Expanding my comfort zone and pacing myself: lessons from my first 10K

(Before you begin reading, you should know I have a YouTube channel where I vlog my life. I vlogged part of my run, and I’d appreciate it if you watched. I am excited to explore the creative opportunities that YouTube offers. If you enjoyed watching – please subscribe. For now, I hope you enjoy the blog.)

It is 4:34 PM, 27th March 2022 as I’ve started typing this. I am proud to have completed my first 10K yesterday; the Expo 2020 Dubai: Run 3.

Going into this run, I was sure of 2 things:

  1. My lower body would curse me for signing up for this run a mere week ago, and
  2. I would cry after crossing the finish line

One of those things happened yesterday.

My right hip was stiff, my knees protested with every step as I climbed the stairs to my room, my calves had grown into bulls, and I had developed an angry-looking blister on the underside of my left foot.

Number 2 happened this morning. (Ha, number 2 happens every morning!)

I woke up at 7:07 AM, went to my balcony, plugged my earphones in, started listening to this euphoric electronic house track, exhaled about 30 seconds in, and felt a surge of emotion overwhelm me.

Before I knew it, tears had welled up. I let them roll slowly, eventually raising my right forefinger under my left eye to dab my face, and brought it to my tongue.

Surprisingly, it didn’t taste salty. “Good, I hydrated sufficiently last night.”, I thought to myself.

I then went on to unceremoniously perform number 2. I’ll spare you the finer details…but I will say it was the performance of a lifetime. I’m kidding, of course.

It was, however, the best performance of my day, so I’ll chalk it up as a win.

Emotions running high.

I’m not surprised I cried this morning – I’ve cried countless times these past few months. Most times in the car when listening to music (that’s when it hits me the hardest); sometimes when failing to dead-hang from the pull-up bar in my community; and there was the one time I vividly remember getting emotional after I’d finished performing lunges at Spartans, my boxing gym, whilst listening to Mall Grab’s ravey, yet nostalgic club-ready anthem.

I rushed to the washroom to ensure no one would spot me, and ask what was wrong.

I splashed water on my face, stared at myself in the mirror, mentally berated myself for letting my emotions get the better of me, and then walked out as if nothing had happened, hurriedly leaving the gym.

I’ve analysed why I cry in my journals. This is what the most insightful entry in Google Keep reveals:

Fun fact: The Lion King is my all-time favourite movie, with Human Traffic coming a close second. (Nice one, bruvva!)

Pay attention to, “I thought of The Lion King, and was probably overwhelmed by knowing the time has come to earn my rightful place in life. And that I’m only just getting started on my journey. It is both exciting and scary.”

To unravel this requires its own blog, and I want to focus on my run in this one.

But to sum up this ‘journey’…I got into a relationship in September 2021 and knew if I wanted to make time and care for someone I loved, I had to first ensure my life was in order.

(If you’re reading this, you’ve probably flown in an airplane.

A brilliant way of viewing the idea of self-care is by pondering on the phrase heard some 30,000 feet in the air,

“In the event of a sudden drop in pressure, an oxygen mask will drop from above. Secure your own mask first before assisting others.”)

You cannot help anyone else unless you first help yourself.

Which is why I made a conscious decision to start taking care of myself, began fixing 8-year-old gym injuries, and proceeded to shoulder more responsibilities, and wrest control of my life; after the 2020 shitshow left me directionless.

I cannot gloss over the facts the woman I briefly dated asked we become exclusive, then cheated on me, broke up with me over text (coward!), and decided to up and leave the country after promising we had a future.

I rarely, if ever, wish ill on anyone, but I did not wish my ex-girlfriend the best in her future, either.

As much as I love connecting with people, want them to achieve their full potential, and want the best for everyone in general, I can cut people out of my life at the drop of a hat should they cross me.

And my ex wronged me. Revenge is a dish best served cold.

Having said this, I was not seeking vengeance. But after that abrupt break-up, I decided to focus on improving myself with renewed vigour, and vowed to myself I would never put anyone else’s needs above mine.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

To this end, I’ve started prioritizing my health. You can read about it here:

Word to the wise: if you suffer from shoulder impingement, give dead hangs a try. Disclaimer: I am not a doctor; I just know my body.

Taking on the challenge of running my first 10K was right up my alley, and fit into my plan of pushing myself physically and mentally in order to grow.

A 10K is ideal for experienced runners who are seeking a greater challenge.

