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Did you ever sign up for a race months in advance, and then those months flew by and you wondered what you were thinking when you signed up for that race? That happened to me when I signed up for the Yosemite Half Marathon.

Yosemite Half Marathon 2018 logo

Had I known months ago that May was going to be so busy for me, I wouldn’t have signed up. And yet, I’m so glad I did, because I loved the race and I loved spending Mother’s Day weekend with my husband and three daughters in Yosemite National Park!

On Friday afternoon we drove seven hours up to the historic Big Trees Lodge (formerly the Wawona Hotel) inside the park. We used our fourth grade “Every Kid in a Park” national park pass to get into the park for free, saving $30, hooray!

Wawona Hotel Big Trees Lodge porch view

After sitting out on the 2nd floor porch and admiring the night sky, we got to bed by 10:30 p.m. and got a whole 4.5 hours of sleep before our race day alarm went off at 2:50 a.m.! I was running the race with my husband Mike and oldest daughter, 16-year-old Shannon. We needed to leave by 3:20 a.m. to make the 35-minute drive to the shuttle bus parking lot at Sierra Star in Oakhurst by 4 a.m. There wasn’t a coffee maker in our hotel room but thankfully the Big Trees Lodge staff agreed to have the night manager make us some coffee at 3 a.m.! He insisted that we take a whole thermos and a cup of cream! I was so appreciative. We ate muffins and bananas in the car on the drive.

We arrived at Sierra Star by 4 a.m. but faced a line of cars waiting to park in the field. It took 15 minutes or so for us to get parked. I was happy to see a row of porta potties set up in the field, along with very nice buses equipped with toilets. We got on a bus by 4:20 a.m. for the ride to the starting line. Unfortunately, our bus driver got lost, we took a 25-minute detour out of our way, and the ride ended up taking 1 hour 20 minutes total. I didn’t mind waiting on a warm bus (and Mike and Shannon both slept), but we got to the starting area around 5:40 a.m. and still had to pick up our bibs and drop our gear before the 6 a.m. start! (Can you hear my famous last words on Friday night, “Oh, we don’t need to go to the expo at Bass Lake Recreation Area; we’ll have an hour at the starting line to pick up our bibs”?) I waited in line to pick up our bibs while Mike hit the porta potties, then he grabbed a gear bag for drop-off at the starting line and we rushed over there with literally 45 seconds to spare. The race was chip timed so it would have been absolutely fine to miss the 6 a.m. start for the first heat (unless you were competing to be a top finisher and wanted an overall award based on your gun time — that wasn’t us!), but we were eager to go.

Race day weather could not have been better with clear sunny skies and temperatures in the low 40s at the start and warming up as the time progressed and the course descended in elevation to the finish at Bass Lake Recreation Area. I think the temperature must have been in the high 60s when we finished just after 8 a.m. I wore long pants and a long-sleeved shirt and wish I would have worn some gloves but my husband and daughter were perfectly fine in shorts and a short-sleeved t-shirt (go figure).

The course runs outside the national park itself but has its own spectacular scenery. I loved running through the woods on the dirt fire road for the first five miles of the course. It’s not an “easy” course by any means — the road was rutted and rocky in places but I thought that made it interesting and fun and the miles clicked by faster than any other race I’ve done. The mountain dogwoods were in full bloom and were so beautiful scattered among the pine trees. The only problem (and it wasn’t really a problem) was that my Garmin lost reception for about 0.4 miles among the trees so it wasn’t recording my mileage or split times accurately, saying we were running a slower pace than we actually were. Then we hit a downhill section from miles 6-10 on a paved road. My daughter and I both loved that section best. We cranked out mile splits in the low 8s and it felt easy. Then we hit the flat and rolling section from miles 10-13.1 and it got tough, as any half marathon gets tough at that point. The race director had warned us that we would hear the finish line across Bass Lake when we still had a ways to go, so we were prepared for that. I loved running in to the finish at the lake. Shannon and I crossed the finish line together at 2:04:50 and 2:04:51, earning her 2nd place in her 15-19 age group out of 9 runners! Unfortunately, in the rush at the starting line to get my bib, use the porta potties, and drop my gear bag, I had pinned on my husband’s bib instead of mine! So as I crossed the finish line, a very confused announcer read out, “And here are Shannon White and, um, Michael White, from La Habra!” Yeah. Oops. Thank goodness I had not run fast enough to qualify for an age group award and the correction of my time did not mess up the awards for the first five to finish in the 45-49 age group. Mike finished a few minutes later after a couple of porta potty stops along the course.

