July 31, 2015

The Downeast Relay

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A couple of months ago I got an email from an old friend asking if I would be at all interested in doing an overnight, self-supported, 100+ mile  relay through the Maine wilderness.  To which I of course responded, Hell yeah! Accordingly, last week I packed up snacks, gels, gear for all possible weathers, my Garmin watch, a headlamp, and pretty much anything I owned with a reflector or flashing light.  Finally after many hours and several flight delays, I arrived in Bangor at 1:00 Friday morning, 21 hours before the start of the second annual Downeast Relay.

I had started this post by writing a pretty thorough race report, but I soon realized that what I really wanted to convey and remember about this race (aside from the sight of a bald eagle flying overhead or sunrise over a bog) were the things I learned out on the trail.  The Downeast Relay was a totally different beast than anything I have ever tackled before.  I didn’t fully appreciate just how different it would be until I got out there, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

The race is run on a rails-to-trails trail that meanders northeast along the coast, starting in Ellsworth, Maine and finishing 102.7 miles later in Eastport (the eastern-most city in the US).  Much of it is pretty remote, and the 16 relay legs were pretty much defined by where the trail intersects drivable road.  The race allows teams of 4-8 people, but it seemed that most (including us) had around 5.  We had divvied up the legs based on an algorithm built by a member of the support crew, and I had been assigned the Runner 4 position, which gave me legs 4, 8, 11, and 14, totaling 22.7 miles.  Having run a solid 20-miler last weekend, I felt confident that running a bit further in 4 pieces wouldn’t be any problem (though I was a bit nervous about the prospect of running off into the night without hope of cell phone reception or human contact until the next hand-off).  Although my stamina didn’t turn out to be an issue, I did fail to adequately factor in the additional muscle fatigue that trails take as compared to road miles, as well as the effects of not sleeping.  (I had actually also not appreciated how much there would be to do between running legs, which would render napping pretty much impossible.)

I am eternally grateful to my team and our indomitable Sherpa/shuttle bunny for all the organization they did before race day.  We had decided to use two vehicles to give everyone more space for gear, but that meant that in addition to our dedicated driver, one runner had to drive each leg and two others were needed for navigational duties.  The driving directions provided by the race organizers were great, but navigating the back roads of Maine in the dark still took considerable focus and attention.  Given the remoteness of the trail, the cars often had to traverse much greater distances than the runners in getting to the hand-offs, and on shorter legs there was little time to waste in getting to the next dropoff.  In some cases we actually leap-frogged cars to ensure that the next runners made it to their rendezvous points in time.  In addition to the driving, navigating, and cheering runners in and out, there was also the preparation of gear and nutrition for the next leg, so down time was minimal.

I’m no stranger to all-nighters—I was an architecture student at MIT, which rendered me nearly nocturnal for several years.  That said, none of my previous experience prepared me for running a race in the middle of the night.  I found that the mental fatigue took a greater toll than the physical tiredness.  By my third leg I was putting considerable effort into staying focused and on pace.   (It probably didn’t help that it was a boring, slightly uphill 7-mile stretch that went straight ahead with nothing to look at but seemingly identical pine trees.)  I have been an enthusiastic follower (read: uber-geek) of ultra-running for years, and even though my relay distance was nowhere near ultra levels, I feel like I got a tiny taste of the challenges of day-long events.

The other challenge of the relay that I had not really forseen was the physical effect of starting and stopping several times.  I’ve done lots of two-a-day workouts, but never with only an hour or two between.  I was running at or near my threshold pace, and the breaks between legs seemed to provide minimal recovery and maximal opportunity for stiffness to develop.  I was pretty liberal with the tiger tail before and after each leg and I’m convinced that’s the only thing that saved me in the end.  So, advice to newbie relayers (and myself for next year):

  1. Gear. I’m sure there is such a thing as overpacking, but if you don’t have major space constraints, bring everything you think you might need. There was rain in the forecast, not to mention 30-degree temperature swings from day to night, so I tried to assemble a variety of clothing that I could layer as needed.  In the end, I brought:

2 long-sleeve shirts

1 sleeveless shirt

1 short-sleeve shirt

1 bra

2 pairs shorts

4 pairs socks

2 pairs shoes

1 rain/wind jacket (convertible to vest)

I wore all of the shirts with the exception of the short-sleeved one and never changed shorts, but I was very happy to have fresh shoes and socks to change into as the race progressed.

  1. Organization. A few of the more experienced runners organized their gear in Ziploc bags clearly labelled for each leg.  I will definitely follow suit next year.  Anything that can eliminate thinking or stress or frantically digging around a dark car at 4 AM trying to find your gels is worth the effort.
  1. Nutrition. This was a tough one. Given that our race started at 10 PM, I wasn’t really sure how much, or even if I would feel like eating.  I brought Accelerade powder and a gallon of water, a bag of nuts, 4 gels (2 of them with 20 mg of caffeine), 2 bananas, a couple of protein bars, and a thermos of coffee.  I nibbled a few nuts at a time throughout the night, which I think was a good move since they packed a lot of fat and calories into minimal bulk.  I also kept up a steady stream of coffee, counterbalanced by a lot of water to stay hydrated.  The surprise was how much I was craving sugar by the end of the race, though—I’m fairly well fat-adapted and though I had brought some carb sources I hadn’t expected to dip into them too much.  It was probably the lack of sleep combined with a pace much closer to a 10K than a long run, but I found myself really wanting something sweet as the race wore on.  I ate a banana and a half and took a caffeinated gels on each of my last two legs.  There was also a bag of mini peppermint patties floating around the car, and I had one of those before each of the last two legs as well.  I felt like I was eating a lot—certainly much more than I would have in a marathon—but I also had a very light dinner before the race and totally missed breakfast on Saturday morning, so I still probably ran a caloric deficit.  I was one of the few on our team that did not have any gastro issues at any point, so either I got lucky or the fueling strategy worked out.
  1. Sleep. Before.  As much as possible.
  1. Training. Obviously run trails if you can to build up your stabilizers.  Perhaps more importantly, get used to the fatigue.  One member of our team said that he had done a few clustered workouts on a consecutive afternoon, evening, and morning, which I thought was a great idea.  It would also be useful for fine tuning a fueling strategy.

