Liverpool Triathlon 2011

The Liverpool Triathlon is effectively my “home” race – so it would be rude not to participate, right?

This was the second time I’d competed (or completed, depending how you look at it!) this race and only the third time it had been run – however, this year the race came under the aegis of the 5150 triathlon series, which (for those of you who don’t know) is the Olympic distance arm of the World Triathlon Corporation.  Yes, it’s owned by those evil b@*#$!ds who own the Ironman brand.

In light of this, I was expecting the feel of the race to have changed significantly; after all, there were now going to be an impressive field of pros racing.  This was to include bike god Stuart Hayes, mulitple-time Ironman 70.3 UK winner Fraser Cartmell and top age grouper Liz Blatchford.  Had I known which pros were going to be racing, I’d have been down there at the entrance to T1 with my autograph book to try to grab a quick signature or photo – but the pro start list wasn’t published anywhere, so I had no idea who I’d potentially be mingling with in transition.  Publishing the start list might have helped create some buzz and excitement amongst the competitors (even if they didn’t know who the pros were, they could have looked them up and got excited!), and encouraged some more people to come down early for the pro start at 8:30.  You can see the lack of spectators in this video, posted by Liz Blatchford – I think at this point they’re all still watching the age groupers start!

A lot of other things about the race were familiar; the course, the layout of transition, the awesome Scouse spectators (Scouse wit is alive and well in certain quaters of Liverpool it seems!).  Even the t-shirts were EXACTLY the same as the previous year. They were still really thin cotton, still ill-fitting and still over-priced, and I am pleased I didn’t part with my £12.  The medals were also the same, but I’ll let them off on that count as they are awesome.

Another, less humorous similarity to the previous years’ races were the race referees. For some reason, the only place I saw them was prowling around in a pack in the transition area, barking orders at people – aren’t they also supposed to be catching illegal drafters on the bike course?  I perfectly understand that they are there to enforce the rules (which I’m all for), but this can be done using basic manners and courtesy.  Barking “get off your phone” at a woman switching her phone on in transition or threatening to take away someone’s medal after the race for scooting their bike is a little extreme.

I don’t include marshals in this criticism – they were, as usual, fantastic, and should all be heartily thanked for giving up their Sunday morning lie-in to come and cheer my sweaty, lycra-clad ass slogging around the Albert Dock.

I suppose I should talk about my “performance” really – I entered the race with no expectations or target times, so in summary:

Swim: 34:46 mins (including walking to transition)
The swim was OK.  There seemed to be more people in my wave this year, and there were a lot of MAMILs (middle aged men in lycra) who were being a bit aggressive.  I survived the usual washing machine at the start and found myself some clear water to swim in.  I plodded round until one of the afore mentioned MAMILs decided he wanted to swim in a zig-zag line in front of me.  I accelerated past him, and he barged me a few more times, so I gave him a polite shove and tried to get on my way.  In the melee, my wetsuit had come unzipped and I took on water, which no doubt slowed me up a little, and contributed to my iron triceps the next day.  On the upside, I was most of the way undressed as I got out the water.

I also seem to have found the confidence from somewhere to go racing in a cropped style top.  This confidence may have been misplaced, as I appear to have developed a hearty muffin top in the picture above!

Bike: 1:38:03
The bike route is lovely and flat, the only potential issues being nasty crosswinds from the Mersey on a blustery day.  No such problems this year though, and I hung back on the bike this year to save my legs for the run – and still came in around 4 minutes faster than last year.  RESULT.

The bike is worthy of two photos as this next one is just too funny not to share. Sticking your tongue out while in deep concentration is something of a family tradition.  I also find it makes me more aerodynamic.

Run: 59:08
The run was awesome.  I’m not really sure why, but I was flying – I think someone replaced my legs with runner’s legs. I went through the first mile in about 8:30, then thought I should probably reign myself in a bit to avoid exploding half way through. In the end, I crossed the line in just over 59 minutes, feeling strong.  All the more astounding is that this is only 2:10 slower than my 10k PB!

I can see now why the boyfriend takes the piss out my “funny little running arms” now. Humph.

