Here’s the 1st iteration of my race report.
It’s part advice for first-timers, part experience sharing, and part closure.¬†A few caveats:
1. This will be riddled with some profanity, which I try to keep to a minimum. But for this posting I’m not going to dilute it–I’m going to share it like it happened, or as I/others said it, or as I thought it.
2. I’ll write a separate race report that’s more about the technical aspects of beginner training, what worked what didn’t, nutrition, scheduling, resources, etc. The one below is more along the softer side of my experience, versus the metrics, scheduling, structure, etc.
3. This isn’t a “hey aren’t I great” post, and man do I REALLY hope it doesn’t come off that way. There’s a lot I’m not good at, and a lot of mistakes I’ve made–both in the last 4-6 months with my Ironman training–and also in life. In fact, I feel like as time goes on I realize how fallible I am. Which is very. Thank God for grace. Literally.
If you check out ONE thing in this post, check out this video below. It’s THE VERY LAST finisher RIGHT BEFORE midnight–the cutoff at 17:00 hours. The chills I got from watching THIS GUY finish were way more than my own finish. Can’t even tell you ¬†how many times I’ve watched this–way more than I watched my own video clip.
So. Flipping. Insane.
Many know two years ago in June I was fat and out of shape. 100 times I tried to lose weight. And 101 times I failed (see what I did there?). Finally, I decided to get my ass in shape. What did it for me? A few things, but one in particular was seeing a ton of before/after photos of people who lost weight. I finally thought “Okay, if THEY can do this…” Long story short, two years ago in June I started running with the plan to do my first marathon that year. I started at just two miles at a time.¬†Months later I started eating a strict Paleo regimen along with CrossFit 3x/week. Below is a picture of me as a fat kid, not too long ago.
In December of that year I ran my first marathon (Sacramento CIM Marathon), nearly 50lbs lighter and missed a sub four by 33 seconds. It was one of the happiest moments of my life, because it served as the start for shedding the fat kid in me. For years I thought I would never be able to run a marathon or lose weight. I had finally completed both. Skinny people, and lifelong runners, probably look at this, shrug and say “meh, big deal.” I get that. But for me, it was.
That night, after my first marathon, I came home and wondered “is it EVEN POSSIBLE that I could do an Ironman?”
Months later, I signed up for two half Ironman triathlons (I’ve never told anyone this until a week ago). I skipped them both. Partly due to work conflicts. But it was mostly that I never started training–I couldn’t do the swim. I mean, you could throw me in a pool or a lake and I’d be fine, and you would think I could swim–but not with any distance. Undoubtedly I would’ve failed on a 1.2 mile swim (half Ironman). And I was really pissed at myself for failing at this.
And then one day I had moment.
What it really means is you should get your product launched because good enough sooner is better than perfect later. So I finally had that moment personally, and I said to myself, well, you know…So a year ago in June of 2013, I signed up for the Coeur d’Alene Ironman–my first ever triathlon. As I mentioned, I’ll do a separate post on training, but here are a few top level things I’d suggest if you’re considering an Ironman (or any triathlon):
1. Get a tight training plan and stick with it.¬†From a book, online, or a coach. I didn’t have a coach–most of what I learned was from rapid fire searches and scanning articles, collecting the stuff that I liked and dumping other stuff, and talking to others–one of whom gave me a good training plan. I’m an 80% solution guy, and find that just jumping in and figuring out stuff as you go is a better course. Then, after you make some progress, tweak and dial stuff in.
2. Join Masters Swim and take a Total Immersion Course¬†(unless that’s already your strength, but for most it’s not). 120-days ago I couldn’t swim more than 50 yards without taking a break. For some context,¬†a 2.4 mile Ironman swim is 4,224 yards.¬†You can see how four months out I was really stressed. Swimming is largely technique, and the best advice I received was to nail that first. I found great freedom in attending¬†Masters Swim classes¬†and introducing myself to each coach with a consistent “Hey, I suck at swimming and need to be able to swim 2.4 miles in four months. I’ll do anything you tell me to, and don’t go easy on me.”
One of my first, and more memorable swim lessons, the coach started yelling at me mid-class saying “Raz! What is the problem? Why are you fighting the water? Do the fish fight the water? Raz! Are you angry with the water? Raz! Do you need to make peace with the water?”
