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Archive for the ‘Trails’ Category

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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Each summer for the past three years, my family has gone to family camp for a week at Lair of the Golden Bear.

Pinecrest Lake

Pinecrest Lake

It is hands-down the best family vacation for the dollar (let’s put it this way: not cheap but worth every penny). The tiny town of Pinecrest, California is nestled in the Sierras in Northern California. At an elevation of 5,700 feet, it’s just a smidge higher than Boulder, Colorado. The air is clear and the oxygen is thin compared to sea level where I live in Southern California. Training at elevation is not easy but it’s oh-so-rewarding (according to Runner’s World there are a lot of Benefits of Altitude Training for Non-Pro Runners). I definitely had to adjust my expectations and run according to time and effort rather than according to mileage (i.e., I ran slower than I’d like but I put in the same effort and ran for the same amount of time as usual).

During that week at camp, I exercised every day:

Running: 3 runs for a total of 20.25 miles
Biking: 2 bike rides for a total of 21.17 miles
Yoga: 2 sessions for 45 minutes each
Kayaking: 1 session for 45 minutes
Horseback riding: 1 session for 45 minutes
Stand-up paddle boarding (LOVE): 1 session for 45 minutes
Strength training: 1 session (on the beach!) for 20 minutes

That means that I packed in 10 hours of exercise for the week and had a ton of fun in the process! I even got to exercise with my husband and kids for several of those activities (my 12-year-old accompanied me to yoga class, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding, and my 9-year-old went kayaking and horseback riding with my husband and me).

I went for two trail runs and on the second run around Pinecrest Lake I stopped several times to take photos:

The dirt trail bordering Pinecrest Lake

The dirt trail bordering Pinecrest Lake

Dam, that’s a nice dam!

Pinecrest Lake Dam

(Full disclosure: right after I crossed that bridge and hit the dirt trail again, I literally hit the dirt trail. I did a “Superman” when my trailing foot clipped a rock and I went flying through the air, landing on my right shoulder and right hip. I wasn’t hurt so much as my pride was injured).

I hung in there though and was rewarded when the trail looked like this:

Pinecrest Recreational Trail marker

Pinecrest Recreational Trail marker

Here’s the marker close up:

Love it when a trail requires these markers pounded into the rock face.

Love it when a trail requires these markers pounded into the rock face.

So, the fact that I went on vacation with my family for a week did not mean that I slacked on marathon training. I kept up the training plan and had a great time in the process!

Where’s the most interesting place you’ve exercised in the past few months? Pinecrest is the best but I’m looking forward to a 20th wedding anniversary trip to Napa Valley soon and I expect to get in a run and maybe a bike ride too!

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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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Somehow I got it in my head during this crazy month of NaNoWriMo (current word count: 33,550 words) that I could sign up for a race and run it “just for fun,” using it as a training run. I get bored running the same old routes, and I love running someplace new. So why not take advantage of the free race registration I won for the 1st Annual City Farm Turkey Trot 10K, right?

Well, it turns out I am pretty much incapable of running a race “just for fun” (people who know me well are probably saying “duh” right about now). I tried, I really did, but when I woke up at 5:30 a.m., my race jitters trembled on high alert. I drank a quick cup of coffee and headed out the door by 6. On the 40-minute drive to Griffith Park in Los Angeles, I ate as much of a peanut butter and honey sandwich and a banana as I could stomach, which turned out to be not much with those darn race jitters. I enjoyed watching the sun rise, and with little traffic at that hour I arrived at Griffith Park without hassle.

Parking at the race start at The Autry, a museum of the American West, was easy, free and abundant (there’s additional free parking at the Los Angeles Zoo across the street).

Back in the Saddle Again

“Back in the Saddle Again”

Mother Nature blessed us with perfect running weather — high 50s and overcast. Earlier in the week the daily high temperature had hit 94 degrees, so we got lucky!

Packet pick-up had been offered the day before at A Runner’s Circle in LA, but you could also pick up your bib on race day — a huge plus that saved me from spending an hour and a half in the car on Friday. I arrived at 6:45 a.m. and did not have to wait to get my bib. The reusable goody bag came with a protein bar sample, some coupons, and a plain white tee with the turkey logo printed in orange. They’d run out of my size, which does not really bother me, it just means my daughters now have another large cotton nightgown!

How could I best describe the size of this inaugural event? Let’s call it “a three porta-potty race” (and note that I never had to wait more than five minutes in line).

The master of ceremonies for the event, the actor Alan Naggar, was a hoot and kept us all entertained both before the race as we awaited the start, and after the race while the results were compiled. I also very much enjoyed and appreciated the pre-race warm up led by a charismatic, fit young woman. It felt like a wonderful community event as nearly the entire crowd participated in the warm up. I’ve never seen that happen before at a race, and it put a smile on my face.

The race started and finished in the parking lot by The Autry Farmers Market. This small stretch of asphalt was the only pavement for the entire race:

start and finish City Farm Turkey Trot

Within yards the course veered left onto a short stretch of grass, then followed the wide, hard-packed dirt path around the golf course and sections of the Los Angeles Zoo. At some points on the trail the surface softened into loose sand-like patches, but I found it all easy to navigate. The paths were so wide you could drive a car down them, and the course elevation was flatter than many road races I’ve done. It was a trail race in the most basic sense of the word — a race on a dirt surface as opposed to the road. If you’re new to running on trails or you’re looking for a trail race personal record, this is a great race for you. If you’re a die-hard trail runner who wants some challenges and the rewarding views of a hill climb or two, you might not be happy with the race (and you might want to check out the Griffith Park Half Marathon Trail Race, as reviewed there by Striding Mom). The most challenging part of the race came at a small creek crossing, where if you timed it right you could hop across on two carefully placed sand bags. There’s a short part of the race that parallels the freeway for a bit, and you do need to watch out for “horse apples” here and there, but otherwise I found the trail to be scenic and enjoyable.