It is the kind of run anyone with moderate fitness levels should be able to complete with ease.

Funnily enough, I am not an experienced runner. The last time I’d run was in school (16 years ago, to be specific). And my knees aren’t in the best shape, either.

Understandably, on the eve of run, I was a nervous wreck. You can watch how I felt here.

Beware the spoiler: l filmed myself after finishing the run and edited it into the clip, and I felt fantastic.

On the flip side, my fitness levels have considerably improved ever since I started boxing, and implementing HIIT into my workout routine.

This is why I decided against introducing anything new into my routine, and didn’t run even once in the weeks leading up to D-Day. I decided to wake up, rock up, and run like I’d never run before…

26th March 2022: up and running at 4 AM.

I only managed to sleep for about 5 hours the previous night. Partly because of excitement, and partly because I’d worked out my arms to steady my nerves, which had the opposite effect of rejuvenating me.

After breaking bread with a peanut butter sandwich, banana, and mug of black coffee, I donned my bright yellow Expo 2020 Dubai: Run 3 t-shirt; and drove to the Expo site, which was only 20 minutes away.

The 10K was scheduled to start at 6:30 AM. I had received a lengthy email briefing on 21st March, in which runners were told to arrive one hour prior to their race, which meant I had to arrive at 5:30 AM.

I pulled up into the Mobility Parking at roughly 5:45 AM and was pleased to see a crowd of over a thousand strong people, walking towards the Mobility Plaza.

I started vlogging. I was restricted to using my phone’s front camera after my back camera seemed to have lost its focus after the events of a wedding I’d attended in Abu Dhabi.

So when I came across the Expo 2020 sculpture and wanted a photo, I asked a fellow 10K runner named Suraj to click one with his phone and send it to me over WhatsApp.

I wonder if I should have worn a darker shade of shorts as opposed to the neon orange. Shot by Suraj on 26th March 2022, close to the Mobility Parking, Dubai Expo 2020, Dubai.

I started chatting with Suraj and his friend, and he told me he was from Bombay – I love Bombay people – I find them interesting.

This wasn’t his first rodeo: he was an experienced runner. I asked him for tips, and he told me to find my rhythm, have fun, and remember to breathe.

Remember to breathe. Got it, Karan?

I thanked him for his tips. We’d arrived at the security gate, wished each other a good run, and said goodbye. I placed my Expo bag on the conveyor belt, walked through the metal detectors, and stepped foot into the Expo site for the first time since it opened.

It’s been 6 months since the remarkable Expo show. It has attracted millions of visitors – many of whom have come from around the world – and I somehow never made time to check it out.

I always thought I’d go…but in-between work, being a social butterfly, my fitness goals, and creative work…I never did.

That’s what 25 Dirhams got me.

On my way to the start line, I learned of the 3 Expo passes I’d received, I could only use the other two the same day (one pass counted against my entry). Which I was not too pleased about, because I was sure I’d be knackered afterward.

It didn’t matter; my thoughts were focused on the run. After dropping my bag at the Festival Garden, I passed by the stage where an MC was urging runners to take their place at the start line, his energetic voice ringing clear on this brilliant Saturday morning.

I was texting my best friend, who was getting snapped (she’s a model and actor) in the desert as the sun rose, and she told me to kill it. I appreciated her words.

I limbered up, focusing on my calves and hips. They are tight because of fat-pad impingement in my knees – a long-standing injury I’m only just starting to fix.

I got another photo clicked at the start line from someone named Tejes, who asked I click one of him in return; I happily obliged.

Courtesy Tejes, fellow 10K runner.

Formalities out of the way, I crossed the line and began to jog.

The clock had begun to tick. The tag I sported on my shirt served two purposes:

  1. It would record my finish time since the tag had a chip attached to it.
  2. It would help identify me in photos clicked by official Expo 2020 Dubai: Run 3 photographers.

On the path of truth.

Before I describe my run, I’d like to tell you about a Yugoslavian proverb that just came to mind, “Tell the truth, and run.” I read this in Hey Whipple, Squeeze This, an excellent book I recommend for anyone looking to break into the advertising industry, learn how to make great ads, or improve as a copywriter – which is what I used to do prior to what I’m doing now.

I’ve always been an honest guy; my parents raised me well, and I have a loving family. But I bring up the concept of truth because as I’ve started working towards becoming the best version of myself, I’ve had to kill a past self: one that indulged in pleasure, was lazy, and did not live up to his potential.

