You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone

They say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone and, when it comes to fitness, I can definitely concur.  I’m not sure how much time I had off from running, but I think it was a good 3 months of doing very little, including an entire month off exercise completely, whilst recovering from foot surgery.  If nothing else, I’ve learned that I genuinely had no idea how fit I actually was.

When you constantly surround yourself with people who do more exercise, and more running, and more EVERYTHING, than you do, it’s easy to forget that what you’re doing yourself is actually far from ordinary.  I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t, at the very least, half marathon fit, if not marathon fit, and be able to not only run the distance, but race it in a time that was better than average, even though I was never happy with my time!

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Coming back from an injury that has set me right back to square one has been challenging on many levels.  How exactly do you motivate yourself to do something that has become so difficult and laboured unenjoyable and, quite frankly, hard work?  It’s a bit like dragging yourself to a hardcore tempo session that you know you need to do, but the difference is, there’s no reward.  There’s no reward to sending yourself out on a run that’s not only half the distance than you’re used to, but takes you 90 seconds per mile longer than you’re used to and leaves you more knackered than you’re used to.  No reward, just a lot of AAAARRRGGGGHHHHHHHH.

I’ve had a lot of arguments with myself.

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Undeniably, I’m getting fitter and stronger.  I can feel it.  Especially with the strength work I’ve been doing – Monday nights burning at the Barre in a ballet inspired strength class are becoming my favourite!

While I know I’m still fitter than most, I’m still not ‘me fit’ and I’m not ‘my friends fit’ and that means I still can’t run with them.  That’s right, I can’t play with my friends and I’m miserable about it.  (Fair play to Gemma though, she has offered to run with me but I fear she doesn’t quite know what she’s letting herself in for…)

As I plod on with my slow runs home from work, attempting tempo at Parkrun because I can’t join in at actual tempo, and slowly increasing my mileage, I’ve found a new found awe for my former self.  She was tougher than I thought.  In light of that I thought it was time to set myself a new goal and, being lucky enough to get a place in Great North Run, I thought it would be a good opportunity to finally try and beat my half marathon PB of 01.40.50. Gulp.

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The one where they told me I needed foot surgery

So I have a broken foot. Yes. A. Broken. FOOT.  I know I’ve been quiet for a while, but when you’re a fitness blogger with an injury that will only let you do one legged planks and tricep dips (so that’s fun then), you find you don’t really have much to say.

My foot’s been wonky for a while, I’ve even used it to excuse why I’ve fallen over thin air after a few proseccos, but I’ve kinda been ignoring it.  The problem was, I was starting to get shooting pains through my foot not only after I had been running, but when I was simply laying down too.  I knew there was a problem.

It turns out that my big toe hasn’t been doing what it should and my other toes were taking all the weight.  Whilst this apparently isn’t too much of a problem for muggles, for an obsessive compulsive marathon runner (I’m coining the term OCMR), it’s a real pain in the arse…and the foot…and in fact the whole bloody leg.

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So, the official diagnosis was ‘Wonky Foot’ and the bad news was that surgery was the only way to fix it.  On the plus side, it explained a lot and explains why I was getting frequent injuries in my right leg, it was all related to a gradual change in gait to account for my wonkiness.

So I had a choice:

  • Don’t have surgery, continue to be wonky and struggle to run, but always have an excuse for prosecco based tumbles
  • Have surgery, have an injury that would stop me exercising for a while and lose the prosecco based tumble excuse, but potentially get fixed and comeback stronger

Before I had a chance to change my mind I was booked in for surgery.

Apparantly the procedure was fairly simple, they break the bone, realign it with pins and sew it back up to leave a double-hard action man scar.  Of course when I tell the scar story later it’ll involve a crocodile and the heroic rescue mission of an adorably cute puppy…

So this is my Frankenstein’s Monster foot.  Just be grateful it’s the post-manicured picture:

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After being pretty much housebound for the dullest 2 weeks ever, I was finally allowed out to play again last week for Christmas fun (you know the, sensible, well planned out controlled type of fun we all dream of), it made me so happpppyyyy!

Sensible, controlled fun has never really been my strong point so after a few mulled wines on Saturday morning (yes morning, it’s December, it’s fine), I found myself jumping (OK hopping) at the chance to participate in the Chaser pint mile relay!

It’s pretty easy, you just drink your pint as quickly as you can, run around the track as fast as you can, then tag the next person.  I went 4th in our team to avoid getting in anyone’s way and succeeded in completing a 3 legged hobble of the track putting our team firmly in, ahem, last place.  Honestly, I have never been more excited to go around that bloomin track!