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I wish trail running in the middle of the night were a more readily available pursuit—I really had a much more direct experience of running and my own mind than I ever have before.  It was actually somewhat unsettling—I experienced time and space very differently out on the trails.  When I was running through the dark without discernible landmarks, I really lost all sense of time passing, from what time of night it was to how long I had been out there.  My perception of distance was incredibly accurate, though, and—maybe this was just the lack of sleep—but it seemed as though time were only evidenced out there as the byproduct of covering a distance at a given pace, and didn’t objectively exist outside of me.  It was both terrifying and freeing in the way that real encounters with ourselves usually are.

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June 30, 2015

Try Tri Again?

Let’s catch up, shall we?

I was supposed to do my first tri—a sprint—on May 17th in Harriman State Park.  It did not come off as planned, and I’ve been thinking and rethinking my training strategy since then, which is probably why I haven’t posted here in a while.  I’m still not 100% decided on the path ahead, but I’m hopeful that laying it all out here might help clarify things.

Picture it: Harriman, NY, May 2015.  LRB was doing the Half-Iron distance on Saturday, and my race was Sunday.  We drove up Friday evening, checked into our hotel, had a late dinner, and then I watched LRB practice transitions for an hour before bed.  I woke up around 3 AM with a screaming headache, which quickly went from bad to worse.  I spent the next two and a half hours alternately sweating, shivering, and trying to throw up as quietly as possible so as not to disturb LRB’s much-needed sleep.  I managed to pull it together enough to drive him the 20 miles to the start around 6, threw up in the bushes while he got set up, and made it back to the hotel before the last wave hit.  I slept for a couple of hours and felt a bit better, so I slathered on the sunscreen, filled up my water bottle with Gatorade (at which point I realized that if one had be sick and dehydrated away from home, a triathlete’s hotel room is not the worst venue) and drove back to the park to fulfill my race support duties.  I made it in time to see LRB’s last bike lap and cheer him and the other athletes into and out of T2.  For the next couple of hours I focused on hydrating, trying to stay out of the sun when at all possible, and cheering on the runners.  I was also trying very hard not to worry about my own race the next day.

I had expected to be really inspired watching the half-iron race and have that I-can’t-wait-to-train-and-do-this feeling, but it never came.  It wasn’t the exhaustion of the athletes and the anguish on some of the faces that put me off.  When I watch ultra-runners with the same (or worse) expressions, I can tap into the joy and exhilaration behind the pain and immediately start fantasizing about running Western States and the Barkley.  Watching this, I just kept thinking of that Kenny Powers line about triathlons being a competition to see “who’s the best at exercising.”  I felt disappointed.  I really have enjoyed some aspects of the training.  It’s just that putting it all together with multiple costume changes and the constant threat of equipment failure just didn’t look fun.   Still, LRB kicked ass on the run and finished his first 70.3 in high spirits, and I tried my best to tap into his enthusiasm.

After getting him rehydrated, back to the hotel, and rested, I managed to eat a decent dinner, but was still not feeling great.  I decided that I would see how I was doing in the morning, but that the operating plan would be to give the race a shot the next day.   I woke up hungry and tired, loaded up the car, and drove back to the park for the third time that weekend.  We had plenty of time, so I got checked in, set up my transition area, and went for an experimental jog to see how I felt.  Physically it felt okay, but I was not feeling my mojo by a long shot.   When it was finally time to go I queued up with my wave for the swim start.  Aside from the general crappiness of the weekend so far, I was actually pretty confident about the swim.  It was only a quarter mile and I had been banging out 800-yd repeats with no problem in the pool.  I knew I was under-prepared in that this was my first time in open water and my first swim in my wetsuit, but I really wasn’t overly stressed out about it.  I ran in somewhere in the middle of the pack and started swimming.  Almost immediately a guy behind me started trying to draft, but was way too close and kept hitting me in the calves on every stroke.  I tried to speed up and pull away from him, but he just kept windmilling away at my legs, so I started maneuvering to the outer edge of the pack.  He stayed on me, literally.  I was at that point that I realized I was swimming way too fast and was getting into a serious oxygen debt.  I switched to breathing every other stroke, but still couldn’t seem to get enough air.  I finally rolled over on my back for a few strokes, which I thougt would at least persuade Pummeling Arms Dude to find a new swimmer to draft, but he just kept smacking away at my legs.  I rolled back over, told myself to stay calm, and focus on making it to the next buoy.  I swam, counted my strokes and my breath, and tried to concentrate on my form.  When I popped my head up again to sight it seemed like I had made no progress.  My head was pounding by that point, whether from the glare or the exertion I’m not sure.  I kept going another 10 or 12 strokes, still unable to get my breathing under control, but felt the panic rising.  Finally I gave up, pulled to the inside of the pack and then inside the buoys, and started swimming to shore.  I was going to DNF for the first time ever, and I truly did not care.

After the drive back to the city I went for a long run to think and regroup.  I had another sprint tri a month, which I had no interest in doing.  I knew that much already.  The bigger question was the NYC Tri in July, tri camp, and my general approach to training for the rest of the summer.  I enjoy the hardcoreness of triathlon training.  I like two-a-days, the fact that I finally have some definition in my arms, and that I’m stronger than I’ve ever been.  What I don’t like (other than transitions, the bike, and open water) is constantly feeling harried and unfocused, like I’m devoting a ton of time to training but constantly switching gears and not really able to make big improvements anywhere.  I can dig the pain cave of the bike trainer, but I hate biking out in the big world with cars and hills and gravel.  I know that I  have gotten a lot of utility out of  tri training—I’m a much better swimmer (at least in the pool), and having the bike trainer as an alternate workout option has been great.  Still, the fact remains that I have zero desire to compete in another triathlon.  The question is whether that’s because I’m struggling with the bike and the swim, because I’m afraid of biking on the road and open water swims, or because I’m afraid of being bad at it.

Even with several more weeks perspective, I’m still not sure where I am on the subject.  I skipped the next sprint tri and deferred the NYC Tri until next year.  I still have my (nonrefundable) tri camp at the end of July, and for now I’m still planning to go.   I have continued to swim twice a week, and my endurance swim class is going better than I expected.  I took an open water class last weekend which I thought would boost my confidence, but the fact that it was right before a storm blew in and we were swimming in the ocean in 3-foot surf did little to increase my comfort level.  I’ve done some more trainer workouts, but I haven’t been out on the road on my bike in weeks.