Overall I can’t say enough good things about the race. For a first-time event, the City Farm organizers did a fantastic job coordinating the race. I had no trouble following the course, which I had worried about because the first loop follows the 5K race course, then branches off for the full 10K course. Aid stations were well-stocked and well-placed, and the signage was appropriate and manned by volunteers. My only suggestions for next year (and if you know me, you know I never can resist offering suggestions for every race to improve in my race reviews) are for organizers to improve the monitoring of who completed the 5K versus the 10K (apparently some racers switched courses at the last minute — something out of control of the organizers but perhaps it could be monitored at the 5K turnoff by observation of the race bibs) and the recording and dissemination of the race results. Race results should be posted the same day of the race, and should be segregated by 5K versus 10K, and delineated by gender and age groups (not just the top three winners by age group, but listing all the Women ages 40-49 and their placements in that group, for example). But seriously, I do not criticize the organizers at all. It was a fun community race to support the cause of reducing obesity. I would absolutely do it again if the race fit into my schedule.

And as for my personal performance, you ask? My glowing review might just have a little to do with this:

3rd place finish at City Farm Turkey Trot

That’s right, that medal shows I came in 3rd place in my age group, the old lady field of women ages 40 to 49. Can I just tell you how ridiculous I felt waiting around to see whether or not I placed in my field? Thank goodness I actually received a medal! I later deduced that I came in 3rd of 15, the benefit of a three-porta-potty race. While I waited for the results, I enjoyed the post-race oranges and bananas and protein bars, and a free full-sized Voskos Greek yogurt sample from a booth at the Farmers Market. I also took advantage of the fact that the restrooms at The Autry opened up and I could change into dry, warm clothes after the race.

If I have the opportunity to do the race again in the future, I would try to make a day of it, bringing along the family to shop at the farmers market, then touring the Los Angeles Zoo. It’s a great cause, a great first trail race, and fun community event.

P.S. My time was 50:26.8, a PR for me at the 10K distance over my La Habra 10K road race from when I first started racing about two years ago).

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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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Note: Four days after the Mountains2Beach Marathon, my emotions about the race remain as raw as the blister on my left big toe. So I’ll stick to the facts and save any analysis for later.

In spite of some serious race jitters, I had no trouble going to sleep at 9:45 p.m. the night before the race. Good thing, too, because I only had about five hours before my alarm would go off at 3 a.m.!

For breakfast three hours before the race, I ate some oatmeal and a banana, and drank coffee with unsweetened almond milk. Two hours before the race I drank a couple of cups of Fluid sports drink. By 5 a.m. I was dressed and ready to leave for the race. We had rented a vacation home just minutes from the starting line and it was very nice not to have to board a shuttle in Ventura for a 25 minute ride to Ojai.

The point-to-point race started just north of Nordhoff High School. I had hoped the school would be open so the runners could stay warm and use the facilities like we were able to at Santa Barbara. Sadly, no. Picture lots of runners shivering in the dark, waiting in long porta potty lines. I seriously considered befriending someone who had been smart enough to bring a trash bag to keep warm under. It wouldn’t have been at all weird to offer to share my body heat with a stranger, right? Instead I spent my time slathering on sunscreen and waiting about 15 minutes for the porta potty. Shortly before the 6 a.m. scheduled start time, I did a little warm up and then entered the corral. The actual start time was delayed 10 minutes to accommodate all those people still in line to do their pre-race business. The race started in two waves and people self-seeded by whether they planned to finish before or after the 3:45 mark.

In the days leading up to the race I studied the course map and elevation map. I had trained for an average 8:35 pace for an “A” goal of a 3:45 time. I planned to go out at 8:20 for the flat and downhill portions of the race, with a 9:00 pace on any hills and the flat 5 miles along the beach at the end. As it turned out that was a decent strategy because it was pretty much what the 3:45 pacer did; it just was a little ambitious for me….

Miles 0-3 (8:17, 8:24, 8:23)

The race starts with a 10K loop through a pretty section of Meiners Oaks. Miles 0-2.75 are relatively flat with just one very short uphill jog before you head down to the Ojai Valley Trail. I was worried it would bottleneck where we joined the trail but the pack had thinned just enough by then.

Miles 3-5 (9:01, 8:55, 8:12)

At mile 2.75 there is a slight uphill grade until mile 5. Nothing intimidating at all and I just watched my breathing and kept a constant effort rather than a constant pace.

Miles 6-10 (8:12, 8:20, 8:15, 8:19, 8:22)

At mile 6 we looped back past the start at the high school and Mike and the girls met me with a bottle of Fluid. My youngest two girls paced me for a bit:

My girls at Mountains2Beach

(Psst: If you “like” this photo on Facebook it could help me win a free entry to next year’s marathon!)

Miles 11-17 (8:22, 8:24, 8:47, 8:41, 8:42, 8:30, 8:27)

The Ojai Valley Trail is gorgeous and the gentle decline helped my pace and didn’t hurt my knees. Mike and the girls met me again around mile 11.4 with another bottle of Fluid.

handoff of Fluid Mountains2Beach

My family all wore lime green t-shirts so I could find them on the trail. They had a harder time finding me in my generic blue t-shirt, but they did it on time every time and were a fantastic support crew.

At mile 12 I took a gel with caffeine. Interesting that my splits started to slow then rather than pick up….

I was disappointed that there wasn’t a timing mat or clock at the 13.1 mark on the course. By my Garmin at 13.12 (half of my 26.24 race), I hit a personal best half marathon time of 1:51:01.

Read on for Part 2, also known as “where I hit the wall and the wheels fell off.”

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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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