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Writing another marathon story

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I learned a lot of things running the Sugarloaf Marathon in 2017, most importantly, don’t race in a superhero shirt because if you are having a bad day, nothing is more annoying than hearing someone yell, “You look great Superman, you got this,” every mile.

I woke up Sunday morning, patting the mattress to my right, searching for my phone (horrible habit, I know). I finally found it after 10 seconds or so of feeling around, used my thumb to unlock the screen and tapped on the Instagram icon. The app opened and as I swiped up with my thumb, scrolling through my timeline, I was overwhelmed with images of people I follow preparing to run the Sugarloaf Marathon or 15K. Later in the day, wasting time on social media again (horrible habit, I know), I saw pictures and read post from those same people after the race. Their pictures showed all the emotions of the marathon: Pain, joy, relief.

Tuesday morning, I started my morning the same way (horrible habit, I know), searching for my phone and scrolling through social media. Still a little foggy from not a ton of sleep, I tapped the Facebook notification to see my “memories” from all the May 21 that I have been on Facebook. A few swipes of my thumb brought pictures of my own experience at the Sugarloaf Marathon two years ago. The only emotion I saw in those pictures and read in the words of those post was disappointment.

I had a mixed reaction to those two social media experiences, but more than anything, I was inspired.

Seeing all those folks on social media, some I know in real life, some I know only on the internet, having a good day in the pouring rain, crushing the 15K or the marathon, made me want to have that same experience. It gave me hope that with the right training, I could have my own good day.

Seeing the disappointment on my face in those pictures from May 21, 2017 inspired me to create some new marathon memories. I went into Sugarloaf a little injured, a whole lot undertrained, 15 or 20 pounds heavier than I was eight months earlier when I set my marathon PR at the Maine Marathon, and crashed in a big way. I took a moment to myself in the food tent post-race to cry, not tears of joy or of relief, but of disappointment and anger. I had high hopes leading into Sugarloaf and was having a really great block of training until it was derailed and I had a race so bad I almost swore off marathons completely.

I didn’t swear of marathons completely, though, because I don’t want that to be my last memory of the distance. Sugarloaf was my fourth marathon and they were all completely different experiences.

  • My first, the Smuttynose Marathon in October 2013, was just about finishing, covering the distance. I didn’t even train to run it.
  • My second was actually taking a shot at racing a marathon. I trained for months to have a good day at the Chicago Marathon in October 2014. It didn’t go exactly as planned, but it was still a major triumph.
  • My third at the Maine Marathon in 2016 was about gaining confidence that I could stay healthy in training and actually put together a good day over 26.2 miles. As difficult as the last three miles of that race were, it was one of my favorite days as a runner.
  • My fourth, Sugarloaf, well, that was a shitshow in every way imaginable.
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Here I am approaching the finish line of the Mother’s Day 5K a week and a half ago. I left this race with a huge sense of accomplishment and relief that I’m fairly healthy and gaining fitness. I want to keep this momentum going as I train for Chicago.

A lot has happened in two years since I hobbled to the finish line at Sugarloaf. For a long time, I dealt with the fallout of that race and then with a pair of knees that remind me every day that I’m not 18 years old anymore. I didn’t have the desire to even think about a marathon, much less train for one, for months after the race. Then I couldn’t run for two months and I started to think my marathoning days were over.

But I’m ready to take another shot. After spending 2018 just getting myself back into the every day rhythm of being a runner and getting my knees to a point where they allowed me to run without a whole shitton of pain, I decided late last year (with some arm twisting from a friend) to try to get into the Chicago Marathon. I was selected in the lottery, and here I am, preparing to spend the summer deep in mileage and physical therapy and stretching and rolling, to get ready to tackle 26.2 miles again. 

This is a chance for me to write a new story. Not just the story of race day, that of course is important, but of the journey to race day. When I think back to Sugarloaf, I remember how much fun I was having training for the race until things went to shit and I fell apart. I want more of those memories, to see those happy post from race day and from training. 

Two years from now and two years from Oct. 13, I’d prefer not to wake up patting around for my phone to scroll social media (horrible habit, I know), but if I do, I want to be to reminded of a fun, hard, successful training block and see a look of relief, joy, and probably some pain, too.