Welcome to California.
I also took a Total Immersion course with Mandy McDougal. Total Immersion was, without question, the best thing that happened to me. She’s great, and I can’t stress enough the benefit you’ll derive from a two-day¬†Total Immersion course.¬†Mandy also has some great YouTube videos on swimming technique, check them out¬†here.
3. Schedule everything.¬†It requires a lot of training. And a ton of discipline. In the six months prior to my Ironman, I think I went out twice with friends, and family time was pretty limited. And by saying “going out” it wasn’t exactly riveting–equating to two dinners from 7-9:30pm on a Friday night and I was in bed by 10:30pm. Most, but of course not all, of my life for the last six months fell in a few buckets:¬†a) I worked (a lot);¬†b) I worked out;¬†c) I did meal prep;¬†d) I slept
4. Supplement your swim/bike/run with¬†CrossFit.¬†I had to focus on most bang/buck, and in a future post I’ll explain more about my schedule and what worked (or didn’t). I read one person’s CDA race report six months ago and she suggested that you must train ~25 hours a week. Ummmmm, total bullshit. And frankly that’s impossible for many (most?) people who have these little nagging things called… jobs.
When I read stuff like that I just ignore it (though she had some really great insights in her race report too). Because 25¬†training¬†hours is more like 40¬†actual¬†hours (prep, cool down, stretching, icing, driving, etc). When someone hears a statement like that it implicitly tells him or her that training for an Ironman is impossible for someone with normal circumstances. Or even difficult circumstances.¬†Just. Not. True.
I’m the CEO of a start-up company, and not one week did I ever work fewer than 60-hours. Likely it averaged much closer to 80-hour weeks–and some weeks were more, and all while training for an Ironman. I also got very, very sick with the flu for weeks–the worst sickness I have had in my life–and it killed my training schedule where I didn’t work out for three weeks, and this happened about three months in advance of the Ironman event. I read online one coach who said if you miss 2-3 weeks of training within your four month Ironman window you should bail. Meh, that’s lame. Life happens, deal with it, work around it and make it happen.
But you do have to be really disciplined and selective with your training, and I did a LOT of my workouts very early in the morning, or a couple days a week in the late evening.
CrossFit helped tremendously, but next time (purely a¬†HYPOTHETICAL¬†“next time”) I would only do CrossFit 2x/week and trade that extra session for two hours on the bike. And I’d only swim 3x/week, now that I have the fundamentals down and instead would spend extra time–ding ding ding–yes, on the bike (and doing some interval work for running, which I did for my marathons but not this). I would, however, go really light on CrossFit 2-3 weeks pre-Ironman–I torqued a nerve in my back with ten days to go by lifting too heavy. All ended up being well but could’ve been a disaster.
5. Nutrition is killer key.¬†You really have to dial in your nutrition, and it took me months to figure out what was worked. In a nutshell, here’s what I did: fairly strict Paleo, with the addition of gluten-free bread, rice, potatoes, and tons of water. I’ll drink anything¬†other than bottled water (which¬†contains tons of toxic chemicals and destroys the environment), but I used to regularly fill up bottles with¬†FloWater¬†at work (disclosure: I’m the CEO and an Investor of FloWater and I am massively biased to the amazing, hydrating, refreshing performance of coconut-filtered, oxygenated, and remineralized FloWater :)) and bring it home for hydration in the evening and weekends.
I also consumed high quality protein supplements immediately post workout and for recovery, I used¬†SFH grass fed whey¬†immediately after workouts, and¬†LS Vibe for afternoon/evening recovery¬†(disclosure: I’m on the Advisory Board for LifeShotz). I also consumed copious amount of fish oil which is like WD-40 for my joints, also from¬†SFH, and consumed¬†LifeShotz–and took some massive loading (3-4/day) doses of this for three days prior to the Ironman, LifeShotz it’s like rocket fuel for my body (another disclosure: I don’t personally like the taste of either the fish oil OR LifeShotz, but they’re two staples of mine–they just are that good). I also regularly loaded up on Black Elderberry syrup which is a strong immune booster, and I think the brand from¬†Gaia is most potent–plus it tastes great. Finally, I took a¬†MegaFood vitamin¬†twice daily.
