Back in 2016, I worked on an outdoor education centre in Canada.
During one of my weeks off, I decided to take a trip to Vancouver Island with a few friends.
The journey to Vancouver Island was quite long and involved sitting on two coaches and a ferry for several hours.
By the time we arrived at our Airbnb, my legs were quite stiff from sitting down for so long so, the following morning, I decided to go out for a run.
I did not set off intending to run a half marathon.
I only wanted to go for a light jog to stretch my legs.
However, around 10 minutes into my run, I began to notice that things were slightly strange.
The streets were really quiet and there was no traffic on the roads, despite the fact that I was running close to the city centre.
A few minutes later, other runners started to pass me, one or two at first, and then several at once.
To go from seeing virtually nobody to seeing lots of people was quite confusing so I followed the runners around a bend in the road, curious to see where they were going.
I turned the corner and, all of a sudden, found myself being funnelled between a set of barriers leading to a blow-up arch. There were lots of people crowded behind the barriers, clapping and waving their hands in the air.
Stunned, I removed my headphones from my ears and realised that they were cheering.
It suddenly dawned on me that I was in the finishing straight of a half-marathon.
As the reality of the situation settled upon me, I decided to try and exit the race by climbing over one of the barriers. However, the sheer amount of supporters leaning against the barrier made this impossible.
One woman even patted me on the back and yelled the words ‘you can’t give up now honey, not when you’ve come so far!’ into my ear before shoving me back onto the road.
In the end, I had no option but to cross the finish line.
I stood dazed among the other finishers, most of whom were bent over double or collapsed on the floor, having run 21km.
I, in contrast, had run a grand total of 2km max.
After a minute or so, a volunteer shoved an energy drink and a chocolate chip cookie into my hand, before enthusiastically congratulating me and placing a medal around my neck.
Then, before I knew it, I found myself being ushered towards a beaming man who was holding a microphone in his hand.
‘Congratulations,’ he said, holding his hand out for me to shake. ‘You are our 2nd placed female finisher!’
It turned out that, not only had I unwittingly finished the race, but I had apparently completed it in a time of 1 hour and 25 minutes.
Now, at this point, I should have corrected the man and said something along the lines of:
Instead, I looked him dead in the eye and said:
I’m not sure exactly what compelled me to say this.
Maybe I hadn’t wanted to disappoint the man, who looked so happy and thrilled on my behalf.
Maybe I was secretly flattered that he thought I could pass as an accomplished athlete.
Or maybe I had just liked the look of the free cookie I had received as a reward for finishing the race and didn’t want to risk it being confiscated if someone found out I was fraud.
No matter the reason, by accepting the fabrication that the interviewer had shoved upon me, I had begun to spin a web of lies from which there was no escape.
Evidently unaware that anything was amiss, the interviewer proceeded to ask me how I was feeling.
I wracked my brain, searching something that would make me sound like a legit sportsperson.
In hindsight, this made me sound more like an amateur surfer than an elite runner.
‘I bet you are!’ the interviewer said.
The interviewer patted me on the back. ‘Well, I’ll have to congratulate you for a second time then!’ he said. ‘Did you have a race plan?’
Considering I wasn’t planning on running the race in the first place, this was a pretty defunct question.
‘No, not really…’ I said.
The interviewer gasped. ‘You must be a natural then!’ He glanced down at my shirt.
I expected the man to laugh, but instead he nodded his head sincerely and said ‘it happens’ before moving onto the next question.
‘I get it,’ he said, tapping the side of his head. ‘Keeping it on the DL. Wouldn’t want your competitors knowing your secrets.’
He nodded at a woman behind us, most likely the actual second-placed finisher, whose abs were clearly visible through her skin tight shirt.
I flashed him a strained smile, flabbergasted that he was even entertaining the idea that she and I could be considered competitors.
The man smiled back. ‘One last question and then I’ll let you go and rest. Those legs must be tired after all!’
There was a silence. The interviewer stared at me, a frown etched onto his forehead.
I looked down, cheeks burning, ashamed, convinced that my web of lies was about to come crashing down around me.
I prepared to hand over my cookie.
Then, the interviewer bent over double and started laughing.
Eventually, I left the finishing complex with a thoroughly undeserved cookie in my hand and a medal round my neck and, if I’m honest, the satisfaction of eating the cookie outweighed any feelings of guilt or remorse I may have felt about being a complete athletic fraud.
To this day, one hour twenty-five minutes remains my lifetimes best half-marathon time.