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Sea Dogs Mother’s Day 5K 5.0

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Sitting in the parking lot, thinking about what just happened.

I saw the mile 1 clock and the number after the 7 was a zero. “Wait a minute,” I thought in a bit of a panic. “My first mile is going to be sub 7:10. I think I might be in trouble.”

The funny thing was, I didn’t feel like I was in trouble. I felt like I was completely in control. “So,” I told myself, “don’t worry about it and keep going.”

I had a lot of thoughts and a few conversations with myself Sunday morning running the Sea Dogs Mother’s Day 5K. The good news is, I won most of those conversations and allowed myself to just run. I didn’t freak out when I was going faster than I thought I would or could, and I didn’t pump the breaks when it started to hurt (it didn’t hurt nearly as much as 5Ks usually do). I talked myself into running hard the entire way, not worrying too much about what my watch said and what I thought I was capable of.

And I ran the second fastest 5K of my life, finishing in 21 minutes, 32 seconds, just 11 seconds shy of my personal best. It was my first age-group victory ever and I finished 57th out of 1,442 runners. I haven’t had many races in my nearly 8 years as a runner as good as this one. All because I gave myself permission to succeed.

I’ve been hearing a lot about giving yourself permission to fail. Try big, crazy things, the thinking goes, because even if you fail, you’ll probably learn something and become a better person for it, and, maybe, just maybe, you won’t fail. You’ll never succeed if you don’t try.

I let fear of failure hold me back all the time, despite the popular thinking, but just as often I don’t give myself permission to be successful. It’s not that I’m afraid I can’t do it, I’m positive I can’t.

That was the difference between my effort Sunday and my effort most times I toe the line with a bib pinned to my chest. I didn’t have a goal Sunday morning, but I didn’t let the voices in my head hold me back. I didn’t worry about what I thought I was capable of and what I thought I wasn’t capable of, I just put in a hard effort and let whatever happened happened.

There wasn’t really an AHA moment Sunday morning. Actually, I felt kind of shitty when I woke up. I didn’t feel nervous, but my stomach was having a hard time dealing with my coffee and protein bar breakfast. I ran a warmup, then spent 5-minutes talking myself into wearing racing flats (literally, I sat in the passenger seat of my car, telling myself it was OK to wear flats).

Screen Shot 2019-05-14 at 2.22.44 PMThen the race started and I just ran with the pack. I tucked in behind a few runners down the hill from the Expo to Hadlock Field, then hugged the side of the road, focusing on the people in front of me and not my watch.

When I saw the clock at mile 1 I did panic a little, but I quickly told myself not to worry about it. Turning onto Stevens Ave, I tried to stay relaxed and keep up the same effort. Just before the turn onto Brighton Ave. from Stevens, breathing started to get a little hard and my legs started to get a little heavy. I wanted to slow down, but I reminded myself of the long, steep downhill on Brighton and decided to embrace the hurt until the hill.

I cruised down that hill and saw the 2-mile clock, which read 13:5-something and wondered briefly if I could set a new PR. I forgot about that quickly and decided to run as hard as I could for the last 1.1 miles. I passed a few runners making the turn onto Deering, then was passed by a dude pushing a stroller on the overpass. I tried to hang as close to him as I could, but this guy was pulling away hard.

Again, I told myself to run relaxed and keep pushing. Turning into Fitzpatrick Stadium, I turned it up another notch. I passed a woman entering the stadium, and she just as quickly passed me back. I ran a few strides behind her running on the dirt behind the bleachers, avoiding the puddles from a long spring of rain.

I couldn’t see the clock from center field when I entered Hadlock Field and didn’t look at my watch. It wasn’t until I crossed the foul line in left field and started down the warning track along the left-field seats, that I saw 21 on the clock. I wasn’t going to PR, but it was going to be close. I watched my PR tick by as I closed in on the finish line, but still crossed with a fist pump, followed by a high-five for Slugger and his ma.

Sunday was the kind of race I haven’t had in a long time. The Kennebec River Rail Trail Half Marathon was validation that I was on the right track and the MDI Half Marathon was a celebration. The NYC Half was a step in the right direction. Sunday was all about pushing my limits and putting my training to the test. That wasn’t necessarily the plan going in, but it was definitely was what happened.