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So, it’s been nearly 3 weeks and my broken foot is on the mend.  Not being able to run, or indeed fit my foot into anything other than an Ugg boot, is driving me completely insane but it’s Christmas so I’m trying to to chill out and let myself heal.  Who would have thought relaxing would actually be so challenging?

Hopefully I’ll be back in my trainers very very soon and I can work on my #ComeBackStronger approach.  In the meantime I still have these memories to remind me what I know I can do and a whole lot of sensible, controlled festive fun to look forward to 🙂

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Tallinn Marathon: The one that wasn’t

  • At mile 8 I was still hopeful
  • But at mile 9 my right leg really wasn’t so sure
  • By mile 11 my jog had turned to a distinctive shuffle
  • At mile 12 I was walking…
  • …and at mile 13.1 I was well and truly OUT

Just 2 and a half hours after I had started the Tallinn Marathon, I was back in my hotel room, physically and emotionally broken, having only completed half of the course.  I wasn’t sure how much cider and wine I was going to need to deal with the situation.

It turned out to be a lot, luckily I had good company…

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It was never going to end well.  I was undertrained and injured.  But my head was in a different place to my body, in fact, it was so far away, it may as well have been on a different planet.  Through a combination of really not wanting to go running, being too busy, and carrying some kind of leg injury that quickly shut down my late attempt to get marathon ready, it really should have been the one I never started.

But I did start.

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Tallinn is actually a very beautiful city, and with the weather bright and sunny, and some Chaser buddies around me, it really could have been a lot worse.  After a lot of thinking, and trying to figure out how I felt about the situation, I realised that although I didn’t run the full marathon, and I didn’t get my BQ (which was the reason for signing up in the first place), I still ran half of it and had a really good weekend in a place I had never been before.

The marathon is part of a weekend of events that consists of a kids 5k on the Friday evening, a 10k on the Saturday, and the marathon and half on the Sunday.  The marathon is 2 laps of the half, which starts later in the day.

The kids 5k in full swing

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Beginning in Freedom Square, the route takes you around the city and heads out along the coastline for around 7 miles, before switching back to the city again.  It was actually better supported than I expected, I thought it would be quite low key with less than 2,000 runners in the full and around 3,000 in the half, but there were people cheering along the route and a few bands making some noise.

It’s pretty flat, and a great course for a PB, although it could get quite windy by the sea in different conditions.  There’s also a smell, a kind of putrid dead fish type of smell that gets worse as the day goes on and really puts you off your caramel macchiato caffeine gels.  Be warned.

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I was feeling OK for the first 8 or so miles, I was running slowly, but I felt OK and was even enjoying running again.  But somewhere on the way back to the city, my right leg started to hurt and my hip flexors felt tight, I was getting slower and slower.  It was frustrating, and I was trying to calculate how I could adopt a run-walk strategy to the finish but, by 12 miles run-walk was more walk-walk.  It wasn’t happening.

As Freedom Square got closer and closer, I had to make a decision.  And I knew what the decision needed to be, I just didn’t want to admit it.  I could have carried on and shuffled around, but I really didn’t see the point, I was injured, I was going to be painfully slow, and I was already back near the hotel.  As my watch hit 13.1 miles, I pulled out.

Tallinn is a well organised event, I can’t take that away from them, but I wasn’t impressed that they wouldn’t let me get off the course very easily, and they wouldn’t give me any water despite having run 13 miles in warm conditions.  It didn’t help my mood.  Plus, as I hadn’t officially downgraded to the half, I didn’t even get rewarded for my efforts despite having run the half course.

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Well yes actually, I do. And I deserved one. So I got one.  And I wore it allll night.  Thank you to Paul and Lorraine, who managed to sweet talk the Estonian medal police into letting me have one, it made my day!

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Although Mike unfortunately couldn’t run due to injury, the rest of the Chasers ran really well with a sub 3 PB for Paul, a sold BQ for Rob, a great run from Emma despite hurting her back 2 days before, and an awesome PB for Lorraine in the half.

What then followed were a lot of drinks, some dinner, some more drinks, some silliness and some music.

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There’ll be other marathons, and other opportunities to get a PB and a BQ but, right now, I’m a little bit over 26.2.  I’ll face up to the fact I’ve signed up to a mountainous marathon in Gran Canaria next year a little later…

Green Belt Relay – Round 3!

Last weekend was the annual Green Belt Relay, it’s one of the Chasers favourite events of the year and never fails to be an awesome weekend away.