So, onto the trip…
I left Wednesday¬†after work with the kids to drive to CDA (Erica had to work and flew in Thursday night), and we arrived that Thursday AM after a loooong all nighter driving through with a total of 60-minutes of sleep between 5-6am (not best thing to do Ironman week). During that 16-hour drive I became a pretty big fan of¬†Oprah Chai, I lost count after a while. But I really am convinced Oprah saw the surge in donations to her charity last week–because I’m pretty sure that was me…That was me, right…Oprah?
Road trips with kids are the best way to get to really know them–this one was no exception. I listened to more Taylor Swift than I care to admit, but they also tolerated my music (and calls). When I asked the kids if they liked my musical tastes (Hardwell, Kaskade, Deadmou5, Blackmill) Zoe replied “Dad, I really don’t even think it’s music. I like music that has pleasant sounds and actual words.” I seem to remember my parents saying this to me when I was growing up, too. On the way Royce asked me 101 hypothetical questions, which I loved–she’s so darned curious.
Zoe woke up at 2am worried about me driving through the night, and stayed up until 4am talking with me to keep me awake. She retold me what I find is a hilarious story, and added some details that she previously omitted.¬†A week ago Zoe came into our bedroom and says “Dad, I gotta tell you something…Yesterday I was hanging with my friends and one of these dude lifeguards was saying ‘hey, isn’t your dad the guy who is running all around the neighborhood wearing a spandex onesie???'” Then she pauses and looks and me and says with a dead serious face “Dad, you gotta stop doing that…”
Bwahahaha, I can only imagine the mortification for a 10-year old kid hearing that about her dad! Also, for the record, it’s not a one-piece–it’s two ūüėČ
So tonight on the drive she says to me “Dad, there’s more to that story…” I pause, and glance over and say “Okay, really? Go on…” So she continues “Yeah, well this guy continued asking What other outfits does your dad have?'” (hahaha, like this is some kind of weird clothing fetish–they’re called Tri suits boys and girls…). Zoe continued “I went on to tell him you have this one piece outfit with some straps that goes over your neck.” LOL, well those are biking shorts for the record, and I promised Zoe I’ll start running in the other section of the neighborhood. She went back to sleep shortly after getting that off her mind.
We arrived Thursday morning¬†into CDA and the kids hung out and did various activities while I worked, with the exception of check-in during lunch. Energy walking in was both pensive and electric. It wasn’t like marathon check in. It was calm. Of course, it was also days before the event. I got my bag, and asked people 100 questions like “Okay, what happens in transition–’cause all I know is what I’ve seen on YouTube.” I was nervous. And excited.
That evening I did my first swim in the lake, water temp was about 62 degrees–it felt awesome, and the water is relatively clear and clean, so much better than SF Bay’s salty murky 54 degrees. There was this energizing feeling being with other triathletes who were also warming up and trying to get a few last minute workouts in. After the swim, I went and ran a quick five miles and was done for the evening.
Evening rolled around, and we had a great dinner with friends but I was exhausted–a trip to the airport to pick up Erica didn’t get me into bed until 1am and I was up at 6:15am the next day. Crappy sleep continued.
Friday I took a vacation day–the first one in 18+-months, and attended an¬†Advisory Board meeting for a company¬†I’ve really grown to love that’s coincidentally headquartered in CDA. Around lunchtime our meeting broke, and it was time to swim 800 yards in the lake followed by an hour on the bike. Felt good. That was the day, the first day, where I had some solitude to myself that evening and I thought to myself “You know what? You’re going to do this. And you’re not leaving the course until it’s done.” Until then I’d been having doubts. But I knew it’d come together mentally a day or two before the event–that’s just how I’m wired.
That evening I knew I HAD to get a good night of sleep in. My Sunday morning wake-up was at 3am and at best I’d only get five hours. And combined Wednesday and Thursday night I had a total of ~6 hours–so I was intent to be in bed by 10pm and was going to sleep until 8am to catch up.
This is where the shit got crazy.
The next day was gear check, it’s where you put all your gear in every transition bag together and you turn in your bike–so they set everything up for Sunday morning. So I’m hustling trying to get everything ready, last check to make sure I’ve got the right running shoes in the T2 bag, tape, change of socks, nutrition and hydration, salt tabs, LifeShotz, Cytomax, etc.