And it went better than I could have ever imagined. All because I gave myself permission to succeed.

 

Talking myself into S&*T

This blog serves a lot of purposes for me (I’m not sure it serve any purpose for anyone else, but … whatever). It’s a history of the things I’ve done and how I have felt about my life as a runner. It’s a reminder of where I’ve been and where I’m going. It’s a place for me to get things out of my head instead just of just letting them bang around in all that hollow space of up there. It is a space for me to write a little bit and flex my creative muscles.

I realized lately it also serves one other very important purpose for me and my weird way of thinking: It is a place where I can talk myself into shit I think is crazy, daunting, impossible.

Right now is a perfect example. Before sitting down with my computer in my lap and typing out this post, I was getting changed to head to my training class, which starts exactly an hour from when I’m writing this. On the schedule tonight is a workout that will be pretty darn hard and, frankly, I’m a little nervous about. I’m scheduled to run, after a 10-minute warmup, for an hour and a half at steady state pace (basically a pace I can hold for 2 hours, basically not quite half marathon pace).

You don’t need me to tell you this, but an hour and a half at a hard effort is a long flipping time. I’m wondering how the hell I’m going to hold that pace for that long, while basically running by myself (I tend to get separated from the group because we are all running different paces and because I’m a loner who separates himself from the group).

In my head, right now, I’m saying, “dude, that’s a little bit crazy. Are you sure?”

Well, yeah, I think so.

Sitting down to write this post, I keep reminding myself of a few things, talking myself into this workout.

  1. I’m not running the race this class is design for. This workout is just a chance to gain some fitness as I ramp myself up to dive headfirst into Chicago Marathon training. If I don’t finish the workout, it doesn’t matter (as long as I don’t get injured), so why not give it a shot?
  2. In the last three weeks, I’ve run an hour, an hour and 10 minutes, and an hour and 20 minutes at steady state on Wednesday nights. Every time I started the workout, I doubted I would finish it. It wasn’t always easy, but every time during this training block that I have tried this workout, I have finished it. That should give me some confidence and it should make me ask why today will be any different.
  3. It’s just fucking running, and I choose to do this, so why not try to have a little fun?

I have some pretty big goals for this fall, goals I think are batshit crazy that I need to talk myself into. Just like I’m doing now as I prepare for this workout, I will talk myself into those goals and doing the work to at least give them a shot on this blog and in my head. Tonight’s workout will hopefully help me continue to build the confidence that I’m capable of the things I want to accomplish.

And if not, well at least I gave it a shot, hopefully had a little fun, and gained a little bit of fitness.

A goal, but not the only goal

Training for Chicago, celebrating New York, and wondering if I will ever qualify for Boston.

I was not quite two years into my life as a runner when I attended the Boston Marathon for the first time. I hadn’t run a marathon and wasn’t totally sure I would ever have the desire to.

After spending three days in Boston in April 2013, hanging out with runners at the expo, racing part of the marathon course in the BAA 5K, and standing at the “1 Mile to Go” sign watching thousands of runners close in on the finish line, I knew I had to give the marathon a shot.

It was after that weekend, after all the joy of watching this great race, and after the horrific events that ruined such a wonderful time, that I set a goal for myself of qualifying for the Boston Marathon by the time I turned 50.

Six years later, I’m sitting on my bed watching the Boston Marathon. I’m a four-time marathon finisher with varying degrees of success. Eight years ago I weighed 66 pounds more than I did when I woke up this morning. For that guy, any marathon finish would be a huge success, but to say all four of those races have gone the way I wanted would be a lie. The first, the Smuttynose Marathon, was just about toeing the line and finishing. The second, the Chicago Marathon in 2014, was about actually trying to race a marathon for a time. The third, the Maine Marathon in 2016 was redemption for having to skip the same race the year before with a crappy (that’s a medical term) hamstring. The fourth, the Sugarloaf Marathon in 2017, well, that was just a shit show and the start of a really awful stretch of poor health.

In five years, I will turn 50 and I’m still a long way from qualifying for Boston. My marathon PR, which I ran at Maine, is 3:50:12. The standard for my age group for the 2020 Boston Marathon is 3:20.