At the finish we received a huge, really nice medal with an image of Yosemite on it, along with a cold protein shake (choice of three flavors) and a box of post-run and hiking snacks.

Yosemite Half Marathon 2018 finishers medals

Me, Mike and Shannon in line for the shuttle bus back to the parking area. You can see Bass Lake behind us. Mike has on the technical shirt given out at the race. And yes, Shannon is wearing my Kappa Kappa Gamma sweatshirt from 1989!

If you wanted to make the weekend even more challenging you could participate in one or more of the official race “club hikes” and earn an extra medallion for taking those hikes and sending in photos. Instead, we rented bikes and road around the park with our younger children.

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Mike and my younger daughters even braved the 45-degree water in the river.

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We also drove up to Glacier Point, stopping at this lookout for my 13-year-old ballerina to pose in an arabesque.

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It was sunny and gorgeous in the valley but cold with even a few snow flurries at Glacier Point! The cool thing is that Mike and I cross-country skied to Glacier Point in 1998 before we had any children. It felt surreal to re-visit that spot 20 years later with our three daughters.

I usually do not do the same race twice, but I’d do the Yosemite Half again for sure. If you want to do it, sign up early enough to decide if you want to reserve a spot to camp at the finish line at Bass Lake, and then train on some trails and downhill runs to get ready for the course. Decide if you’re going to run it for fun or run it to race, and adjust your expectations accordingly.

Have you visited Yosemite? Have you run this or any other Vacation Races half marathons?

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I first saw the ElliptiGO elliptical bicycle when world champion runner Mary Decker Slaney was riding one before the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon in 2014. I was too tired and shy to go up to her at the finish line expo after the race (note to self: “Hi! It’s so nice to meet you! What do you have here?” would have done very nicely). Anyway, I had been dying to try an ElliptiGO ever since. Recently my curiosity boiled over when I listened to this Runners Connect podcast with Darren Brown, a 3-time All-American, sub-4:00 miler, and marketing manager for ElliptiGO.

So I reached out to the nice people at ElliptiGO and they hooked me up with Hermosa Cyclery in Hermosa Beach, California. Located just steps from a spectacular beachside bike path, Hermosa Cyclery offers ElliptiGOs for sale or rental.

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Gorgeous day to ride an ElliptiGO 8S along Hermosa Beach!

I rode the ElliptiGO 8S (similar to the new model 11R, which retails for $3,499) and you can rent one from Hermosa Cyclery starting at just $20 an hour. My husband Mike tried out the ElliptiGO 3C (retail price $1,999). The verdict? We absolutely loved them! I cannot remember the last time I’ve had so much fun working out.

After a one-minute demonstration of how to ride the elliptical bike, my husband and I hopped on ours and went! It took no time at all for us to master riding the ElliptiGO. Getting started is easy — just step on one pedal and you’re off!

Shifting gears is exceptionally smooth (more smooth than a road bike, which my mechanical engineer husband says is due to the internal geared hub) and braking is the same as a road bike. I had no trouble balancing; in fact the ride felt very stable.

The first day we headed south on the beach path and rode for over 45 minutes total down to the end of the path and back. I could have sworn we were only out for 30 minutes at the most. It felt like we were sightseeing from an 8-foot tall vantage point. I could easily bike and enjoy the view along the way. The funny thing is, we were the main attraction along the path! Pedestrians, runners and road cyclists all stared at us, smiled, and even cheered! I got thumbs-up and clapping as we rode.

The next morning Mike and I headed north on the path. The Strand is also known as the Martin Braude Bike Path and it runs 22 miles and connects with other bike paths. We rode from 14th Street in Hermosa Beach up to Marina del Rey. There is a small section of stairs, and I impressed the guys behind me by lifting the lightweight bike and carrying it up the stairs on my own. There are also some slight hills on this section, and we powered right up them (and enjoyed coasting down them)!