My training for the New York City Marathon officially kicked off last week, and it feels great to have one focused plan and goal ahead of me.  Aside from the usual early summer battle to heat-acclimate, my running still seems to be on track, and I’ve had two solid 10K races this past month and set a new PR.   Ironically, as much as I’d like to ditch the cross training at this point, I might actually need it.  I’ve developed plantar fasciitis in my right foot this past month, and something is still up with the tendon in my left big toe.  So far neither has kept me from running, but I’m a little nervous about substantially ramping up my run mileage with niggling injuries this early in the season.  I’ve added yoga and more time stretching and foam rolling to my routine, and much as I hate to admit it, I think the swims really help with muscle recovery.  So for now I going to keep on keeping on.

~ModC

May 1, 2015

Seven Years Running

April 22nd was my 7-year runniversary—i.e. the date I first started training “for real” and signed up for my first half marathon.  It’s been an amazing journey of 8,500+ miles, much sweat, and non-negligible amounts of blood and tears thrown in.  Seven years ago I was fresh out of grad school and just starting my professional life as a starry-eyed model-builder in Frank Gehry’s office in Los Angeles.  I’m now a licensed architect and a partner in a small firm in New York specializing in exterior wall design.   In many ways, running has shaped my adulthood—it has been the constant through the stresses and growing pains of my career, personal life, and multiple cross-country moves.  It’s been the backbone of more than a few friendships.  And every year on April 22nd I have celebrated all of that by going for a run that’s just for me.  There’s no workout structure allowed, no treadmill, and I try to go somewhere scenic as my schedule allows.  This year I had to postpone a few days, as I was resting the mysterious toe-squeak injury, but on Friday I ran home from work the long way—around lower Manhattan, through Battery Park (in full bloom), and over my beloved Brooklyn Bridge.  It was glorious.  (And I mean glorious in running terms, which is to say, beautiful, but with severe chafing of my collar bones by my backpack straps. And I almost got hit by a bike, and then a car that was running a red light. But let’s focus on the positive.)

Since then, this week has been really up and down. I feel like I’m really walking the knife edge of overtraining, and a slight breeze may push me over the edge.  Last night I was so tired I was on the verge of tears, and then this morning I banged out a six mile tempo run at 7:40 pace like it was nothing.  The root of the problem is that I can’t find a triathlon training plan designed for someone with a good level of fitness, lots of running experience, and zero swimming and biking skills.  Because I’ll be rolling straight from NYC Tri training in July to NYC Marathon training, I want to maintain my running base as much as possible, while putting in a lot of hard work to bring my swim and bike up to snuff.  That has so far resulted in me doing almost every workout hard, and doing two-a-days four or five days a week.  I realize that this plan is unsustainable.  This week I backed off one each of my swim and bike workouts to an easy pace, and definitely felt better.  Still, I need to find a good training balance that doesn’t leave me a quivering, irritable mess by the weekend.

In what may be a fortuitous turn of events, the Runners’ World training log I’ve been using for 7 years is going to cease to exist next week, so I’ve had to migrate all my data over to Training Peaks.  I have the premium free trial tools right now, so I’m taking advantage of all the fitness and training assessment data to sort things out.  I have the Harriman Sprint Tri in two weeks (agh!), and then I’ll be focusing on the Olympic distance in July.  Goal #1 is to make it to the starting line (and the finish line) healthy and fit.  In the coming weeks I’m going to be paying extra attention to nutrition and sleep, and am resolving to try (harder) not to let life interfere too much with either.

April 21, 2015

Musings on More

As evidenced by my posts the last few weeks, I went into the More/SHAPE/Fitness/Idontknowwhatelse Half Marathon on Sunday with mixed feelings.  It’s only been a little over a month since my huge PR at the NYC Half, and I raced a solid 4-miler in Central Park last weekend.  I’ve been ramping up the tri training over the last several weeks, though, and I’ve been cycling (no pun intended) between feeling like I’m on the verge of overtraining, backing off, panicking because I’m not training enough, ramping up, and repeating.  My big toe stopped squeaking this week, but now it hurts in a way that is somewhat reminiscent of the early stages of my stress fracture in the fall.  (I actually had an anxiety dream two nights before the half that all of my joints were squeaking like the Tin Man.)  Needless to say that when I toed the line on Sunday morning, it was with mixed emotions.

I scored a Wave 1 start for the race, and for the first time ever I actually lined up right at the tape.  That was mainly to get a view of Deena Kastor (squeeee!) RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME.  When the gun went off I attempted to hang with her for about 25 feet, and all I can say is that seeing an elite runner up close was both incredibly humbling and slightly terrifying.  In the thrill of chasing Deena I laid down a sub-7 first mile, which was probably not wise.  I tried to back it off a bit on the next couple, but running with the front pack was throwing me off and I kept finding myself speeding up.  It wasn’t long before the initial excitement wore off though, and I started feeling a bit flat.  My left quad was worryingly tight, and even though my toe wasn’t hurting much I was also fretting about worsening that injury.  To add to the fun, I could feel the early twinges of a side stitch forming, probably thanks to the breakneck speed at the start.

The course was just over two loops of Central Park, and I knew the key would be to keep my effort consistent between the uphills and downhills. I kept the pace in check for the first trip up the Harlem Hills and made up some time on the back side, but knew that pacing on round two would be tougher.  I had my first gel when I passed the starting line again, six miles in.  Almost immediately I felt the side stitch twinges solidify into a Side Stitch From Hell, a la the Baltimore Marathon.  This time I at least had more core strength on my side, though, and I found that if I kept my upper abs totally engaged and breathed very low in my belly that the pain was manageable.  I continued this way for about a mile and a half, breathing in for three steps and out for two, and eventually the cramp seemed to ease a bit.  For most of that time I fantasized about dropping out, calling my mom and the Caveboy and telling them I DNF’d.  Usually that kind of thinking would motivate and refocus me, but this time I just didn’t seem care that much.  I kept running, pretty much on pace, so I guess I did care, but I just could not find my mojo.  At some point the 1:45 pace group leader caught up with me, and I hung with her group until the next aid station, which they walked through.  They caught me again just before the second trip up the Harlem Hills, and and I was happy to tuck in and let them take care of pacing for a while.  About a mile later I heard the leader say something about the pace being off, and they sped up a bit.  They pulled away over the next mile, and while I kept them in sight, I never made a serious effort to catch them.