Zoe noticed on my bike earlier that day that the padding on my tri-bar forearm rests were coming off, likely due to the 1,000 mile drive with lots of wind and a fair amount of rain. So I picked up Gorilla Glue that afternoon, and at 10pm I realized I hadn’t fixed it yet.
No problemo. I. Am. An. Expert. Gluer. (also super fluent in Spanish–can you tell, no?)
“Apply liberally” I thought to myself. “You don’t want these bad boys coming off during your race” I said repeatedly. “When it comes to glue and duct tape, you can never really use enough” I thought quietly. So I applied the glue to my pads and leaned the bike up against the garage and said goodnight to her.
Couldn’t sleep. Was 10x checking my bag, logistics, thinking through transitions, what I might be missing and whatnot. At midnight I go to check on my bike. Open the garage door, and guess what? Gorilla Glue FOAMS like crazy. It erupted like a little volcano and dripped ALL OVER my front brakes. Yes, JUST the brakes. Not one drop on the floor. Panicked, I furiously tried to scrape it off with a screwdriver but it had cured–damage was done. Then I’m furiously rummaging through my guests garage after midnight trying to find a solvent–any solvent, someone just get me a solvent–and I find WD-40, and spray it like a crazy man, but nada. I found some gas stabilizer.Didn’t help. At this point I’m pretty much grappling for anything that has a label that says “this is poison and can kill you if ingested.” I’m scraping with my nails, screwdriver, furiously scraping, swearing, scraping some more–but the glue is in every crevice of my brake. I google and google and google solutions, then found some naturalist wrote that a combination of sea salt and olive oil would do the trick. Nothing. I didn’t go to bed until 1:30am totally in a panic and woke up at 6:30. umulative sleep over three nights now totaled about 11-hours and I was really worried I was screwed with my bike brakes–let alone my lack of sleep.
Below are the pics of my Gorilla-glued bike, my 1st attempt at a brake biopsy, and then getting her all repaired up Saturday at Vertical (thanks again guys!).
Saturday,¬†I checked into a bike store and Vertical Sports fixed me up by noon (LOVE those guys). ¬†I was at bike check by 12:30, at the Ironman athlete briefing at 2pm then hanging with my great friend from college, Jon Lewis, by 4pm.
I got home to the house we were staying in that evening around 6pm. Everyone was gone, and I had solitude until past 8pm where I just prepped, contemplated, and listened to my music.¬†Had dinner with friends and family that night from 8:30-9:30, popped a few Melatonin from¬†Source Naturals¬†and was out by 10pm.
Sunday,¬†I awoke at 2:20am and read in bed until my alarm went off at 3am, then started the process of getting ready. Left the house at 4am and arrived into Ironman camp at 4:30am. Checked the bike, filled it up with nutrition and liquids then checked on my transition bags–added a few last minute items, and then hung out under a pine tree with more than a breeze whipping about (winds were up to 25 MPH that day) and looked out over the VERY choppy lake–still worrying about the swim. If I could just finish the swim I felt I could at least finish the Ironman. But I wasn’t sure I could finish the swim, or how I would do with thousands of people swimming with me in cold choppy water. My first open water swim was just three weeks before, and it didn’t go well (interpretation: hyperventilation; I just couldn’t deal with the cold water and panicked).
At 6am I threw on the wetsuit and made my way to the beach along with everyone else. Did a warm up swim to get used to the water, and then waited 40 long minutes until our heat departed. A mistake I made, not knowing how I would do in the swim, was going in the 1:15-1:30 heat, which was bad primarily b/c I slotted myself at the back of it and what I learned is that all the other bad swimmers were with me! ūüôā And it just made it, for me, too difficult to pass anyone. In retrospect I should’ve jumped in the 1:00-1:15 pack.
This was the 2nd year (I believe) of the tiered start, vs. a mass start where everyone swarms the water at once. I’m sure it’s much improved, but I’d still describe the swim as “chaos” and “scary as shit” when you finally realize that there are flapping bodies, arms, and legs kicking everywhere. Truly, though, I don’t think it would’ve been that bad had the waters not been so rough–I swallowed a lot of water with headwinds from 10-25MPH on the way out (two loops). 100 yards in I said to myself exactly the following: “There is no fucking way I can do this for 2.4 miles, I’m going to drown.”