At the start line

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The Facts:

  • GBR is a 220 mile running relay around London’s scenic Green Belt
  • The race is made up of 22 stages over 2 days
  • Stages differ in length, terrain, elevation, and navigational difficulty to allow everyone to participate
  • Teams of 11 race 1 leg per day across the 2 days
  • A record 40 teams entered the GBR this year, Chasers made up 3 of them
  • Although the routes are marked, you are reliant on your own navigation to make sure you don’t get lost
  • The smooth running of the event relies on participation from all teams to help marshal each stage and provide water stations
  • It is not flat!

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The Highs:

  • Chasers took 9 stage wins in total
  • Bryn smashed the leg 17 course record by over 3 whole minutes!
  • Leg 3 and Leg 14 were lovely routes
  • There was a pub right next to where Graham and I were marshaling (phew)
  • We got to stay at the high class Miami hotel in Essex again
  • I got to spend the whole weekend with Gemma
  • I didn’t crash a minibus!
  • It was Nathalie’s 30th birthday so there was lots and lots of cake
  • We rescued 2 injured runners from leg 10 and safely got them back to their friends and relations

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The Lows:

  • I had a bit of a breakdown on not just one, but both of my stages
  • My legs didn’t work
  • My lungs didn’t work
  • I was a little bit sick in a bush near the River Lea
  • We accidentally forgot to pick up the leg 10 runners at the end of their run – sorry 😦
  • Sleep. There was none
  • A Serpie on leg 17 rudely told our helpful marshals to ‘get out the way, I know where I’m going’ – Simon Barrett, shameful & unnecessary, you give Serpies a bad name

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The Learnings:

  • There’s a possibility I still haven’t fully recovered from the London Marathon
  • It’s easier to write the route on your hand than look at a map
  • No matter how many times Gemma tells you how pathetic you are, it won’t make your legs move faster
  • No matter how pathetic you actually are, Gemma will never leave you
  • It’s much more fun to cartwheel and pirouette at the finish line than run sensibly
  • No one can beat Bryn
  • You can always count on Ross to run an extra leg if there’s an injury
  • You can also always count on Ross to wear very tight shorts
  • No one enjoys Ross’s very tight shorts as much as our Barry. He even has a special dance
  • You can’t wash your hair with a bar of soap no matter how hard you try (and Jenn really did try)
  • The Green Belt Relay was, as it always has been, a very well organised, fun and all-round brilliant event

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Huge thanks to the Stragglers, and everyone else involved in organising the GBR, and Bryn for organising the Chasers.  Until next year!

The Finish Line

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The only real trouble with the Green Belt Relay is that there is no down time, no time for a drink, and definitely no time to pop into a cactus fair…

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London Marathon #4: The One That Got Away

I got the feeling early on I wasn’t going to hold the pace.  I just knew it.  By the time mile 18 rolled around I had reduced myself to a walking break and everything felt a little fuzzy.  Despite Chris telling me we could still make it, and quite literally pushing me along, I could feel the A plan, the B plan and the C plan slowly slipping away.  The London Marathon dream was over and all I could do was simply finish.

The thing with the marathon is that it is unpredictable, and no matter how experienced you are, and how prepared you are for every eventuality you can control, there is still a lot you can’t control and you have to be a little lucky on the day for everything to go your way.

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I’m not sure I could have been much more prepared for my 4th attempt at the London Marathon.  I got a lot of things right, I felt good, and I knew I was in good shape, but something just didn’t quite go my way.  Instead of bringing home a new shiny PB to be proud of, and the BQ I desperately wanted, I trundled over the finish line in 3 hours 53.  Not a bad time I know, but it wasn’t the day I wanted and it wasn’t the race I’d trained for.  It was, however, the race I got.

I met some of the Chasers at the tube station bright & early on Sunday morning but it wasn’t long before Alex had to leg it back home again to pick up his forgotten timing chip (ohhhh, Alex!!).  We arrived in good time and I met Chris who had once again offered to pace me, despite having just run both Manchester and Brighton marathons in the last 2 weeks! Due to my poor pacing skills and self-doubt, I lept at this chance and was really pleased to be able to avoid the official pace groups (which get very busy) and have someone I knew by my side.

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It was a perfect day for running, cool, dry and not too sunny.  I had 4 plans, the A plan was to finish in under 3:35, the B plan was a guaranteed BQ and the C plan was a GFA, and the D plan was to never run a marathon ever again.

The start was crowded as usual but, as we were in a start pen further back than we wanted, there was a lot of weaving in and out of people and the first mile was slow. I tried not to panic and Chris stopped me tearing off at a silly pace to make up the difference. We soon settled into a good pace around 8mm, the crowds lined the streets, I saw Barry screaming at me at mile 6, and I remembered why I love the London Marathon so much!