The time on the finish line is the actual time – I didn’t take 13 hours to finish an Oly!  I did however, take 3:17:46 – about 8 minutes better than last year.  Apologies for all the photos of me. I paid for them, and have to use them for something, so you can all look at them.

I’d heartily recommend the Liverpool Triathlon to anyone – it’d be a great first triathlon (they also have a sprint and super sprint distances), a great race to use as a step up to a first Olympic distance or a great course if you’re looking to set a new PB…so how about giving it a go next year?

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Edinburgh Marathon: Post Race Blues

It’s been a while since the race now (almost 5 weeks, oops!) and, to be honest, I’ve been putting off writing this post.  The photo above would suggest I finished the race (I did, honest), but I didn’t do it in the fine style I would have liked.  I hobbled round in 5:04:19.

The organisation of the race at the start was brilliant – plenty of port-a-loos, it was easy to find the right baggage truck to put your backpack into and there was pumping music playing to get you in the mood to rock 26.2 miles.  The race kicked off at 10a.m & we were underway…

The course is very fast and flat – good for a lazy runner like myself – winding its way through Edinburgh and out along the Firth of Forth to Musselburgh.  The support at the start of the course was amazing; the residents of Edinburgh turned out their sound systems into the street and pumped out a variety of tunes (even the Weather Girls) and gave out jelly babies.

Everything was going brilliantly up to about mile 16.  I ran through half way in 2:14 and a bit – on target for 4:30 something, feeling good.  Then the course got a bit more rural, and the wind picked up.  Luckily, at this point the wind was still helping, rather than hindering, but not for much longer.  I slowed to walk through the aid station at mile 16 to make sure I took on enough fuel and water, then set off running again.  At mile 18 ish, the course turned back on itself to head back towards the finish in Musselburgh town centre.  That meant 8 miles of running into a head wind.  The wind was gusting god knows what speed and it was hard, hard work. I slogged onwards – pain is temporary, glory lasts forever, right?

In amongst the misery there was a light moment – after the turn back towards Musselburgh, the route takes you through some farmland.  There were chickens on the course, and one solitary house.  In the garden of the house there was a guy playing a trumpet.  His ditties seemed to really lift the spirits of the people around me – so well done that man!  It’s random moments like this that make running something special for me.

By mile 20 the wheels had fallen off the running bus (more about buses later) and I wanted to sit down on the curb and cry.  The real low point however came at about mile 22 when one of the plastic cups from an unofficial water station blew up off the road and hit me in the face; yes, it really was that windy.  Each time I lifted my foot, it caught a gust of wind and blew out from under me.  I really didn’t think I’d make it at this point.

I pushed on – only 4 miles to go! Those miles are now a blur; this is probably my mind protecting me from the horrific truth.  The two things I do remember are seeing my friends & their puppy with about a mile to go (I managed to pretend I was ok!) and the odd feeling of seeing the finish gantry and wondering if was actually the finish because it didn’t ACTUALLY SAY FINISH ON IT ANYWHERE (more about the finish later).

I eventually crossed the line, and I hate to say it, but I felt empty.  It was an odd feeling – I’d just finished my first marathon, I should have been totally stoked and pumped up on adrenaline – but I wasn’t.  I think I’d left all my emotion on the course.  I staggered into the finish area and arbitrarily joined a queue.

The finish itself isn’t in Edinburgh (it’s not an out and back course), it’s actually in Musselburgh – and as a result there was relatively little support at the finish, and consequently very little atmosphere.  After passing under the finish gantry, runners were funnelled off to the left.  The queue I’d joined turned out to be one for medals; a marshal shoved one into my hand and I moved on.  I could see the baggage trucks up ahead, but couldn’t see where to get a t-shirt or a goodie bag.  The whole post-race area was crammed into a typical suburban street – and as a result there was absolute chaos.  It took a good 40 minutes for me to get through the fracas, chancing upon the correct size t-shirt as there were no signs pointing which size was where and picking up a goodie bag, which was (unsurprisingly) filled with the usual crap.  I moved to the baggage truck to get my bag only to find it lying in the middle of the street, about 5 metres from the fenced off area around the truck where it should have been.  Not impressed.  I finally figured out how to escape the finish chute (through a door sized gap in the Heras fencing) and got out on to the road.