And as I’ve dug deep into what my core values are, I’ve realised honesty is paramount amongst them.

I want to live an honest life. And whilst I never lied to anyone, I used to lie to myself. Frequently.

I made promises but failed to honour them.

They were little things. Like telling myself, “Karan, you will not smoke a cigarette today.” Or, “Karan, you will not indulge in so-and-so vice today because you have to make it to work on time tomorrow.”

When I made these commitments to myself but didn’t follow through, my unwavering moral compass – my conscience – scolded me. I knew in my heart of hearts what I was doing was wrong, but didn’t take corrective action.

I watched myself repeating the same mistakes from the outside when I’d journal.

I hated failing, and felt frustrated.

Until one day, I’d had enough. I decided to be better. The aforementioned break-up also played a role in shaking me up.

As I’ve started walking the path of righteousness, I’ve met people who – either by virtue of their nature or the kind of communities they’re

a part of – have helped broaden my horizons, and experience new things.

So, as I started to pick up the pace on my run, I was not surprised to hear Dani – my boxing coach at Spartans Boxing Club – call my name in the distance.

I never would have run this 10K, let alone know about this if it weren’t for her.

She told me about it towards the end of February after one of our classes. And now, 1 month later, there I was, running alongside her and vlogging it.

The photographers captured a joyous moment: I’d pulled out my phone to shoot a quick clip when Dani spotted me vlogging. She came beside me, said she’d see me at the finish line, and went on her way.

Thoughts in motion.

Thoughts into action.

I decided against vlogging my run. With my back camera not working properly, I’d have to use my front camera. As handsome as I am, I didn’t want people watching my sweaty face for the majority of the vlog.

I marvelled at the grand architecture of the pavilions around me, thinking of the time, effort, and collaboration of numerous people it must have taken to construct them.

I continued to run.

I looked around, watching men and women running alongside me. Some older, some younger. I noticed one girl had switched to walking within the first 500 meters. She was recording herself, “Man, I can’t believe I’m tired already. I’m sweating so much, I should have…” her voice trailed off as I looked back, smiled at her, and continued running.

Over the next 500 meters, I slowed down, as I realized how much further I had to go. Considering my lack of preparation and stimulated state of mind, I estimated finishing in roughly an hour, which meant it wasn’t sustainable to continue at the pace I did. I started to slow, but not quite jog. It was somewhere in between. I had found my pace.

Suraj’s words resonated with me.

My breathing was steady. Now, all I needed were my tunes. I plugged in, and…

I continued to run.

I breezed past some people, who had stopped to take photos. I, of course, had no idea why they were running, but personally, I was there to run to my heart’s content, no matter how long I took to finish.

By this point, the electronic music had taken over, invigorating me with every step.

I had hit my stride.

I turned a corner. The sun was shining bright, bathing us in its joyous light.

It was a glorious day, and I was ecstatic I’d decided to take part.

I continued to run.

Around this point, I was sweating. Profusely. Up ahead and to my right, I noticed a table with water bottles on them. A friendly person was handing them out to runners as they passed.

I drifted to the side, and slowed down, right hand at the ready. Without missing a beat, the man at the table handed me a bottle. I thanked him, and

I continued to run.

I slowed down to open the bottle, take a few gulps, and assessed how my body felt.

My feet had started to get sore. My calves felt tight. I’d probably been running for about 4.5 km now, and the unwelcome thought of if I’d be able to complete this run crossed my mind.

I thought of that thought for a few seconds. And dissected it.

The reason why that thought came to my head is because my body was tired, and it told my brain I should stop running.

But it was just a thought. Must we pay attention to every thought that comes to our head?

Not really.

Must we act on the thoughts that come to us? Yes, but only if they’re good thoughts.

Thoughts that inspire us to enact positive change.

If our thoughts do us more harm than good, it is best

  1. We determine what led to the thought in the first place
  2. Become aware of how our body responds to the thought – do we feel stressed? Anxious? Angry?
  3. And consequently take corrective measures – which could include writing for yourself to identify negative thought patterns, and remedy them by any means necessary.

So I banished the thought of not being able to complete the run, and instead visualised how I’d feel after crossing the finish line. The pain in my legs slowly started to seem insignificant.

“Mind over matter, Karan.” I thought to myself, with a smile.

I continued to run.

I picked up the pace and slowed down when needed. I was mostly looking straight ahead, occasionally looking to my side to see someone overtake me with a burst of speed.