But I also knew in advance I was going to have this feeling, everyone warned me about it. So I was fully expecting it, and planned on grabbing the first buoy for 20-seconds to reset and basically said to myself what I’d said 50 times before the race when I knew this was going to happen: “Okay, calm yourself down. You’ve done plenty of swimming the last few months, just make it to each 100 yard marker and take breaks if you have to.” Another guy grabbed onto this 1st buoy as well, and I shouted over to him “Hey, you doing okay?” And he replied, “No, I’m really not…not so good.” Ummm, I paused…I wasn’t prepared to give any advice. I expected everyone to say “Yeah I’m great–this is AWESOME!” I thought quickly about any suggestions, so I yelled out “Look man, you’re going to be fine–just take a few deep breaths, make it to the next marker and take a break” and then I pushed off. I think I said that as much for me as I did him, we were in the same boat.
From there on, I only stopped at the 2-mile mark and only that because I had to pee (yes, you just go in your wetsuit and I couldn’t do it while swimming).¬†At 1:33 I came out of the swim and was into transition, on the way from the beach I found my friend Jon cheering from the sidelines and we happened to spot each other. Seeing Jon was such an awesome boost of encouragement. Plus, the volunteers and crowd were simply INSANE. My appreciation for the town, and people/community, of Coeur d’Alene grew throughout the event. The people were amazing. Huge gratitude to all of them.
What I learned about the swim is that it’s way easier than I expected (of course, the wetsuit helps), and it’s mostly a mind game–especially if you’re a lousy swimmer or not accustomed to open water swims–especially on days with rough waves and lots of wind. The most mind-bothersome thing about the swim is the realization that when you get out there if you get in trouble–then you’re in trouble. Meaning, while there are buoys every 100 yards and people on Kayaks, if you really get in trouble and start to panic you’d better be able to pull yourself out–because it’s unlikely anyone else is going to do so for you. On the run, or bike, if you keel over and collapse you’re probably going to make it. On the swim, not so much.
At T1, I have never been more excited to get on a bike.¬†The swim was done, and I was so relieved. My transition time was a pretty long 15-minutes, again I’d never done a tri before–or transition for that matter–so it took me a few minutes longer just to figure everything out. But I poured nutrition down my throat, threw my tri-suit and shoes on, took a bathroom break, grabbed my bike and was on my way.
My bike training had been limited, and largely consisted of two spin classes a week and one long ride on the weekend–a function of limited time, and I really didn’t do enough long rides. The longest I’d ever done up to this point was about 90-miles, and midway through that one I found a Starbucks and fell asleep for 30-minutes. ūüôā What an amazing athlete I am, huh? In retrospect, I should’ve skipped Saturday morning swims for a much longer ride, and I would’ve been well served to do a half dozen 100+ milers along with some interval and hill work at least once during the week. Next time. (again,¬†hypothetically).
Headwinds on the course were brutal, partly because they were on the two stretches with some seriously long, long hills. My average speed was about 15MPH, pretty slow and it took me about 7:40 to finish the bike session.
Finally, the run…
people ask “what’s it like to have to be STARTING your marathon in the afternoon after all of that?” And really the answer is that I was so ready to be done with the bike that I was totally PSYCHED to be running. It wasn’t until mile 15 that I started to really crash, and that’s also where I killed my run time. In fact, this was where I had my best epiphany.
I remember someone telling me that during their IM they got to the point where they just started telling their body what to do. My pace up to mile 14 was about a 10-minute mile (and I started out running 8’s unknowingly–way too fast for me). At 14 I was just in screaming pain. My tendonitis was flaring, and every muscle in my leg was on fire. I did a lot of walk/running from miles 14-22.
Then, three things happened:
1. A guy was walking with me, and we’d talked before ten miles back. He looked me dead in the eye and yelled out to me in the booming voice of a football coach “Raz, you are kicking some fucking ass for your first Ironman!!! Go get it in gear and get your ass over the fucking finish line while it’s still light out!!!” I wasn’t kicking ass for my first Ironman, but I didn’t know that at the time.
But sometimes you need someone just to push you. And apparently, at times, it can help when they drop an F-bomb in the process.
2. Right then, another guy ran by as I walked, and he tapped me on the shoulder. “Let’s go” he said “I’m running five minutes and walking three minutes–let’s get going.” I started running, then told him thanks for the boost and that I was going to run the rest in.