Yeah, I’m not even in the neighborhood yet.

And after that terrible experience at Sugarloaf, and the health woes that followed, I’m not sure qualifying for Boston, or even finishing another marathon is something I’m capable of. I’m in a much better place physically, I’m enjoying running and I’m in the midst of a really good training block, so I’m optimistic when I toe the line in Chicago this October, I’ll be able to put together a good race. A lot can happen in 5 1/2 months, though, and I need to be smart.

Despite my questions about my body’s ability to hold up to marathon training and to run a good 26.2 miles, qualifying for Boston by the time I’m 50 is still on my list of goals. It’s not No. 1, but it is definitely on the list. To be able to get myself into the kind of shape to be able to run a 3:20 marathon would be a huge, huge accomplishment.

But I will not let that goal define me. Qualifying for Boston is a huge accomplishment and running the race would be pretty freakin’ cool (even if all the logistics of it sound absolutely terrible). I will not, however, let not reaching that epic milestone take anything away from what I am able to accomplish as a runner or take away my enjoyment of this sport. Boston is a big deal, it’s beloved in the running world and to be able to call yourself a Boston qualifier is a wonderful accomplishment.

It’s not the only accomplishment, though. And if I’m never able to run that qualifying time, if I’m never able to call myself a Boston qualifier, well, that’s really OK. The fact that I am able to run six days a week, that I am healthy enough and have the means to take the time out of my day to go for a jog, or spend an hour and a half working out, is something I will not take for granted. I have felt such a sense of gratitude toward running lately, not reaching a goal that is so far off in the distance take anything away from that would be insane.

I sit here watching Boston hoping that some day I’ll be fit enough to earn a spot in that race, but happy in the knowledge that I spent 2 hours putting in miles yesterday morning. I’ll continue to do the work to be a better runner, and continue to enjoy running, and if some that leads me to an eventually BQ, awesome. If not, well I still get to run so I’ll be grateful for that.

2019 … so far

I thought I would sit down today and check in with how my running goals for 2019 are coming along three months into the year. When I took a look back at the goals I set for myself, I realized it was way too early in the year to check in because those goals are far reaching and I’m taking a smart-ish approach to training in 2019.

2019 goals
  • I haven’t run 50 miles in a week or 200 miles in a month because I’m building up to that.
  • I haven’t run a sub 23 minute 5K because I haven’t run one yet. 
  • I didn’t break 1:45 in the half marathon yet because I’ve only run one, my training got off to a slow start, and I didn’t exactly race the NYC Half
  • That 3:47 marathon? Unless something changes, I won’t even be attempting that until October. 
  • I can say that I am well on my way to losing 20 pounds. Three months into the year I am down about 15 pounds, thanks to giving up beer and peanut butter, and having less junk food in the house. 

That is about as much of an update as I can give on those goals. There is still a lot of work to do, and I’m happy to report, I’m doing a decent job of doing the work. Those goals, however, are still pretty far off in the distance.

This week has been a big step toward those goals. Last Sunday, I ran 10 miles, with 50 minutes a little faster than half marathon pace. I bounced back to run basically the same workout Wednesday, finishing 10 miles with 60 minutes just a touch slower because I was smarter and actually ran about half marathon pace. I’ve logged just over 30 miles through Saturday and plan to run for an hour and 45 minutes Sunday, which will put me over 40 miles in a week for the first time this year. Actually, I haven’t run more than 40 miles in a week since April 2017, which was the week I tweaked my hamstring training for the Sugarloaf Marathon. That was the start of a downward spiral in my running, then ended with me on the shelf with bum knees after a summer of lackluster training.

I’m definitely feeling the impact of those miles, though I feel better today than I have at any point since I ran the half marathon on March 17. My right adductor/hammy has been tired and sore, which is par for the course when training gets harder, but I’ve tried to be smart about it. I stretch, I roll it out with my Tiger Tail, I wear compression. That, even more than my knees, is the thing I have to be the most diligent about. It is a work in progress and I am doing my best (with mixed results) to stay on top of it.