With stops for water along the way, we ended up riding for two hours at about a 10 mph pace (cruising and enjoying the sights — we could have gone significantly faster if we pushed it). The ElliptiGO offers an excellent aerobic and strength training workout. By the end of two hours, I felt it in my outer quads, glutes, and a little in my lower back. On Sunday my marathon training plan for Boston called for a 10-mile long run, and the ElliptiGO ride more than satisfied the equivalent of that run.

The ElliptiGO makes for the ideal cross-training for runners because it offers a low-impact workout that closely mimics the motion of running. Standing upright eliminates the strain on your neck and back that you might feel tucking in for a long road bicycle ride, and saves your rear end from saddle soreness! Plus you get the joy of exercising outside rather than being stuck inside the gym.

I want to thank Hermosa Cyclery for the opportunity to test the ElliptiGO bikes. I’m telling Santa I want an ElliptiGO for Christmas, and if I don’t get one, I will definitely rent one for another fabulous workout on the beach path!

(I was not compensated for my honest review of the ElliptiGO and Hermosa Cyclery.)

Have you ever ridden an ElliptiGO? Are you interested in trying one out?

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For my fifth (?!) round of full marathon training I’ve kicked it up a notch and taken on the competitive marathon training plan from Smart Marathon Training. To be honest, it’s kicking my behind. It didn’t help that my youngest daughter got sick, as in so sick that she needed my help a few times a night to steam her up in the bathroom so that she could breathe and recover from her croup-like cough and chest congestion. Then, of course, in my sleep-deprived state, I came down with the cold/cough too, albeit in a much milder form. So the last few weeks have been a muddle of trying to juggle sick kids, sick me, and the rainy (?!) weather here in Southern California. Today the training plan called for 80 miles on the bike. I mapped out a loop from my house that stayed off the roads as much as possible, taking the Santa Ana River Trail to the Huntington Beach Path to the San Gabriel River Trail and back on the Whittier Greenway. It came out to 73.3 miles and I called it good.

The 73.3-mile bike loop I mapped out on MapMyRun.

The 73.3-mile bike loop I mapped out on MapMyRun.

I left at 7 a.m. just after the sun rose and I completed the first half in just over two hours. The second half proved much more challenging. I went from a relatively easy 3:20 pace to a tough 4:00-4:20 pace as I went back uphill (slightly) into the wind. My legs and lungs were fine but I do most of my biking on the spin bike so I wasn’t used to holding my head up with my helmet on, and now my neck and back are really sore!

It proved to be an absolutely gorgeous day out though and I have no complaints. I’m so lucky to be able to get out on the bike in mid-December, and to have family members that support me on a bike ride that took 5 hours and 24 minutes (including all the stops at stop lights and for water refills etc.) On my ride I saw an incredibly wide range of things:

– The Christmas tree farm where we cut down our tree each year.

– A strawberry field.

– Angel Stadium.

– The Pacific Ocean, and lots and lots of surfers!

– Oil drilling platforms and massive cargo ships from China. 😦

– Catalina Island. 🙂

– From the beach I had the best view of the snow-capped mountains in the east behind me.

– The naval ammo base in Seal Beach.

– Pelicans skimming across the top of the water over the San Gabriel River as they hunted for fish.

– It was 47 degrees F when I started my ride at 7 a.m. and the best chalk sign I saw on the beach path was “The cold never bothered me anyway!” No matter that I couldn’t feel my toes for about 2/3 of the ride. Note to self: wear wool socks and consider investing in bike shoe booties!

When I got home I immediately refueled with some leftover rouladen baked by my wonderful mom who was in town visiting from Idaho. My favorite meal and the perfect mix of protein and carbs when paired with some leftover mashed potatoes! I took an ice bath (much as I didn’t want to) and propped my legs up while wearing some compression socks. I’m not taking any chances here!

What did you do on your workout(s) this weekend? What’s the longest swim/bike/run/walk you’ve ever done?