Sometimes you need someone to give you a tap on the shoulder and pull you along.
3. Then, I remembered an article I’d read the night before on top performing athletes, and how much of endurance work is a mind game (side note: it’s also about fueling, when you’re out of gas then you’re done–so you have to be smart about nutrition on an Ironman, and that part I did right). One of the guys in the article said he talked to himself, and essentially told his body what to do. I thought it sounded silly the night before. But I was in so much pain, I decided to give it a shot. So I kept telling myself “Body, you’re going to run these last four in 8:00/mile–and I don’t care how shitty you feel, this is happening.”
I didn’t have a GPS on me so I couldn’t track my speed, but later in looking at the splits it looked like I kept a 7:57 pace those last four miles. There’s a point when you’re out of gas and you’re just out–but there’s also a point where you’re just in pain, and you have to keep going and you can do more than you thought. Miles 14-22 I let my body win (plus the finish line is a long ways away). Miles 22-26, I made my mind win.
It was a really great reminder about how much the mind controls, or can, the body. And how weak the body is. I remember I used to go running with my dad when I was young, and you used to tell me that for the first few miles “your body lies to you–it’s lying to you and says it doesn’t want to go, and don’t believe it, get past the first few miles.”
At mile 13 I saw my friend Jon again, and also Erica and the girls–another super fun boost, and first time I’d seen my family. At mile 26 we were in the city of Coeur d’Alene and the crowd lined the streets. One more pass by Jon, then 20 yards later Erica, Royce, and Zoe. I could see the tunnel, and hear Mike Reilly belting out names as they crossed the finish line “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”
For a year I’ve been thinking about crossing that finish line.
The energy of the thousands of people was really something else–and at 150 yards out I saw the tunnel…50 yards in and I’m fiving people as I’m closing in and feeling so excited–and happy–to get to this magical experience. All the while, incidentally, I’m having a blast. I really did through the entire race, there is no event I’ve ever done where I genuinely smiled more, and had more fun.
So as I’m coming to the finish line I’m waiting for this magical moment of catharsis.
I crossed the finish line…
…and nothing happened.
I can’t explain it. For sure¬†I was thrilled, ¬†and it felt great. But it was almost the opposite of my first marathon–where I was really emotional and had a moment of “I can’t believe I did this!”
If I had to put into words what I felt it would probably be as simple as this:
“You know, you can let go of your inner fat kid now. You’re not that guy anymore.”
A few things I really learned or benefitted from during this process:
1. I pretty much quit drinking altogether. I didn’t miss it–at all. (Mom, I know you are doing cartwheels right now! :))
I did resume drinking beer the night of the event (cartwheels have stopped).
And the following week.
But now I’m back on the wagon. Pretty much no more drinking (cartwheels resume).
2. I learned more about the discipline of three functional sports;
3. I dialed in my sleep, and while I never felt like I got enough–and I still had to pull some really late nights, and a few pretty much all nighters for work during training, but I made a conscious effort to sleep–up until the week of the race, ironically enough;
4. I became more disciplined; I had little free time so I scheduled almost everything–and I mean almost EVERYTHING. From exactly when I would wake up, to when and what I would eat, to the timing of my nighttime protein, to my swim/bike/run/crossfit sessions. Of ¬†course I got off schedule, but having it scheduled helped ensure I was more on than off;
5. I learned I am way more capable of things than I previously realized; two years ago I was quite fat and couldn’t run more than a few miles at a time. Four months ago I couldn’t swim more than 50-yards in a stretch without resting. So much of our life is dictated not by our talents or G0d-given attributes, but our drive, tenacity, and confidence.
5. Finally, I was inspired.
Inspired by a few people who told me that I couldn’t do it, and even more people that told me I could do it.
Inspired by people who shared with me how to do it, or offered me a boost of confidence and encouragement along the way.
Inspired by the energy of the event itself, the attendees, and all the amazing volunteers (I must’ve said “thank you” 300 times during my bike ride and run, but a thousand more thanks to all the volunteers–you guys were AMAZING!).
Finally, I was inspired by watching 3,000 other people–each with their own story and struggle–go out and do something pretty unusual on any given Sunday.
A thousand thanks to everyone who helped encourage and support me along the way. Whatever “win” in this there was for me, I genuinely hope you take a piece of it as your own.
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