By that point my main concern was my left quad, which was still cranky.  I was hoping it wouldn’t cramp up with the downhill stretch through the bottom of the park, and knew I should be drinking more and taking in another gel.  I was still wary about the side stitch returning, but I finally decided it was worth the risk and took a gel around the 11 mile mark.  We still had a couple of rolling sections left, and the course was becoming increasingly crowded with the walkers that we were lapping.  I’m all for athletes of all abilities taking part in these events, and I’m a firm believer that the last person across the finish line has every bit as much right to the course as the first.  Participating in a road race demands a certain level of awareness, however.  Whether you’re running fast, slow, or walking, you’re part of an athletic competition.  Walking four-abreast and blocking the entire lane and forcing other runners into the grass or the bike lane IS NOT GOOD RACING ETIQUETTE.  I definitely paid for the clear sailing at the start with a lot of bobbing and weaving on the second lap when I was physically and mentally drained.  By the time we turned off at the 72nd Street cutoff to the finish line, I was pretty fried.  I managed to ramp up the pace to the low 7’s for the last 800m or so, picked off two runners in the chute, and ended up finishing in 1:45:33.  It was certainly a solid time, and one I would have been thrilled with last season.  I should be thrilled with it now.  It was just over 2 minutes slower than my PR last month, but the course was much more difficult and the day was at least 15 degrees warmer.  Given how generally flat I felt, it was a really solid performance.  I finished 44th in my age group and 280th/7,500ish overall, which is certainly respectable.  Still, I’m disappointed. I can’t tell if it’s just that I gave up a little bit mentally and stopped fighting for this one, or if it’s part of a bigger issue.  Last year I actually scheduled quality time with myself after key races to reflect how things were going and make any adjustments to my training going forward.  I haven’t done that this year, and I think it might be time.

My biggest concern right now is my toe and whether I’m headed for another stress fracture.  If so, it most likely points to female athlete triad syndrome and the possible need to rethink both my training schedule and nutrition.  There’s so much there to unpack that I am going to leave it for a separate post, but suffice it to say that the threat is weighing heavily on me.  It’s way too early in the season to be worrying about major injuries and overtraining.  My big-picture goal is getting to Boston in the next year or two.  That means prioritizing my overall fitness  and staying healthy so that I’m able to train consistently.  To that end, I’ve decided that for at least the next week or two, my fitness goals are as follows:

 

  • Get at least 7 hours of sleep every night.
  • Eat more calories than I think I’m burning each day.
  • Institute a biking boot camp and substitute biking for all run workouts until the toe shows signs of improvement.
  • Stretch every day.
April 14, 2015

Still Squeaky

On Sunday I had the Run For the Parks 4-miler, another NYRR race in my quest for the 9+1 and guaranteed entry for the 2016 NYC Marathon.  After a 20-mile bike ride on Saturday I was in no mood to get myself up and in Central Park by 7:45 AM for a race that—if all went well—was going to take me less an half an hour. Off I went, though, hoping that my tired legs and squeaky toe were up for it.  The subways can be kind of a crapshoot on Sunday mornings, so I allowed a lot of extra time for travel and ended up (for once) arriving a good bit early for the race.  It was still fairly cool out so I used the time to warm up and probably put in close to a mile before I started working my way to the start.  I hadn’t run since Tuesday due to the toe squeak, so I was anxious to get some strides in and feel out a good race pace before we started.  I was hoping for a pace in the low 7’s, but every time I thought I was probably approaching that and checked the Garmin, my pace was actually low 7’s/high 8’s.  It didn’t seem like the best sign, but I finally hit it and held it long enough for it to sink into my brain and then headed off to the start.

The race had a strong turnout, which is great since 100% of the proceeds go to park programs, but 8,000+ people in Central Park does get a bit crowded.  I was in the third corral thanks to my Prospect 4-miler time, and I figured having fast people around me would help a lot with the pacing.  We got off to a quick start and I focused on breathing and finding a good rhythm.  I pushed pretty hard and I really don’t remember much of the race other than trying and succeeding in overtaking some chic in a Boston Athletic Association jacket, and dropping one of my gloves half a mile from the finish.  That was upsetting because 1) they’re my favorite lucky running gloves, and 2) I knew it was stupid to try to take them off when I was that close to the end.  I clocked in at 28:55, which was 7:14 splits—30 seconds/mile better than my Prospect 4-miler in February.  As soon as I cleared the chute I worked my way back to where I dropped the glove, waited for a break in the runners, and did something resembling one of those football player drills to dart out, grab the glove off the ground, and then run back to the curb without disrupting the flow of the race.  Thus reunited with my gloves, I headed back to the finish to wait for LRB, who was running with a newbie friend.  When the results were posted it turned out that I had finished 13th in my age group and 103rd overall woman, which, given the field size, is probably my best finish ever.  It was totally the gloves.

After the race and some brunch with LRB and his friend, I hit the pool to work on the two-beat kick we had learned in class last week.  (And by “learned” I mean attempted with much awkward flailing.)  Since I had already put in a hard cardio effort I decided just to really focus on technique on the swim.  I spent 30 minutes kicking down the pool one length on my back, then working on the two-beat kick swimming back.  Since I could catch my breath on the kicking lengths, it took some of the pressure off timing the breathing with the two-beat, and by the end I felt like I was starting to get the hang of it.  I suspect that my kick form could still use some work, though.  It feels more like flinging something icky off my foot than a singular flutter kick, but I think it’s progress nonetheless.

This weekend I also officially joined the Brooklyn Tri Club, and we had our first bike workout of the season bright and early this morning.  I was able to hang with the other newbies, but I am getting my first bout of seriously cold feet for the upcoming races.  When I started this whole tri endeavor, it was the swim that scared me.  Now it’s the bike that I find myself dreading.  Despite all the time I spent on the trainer this winter, being on the road is a whole different world.  I find riding in traffic really nerve-wracking, and I still find  the feeling of being clipped in terrifying challenging.  After my ride on Saturday I decided to wear running shoes when I’m riding on the streets for the time being, and only clip in when I’m in the park or otherwise out of traffic.  That has at least eased some of the anxiety I have when cabs are whizzing by me inches from my elbow.

