Time Trial Championship, and 4th in the National Hill Climb Championship 2010.
After the first year of cycling for a local club, I wanted to race for the Sri Chinmoy Cycling Team, so we asked Guru (Sri Chinmoy) about setting up a team and he replied, 'Very good'. Actually, as most disciples were into running, in the beginning it was a pretty small club, and in the UK I was the main rider. But, I got an added joy for riding for Sri Chinmoy Cycling Team. Recently the team has grown, as more of Sri Chinmoy’s students have got into cycling.
When competing for the Sri Chinmoy CT, it is surprising to find how many people have heard about Sri Chinmoy in some form. The most common way is through running. But, with other cases it might be through music, or some other way. I remember bumping into one schoolboy at a race in Lancashire. He had been learning about Sri Chinmoy – he had learnt that Sri Chinmoy was a poet, humanitarian and ‘had met some famous people’. The schoolboy was trying to work out why a poet would have his own cycling team. I tried to briefly explain, though I think at the time I was probably more concentrated on the upcoming race.
Time trials are a great sport because you can always compete against yourself – trying to beat your own personal bests. It also requires great focus, concentration and discipline. With competing in time trials, I do try to implement some of the teachings Sri Chinmoy gives for athletes. One visualisation he gives is to feel that you are just an instrument, and there is a power cycling in and through you.
I also see cycling as a good practice for remaining concentrated and focused – a quality you develop and need in meditation. Another important aspect of preparing for cycle races is the power of positive visualisation. This is a technique we use in meditation – to visualise peace or infinity. But, for cycling, I try to visualise a very good performance, riding at the peak of my potential with a silent mind.
One teaching of Sri Chinmoy’s that made a lasting impression on me was his advice that the real key to training was the consciousness with which we train. In other words it is not just about miles, heart rates and power meters, but if we can be fully concentrated, aware and inwardly happy, then the training will be much more effective. Sometimes, you can have a training session and half your mind is elsewhere, roaming around. I try to avoid this and have a very specific frame of mind and training target.
In New York, Sri Chinmoy founded the world’s longest footrace – the annual Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race. Needless to say, it is an epic race – runners must cover an average of 60 miles a day over a period of 50 or so days. It is very much a pioneering event, stretching commonly-held notions of what is possible in long-distance running. Sri Chinmoy took a great interest in the race, visiting it every day when he was in New York. On one occasion, he told the runners words to the effect that, if they smiled more, they would be able to run faster. Again, it struck me as a surprising approach. Obviously you can’t be a champion cyclist just by smiling. But, to be inwardly happy and positive does make a big difference in both training and racing.