I rendezvoused with friends and we headed off to find the buses – we didn’t go anywhere near the meeting area as there were so many people milling about (by all accounts it was a nightmare as well).  Turns out the buses were a 20 minute walk away; just what you need after a marathon!  We eventually arrived at the buses to find a 500 person strong queue, which we dutifully joined.  Luckily, the queue was fast moving and we only had to wait about 15 minutes until we were on the way back to Edinburgh.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the race since the day, and I’ve come to the conclusion I can do better – much, much better.  Training hadn’t gone as well as it could have done due to < insert generic excuses here > and I don’t think I was operating at full fitness, or full confidence.  They’re not wrong when they say this running malarky is 99% mental, 1% physical (whoever “they” are).

Aside from the disappointment of the result, I did have a lovely weekend with friends, and the fridge full of cider and a curry certainly consoled me! My fellow runners, Oliver (3:33:29), Garnet (4:35:24) and Sam (5:07:21 – I beat him! “The Schedule” worked!) all did fantastically – well done! – and it made my first marathon really special to be able to share it with them.  Thanks also go to the support team – Alex, Jem, Sarah and Oscar the Dog who really gave me a boost near the finish line.

I’ve picked myself up from the disappointment and moved on (I think), but I still feel a little pang of regret every time I think of the race, and perhaps that’s how it’ll be forever. If I didn’t have expectations and goals, then there wouldn’t be anything to drive me on and there’d be no point training, would there?

If you fancy a laugh, you can see my photos and finish video here. You’ll be able to spot me easily – I’m the only one celebrating (it clearly can’t have been that bad then, surely?).

To finish the post on a more positive note, I ran a new PB at the Tunnel 10k on the 12th June. 56:58 baby! Or 9:09 per mile if you like it in old money.  Turns out the way to run a 10k PB is to train badly for a marathon, eat a massive curry the night before, hydrate with cider and then just start sprinting like a madwoman 3k from the end…RESULT!

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Edinburgh Calling

T-minus 14 hours until it’s MARATHON TIME.  We’ve been for a wander around the expo, had an ice cream and stocked the fridge with post-race ciders (priorities, priorities).

It’s been very windy here today – and it’s expected to get windier tomorrow.  And to rain.  Hardly ideal conditions, but it’s better than a heatwave I suppose.  Obviously, I’m feeling somewhat anxious about the race, with it being my first marathon an’ all that. Recently, training hasn’t been as good as it could have been and I’ve missed a few of my long runs – but isn’t that always the way?  Time to zip up my “man suit” and get on with it I think.

I would have liked to have got around in 4 hours 30,  but bearing in mind my recent training, I think I should be happy with any time under 5 hours.  As my lovely friends (who have put up with my moaning and put us up for the weekend) said, completing a marathon in any time is still an awesome achievement – now I just have to suppress the little voice in my head that says I should be going faster, doing better.  Some booze would shut him up…

During the cruise around the expo, we raided the Lucozade Sport stand for free jelly beans and drinks – we also picked up some pace bands.  It was telling that the 4hr30 ones were all gone – perhaps I’m not so below-average after all! In light of recent training, I picked up a 4hr40 one.  Have I capitulated and accepted a slower time than I’d like, or am I still being over-ambitious with my expectations? We shall see.

My race number arrived a week or so ago.  Numbers for Edinburgh have your emergency contact details printed on them, which is unusual, and in my case, quite amusing.  For some reason my bib is printed with my own mobile number.  I can see it now; me (pale and sweaty) being lifted into the back of a St John’s Ambulance truck, them calling my emergency contact and my phone ringing in my pocket. D’oh! I’m not planning on having any emergencies tomorrow, so it should be ok.

Not long to go now, which means it’s down to pre-race rituals.  For me, this means pasta bake, a banana, some stretching and an early night.  Hopefully, in around 19 hours, I will have completed a marathon – wish me luck!

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Excursions, Diversions and Puddings

To say things have been a little manic recently would be an understatement. I spent a week at a conference in Virginia Beach, VA.  I’m now a properly published academic type of person – but I still found time to slip in a sneaky run and a some tilt-rotor related geekery amongst all the “networking” and “sunbathing”.