Without Chris I most definitely would have ran the first few miles too fast so I just concentrated on following him.  The weather stayed perfect and, apart from a brief spot of hail, it was dry and the sun wasn’t too warm when it did come out.  Around mile 9/10 I had the distinct feeling I wasn’t going to keep up, I voiced my concerns but Chris wasn’t having any of it and we cracked on.

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I saw Mum & Dad on the opposite side of the road around the half way point and my friends Rick & Merissa cheering very loudly.  The Chasers were at mile 14.5, I was really looking forward to seeing them but for some reason I didn’t know they were there until we’d past.

By the time we were around mile 18 I had to stop and walk, I felt dizzy and all I remember was Chris saying ‘you’re better than this, come on’.  I tried to negotiate some walking breaks and we agreed we’d have one at 20 miles but I didn’t even make it that far until I was walking again.

After that, everything is a bit hazy and it became a cycle of me stopping to walk, Chris giving me some tough love and pushing me on, and each mile rolling by.  The Chasers were just after the 20 mile mark and there was no missing them this time, it was just what I needed!  Run Dem Crew were at mile 21, who always deliver on support, and Mum & Dad at 22.5.  I know there were other people out there shouting at me, sorry if I missed you!

I wasn’t feeling at all good, I felt sick and a bit out of it but I really couldn’t tell you why.  Chris dutifully picked up water whenever I wanted it and offered non-stop encouragement, but I knew I wasn’t getting a BQ and was increasingly unlikely to get a PB.  I tried to soak in the atmosphere that only the London Marathon offers, look at the sites and do as I was told, the miles were still ticking by.

With just 1km to go I still found myself walking and bumped into fellow Chaser Dorcas, she saw me walking and came back for me.  We finished the Frankfurt Marathon in exactly the same time so she said we would finish this one together too! Plodding down the home straight, it was a 3:53 finish, a comfortable sub-4, but no where near what it should have been.  I had executed a perfect D plan (no more marathons).

No BQ, no GFA and no PB. Gutted.

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All I really wanted was to sit down, but sitting down on the finish line is often frowned upon, so, with Chris holding me up, I shuffled, and shuffled, and eventually made it to my bag and my parents.

Chris was, yet again, a total star. He said all the right things, pushed me when I needed it and was even the water boy!  I think I would have easily come in a lot slower without him there, but he didn’t take any of my babbling, nonsensical crap and made sure I didn’t give up, I was all ready to have a little sit down on the side of the road at one point.  I’m just sorry I couldn’t quite achieve this time, or do what I said I was going to do, sorry Chris!

I’m obviously disappointed with my performance, but I’m not nearly as upset as I thought I would be.  Maybe it’s because I still got to run the London Marathon, and the London Marathon truly is the greatest marathon on earth, and I even got to run it with Chris.

I don’t know what went wrong, I was ready and I was prepared, I even had a personal pacer, but it just wasn’t to be.  Right now I’m completely torn between:

  • Flying to Latvia in a couple of weeks to try again (perfect timing but I don’t speak the language)
  • Heading to Liverpool at the end of May (much closer, but not so perfect timing and I don’t speak the language)
  • Heading to Estonia in September for the last chance before Boston opens (more time to recover, but the thought of  another marathon season makes me want to throw all my trainers away)
  • Honestly never running another marathon again (the best idea I’ve ever had but I’m going to need some new friends)

Even I don’t know what I’m going to do next but I’m definitely looking forward to a summer of shorter races and post run ciders in the sunshine!

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Hey London. I’m Ready!

On Saturday morning I smashed my Parkrun PB, knocking 19 seconds off my previous best and a whopping 1 minute 13 seconds of my PB this year!  My PB now stands at 21:50, it’s the confidence booster I desperately needed AND one of my 2016 goals achieved!

I didn’t do it alone though.  One of the best things about being a Chaser is the support you get from others and I was lucky to have not 1, but 2 Chasers pacing me round Dulwich Park.  I wanted a sub 22, but I didn’t know if I could do it, I really didn’t, and I was a bit worried Rob and Nick would be annoyed if they had gone out of my way to help me and I failed.  A sub 22 always seemed so out of reach.

