The Agony of Victory


Aside from a slight delay on our return trip that made catching our respective connections in Houston an adventure, and a moment back in Orlando where there was a very real possibility I’d lost my keys somewhere between Anaheim and home, Jillian and I made our California trip without too much trouble.  So you’ll be spared tales of airport terminals and flight attendants.  I’ll leave that to the stand-up comics.

As for the Happiest Place on Earth, well, it was a Disney park on a holiday weekend.  We managed to Fast Pass some stuff on Friday, including the Matterhorn ride, which certainly felt like something that was built back in 1955.  The new Hyperspace Mountain (Space Mountain with a Star Wars overlay) was awesome, the Indiana Jones ride is as cool as ever, and we’re apparently doomed to never ride the Disneyland version of Haunted Mansion since they’re always resetting from their Christmas set-up when we’re there for this event.

And then there was the event itself.  We skipped the 5k this year; neither of us felt the need to add another 3.1 miles to the 19.3 we already had ahead of us, and not doing that race allowed us a pretty relaxed Friday.  We also took it very easy for the 10k on Saturday, making just enough of an effort to stay on pace in order to save ourselves for the half marathon on Sunday.  This would be my first half marathon (thanks to the Central Florida weather) and Jillian’s second, and between my inexperience and her rheumatoid arthritis, we weren’t going to take any chances gassing ourselves ahead of time.

I’d managed to be placed in Corral B, while Jillian, unable to get into a 10k race in order to post a good proof of time, was in Corral E.  I could have moved back to join her, but being in the second corral overall was too good an opportunity to pass up, and besides, she was very insistent that I run my own pace and not worry about staying back with her.  Given we were doing thirteen miles, it wasn’t like we were going to be much for conversation after too long anyway.  So we headed our separate ways, joined our corrals, and thanks to the huge number of runners, ended up starting the race about half an hour apart.

There’s really not much to tell about my race.  I stuck to my intervals the whole way, even when the course narrowed to ridiculous extremes as we ran through the parks in the early going.  Disney put on a good show for us though, turning on all the lights, running all the rides, lining the course with characters.  I took most of it in without stopping; standing in line for twenty minutes for a picture of me sweating next to BB-8 didn’t seem worth the lost time.  Just some quick selfies of me in front of some landmarks I can’t see in Florida and it was back to work.

Once we hit the streets of Anaheim though, it got less crowded and a little more fun.  The streets were practically packed with school bands, cheerleaders, and supportive onlookers.  One stretch was a literal wall of Star Wars cosplayers, a long line of stormtroopers and Jedi waving lightsabers and blasters as they cheered us on.  These were a bunch of people who’d gotten up early on a Sunday just to watch us trudge by, and I couldn’t help but smile at the enthusiasm.  Or as much of a smile as my face could manage at that point.  Slowly but surely the miles went by, and the prospect of me actually finishing was becoming more and more a reality.  All that remained was to see if I could finish in under three hours.  That was the goal I’d set, and when I hit Mile 13 with about nine minutes to spare, my legs suddenly didn’t feel quite so tired.  I got my half marathon medal, my challenge medal for doing both the half and the 10k, and I happily clanged my medals together as I waited for Jillian to finish.

She would, but not how she wanted.

Disney sets a minimum pace for their races, and despite making it eleven miles and lowering her pace at every split, they stopped her group and told them they’d been swept.  The whole thing seemed screwy, both in how they determined their pace and where the decided to do the final sweep, and the extreme congestion of the early part of the course had thrown everyone off their paces.  But their complaints fell on deaf ears.  So while they got their medals and made it to the finish, it was on Disney’s terms, not theirs.

She messaged me to tell me what had happened.  And under my medals, my heart was breaking.  I know how much Jillian hurts every day.  I know how even simple things like standing still for too long can leave her agony.  I’ve seen her too sore to get out of bed, or even sit up.  I’ve heard her talk about what her RA does to her body, and yet have never once seen her use it as an excuse not to go out and live her life.  She fought that damn thing with everything she had for eleven miles, and was ready and willing to see it through the whole thirteen, knowing what it would cost her later.

And somebody with a stopwatch decided she wasn’t trying hard enough.  The gall.  She may not have crossed the finish line, but she was a big damn winner that day, no matter what Disney said.  She won the second she set foot on that course.

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