We’ve also adopted this little fella.  His name is Phurba (also known as Phurbz or Phurbalicious).  I said I’d own a Newfie one day, but wasn’t expecting that day to come so soon!

He’s currently 14 weeks old and AWESOME. I won’t say any more than that – this isn’t a dog blog (at the moment anyway).

….back to the point of this blog – the Sticky Toffee Trail Race!  This was my first trail run, and as such, a bloody good excuse to get some new gear.  Cue my new Inov-8 X-Talon 240s.

I have to say, these shoes performed admirably – the race brief promised waist-deep mud, and it certainly delivered.  Never once did I feel like I might slip, the gnarly soles on these beauties had more than enough grip.  They also look totally bad-ass, don’t you think?

The race itself was awesome.  Organised by Lakeland Trails, the course was somewhat hillier than I’m used to (understatement of the year!), but the views were stunning. Stop-running-and-have-a-good-long-look kind of stunning.  I bimbled round in 2:41 – 13 minute miles is where it’s at these days!  The course was well marked – right up until the point I got lost.  If you look at my Garmin data from the race, you’ll see where I got lost right away – yeah, that huge spur at the top!  There was a really nicely marked path going off in one direction and an over-grown path going in the other direction – naturally I followed everyone else down the nice looking path, which turned out to be a mistake.  At the end of the nice path there was a wall, a long drop on the other side, and not a lot else. This meant we had to go all the way back down the way we’d come and ended up getting snarled up with the slower runners and the walkers – right as we entered a long section through scratchy long grass with no opportunity to overtake and get running again.  I wasn’t going for a PB or even taking a serious approach to the race, so I wasn’t too miffed, but a few people around me were pretty grumpy about the whole thing!

Speaking of other runners, I have to say this was one of the most friendly races I’ve ever been to – fellow runners of Cartmel, you were ace.  Even you grumpy ones.

There was also some top quality pre-race entertainment from the Milnthorpe Steel Band, playing such classics as “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid. Loved it.

…and there was a cool t-shirt.  I’m only in this running game for the t-shirts.  Also got a funky window sticker, which is now proudly displayed in our Bongo van.

The only bad thing about this race was something completely unrelated to the race itself. We’d travelled down the night before to camp at Cartmel Racecourse (the start point of the race) and were initially pleased to see security monitoring the site – the key word here being initally.  Turns out they were two bored youths who were probably jacked up on Co-op own brand Red Bull, being paid less than minimum wage to monitor the site overnight to make sure no one trashed the temporary portaloos.  They spent most of the night throwing rocks into a skip about 5 feet from the side of our van or using a traffic cone as a megaphone to project their profanities across the whole campsite.  Muppets.  They eventually shut up at 3:30 in the morning, and I got some sleep.  Which was nice.

I haven’t mentioned the Sticky Toffee Pudding yet.  Man, it was good.  Like, really REALLY good.  I’ve never been given a pudding for crossing the finish line of a race – normally it’s just those one of those vile compressed fruit bars or some super-healthy oat-based boredom-bar that seem to be found in the post-race goody bag.  More puddings please!

Overall, it was a fabulous day out, beautiful weather, beautiful countryside and plenty of mud – I’ll certainly be back next year.

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Run for Japan

Over the past few weeks I’ve been watching the aftermath of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami unfold in Japan.  Over 18000 people have died, and many more are missing.  I’ve been touched by the dignity of the Japanese people in the face of the worst nuclear disaster of modern times, and when I heard about “Run for Japan” I felt compelled to join in.

The initiative is simple – run any distance you choose and dedicate your run to the people of Japan.  You can then donate through their Virgin Money Giving page (here) – the suggested donation is one unit of your country’s currency for each mile or kilometer you ran (in my case, £10 as I ran 10 miles).  You also get to register your miles and upload a picture to the Run For Japan website – look out for my fetching yellow and blue tri suit! Everyone’s mileage is being totalised with the aim of reaching 24 901 miles – once around the earth.  Support has flooded in from all around the globe – with elite runners and triathletes like Paula Radcliffe and Chrissie Wellington getting involved.