A few minutes later…I overtook them, as they had slowed down.

Selecting my next tune to soundtrack my run.

Thousands of people. Hailing from different countries. With varied economic backgrounds. Possessing different fitness levels.

There we were. On that sunny Saturday.

Running as fast as our bodies would allow. No matter where we came from – or at what stage of life we were in – we were united by a common goal that day: finishing a race.

How long it took us to finish was irrelevant.

We were going at our pace, putting our best foot forward.

Knowing this, a strong sense of love for all those runners started to develop within me.

I felt connected to everybody.

As these pure thoughts washed over me, I felt a surge of energy rush through my body, which emanated from my nether regions. (TMI? I’m nothing if not honest in my writing.)

I felt a chill in my forearms. I looked at them, noticing I’d got goosebumps. I stretched my arms backward and grinned in delight.

The time had come to unleash my secret weapon…

Runner’s high, calculated.

I knew there would come a point during my run when I would all-out sprint.

That would probably happen as I neared the finish line, but considering I was currently experiencing this powerful, electric energy coursing through my body, I decided to leverage it – and see how far I could push myself – coasting along pure energy, boosted by the perfect track.

I switched from Spotify to SoundCloud, typed the words ‘Janeret Equinoxe’, hit play, and felt the first notes of the energetic kick-drum vibrating in my ear canal.

I pushed my earphones in, creating as tight a vacuum as possible.

Janeret had introduced the bassline, and it teased me, goading me to pick up the pace.

Not yet, I thought to myself.

I was now a minute into this gorgeous track, and it continued building up to a bouncy crescendo.

Which is when I started to increase my speed. I put one foot in front of the other, trying to time each step with every clap in the track, going faster with every step.

God, I love house music.

I was 2 minutes in, and the opportune moment was nearly upon me. Any second now…

2:15. There was a moment’s pause before the drop. Until it dropped. Karan, we have lift-off!

I sprinted. With the sun bearing down on my sweaty face.

With the morning breeze welcoming me like an old friend.

Suddenly, I felt like I was 11 again, when I discovered I had pace. When I realized my skinny legs could generate raw power, and I could run. Fast.

I was beaming from ear to ear and felt as lithe as a gazelle and as free as a bird as I continued to run, leaving people in the dust.

I continued my all-out dash, my heels barely making contact with the ground before I felt them touching, faster this time.

I had reached an all-too-familiar state of euphoria. I’d also run about 200 meters.

My breathing was already laboured, and my heart was pumping wildly, moving oxygenated blood to my muscles and brain.

I started to slow down. And just like that, I returned to baseline speed…

Until I spotted people on the sidelines starting to cheer. I wasn’t sure what was going on. I looked at my watch – I had been running for about an hour.

A smattering of yellow and pink t-shirts lay ahead. Although my music had created a personal bubble of thoughts and emotions – there seemed to be a shift in excitement levels amongst the runners and onlookers – which pierced through this bubble.

Intrigued, I took out my earphones and listened to what the cheerleaders were saying over the megaphone.

They were saying something to the effect of, “Runners, you’re almost there!”

And then it hit me: I was nearing the finish line!

The end of a journey, or the start of a new one?

I tempered my pace, until I completely stopped in my tracks, about a kilometer away from completing my first 10K.

The clock continued to tick, but I didn’t care. I looked into the distance and exhaled.

Not out of breathlessness. I was awestruck.

Over the course of this hour, I didn’t stop running even once. Simultaneously, my mind had travelled to several places – which I chose not to write about.

Although I will mention one memory, which was brought back by listening to one upbeat house track as I ran.

It was the memory of the girl I liked. And how, when she left with no prior warning, I felt heartbreak.

Or something close to it. I’m not sure what it was. But I felt a strange sadness I had never felt before.

To get over her, like I mentioned earlier, I started focussing on myself. Oh, and I partied. Hard.

It was this gorgeous, summery house track that I listened to daily, which helped me get over her.

My comment resonated with a few – I wonder how this track touched them.

Whilst listening to ‘Tailwhip’ – Men I Trust (Lewii Edit) I thought back to where I was in the winter of 2021.

And how I loved someone unconditionally, expecting nothing in return, putting their needs above mine.

Sacrificing my growth to help them grow.

That will never happen again. Unless I find the right person.

As I stared at the runners up ahead, turning a corner, about to finish their 10K, I thought back to how far I’ve come since I started taking ownership of my life. When I decided to be better.