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Southern California is gorgeous, don’t get me wrong. But after I’ve run the same routes, hills, tracks, trails and treadmills over and over again, I get a little bored. That’s part of the reason I rarely run the same race twice. I like to run someplace new and it’s such a privilege to get to run on a closed course.

Lately when I get bored, I just think back to my spring break trip and pretend that I’m here:

Malaekahana Bike Path Laie

That’s the Malaekahana Bike and Pedestrian Path from La’ie to Kahuku on the North Shore. It’s a wide, paved path that runs for a little over a mile next to Kamehameha Highway. I ran along it my last morning on Oahu. Everyone should have a chance to run there and then take a cooldown walk along a beach like this:

Laie Oahu

Those clouds make it look dramatic and cold but it was balmy and peaceful in the early morning hour after my run.

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Don’t miss the thrilling recap of the first part of the Mountains2Beach Marathon here. And now the race continues….

Miles 18-21 (8:34, 9:02, 9:23, 9:39)

I saw Mike and the girls again at mile 18 and I felt strong at that point. If I kept the pace under 8:46 for miles 19-26.2 I was on target to come in under 3:45, but it was not meant to be. I slipped from 8:34 for mile 18 to 9:02 for mile 19. It was right around mile 18 that the 3:45 pacer passed me and I hung in behind him for dear life for another mile or so but could not keep up. In spite of (because of?) taking a gel with caffeine around mile 18, I hit the wall and my splits got slower from there on out.

Near mile 18 the trail goes through some more industrial sections and is completely exposed to the sun. Last year’s race (I hear) was more overcast but this year we were getting beaten by the sun. The temperature wasn’t more than 65 degrees down in Ventura and there was a breeze, but I wouldn’t have minded some clouds! At mile 21 the course stops declining and hits the beach streets and boardwalk in Ventura. That is a really rough section of the course emotionally and physically. After the downhill miles from 0-21, the flat might as well have been uphill. You pass the finish line at mile 21 and still have 5.2 miles to go! I knew it was coming, I’d read several other race reports and studied the course, but you have no idea how rough it is until you run it.

Miles 22-24 (10:39, 10:46, 11:27)

By mile 22 I was really struggling and my splits dropped into the 10s and then 11s. It seemed like mile 24 would never end. My body screamed, “Stop! Stop running!” and my mind yelled, “Go! Move your legs! Why are you so slow?!” It was awful watching the other runners heading back toward the finish line. I would never cut the course (it would only be cheating myself) but I cannot tell you how tempting it was and how easy it would have been.

Miles 25-26.24 (11:14, 10:08, 9:13)

Apparently when I passed the turnaround at mile 24 and realized I wasn’t going to collapse right there on the course, I was able to pick the pace up slightly and give it a kick at the end. I got the pace back down to 10:08 for mile 26 and then hit 9:13 for the sprint to the finish. I had a sub-4 in my sights and I wasn’t going to let go! I came in at 3:57:29, which is a personal record by five minutes and 10 seconds.

Finish Line Expo

The oranges at the finish line expo tasted heavenly! I gobbled up a few slices and grabbed some Clif Bars and cups of water and met up with my family. We walked toward the shore with the thought that I would take an ice bath in the ocean, but I could not make it over the rocks at the beach. With some help bending my sore legs, I sat down on one of the rocks and focused on catching my breath. I felt drained and I wasn’t recovering like I usually do after a race. In fact, I started shaking uncontrollably and couldn’t stop. When that continued for about 30 minutes, I realized I should get to a medical tent to get checked out. Unfortunately by that time Mike had taken one of the girls to the restroom, so it was up to my oldest to guide me and my youngest. It didn’t help that at that point, I burst into tears. I felt overwhelmed and disappointed, not that I didn’t get a 3:45, but that I’d bonked so bad and didn’t meet my goal of enjoying the race.

Another runner saw me sobbing and he escorted me to the medical tent. Gilbert, thank you so much for your kindness! There are lots of people I should thank — everyone at the medical tent including the nurse from UCLA, and the EMTs who took my vital signs, and the man who got me some dry t-shirts and a blanket to warm me and some Gatorade and chips.

