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New documentary explores why people do a 52-day, 3,100-mile Queens race

"You are feeling such a tremendous amount of joy and clarity," Queens filmmaker Sanjay Rawal said.

The documentary "3100: Run and Become" spotlights participants

The documentary "3100: Run and Become" spotlights participants in the 2016 Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race, including Ashprihanal Aalto. Photo Credit: Courtesy Illumine Films

Why would someone run 3,100 miles around one city block for 52 days in a row?

That’s what filmmaker Sanjay Rawal set out to explore in his new film, “3100: Run and Become,” which opens at the Village East Cinema on Friday.

It centers on the annual Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race started by the late spiritual leader Sri Chinmoy, who embraced fitness as part of his teachings.

Touted as the world’s longest certified footrace, it requires participants to run about 60 miles a day around a single block in Jamaica, Queens. They are allowed to rest and take breaks but must complete the 3,100 milestone within 52 days.

“He believed that physical fitness is a transformative tool,” Rawal, 43, said of Chinmoy, who died in 2007. “Self-transcendence is the idea of going beyond what you think are your limitations.”

That experience is available to runners of all skill levels.

“Even if you are the slowest person on Earth, in a week or two or three, you can literally measure your progress,” said Rawal, a seasoned runner who lives in Briarwood.

He spotlights two of the runners who have traveled to Queens to participate in the race: newcomer Shamita Achenbach-Koenig, 53, an Austrian cellist, and Ashprihanal Aalto, 48, an ultramarathon runner who has completed the race 14 times.

Running the same course around Thomas A. Edison High School off the Grand Central Parkway might not be the most scenic route in that leafy part of Queens. But Rawal said logistics are more important than the view.

“You enter a flow state, as they call it,” he said. “You are feeling such a tremendous amount of joy and clarity.”

Also having access to food, water and restrooms is key.

“Having RVs every half a mile takes all the guess work out,” he said.

Rawal spent years as a follower of Chinmoy and also worked in philanthropy and human rights before making films. He said he wanted to delve deep into the experience of people who test their endurance with running — beyond the participants of the race.

He traveled to Japan to interview monks who partake in a 1,000-day challenge that involves daily long-distance running; the Kalahari Desert in Southern Africa to spend time with the San, who still run to hunt for their meals; and Arizona to speak with Shaun Martin, a Navajo runner and coach.

Rawal said he was inspired by Martin’s view that running is a prayer, a teacher, a celebration of life.

“You are speaking to Mother Earth with your feet. You are breathing in Father Sky,” Martin says in the film. “You are telling them, you are asking them for blessings. You are showing them that you are willing to work for that prayer, for those blessings.”

“That’s mind-blowing, no one ever told me that,” Rawal said. “They believe if they run with the right mindset, it makes them a better person.”

IF YOU GO

"3100: Run and Become" director Sanjay Rawal will participate in a Q&A following the 7:20 p.m. screenings on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, among other opening weekend festivities | Village East Cinema, 181-189 Second Ave., citycinemas.com

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