I’m actually surprised at how vulnerable I feel when I’m just riding fast in the park, though.  I love going fast on skis or skates, but on the bike I just keep thinking about broken bones and road rash.  This morning we were working on keeping a fast cadence and spinning on the small chain ring, and I was having a really hard time convincing myself to pedal downhill.  I hope know that a lot of this will work itself out as I get more comfortable on the bike and log some more road time.  My first sprint tri is a month away, though, and I feel woefully underprepared at the moment.  I’ve been focused on running these past few months and I still haven’t done a real brick workout, let alone an open water swim.  I need to just sit down and layout my training calendar for the next four weeks, get the key workouts scheduled, and I know I’ll feel a lot better. But between work, training, and minimal sleep requirements I can’t seem to find the time.  Also, I’m getting worried about the squeaky toe.  Before the stress fracture, I would have just run on it and not worried unless I could hear it over my ipod, but now I’m afraid of another boot-bound month and lost training hours.  I keep reminding myself that part of the reason I wanted to do the tri was for the challenge—to learn to swim properly, to get better at biking, and to do something that a few years ago I thought I could never, ever do.  Then there’s the part of me that keeps screaming, “screw this!  I just want to run!”  One of these days, she’ll come around, right?

April 9, 2015

Passover Running and a Squeaky Toe

The past few weeks have been a blur of deadlines, lots of training, and totally inadequate sleep.  By last Wednesday the cracks were starting to appear and I was starting to feel the warning signs of overtraining.  We were headed to Balitmore on Thursday to spend Passover with the Caveboy’s family, so I was looking forward to catching up on some sleep and having a good excuse to back off the 2-a-days.  We had a lovely holiday, but between the cooking and Seders I’m pretty sure I ended up more sleep-deprived that before.  I did manage to get some good runs, though possibly a little too good.

I’ve nearly eliminated easy runs from my schedule to make room for the biking and swimming, and the result has been that I’m now finding pacing much more difficult when I do have an easy day.  I went out for a 6-miler on Friday and a 7 on Saturday with the intention of keeping my heart rate down and running 9:30-10 minute pace.  The neighborhood around the Caveboy’s home is relentlessly rolling, though, and I found myself continually charging up hills, realizing it, and then trying to bring the pace down on the downhills, which never works.  On Sunday I had semi-tired legs and 12 miles at 8:13 pace on the schedule.  It was one of those days where I really wanted to have done my run, but not to actually do it.  For starters, nutrition was a challenge since most of my usual pre-run foods were not kosher for Passover.  While avoiding leavened bread and corn syrup has never been a major issue for me, we also further distinguish Passover meals from the rest of the year by preparing food with separate dishes and utensils.  That means no blender for smoothies, no GU’s, and no Accelerade.  I was hoping to scrounge up some honey packets, but had no success, so I ended up slicing up an orange, putting it in a zip-loc, and smooshing it into my running belt.  To quote Eric Cartman, “Now that’s what I call a sticky situation.”   I didn’t want to stray too far from the Caveboy’s, so I mapped out an annoying multi-loop neighborhood route which would at least avoid any major traffic.  It was overcast and windy and the loop turned out to be even hillier than I’d imagined.  According to the Garmin data, I had two climbs at 5%, and 1,100 feet of gain.  I had to do one section of it three times, which was demoralizing since I knew after the first one exactly how much it sucked.  Since the route was continuously up and down I tried not to look at the Garmin pace too much and just go by feel.  I spent most of the last loop telling myself to pull up my big girl tights and just get it done, which I eventually did.  The verdict was an average 8:14 split, with which I was pretty damn pleased.

I had noticed a weird sensation in the tendon in my big toe the day before, and after the long run I tried to figure out what was going on.  It didn’t hurt, but it felt like the tendon was sliding against something.  When I moved it I could feel friction and it was actually making a squeaking sound.  A visit to Dr. Google determined that this is actually a thing—it’s likely a form of tendonitis in which the sheath rather than the tendon itself is inflamed.  Dr. Google further recommended RICE, which was fine since I wasn’t planning to run on Monday anyway.  By Tuesday morning it was no longer squeaky, so I went ahead with my 5x1K intervals as planned.  Sure enough, post-run the squeak was back.  My initial instinct was to push through the rest of the week’s runs as scheduled since next week will be a taper before the More Women’s Half, but I may actually be getting smarter, because I reconsidered.  The half next week is not an A race, or really even a B race.  It’s too close to the NYC half to be much of a data point, and I’m doing it solely to get my 9 NYRR races in this year.  Risking injury to get a few more training runs in for a race that doesn’t matter is stupid.  I scrapped my Thursday tempo run in favor of a bike tempo, and may skip the 8-mile “long” run this weekend too.  I have a 4-mile race (again for my NYRR 9) on Sunday, but I will probably avoid additional running unless all systems are go.

 

On the Passover fueling front, when we got back from Baltimore this weekend I made a batch of my Passover-approved Caffeinated Quinoa, which has been my pre-workout breakfast all week.

 

Caffeinated Quinoa

1 cup water

1 cup strong black coffee

1 cup quinoa

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp cocoa

½ tsp salt

 

  1. Combine water, coffee, salt, and quinoa in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
  2. Cover and simmer until all water is absorbed. (The quinoa is ready when the curlicues are visible.)
  3. Stir in cinnamon and cocoa.

 

Serve, or refrigerate for later.  Stir in milk, almond butter, nuts, dried fruit, etc if desired.

 

March 16, 2015

A Good Day for Mollies…

Okay, so all that yammering I did last week about my cold, time off for the stress fracture, and whether I’d be able to handle an 8-minute pace?  Poppycock.  Whether it was race day magic, the perfect conditions, or my new and improved core and leg strength, the NYC Half was a dream.

As is my habit, I spent about an hour on Saturday studying the course and elevation map and constructing the perfect playlist.  I have long been a believer in the motivational power of music (which is also backed up by science), but race day playlists are something special.  I just don’t believe in Pandora or even those podcasts that target specific cadences.  Race tunes need to be hand-selected, and the playlist carefully crafted.  When it’s done well it sets the tone and the pace for the race, gives you an extra boost when you need it, and even lets you know if you’re on target for time goals.  I suppose in some ways it’s kind of the last stand of the mix tape, and my grand theory of running playlists is something like Rob’s in High Fidelity.

