Months ago, I signed up for the recent Chicago Spring Half-Marathon.
But by the time I got to the starting line things had changed.
When it was over, I was dead last.
Still, it was easy, at least for a while, to lose myself in the glory of crossing the finish line. There's nothing like hearing your name called over a loud speaker as you make it down the final stretch.
"Finisher Dahleen Glanton," the announcer shouted out as I trekked along the roped-off path lined with cheering spectators who made me feel like a superhero.
My friend, Lizzie Calloway, who had traveled from Atlanta to participate in the race, was a few steps ahead of me.
As cameras flashed and rock 'n' roll blasted from the sound system, I took a moment to relish my accomplishment. Lifting my arms in the air, I mustered enough strength to do a quick trot across the finish line and grab the silver medal waiting on the other side.
How to start running
How to start running
Another friend, Deborah Williams, who had shot ahead of Lizzie and me about a mile back, welcomed us to the winners' circle. I grabbed a couple of bags of chips and a bottle of grape-flavored sports drink and headed to the picture booth.
And there we posed, with medals around our necks and beaming with pride, for the series of cellphone pictures that would be posted on Facebook as soon as we got home.
"We didn't win, but we finished!" the caption read on my Facebook and Twitter posts. This was my first serious race, and, of course, I had to boast.
As expected, the accolades rolled in. "Good Job." "That's Awesome!" "My Hat's Off To You."
I felt like a fraud.
For weeks, I'd bragged about signing up for the Chicago Spring Half-Marathon. But I'd neglected to mention in a Facebook post that we had switched races at the last minute. We wouldn't even attempt the 13.1 miles. We would do 6 â€” which to most people in the half-marathon was the equivalent of an afternoon stroll.
Oh, and by the way, we didn't run at all. We walked.
As a result, my final stats were dismal: I finished 819th out of 819 runners. Among women, I was 548th of 548. Among middle-aged women, I was 16th in a field of 16.
In an email the other day, one of the race organizers attempted to make me feel better about my pitiful finish.
"Did you realize that you were our final 10K finisher â€” by only one second? Another gal crossed the finish line with a time of 2:36:42 vs. your 2:36.43," he wrote. "That's nearly a photo finish."
That was my friend, Lizzie. Her sister, Deborah, was a few seconds ahead of her.
Together, we made up the final three in the 10k. You just don't get any worse than that.
Now that the truth is out, I could choose to sit around and sulk over what could have been. Or I could use my failure as a teachable moment.
Of the 6,000 total participants, I was among the 2 percent who had no previous race experience. As a novice, I figure that I made at least five crucial mistakes.
No. 1: I didn't train adequately. In fact, I balked every time my personal trainer told me to get on the StairMaster.
No. 2: I hosted a dinner party the night before the race. Wine was served. I had a big plate of pasta and two slices of cake for dessert.
No. 3: At 3 a.m., I realized the pants I wanted to wear in the race were in the hamper. I decided to do laundry.
No. 4: Finally, I fell asleep around 4:30 a.m. My alarm clock went off at 5.
No. 5: I had to be on the lakefront by 6. That left no time for breakfast, and I didn't even have a banana in the house.
I've already signed up for another race in September. I plan to be ready.
An avid runner suggested that I look at my last-place finish this way: I did a lot better than the people who stayed home.
I suppose that's true. But next fall, I'll be aiming for more. I'm determined to finish ahead of Deborah and Lizzie.