My vital signs all checked out — my blood pressure was 150 over 90 (not dangerously high), and my pulse was 67. The EMTs gave me some oxygen and just had me rest. It was another 30 minutes though before I finally stopped shaking and felt well enough to walk back to my car with Mike (after I paid for the t-shirts I’d been given) a full hour after I’d finished the race.

As I said, I need some more time to process the experience and see how I feel about it all. I can’t be too traumatized by it because I’ve already set my sights on another marathon (Long Beach on October 13). My main concern is figuring out why I bonked so bad in the race when my five 20-mile runs went so well during training. I happen to be getting blood tests done tomorrow to check on my thyroid, which I suspect is the culprit in the uncontrollable shaking. The only other time I’ve ever had the shakes like that is when I went to the dentist when I was hyperthyroid (but didn’t know it) and I had a reaction to the epinephrine in the dental anesthesia. Perhaps my thyroid levels are high and I need to reduce the dose of thyroid supplements I’m taking. Or perhaps the adrenaline from the race simply pushed me over the edge. All I know is that I never want it to happen again! [Edited to add: My thyroid levels turned out to be normal. I now suspect that the shaking was due to dehydration and/or under-fueling — in spite of my best efforts at planning I did not consume enough liquids and calories during the race.]

All in all, I am proud of myself for being dedicated to the training, for reaching for an ambitious goal, for toughing out a difficult race, for pulling out a sub-4 time and 5 minute PR, and for bouncing back to be ready and willing to race again. I feel great physically — better than I did after my first marathon — and I find myself wanting to build on my training to go on and have an even better race next time.

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Yesterday morning as I pulled out of my driveway at 5:55 a.m. to head to the Spring Blast Half Marathon in Huntington Beach, I still had a major case of race jitters. Usually my race jitters flare up the day before a race and I manage to beat them back into submission by race day. Not so this time. I had to resort to an out-loud pep talk with myself in the car: “You will do your best and that’s all you can do. You are nervous because you’ve trained so hard and you want this to go well. You haven’t tapered for this race, and it’s ‘just’ a training run. I know you want it to go well because that will boost your confidence for the full marathon, but really your goal is to do your best, enjoy the race, and not push yourself to the point of injury.” The self-talk sort of worked to calm my nerves, but not completely, as evidenced by my need to thank the nice people of Carl’s Jr. for the use of the restroom at 6:20 on the way to the race. And my need to visit the beach bathroom when I got there. But once I was parked in the right parking lot and made my way to where the race started, I did finally pull myself together and get my game face on.

I feel like I’ve been running and racing for a long time, but in reality it’s only been two years since I challenged myself to run 30 miles in 30 days. In those two years since, I’ve come a long way. Just last month I ran 133 miles in 30 days, and the month before that, 141 miles in 31 days. Still, I haven’t run many races. I ran my first half marathon just over one year ago at the OC Half (race recap here), and my first full marathon last November at the Santa Barbara International Marathon (race recap here). So, this Spring Blast Half Marathon would only be my second half marathon.

The race is a small event put on by Rocket Racing Productions, which is headed up by two runners themselves, Michelle and Mark. They put on low-cost, timed fun runs in Southern California about 5-7 times per month. That’s what’s so great about it — when I searched for a local half marathon taking place on the day of my scheduled 13-mile run, I easily found a match! And you can’t beat the price at $31 for the half, $42 for the full marathon option, $23 for the 10K and $34 for the 30K.

Parking is free in the lot at Sunset Beach behind the Travelodge. The race starts at the Huntington Beach multi-use path.

Open course along the Huntington Beach multi-use path

Open course along the Huntington Beach multi-use path

The 12 racers checked in with Michelle at 7 a.m. and Mark started the race with a countdown promptly at 7:15. There were no bibs or timing chips (a stopwatch is used to time the race from the starting call). I made a point to check out some of the other racers so I would recognize them on the course and I could give them a thumbs-up or a “great job” to cheer them on the way. The lack of people cheering along the course is the one downside to the race (well, that and the occasional smell of lighter fluid from the beach campers). The beach path is open to everyone and you would never know a race was going on. I love a smaller race but I’ve come to appreciate the energy boost I get from random strangers along the way! Thank goodness a lovely young woman saw some of us booking it at mile 7 and she called out: “You guys are amazing!”