For me, the first section is all about starting big and setting the tone.  It has to start strong with a song that really gets me excited.  From there, you have to maintain the momentum, but really lock in the pace with the next couple of songs.  This is where your race can run away with you, so those first three or four songs is where I really pay attention to cadence.  The next section is really course-specific.  This is where I choreograph uphill and downhill efforts, and any other course features that I really want the soundtrack to reflect.  In anything longer than a 5K, I always feel like there’s a no-man’s land somewhere around two-thirds of the way through the race, which I think of as the Loneliness-of-the-Long-Distance-Runner phase.  For this stretch I want good music that will hold my attention a little more, but is relaxed and just rolls along.  (Jesus, Etc by Wilco is always my go-to to kick that section off.)  After that, I start building to a hard finish, again dusting in anything course-specific that I might need.  I also make sure I have a good hard finish song for both my A-goal time and my B-goal, because there’s nothing more depressing than missing your time goal and having that point further driven home when your playlist starts over.  Since my very first half-marathon, the A-goal kick song has been and always will be Shipping Up to Boston by the Dropkick Murphys.  A girl can dream.

On Sunday, I arrived at Central Park with my earbuds in, already listening to some chill music to calm the pre-race nerves.  The Park Lane Hotel across from the Simon Bolivar entrance to the park was being incredibly nice about letting runners congregate and stay warm in their lobby, and I chatted with people about races and courses while we waited to use their lavish marble bathrooms.  Ah, the luxury of flush toilets before a race!  I enjoyed the warmth in the lobby as long as I could and then warm-up jogged to the start about 10 minutes before the corrals closed.  I had been kind of bummed because I missed getting a Wave 1 start by 5 seconds on my splits, but I ended up in the first corral of Wave 2, which was probably better positioning anyway.   The first few miles were the usual dodging and weaving, but at least the crowds were fast and I split an 8:05 first mile.  It seemed like we got to the lollipop turn-around in Harlem in no time, and then it was up and down the Harlem Hills.  I dialed the pace back a bit on the uphills, but pushed to low 7’s on the downs.  I was a little worried I was going to pay for the faster pace later, but I felt comfortable and in control and decided just to go with it.  My splits through the park were all hitting right around 8 minutes, and soon we were exiting at 59th St. for the run to Times Square.  I had structured the playlist for 8’s, and I knew I was right on target when we turned onto 7th Ave and Empire State of Mind started on cue.  Once again, my Garmin lost satellites for the full stretch through Midtown, so I tried just to lock in the pace and keep up with the runners I’d been seeing for the last few miles.  When I finally turned onto the West Side Highway I got telemetry back, and I was still on pace with high 7’s.  That was my Loneliness-of-the-Long-Distance-Runner section, and I managed to pretty completely turn my brain off and just run.  I actually wasn’t checking the watch much either, but when I did I was clocking in slightly ahead of pace.  The whole stretch seemed much more downhill than it usually does, and I just kept my eyes on the Freedom Tower up ahead and focused on getting there.

The strangest part of the NYC Half course is the tunnel into Battery Park City, and I was totally unprepared for it last year.  This time I made sure I had turned off the auto-stop on my watch so that at least the clock wouldn’t pause when I lost satellites.  The tunnel is probably three or four-tenths of a mile long and curves, so you really can’t see the light at the end until you’re almost out.  The good part is that once you come up a steep little hill out of it, you’re just over half a mile from the finish.  Again, I had no pace info from the time I got into the tunnel until just before the finish line, but I knew from the overall time that I was tracking to come in under 1:45.  (I highly recommend trying to run splits with even numbers–the low-blood-sugar math is much easier.)  NYRR is great about putting up markers at the 800m-, 400m-, and 200m-to-go points, and I hammered as hard as I could.  I came in at 1:43:29, which was sub-8 (!) splits and a PR of more than 6 minutes.  I honestly never in my life expected to run a half marathon with a 7 handle on the pace.  I texted Long Run Buddy as soon as I cleared the chutes and he told me that Molly Huddle had become the first American to win the women’s title.  (I get a little fan girl about her and Shalane…)

I’m still recalibrating my season goals and trying to decide if this was a freak of weather or not.  When I think that less than two years ago I was struggling to break two hours, I’m amazed at how far I’ve come. I can’t believe I’m saying this publicly, but I think if I squint hard I might be able to see Boston from here.

March 13, 2015

I need a plan.

The New York Half is in two days and somehow I still have no game plan.  Despite the countless demi-marathons I’ve run over the years and having run the race last year, I just don’t have a  good feel for Sunday.  The fact that I’m returning from injury and have only been training for 5 weeks with limited mileage is the first question mark.  I’ve been hitting my paces on the intervals and tempos, but I do feel like my speed over distance suffered a bit with the time off for the stress fracture.  I’ve been putting in more training hours in the past few months than I ever have, but the bulk have been swimming, biking, and strength training.  Post-injury I’m still limiting my mileage only to the ‘quality runs,’ so my monthly totals are looking more like my weeklies were last year.   I feel like the change in training approach along with the added strength sessions has definitely made me leaner and given me more power in my legs, but the past few weeks have been almost like getting used to running in new body.

To top all of that off, I got hit with a cold this week, so my running didn’t so much taper as drop off a steep cliff.  I’ve been (for once) erring on the side of extra rest, so I did a short interval session Tuesday morning before the cold really set in, a brisk 3 miles Wednesday night in an attempt to shake the congestion loose, and another easy 3 on Thursday morning.  My last strength session was Monday and I’ve done no swimming or cycling this week.  I’m still feeling a little stuffy, but my five pronged defense of hot tea, Echinacea, vitamin C, bone broth, and frequent use of the neti pot seems to be working.

Still, the pacing question remains.  My last long run was an 8-miler, which I ran at 8:15 pace.  It felt quick, but not bad.  The half marathon A goal this season is sub 1:45, which basically means running 8 flats.  My gut tells me that’s probably a little too fast to sustain right now, but part of me wants to just go out like a Kenyan and let the chips fall where they may.  The course is fast—all the hills are in the first 5-6 miles through Central Park, and then it’s pretty much a gradual downhill to Battery Park.  That said, if I plan to negative split I’ll need to allow a little extra time for the terrain at the beginning and then really book it at sub-8 pace for the second half.  The Central Park hills aren’t that bad, but I know from experience that they can take their toll if you go out too fast.  My worry is that if I get caught up in the moment and take off at near 8’s through the park I’ll end up nursing a side stitch for the rest of the race.