You can hear one of the team behind Run for Japan discussing the website on BBC Radio Bristol radio here (skip to 22 mins 40), or find out more on Facebook here – get involved!

As I write this, over £13000 has already been raised in under a week – Run for Japan team, I SALUTE YOU.

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Ups and Downs, and some more Ups.

The last few weeks of marathon training have been filled with ups and downs.  I’ve been racking up the miles – 14 and 16 mile runs being the longest I’ve ever done.  I’ve also run the fastest I’ve ever run, getting through 3 miles in 27 minutes, with the last two miles at 8:30 min/mile. It wasn’t pretty, and I needed a considerable lie down afterwards, but I still did it. About a year ago, 3 miles would have taken me over 33 minutes – now all I need to do is run 10k at that pace…

This weekend I decided to switch my long run to Saturday as we were going out for a friend’s birthday on Saturday night. With there being considerable scope for having too many glasses of wine, I thought this would be the wisest thing to do.  We also decided to try out a new route, catching the train out of Liverpool and running the 18 miles back to home. This is where things started to go a little bit wrong. I ended up sat facing backwards on the train, and gave myself travel sickness (I really should know better). As we got off the train, it started to rain.  Despite this, we set off and ran together for the first 2 miles or so.  Garnet (boyfriend) is a considerably faster runner than I am, what with him being a guy and being more naturally talented at this running malarkey than me, so running at my pace is too easy for him.  We split and I carried on, stomach still churning like a washing machine from the train journey. Eventually, I got into the zone and started to enjoy myself.

Shortly after mile 6, I saw Garnet’s blue shirt come running back towards me. Turns out we’d both got lost (me without realising it, even after consulting my map) and had to retrace our steps for about a mile.  Frequent map checking and a 15 minute phone call from my Dad at mile 10 meant this run was starting to take quite a long time.  By mile 11, I was within touching distance of home, and was still going to be on time for our meal out.

Then the feral children of Prescot appeared. In Liverpool, a lot of the kids get a bad name because of the behaviour of a few tracksuit-wearing scally yobs who are deliberately out to cause trouble. This lot weren’t typical scally kids – they actually looked “normal”. No tracksuits, no shaven heads, no North Face jackets or gloves. There were about 7 of them, aged around 13, all eating chips from foam trays.  As I was running towards them, I realised chip throwing was going to be inevitable, but it turned out to be much worse than that.

As I ran towards them, they moved out of my way.  Then one of them stuck their leg out. I went flying forward but managed to stay on my feet.  As I turned around to give them a piece of my mind, a shot of pain went up the back of my leg. I didn’t have time to say anything though, as they began throwing the contents of their trays at me, attempting to rub chips in my hair and pulling at my shirt. At this point, with 7 pairs of hands pawing me and thoughts of potentially being mugged going through my head, I managed to land a good slap on one of their faces. Not my finest moment, but quite frankly, he deserved it. He ran away, and the others followed suit.  I pulled myself together, shaken, but determined to carry on. I’m not sure why they thought it was acceptable to attack me, just for being in a public place.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t the end to the drama of this run.

I hobbled on the best I could, but soon realised I wasn’t going to make it back in time for dinner.  Plan B: whip out the emergency money and get on a bus to get me at least somewhere near home.  I got on the next bus which was heading in the right direction and asked for a single.  For the sake of convenience, I only carry a £20 note as my emergency money, and we all know bus drivers are averse to money in paper form.  It turned out that this bus driver found them particularly repugnant.  I tried explaining that I’d hurt myself and that there hadn’t been any black cabs, and that I needed to get home.  He still refused my cash, and told me I get off “his” bus. Bus drivers aren’t supposed to be allowed to throw you off the bus, so I politely persisted. It was pretty cold out by this time, and I was shivering in my shorts. The bus driver was having none of it and lost his temper, telling me to “get the f@#k” off the bus. I duly obliged.

Eventually, I found a black cab who wasn’t waiting for a fare, but I asked nicely and he agreed to run me home. His chivalry earned him a big tip.