The half marathon course consists of two 6.55-mile out and back loops on the course (the full marathon is, you guessed it, four 6.55-mile loops). While that might sound a little dull it wasn’t at all and it really helped break up the race into manageable pieces. The run out was into the slightest of headwinds with a low bridge at mile 2.5 and a little uphill to the turnaround cones. That meant that on the way back it was payback time with a speedy run back to the bridge and the flat course back to the aid station at mile 6.55.

All the goodies at the aid station

All the goodies at the aid station

I’d left my own special bottle of Fluid (with a cute little bow on it to identify it as mine) but there was plenty of water and Gatorade along with gels, bananas and granola bars on the aid table. I took my own green apple PowerGel with caffeine at mile 6.

After starting the race out at about an 8-minute pace I quickly reined myself back in to 8:35, the targeted pace for the training run. I kept up with that pace pretty well most of the way and only started to struggle on the slight uphill from mile 9-10. Once I hit that second turnaround near mile 10, I got a little boost from the downhill but it got harder and harder to keep pace. That’s where the pep talk started again (this time in my head). “Don’t give up the pace now. Keep going. Only 3.1 miles left. Leave it all out on the course. You can do it. Push yourself!” For miles 10 and 11 I pushed to keep it between 8:35 (target) and 8:47 (my pace from my first half marathon). At mile 12 I gave it my all for a big push to the end. I tried not to even look at my Garmin and just go as fast as I could go. I wanted to come in overall somewhere between 1:52:36 (an 8:35 pace) and 1:55:10 (my time from my first half marathon). I ended up hitting 1:53:34 (an 8:40 pace) for a PR by a minute 36 seconds!

While the race course was relatively easy, the race for me was tough. I pushed myself hard to hit the pace and it took all I had physically and emotionally. Of course I felt terrific emotionally when I finished, and even felt pretty good physically too. No injuries and just the usual hobbling soreness, part of which I fended off with an ice bath in this:

Nature's ice bath

Nature’s ice bath

I hit up the aid station for a banana and a granola bar and I chatted with Michelle and Mark, who both happen to be racing at the Mountains 2 Beach Marathon too! Good luck guys and thanks for a great race!

Happy Sunday everyone (and a Happy Mother’s Day to all the mother runners and triathletes out there!)

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Why hello, Taper! I am so happy to see you! It’s been 13 weeks of intense training and I must confess I am ready to scale back the running for a few weeks until marathon race day. Yesterday I completed my fifth and last 20-mile run for this training cycle. I’m calling it a huge success. Twenty miles in 3:06:55. The training schedule called for 20 miles at an 8:50 pace. I hit several of the miles at that pace and all the 14 complete downhill miles I averaged 9:00. I had to run back up the trail for nearly 5 extra miles to get in a full 20 and even with those uphill miles I averaged 9:20 overall (6.4 mph). For those people who understand or even care about the elevation gain and loss, here are the stats from my Garmin Forerunner 110:

Elevation Gain: 534 ft
Elevation Loss: 1,436 ft
Min Elevation: 142 ft
Max Elevation: 1,052 ft

I ran Aliso Creek Trail again because it’s the one that best simulates the Mountains 2 Beach race course elevation gain and loss. This time though I didn’t continue all the way to the beach. I started with this:

Aliso Creek Path trailhead

Aliso Creek Path trailhead

and ended with this:

Latte from Cafe Anastasia in Laguna Beach

Latte from Cafe Anastasia in Laguna Beach

I highly recommend Cafe Anastasia for brunch. If you go, try the Eggs Laguna:

Eggs Laguna

If you have time, wander down Ocean Avenue to Main Beach Park:

Sunset at Main Beach Park in Laguna Beach. Photo by Eric Bennett.

Sunset at Main Beach Park in Laguna Beach. Photo by Eric Bennett.

but first stop at Casey’s Cupcakes for one of these:

Casey's cupcake

Did you run over the weekend? Did you go anywhere fun?

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