So far, 2019 has been a success. I feel relatively healthy and, more importantly, I’m enjoying the process. Running, and everything that goes a long with it, hasn’t always been fun in the last few years. That I have kept running despite all the setbacks I’ve had is pretty satisfying. I’m grateful every day I get to run. I do the best I can to be present and enjoy what I am doing. When it starts to feel like a chore, and it still does sometimes, I just remind myself that I choose to do this, I want to do this. 

Regardless of whether I hit those goals I set for myself or not, if I keep doing that, 2019 will be a success.

Making progress, measuring progress

On the road to WrestleMania.

The way I measured progress in March 2018 is nothing like the way I’m measuring progress in March 2019.

A year ago, I was just getting back to running on a regular basis. Running still felt weird and my knees still hurt from time to time. This year, I’m in the middle of a training plan, running six days a week, and logging workouts on a regular basis. Running still feels weird sometimes, especially now that I’m trying to make a small tweak to my form, but the pain in my knees pops up a lot less.

A year ago, progress was getting out for a 7-mile run on the weekend. No matter how slow, 7 miles was a big deal for me in March 2018. This year, progress is running a workout I did at the end of January (3×10 minutes at threshold pace) and running my reps nearly 50 seconds faster (8:10-ish in January, 7:20-ish last night).

A year ago, running a 5-mile race at 8:33 pace early in April was a little bit terrifying. This year, running a half marathon at a pace 20 seconds faster than felt almost easy (spending four days in New York was terrifying, though).

I have a ton of work still to do, especially if I want to finally run that 3:47 marathon I’ve been chasing for five years. I’m enjoying the process right now, and I know it is going to take a lot of effort and a lot of focus to reach the goals I have set. It is going to take a lot of effort and a lot of focus to continue to enjoy the process, actually.

It is nice to be able to look back and see what kind of progress I have made. It’s nice to know I can go out on a Sunday and run 10-13 miles and not be on the shelf for days or weeks. It is nice to know I can run a hard workout at paces I haven’t really touched on since early in 2017 and bounce back to jog a super slow 4 miles a day later.

I’m grateful to be gaining fitness and confidence. I don’t take it for granted, not after the shit show that was 2017 and the rebuilding that took place in 2018. That rebuilding is still on going and will actually ramp up this summer as I put in the real hard work for the Chicago Marathon. I’ve talked a lot about Redesign. Rebuild. Reclaim., I really need to Redesign. Rebuild. Reclaim this summer. No more slacking off, no more farting around. I’ve done a decent job with physical therapy, strength work, stretching and rolling, I need to really ramp it up this summer.

How I measure progress will continue to change. This summer, hopefully looks a lot different than right now.

Onward and upward. Continuing making forward progress. Right now, that is how I measure success.

NYC Half 2019

Running to the finish line in Central Park. In control and feeling good about myself. That is the ultimate goal.

I thought I had a plan for the NYC Half. I talked with my coach Wednesday night about how to approach the race and I sat down Saturday night to map out a rough strategy for how I would run a race that just happened to fall six weeks into a training plan built for a race I’m not currently planning to race.

Those plans were smashed to bits a quarter of a mile into the race.

When I was selected in the lottery for the NYC Half, I wanted to get into shape to run fast. I didn’t think I would be ready to chase my PR, but I thought I had plenty of time to get into decent shape and run sub 1:45. Then winter happened and I spent three or four weeks coughing constantly, and training suffered. I had a solid six or seven weeks leading up to NYC, including the Mid Winter Classic 10 miler, but I am not in shape to really throw it down in a race just yet.

So the plan Sunday morning was to start off easy and progressively get faster. I figured I’d start off at like 9:10-9:20ish pace and get faster every 3 to 4 miles. I wanted to end with 3-4 miles at 8:10-8:20ish pace. It would be a hard enough effort to be a solid workout, but not leave me feeling beat up and broken. My goal was to finish strong and be ready to get back to my regular training on Tuesday.

Spoiler alert: That’s not what happened. I’m already burying the lead, so let me write this before moving on, I finished the race in 1:49:23, with an average pace per mile of 8:21.

That plan was a good one, but I got caught up in the crowd. Starting the race in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, I was in Wave 1 corral F. I think when I signed up I predicted I would run 1:45, so I assume that is what everyone around me had planned as well. When the race actually started, it was a long walk (8:30) before I actually started running and crossed the start mat. I tried to go easy, but before I knew it I was running 8:30ish pace.