When I got back, I showered and rushed out to dinner, so I hadn’t really had time to digest the whole experience until I came to write this.  Since then, my housemate Sam has also been abused while out on his long run – “Nice shorts!” (some Scousers lack the natural wit they’re famed for) – and Garnet frequently gets harassed when he runs (mostly because he minces, which is pretty funny, but still). Normally, those doing the heckling are driving past in cars or they wait until you’ve run past to yell their witty marks at you from a bus stop. Most of them could be described as “Salad Dodgers”, and they’re often clutching a KFC Family Feast (no children in sight though).

You might have guessed this whole experience has made me quite angry. I don’t make comments to random strangers in the street – whether they’re walking, running or cartwheeling.  Why can’t I partake in my hobby without being abused? I make a big effort to be a considerate runner, and don’t expect anything in return, especially not physical or verbal abuse. Grrrr.

To finish on a more light-hearted, less ranting note; on Saturday night while getting ready to go out, I seriously found myself trying to find a suitable outfit that would allow me to wear my Skins compression socks underneath. That was how much my legs hurt. In the end, I wore a dress so it didn’t happen, but I could see myself trying to start a new trend with my Skins and 6 inch patent heels!

On another happy, but entirely unrelated note, we’re getting a dog. Not just any dog, but my dream dog, a Newfoundland (one of the ones on the calendar). He’s all black, but is only 5 weeks old at the moment so we have to wait another 3 weeks until he arrives. No doubt I’ll be posting pics here and on Twitter, for those of you who are interested. I can’t wait to have a new running buddy!

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Snow, Mud, FUN!

I’ve just got back from an awesome week skiing with friends in SuperDévoluy, in the French Alps.  It’s been about 7 years since I last did any skiing, and I don’t remember it making me ache so much last time around!

Back in the real world, I am missing the skiing routine – on the first lift at 9:30, “gaufre avec chantilly” stop at 11, lunch at 1 (mmm, dauphinoise potatoes), Nutella crepe stop at 3 and down the mountain for post-ski Chimay beers by 4:30.  Needless to say, despite exercising 6 hours a day, I’ve gained a little weight!

After we had driven back to England, we stayed over in Aylesbury with Garnet’s parents to break up the driving – turns out 923 miles is quite a long way! I seized the opportunity to get a long run in along the tow path of Aylesbury canal (you can see my route here), aiming to do 12 miles.  I wasn’t expecting it to be fast, and I was expecting it to hurt on ski-tired legs.  I was right about it not being fast, but it actually turned out to be one of the most fun runs I’ve ever done.

I’m not that familiar with the Aylesbury area, so I started out by getting lost. Ooops. After about three miles, I found somewhere that I sort of recognised and I was back on track, eventually finding the canal.  On the outward leg the wind and rain were lashing me from the side, pushing me closer to the water’s edge.  It had rained quite heavily and it quickly turned into a gooey, slimy mud-fest underfoot.  The tow path further deteriorated as I pressed on, the mud all but pulling my shoes off!  For some reason though, I was still having a great time; the running was challenging but fun, and I was appreciating having some peace and quiet after spending a week in a tiny chalet with 6 burly guys (as much as I love them, that chalet was tiny!).  Running at it’s best.  I turned back towards town after about 6 miles, and for some reason, the wind was still trying to push me into the canal for an early bath.

Because of the weather, the tow path was almost deserted.  This turned out to be a good thing as I think I must have fallen over about 6 times – at about 7 miles, I called for back up and arranged to be picked up at the 9.5 mile mark so I didn’t have to run back through Aylesbury covered in mud!  My post-run shower revealed the extent of the mess – in my hair, on my face, in my ears and (somehow) in between my toes!

When I’m in Liverpool, I don’t really get to run off-road, and it turns out I really enjoy it.  So, in order to do more off-road stuff, I’ve entered the Cartmel Trail Challenge, part of the Lakeland Trails series.  Hopefully it’ll prove to be 18km of filthy off-road fun. I’m not going to lie, the fact you get a sticky toffe pudding in the goody bag at this race was also a large motivating factor in my entry!  I opted for the “challenge” category rather than the “race” as, though I’m sure I can run 18k in less than 2hrs 45mins (even with the promise of “sections of knee deep mud”), I wanted to do this for fun, not to compete.  So I’ll be cutting up the trail with the Nordic walkers.

I think I may need to purchase some more appropriate footwear.

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