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Usain Bolt on the 1.45-kilometre track around the Expo site Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

“He's so fast!” a mum exclaims nearby to her little girl, both as breathless as me on our 1.45-kilometre run with Usain Bolt. The bricked avenues of Expo 2020 Dubai became his jogging track, and we, average at best strollers, sprinted full speed ahead to keep up with ‘The Fastest Man’ in the world.

Four years into retirement and the Jamaican sprinter still holds the world record in men’s 100 metres and 200 metres. At the 2009 World Championships in Athletics, 23-year-old Bolt cleared the 100-metre track in an incredible 9.58 seconds – a mere four seconds behind the fastest mammal on land, the cheetah. Though recurring hamstring injuries took the eight-time Olympic gold medallist and 11-time World Champion out of the field, athletes have yet to outrun him.

So it was bold of me to assume I could match his leisurely jog.

Cool as a cucumber with sunglasses perched on nose, Bolt spent some time chatting with those around him before the start line – I realised later that he had just given the first throng of runners a head start. Those hoping to run alongside him fluttered about the sprinter, hopping on their toes, arms overhead, just for a blurry picture and a shaky video. Never before did I witness a more diverse crowd, from children to seniors, eager to run under the 9am morning sun.

Dubbed Family Run, the PepsiCo-organised fitness event invited pre-registered visitors to a free of charge challenge, an hour before the world fair gates opened. Runners were all in for a good cause, too; their voluntary donations would fund Al Noor Rehabilitation & Welfare Association for People of Determination in Dubai. In fact, Hamda Al Hosani, specially-abled Emirati athlete and holder of 17 Special Olympic medals, also marked her attendance.

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Registered runners taking off from the start line Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Our makeshift race track took us from the Mobility District’s Russia Pavilion, along the curved path of Al Wasl Plaza and into the Opportunity District. Bolt led the crowd in his full-black Gatorade attire, unmissable at a height of nearly two metres. Every time we lost him, participants burst out laughing, as they heaved and strained their lungs to catch up to him again.

I’ll admit, the only thing that caught up to me was my obvious lack of exercise. Now I might have given up halfway and walked to the finish line, but not many people can say that they ran behind ‘the’ Usain Bolt.