So the real question is, how much can I actually handle right now? How fast is too fast in the park?  To add to the fun, thanks to my Garmin’s altoceloraphobia, last year I lost satellites for most of the stretch through Midtown, so I can’t really plan on reliable pacing once I hit the flat anyway.  In the end this race may be more of an exercise in just going with the flow.  Given the head cold and that it’s my first real race back since my injury, I think I’d be happy to run close to a PR (1:50:44), and then gun for 1:45 next month in the Women’s Half.  Still, the weather is looking pretty ideal—mid 40’s with some clouds, and I want to do my best and start the season on a high note.  This should be my first run in ages not done on tired legs, so maybe there’s still hope for some race day magic.

March 4, 2015

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

I’m late in posting, but this week has felt largely like a rehash of last week.  It’s been pretty much run, bike, swim, snow, ice, slush,  repeat.

To further the déjà vu, last Thursday’s tempo run was the same as the previous week–1 easy, 5 at 7:49 pace, 1 easy–with no evening workout.  Friday was a cardio rest day, but I did strength training in the morning.  Saturday I usually do an easy run for my morning workout, but was eager to get back in the pool to continue working the drills from this week’s swim class.  After 45 minutes in the pool my stroke was feeling great, and I believe I also isolated the cause of my swimming endurance problem.  It’s a minor detail, but it seems that I’m not actually inhaling in any meaningful way when I breathe.  I’m not really sure what to do about it yet, but acceptance is the first step, right?

After Saturday’s swim I had a light lunch and then hit the trainer for my first aerobic-targeted workout on Trainer Road.  It was 90 minutes of easy-ish spinning, and other than getting a bit saddle sore, it really wasn’t bad.  I had some errands to run and a pile of laundry to do, so the rest of the afternoon was quickly consumed with that.  I went to the Murder By Death concert Saturday evening with Long Run Buddy, which was super fun, but also had us out way too late.  LRB had a 5K in the morning and I needed to get the Caveboy off to the airport and then bang out a 15-mile run.  5:30 AM came around much too early.  For the run I planned to run a loop of Central Park, then cut west to the Hudson River path and run south, over the Brooklyn Bridge, and back home.  It was the closest I could approximate the NYC Half course without the street closures, and I figured having the bridge climb at the end of the run would be a good challenge.  Per my training schedule I was aiming for 8:30 pace, which was faster than I’d run any of my long runs so far, and 15 miles was the longest I had run since the Brooklyn Marathon back in November, so I was a teensy bit very nervous about this one.    I’d checked the weather the day before and it showed pretty perfect coditions–clear skies and a high of 40, so I threw on tights, a long sleeved race shirt, my Ice Breaker hoodie (love!), gloves, and my sunglasses and hopped on the subway to Central Park.

InconceivablePB

The park definitely felt colder than 40 degrees and the sky looked a bit ominous, but I was undaunted.  I started out the run feeling great.  I was light and fast and it was inconceivable I would ever get tired.  My pace slowed on the Harlem Hills more than I would have liked—and I say “my pace slowed” and not “I slowed my pace” because I felt like I was still running fast.  It’s just that I wasn’t.  Still, I cruised down the back side of the hills and pushed through the rolling stretch that makes up the north west section of the loop.  By the time I exited the park at Columbus Circle and headed for the Hudson River path it had started to snow and I was having to stay focused to maintain the 8:30’s.  The river path is flat and I hoped that once I dialed the pace in it wouldn’t be too hard to maintain.  Other than stopping for a few quick photo ops of the frozen Hudson I did manage to cruise along, roughly on pace.  I knew I’d lose some time and momentum when I cut across the island to the bridge though, and predictably, the climb there felt hard.  What I had not predicted was the ½” of snow that had fallen in the time it took me to get from Central Park to the bridge.  The pedestrian section of the bridge is basically a wooden boardwalk, so in addition to dodging oblivious tourists taking selfies I was also slipping on every step.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see a concrete running surface as when I reached solid ground on the Brooklyn side.  Happily, the downhill stretch (or proximity to home) gave me a second wind, and I was able to bring in the last couple of flat miles at 8:15’s.  It was a welcome surprise when I checked the Garmin and saw my average pace was an 8:34.  I arrived back home cold, chapped, and wind burned, and was grateful for a hot shower.

Photo Op.

Photo Op.

I cleaned up, made lunch, and was feeling good until my digestive system suddenly decided to go on strike.  I don’t think it had anything to do with the run necessarily—my stomach had felt fine the whole time I was out.  I curled up on the couch for an hour, but I still had a bunch of chores to get done before I was back to work on Monday.  Other than a headache and the tummy troubles I didn’t actually feel terrible, so I decided just to power through it as much as I could.  Of course, the problem was that I needed to get some calories and hydration back into me, and that was proving to be a challenge.   After several hours, lots of tea, and a couple of yogurt and kefir cocktails, I felt a bit better.  I got the important stuff on my to-do list done and did manage to eat a small dinner without repercussions.  I probably only ended up at net 500 calories on the day, if that, and went to bed at 9.

I woke up Monday morning tired, hungry, and fighting what I used to refer to in college as my “tired sore throat.”  I would get it without fail if I pulled a couple of all-nighters during finals, and now it’s become my red flag that I’m overtraining and getting run down.  Once again, I skipped my Monday morning strength training in favor of more sleep.   Tuesday I felt much better and the 5×1000 intervals went off without a hitch, so I’m chalking up the Monday fail to lack of sleep and calories.  We had yet another snow/freezing rain/regular rain event yesterday, so getting to swim class was a bit of a swim in itself.  Class was mostly kick drills and one-arm pulling, which felt weird and awkward and I kept forgetting to breathe (more so than usual).  Then I’d remember about the breathing when my lungs started screaming and completely forget that I was supposed to be paying attention to my arm position, which was unfortunate since that was the whole point of the awkward endeavor.  This morning I upgraded myself to the medium lane and still ran into feet, so something must be working.