When I decided to become my best physical, mental, creative, and spiritual self.

“God, it’s been a ride.”

the thought came to me, seemingly out of nowhere.

And I smiled a wide smile. Probably the widest one over the course of these 10 kilometers.

I looked around, wide-eyed, in amazement. I was as happy as a sunflower on a midsummer’s day, and it showed.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a photographer quickly raise his DSLR to capture my look of pure joy, as I surveyed the scene, turning to face the crowd of new runners, gearing up for their 3K.

I do not know if that man published that shot. If he did, I’d love to see it.

With that, I started running again. As I approached the finish line, I took out my earphones and vlogged as I crossed it.

I had just finished my first 10K! This was my first run since my early teenage years.

I didn’t train for this.

I have bad knees and a weak lower body. Which I’m fixing.

Let me repeat to myself: I finished my first 10K with that figurative weight on my shoulders.

And I finished it in an hour.

Not too shabby, Karan.

If that is how I performed with no preparation – to have fun and wing it – how would I do if I practiced?

If I fixed my lower body?

I’d kill it, that’s what would happen. I’d cut my time to under 50 minutes.

I’m positive.


The run done and dusted, I stretched. Expansively. I knew the pain would come later, and I had to do my best to combat delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

I collected my finisher’s medal and hung out with Dani for a bit, who clicked some winning photos of me.

I then basked in the sun like a proud lion, waiting to collect my bag, which I’d dropped earlier at the Festival Garden.

It was there I got talking to a friendly Filipino called Johndel. He was an excellent listener; I was excited to tell him how I’d run my first 10K with no preparation, and how I’d expanded my comfort zone by taking part.

On his part, he told me how he’d been reading The 5AM Club by Robin Sharma, and enjoyed it.

I haven’t read it, and probably won’t, because I’ve been waking up no later than 5:30 ever since I decided to be better. It’s been paying off handsomely – I have more time for my goals.

Johndel also told me how he’d visited Armenia, his first holiday in far too long. It gave him a fresh perspective on life, helping him break out of his routine.

As someone who had developed tunnel vision around work and had forgotten to live in 2020, I could empathize.

We continued chatting until I had to leave. I collected my bag and headed to the nearest bus stop, which would drop me close to where my car was parked.

Whilst waiting for the bus, I struck up a conversation with a man, asking him how we’d find our results.

He directed me to a cool site where you can view the results of various sports competitions from around the world.

I excitedly typed the URL into my Google Pixel to establish how I’d done. Here are my results:

I am chuffed with this, considering I stopped for about 30 seconds in my final lap – and didn’t know I was running my final lap…

And with that, I headed to meet a friend, get work done, and make money.

Your speed doesn’t matter. Forward is forward.

Wesley Snipes

Apt quote to close. I ran my first 10K on 26th March 2022. And I finished it with my head held high.

On that day, thousands of people thronged the Expo 2020 Dubai site. People from different walks of life.

I do not know their names. Nor their reasons for running.

I think back to what Suraj said – how I shouldn’t let anyone else’s pace influence mine.

Improving myself will take time. But I must not fret – as long as I put my head down and work hard when no one’s watching – the results will speak for themselves.

I didn’t expect anything going into this run. My goal – at the risk of repeating myself – was to have fun.

But after reflecting on that momentous day, here are some takeaways:

  1. The journey to better myself will never end – there is constant room for improvement. I might as well buckle in, and enjoy the ride…emotions and tears be damned.
  2. Mind over matter: if I master my mind, I will master my life.
  3. The only person I will compete with is myself. “It’s you versus you, Karan.” That’s what I used to write in my MacBook Notes, aged 20, when I wanted to obstinately carve my path in advertising.

Nine years later, I’m finally living point #3. Now I’ve tasted blood, and know the sky is the limit if I apply myself, I’m hungry for more success in both, my personal and professional life.

Karan: 1. Gravity: 0.

Another blog published, another story told. I just sighed. It’s funny to think how many moons ago, I used to sit at my desk, and give up writing when I barely tried for 10 minutes.

Although, unlike before, I now have greater clarity of thought; more knowledge; more confidence; and crucially – experiences to draw from as I write.

I hope you gained something from my words. That is all I hope. To touch someone, or inspire.

If my words resonated with you, please get in touch, drop a comment, or better still – subscribe to my blog by email. You can do so by scrolling to the top and typing your email address.

I look forward to writing again. As always, I will catch you in the next one.