OK, no problem. Just fall in with the crowd, chill out and slow down a little bit.

That cup on Dunks caused me some problems. Read the previous post.

Mile 1 ended just shy of leaving the park and just in front of Grand Army Plaza. I was a little nervous that I ran it in just over 8:40 but figured I could slow down at any point. Running along Flatbush Ave. during the second mile, there was a stream of runners to my left heading in the other direction after a quick lollipop turn to make their way to the Manhattan Bridge. I was in a huge pack of runners running 8:30-8:50 and there was a huge pack of runners going the other way running even faster. I wasn’t slowing down here.

And guess what? I never really did. I didn’t slow down when I passed the Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets and, for the past two years, SummerSlam. I slowed down a little bit when we climbed up the Manhattan Bridge during Mile 5, but I picked up the pace when it finally leveled off because bridges scare the shit out of me and looking to my right and seeing the East River freaked me out a little bit. I picked it up even more as we started running down the bridge, toward the FDR and I could hear a wave of noise from the crowd of spectators we would encounter after taking the right off the bridge onto the highway (yeah, they closed the highway for a road race, it was fucking wild).

My GPS went a little wonky as we made our way down the FDR. At one point during mile 8 it was half a mile off, then by the time I reach mile 9 it matched up again. So I just tried to ignore it after that and run by feel. My goal at that point was to put in a sort of hard effort, but make sure I always felt in control.

As I ran under the Williamsburg Bridge, I heard someone shouting about an upcoming hydration stop and wondered what that was all about. I looked back and to my right and saw a runner holding a pace sign. I slowed a little bit so I could make my way to a cup of Gatorade, but my real motive was to see what pace group was behind me. I had no idea what time I was on pace for and was curious what neighborhood I was in. When I saw his sign said “1:50” I thought, “OK, cool. Run with this group or stay just in front of them for as long as I can. That would be rad.”

And that is exactly what I did. For the next mile or so, I heard that pace leader behind me. By the time we left the FDR and turned onto 42nd Street, passing the Chrysler Building and Grand Central Terminal, the crowds got a lot bigger and the noise was pretty much constant, I lost track of that pace group. So I was on my own. But with 5k left, I felt really good and just focused on finishing strong.

Then, just before finishing Mile 11 when we turned onto 7th Avenue and ran through Times Square, the race got really fun. It was surreal to run down this street, with all those flashing billboards and massive buildings, with not a single car on the road honking its horn and driving way too fast. I did my best to check everything out, while not slowing to a walk in awe of it all. I’m pretty sure I actually sped up running down 7th, but my GPS was way off at this point (once it said I was running 4:50 pace, then it said I was running 0:00 pace), so I have no idea what I ran for mile 12.

The finisher area the day before the race.

I do know that just before finishing the 12th mile and just before entering Central Park for the final 1.1 of the race I did start to run faster. I was feeling pretty good and in control, so I decided I wanted to finish strong and sort of hard. There was a party atmosphere in the park, with a DJ blasting Tone-Loc at one corner, and crowds of fans waving signs at another.

It was a blast and I felt great for 99 percent of the race. My left calf cramped for a split second in the last 400 meters, but otherwise my body held up tremendously well. My knees were never an issue, which is such a huge relief.

1:49:23 isn’t fast in the grand scheme of things. My PR is nearly 8 minutes faster. But I was a different person at a different time when I ran my PR. That was four years ago, my knees had yet to shit the bed, and I was at the end of probably my hardest, most productive training block ever. Today, I am still working my way back after hamstring and knee injuries put my on the shelf for a big chunk of time in 2017. I spent 2018 getting back into the habit of running and rediscovering my love for putting in miles and slowly starting to train.

1:49:23 was just what I needed, though. I put in a fairly hard effort, but felt completely in control the entire time. And I walked away feeling good about myself and my health. My legs felt heavy and stiff during my 4-miler this morning, but that is to be expected, especially after I spent a shit ton of time on my feet for four days in New York (I ran 18ish miles – the race and a shakeout run Saturday – and walked about another 15-16).

1:49:23 was a win. A huge step forward. It wasn’t the plan, but it worked out perfectly.

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