With some strong words from Gemma beforehand, I set off determined to block out everything around me other than what the guys were telling me, they knew exactly which line to take, I drafted when it was breezy and I kept on their heels.  I always, always set off too fast so it felt surprisingly comfortable until the last half a mile or so…I thought I was slowing down a lot but I didn’t want to look at the pace.  When we hit the last 200m both Rob and Nick were shouting ‘come on, come on’ and I thought I’d missed it, I could barely believe it when I saw the time, it was a comfortable sub 22!

I am absolutely elated with my new PB and hugely grateful to Rob and Nick for helping me achieve it, thank you!

As an aside, I think it’s incredibly sad, and shameful, that Stoke council have voted to charge runners for Little Stoke Parkrun because, apparantly, they need to replace the path (a path that is no doubt used by a whole range of people throughout the week, not just Parkrunners).  In a society where we should be actively encouraging people to eat less and move move, Parkrun has been instrumental in getting a huge number of people off the sofa and into their trainers.  It really has revoluntioned Saturday mornings and this is a massive blow to the Parkrun community who’s ethos has always been about providing free, safe events that are accessible to all.

If you want to support Little Stoke, you can sign the petition here  #LoveParkrun

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Of course, I know that a 5k PB doesn’t mean a marathon PB, but it has made me realise I can achieve things I thought were beyond me, especially with a little help.

It’s the final few days before London and I’ve been testing the carb-depletion diet.  The science behind it is, by spending a few days eating a low carb diet, you deplete your muscles of their glycogen stores so when you begin the carb loading process they can store more glycogen than they could before, and more glycogen in the muscles means more fuel on race day.

I’ve read mixed reviews, and I don’t know if it will make a difference, but some people swear by it and I had nothing to lose by giving it a go, marginal gains and all that.  Honestly, I can’t wait for all the carbs on Thursday though, there’s only so much fish, chicken, avocado, eggs and courgettes you can eat and I’m not really a ‘no-bread sandwich and hold the fries’ kind of girl!

Looking back over my training plans I’ve had some really strong runs, I know I’m in good shape and I know I can do it.  I just have to actually do it.  Plus, if I needed any more motivation, I have a bet with my friend Martin that I can beat him with a 55 minute handicap.  Loser buys the drinks all night.  I don’t want to be the loser.

I’m ready for you London, I’m ready.

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When the taper brings nothing but self-doubt

There’s less than 2 weeks to go until the London Marathon.  The day when the last 18 weeks of training are put to the test, the day when you realise if all the hard work and sacrifice was worth it, the day when you bask in glory…or crash and burn in a devastating fall from grace, the day when everyone else knows whether you succeeded, or whether you failed…

There’s less than 2 weeks to go until the London Marathon and that means it’s time for the taper to slowly chip away at every ounce of confidence you ever had.

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The taper’s a funny thing, you spend all winter looking forward to those 2/3 weeks at the end of your plan when the intensity drops back and the long runs look easy, but when it gets here it’s not quite as much fun as you thought.  By the time the taper arrives you know it’s too late to change anything, there’s absolutely nothing more you can do to make yourself fitter, stronger, or faster except wind down, rest and eat well.  It’s terrifying!

On Saturday I went for a Parkrun PB, I actually wanted more than a PB, I wanted a confidence boosting 21:59.  Having gone to bed early, and dragging myself out in the pouring rain on a Saturday morning, I fell off the pace quickly and finished in a disappointing 22:23.  Rubbish.

However, it was my 2nd best Parkrun time ever, and this time last year I could only dream of anything starting with a 22, surely that’s a positive thing and a sign that the hard work is paying off?  So, this Saturday I’ll be trying again, one last shot at sub 22 before judgement day.

It’s difficult not to question every decision I’ve made over the last few weeks.  Should I have picked up the pace a bit more in my long runs?  Could I have tried just a bit harder in the Hampton Court half?  Should I have pushed through the last 2k at track last week when my legs didn’t work rather than bowing out?  Did I run too fast at tempo?  Was 3 x 20 milers enough?  Could I have done more, run further, tried harder???

Once you throw in the phantom injuries, imaginary niggles and overwhelming paranoia you realise the taper is anything but fun.  You’re convinced you’re going to get sick from the snotty nosed teenager that just sneezed on you, or you’re going to accidentally fall off a bridge into the Thames and break your leg, or Snoopy, the crazy dog who lives down the road, is going to bite your arm off and tear you limb from limb.  Convinced. (Snoopy really is a nutter you know).

I really don’t know what race day will bring this time.  I do know that I’ve run more miles (yes, I’ve counted), and put in more effort (yes, I’ve calculated) than I have for any other marathon, but I really don’t know if I’ve done enough.  I do know that I’m not ready for this taper, not ready at all.

And I don’t know if I can do it.

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