February 24, 2015

Freeze, Thaw, Cycle

 

Ice on the water cups at the Al Gordon 4-Miler

Ice on the water cups at the Al Gordon 4-Miler

The good news about this weekend is that it was super productive.  The bad news is that I was completely exhausted by Monday.  I ended up with the schedule stacked against me last week, when I realized that I needed to squeeze in a strength training session with Kali the Destroyer.  I ended up fitting that in on Thursday morning, which moved my tempo run to Friday.  The strength training was great (doing the Jillian Michael sessions twice a week really are making me stronger), and I happy to wake up on Friday without much soreness.  My scheduled tempo was 1 easy, 5 at 7:49, and 1 easy, which I got through without much drama. I had the Al Gordon 4-Miler in Prospect Park on Saturday, and I tried my best to channel the successful tempo to garner some enthusiasm for the race.

 Al Gordon 4-Miler

I had signed up for the 4-miler when I came back from my stress fracture, mainly as an attempt to save myself from jumping right into training for the NYC Half.  That (somewhat) worked, and I really had no goal in mind for the race other than to improve my corral for the half next month.  I should probably explain for those uninitiated in the efficient machine that is New York Road Runners, that all of their races have starting corrals which are seeded by pace.  The catch is that your pace group is based on the fastest average mile split logged in any race you’ve run with them, regardless of distance.  I rarely race anything shorter than a 10K, and when I do, they’re usually social runs with friends when I’m not focused on time.  I was currently in the 8:00 corral based on my last 10K, and was hoping to improve my start position a bit given the crowded field in the NYC Half.  With that in mind, I dragged myself out of bed at 6 AM on Saturday morning and bundled up.  It was 6 degrees out and, not wanting to spend too much time freezing in the corral, I got to the start only a few minutes before the gun.  We were off, and I went into Bill Belichik Do-Your-Job mode—no drama, no whining, just hit my pace and get the job done.  I still had a 14-mile long run to do on Sunday, so the idea was to run hard, but not plumb new depths of pain.  I held 7:30’s on the flats, 8:00’s on the uphills, and tried to take it sub-7 on the downs when I could.   I held off a side stitch with some very focused belly breathing for the last mile and finished in 30:23.  It would have been nice to break 30 minutes, but I was happy with the effort, and it should move me up at least one or two corrals.   After I finished, the Caveboy met me with a warm jacket and asked if the lake was completely frozen, at which point I realized that I had not taken in my surroundings in the least.  How’s that for focus?

From Prospect I jumped on the train to Union Square and grabbed a cup of coffee while I waited for Jack Rabbit Sports to open.  They were having their spring clearance sale and I was hoping to snag a tri race kit cheap.  Long Run Buddy was meeting me there, and we both scored major deals.  I was able to pick up two race kits, and I also found a pair of my favorite running shorts and a book on bike maintenance, all for $55.  Win.  While I was waiting for LRB to check out I checked my race results and discovered that I had finished 4th in my age group.  Double win.  We had a celebratory brunch and then Caveboy and I headed home to catch up on laundry and other life essentials.  I had a bike session on the calendar as well, so after throwing in a load of running clothes I set up the bike and queued up an episode of Gilmore Girls.  This was the first session of my base-building training plan on TrainerRoad, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was hoping it wouldn’t be too brutal given the 14 mile long run the next day. “8-Minute Power Test” initially sounded pretty innocuous, but it turned out to be a pretty intense hour-long workout.

Trainer Road

TrainerRoad basically syncs your phone, iPad, or computer with your (Bluetooth-enabled) bike computer to give you a customized spin workout.  It estimates virtual power based on your trainer model and gives you real time stats on your power output, showing you a green, yellow, or red zone depending on how well you’re keeping up with the designed workout.  They also provide real-time on-screen instructions for each session, as well as additional background info on the website and even free webinars on training topics.  I’ve heard really good things about it and given that I have zero experience with bike training, I am basically putting all my faith in their approach.  The workout started with an easy spin warm-up, and then progressed to two very short, hard intervals.  No matter what I did, I couldn’t keep my power up in the green zone where it was supposed to be, and I was starting to get very worried about my biking abilities and questioning why I had taken on this whole triathlon endeavor.  Thankfully there was another easy spin period at that point and the on-screen instructions started describing the two 8-minute power trials that were coming up.  It was then that I realized that point of this ride was to calibrate my functional threshold power, and that the green zone for power that the app was currently showing me was completely arbitrary (i.e. probably calibrated for a large dude who is a much better cyclist than me.)  This is why I probably should not consider reading the instructions to be a sign of weakness…  Anyway, I was at least somewhat relieved, and I got through the power tests within tolerable pain levels.  TrainerRoad spit out a new FTP at the end, and my next workout should be calibrated for my current fitness level.

Slushy Central Park

Slushy Central Park

Long Run

Sunday the temperature shot up 30 degrees into the mid-40’s, and it seemed all of New York was covered in 2 inches of accumulated slush, dirt, and formerly-frozen dog pee.  I had originally planned to run as much as I could of the NYC Half course for my long run, but it was clear that traversing the sidewalks was not a desirable option.  I figured Central Park was probably my best shot at clear roads, so I met up with LRB after his morning spin session and set off.  He had a 1:45 run in HR Zone 1-2 on the menu, so it was much the same drill as last week.  We ran a bit slower than my target 8:30’s, but my legs were feeling pretty dead after the strength/tempo/race/bike whammy anyway.  We were both not wearing headphones for once, so we chatted on and off and the miles ticked by quickly.  The encouraging part about this run was really how undramatic it was given how tired I felt.  Undoubtedly it would have hurt a lot more had I been running 8:30’s instead of 8:45’s, but I did pick it up for the last few miles after LRB clocked out and my endurance felt solid.

Monday morning I had an hour of strength training scheduled, but on Sunday night I decided that I would benefit more from an additional hour of sleep.  I had vague notions of still getting it in after work, but by mid-afternoon it was clear that what I really needed was rest and a massage.  After some aggressive tiger tailing and an hour on the couch after dinner I was off to bed, and felt much more alive this morning.  The intervals du jour were 2×1200  at 6:53 pace followed by 4×800 at 6:49 pace with 2 minute recovery intervals.  After my poor showing last week, I was determined to bang these out without walking a recovery or stopping for a rest, and I. DID. IT.  I downed half a power bar while waiting for the train after, which is part of my initiative to be nicer to myself about post-workout nutrition.  (More on that in a later post.)  Tonight is swim class, and the rest of the week is the usual combo of swimming, Trainer Road bike workouts, hard runs, and beet juice.

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