3100: Run and Become

The Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race is the world’s longest foot race, and likely the strangest, too. 3100: Run and Become, Sanjay Rawal's documentary about its summer 2016 iteration (its 20th), is a curious, thoroughly reported, handsomely shot, ultimately frustrating portrait of the event. Featured is one participant -- 45-year-old Finnish paperboy and meditation devotee Ashprihanal Pekka Aalto -- who completed it for a 14th time.

Rawal devotes his runtime to the why of this bloody-footed equation. "The goal is to transform myself, to become a better person," Aalto says. "The running itself is the meditation." This leaves unsolved a more prosaic mystery: Why is the race confined to one block of Jamaica, Queens, amounting to just over half a mile? Competitors must average 60 daily miles to stay in the game, and they have 52 days to complete their 5,649 laps. The race’s founder, Indian meditation teacher Sri Chinmoy, was a runner and weightlifter who believed fitness was key to finding enlightenment. But the tedium of covering the same plot of sidewalk at least 120 times per day for seven weeks must be as grueling as the heat. (The race is held between June and August.)

Side trips to more cinematic destinations in Botswana, Japan and Arizona introduce us to other endurance athletes, who elucidate the spiritual quests behind their bodily privations. After less than an hour on that sun-baked concrete square in Queens, these interstitial passages come as sweet relief, making you pity the runners who choose to spend 18 hours a day on their cracked and swollen feet there.

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