Wednesday, April 8, 2009

My 21 kilometers in Berlin

I have been infected with the running bug from childhood. I must give its credit to the folks in my neighborhood with whom I grew up in Solapur. Those guys put in me the habit of getting up early, feeling the dew and running for fun. Once into that habit, I almost always continued that. So much so that I used to wake up early whichever place on the globe I was on and go for a walk/run in solitude.

After a while, when I was a graduate student at Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, I started jogging and playing cricket in the mornings with a group of friends. I, typically, used to be the one who would get up early and knock and get others up. Especially few notorious for not getting out of the bed! :) The habit of persuasion was so strong that, when I had gone to Beijing for a School, I used to call up from there to wake up the guys at 6:30am IST! :)

With the practice of running came the idea of running in Hyderabad 10K (2005), which I indeed completed successfully. After coming to Berlin, when I heard of Berlin half-marathon, though it sounded bit daunting having never attempted 21kms earlier, here was another target! And I was game.

It was good to have the gang of people to practice with. Practicing otherwise can be a tough task. Apart from going through the pain of practice, I enjoyed running through Berlin as well as a bit of out of it. It was a nice way of getting to know Berlin. After running for around 75kms or so in about two months while practicing, I was pretty much sure I will make it to the finish line fairly easily.

After the excitement of procuring the ChampionChip (the RFID tracker), the marathon t-shirt and my race-number (3343), I was all set to run on the final day (5th April 2009, Sunday). The run began at 10:45am and I was on my own. There were music bands on the roadsides. Loads of people, especially kids, cheering up all the runners.

After 12kms or so I had slowed down and was walking. There was this old grandma sitting on a high-chair on the grass-lane dividing the road. She looked at me, cheered up and said something in Deutsch. I couldn't understand it verbatim, but it was obvious to me what she was saying, "No slowing down. No walking. Keep running, son!" I agreed, cheered back to her and restarted my run. The co-runners were smiling at us... :)

Towards the end of the run, I was too tired and was walking down. There came an old man, a co-runner. He cheered me up, asked me to run along with him and told me it was just three more kilometers!

Well, I knew it wasn't impossible. :) I ran all the way to the finish line! 2:46:59 Hrs.

After all, running 21kms had been more of a mind game than a test of physical endurance. Beyond the necessary training that my body needed, to go through the ordeals of running 10, 15, 17 and 21kms at a stretch, it was indeed a mind game! Even as I was dashing towards the finish-line, I was wondering if it was possible to reduce the pain felt by mental tricks? Perhaps it is [1]. Since the body-map in our brains is malleable [2], it could be possible to modify the sensation of pain felt in our body. Perhaps to displace it out of the body!! :)

As I touched the finish-line the announcement on the loudspeakers said: "Ganisch Begler aus Indien ist hier!!"
[1] "Visual distortion of a limb modulates the pain and swelling evoked by movement", Current Biology, Moseley et al., 18, 22, R1047-R1048 (2008).

[2] Chapter 3, "Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind", V S Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee, Harper Collins Publications, (1998).