Sub-Title 1: Can I temper the gastric issues that completely obliterated any pleasure at Ironman Frankfurt (race report will never get written – I tried & failed – all too miserable to bother remembering) with my Low Carb High Fat lifestyle & judicious use of wind elimination techniques?
Sub-Title 2: Can I write a story without reference to ablutions?
DOMS is passing – it’s time to tell the tale & indulge in the remaining euphoria of a challenge completed.
For those who don’t ‘read’, the answers to the above are:
- Evening meal day before: 4 lamb cutlets with all the fat, green veg
- Breakfast: on the plate was an avocado and 3 scrambled eggs … I managed about 2/3rds of it plus 2 x Bulletproof coffees, one with MCTs & butter, the 2nd with butter only
- ‘On the hoof’: 3 x brazil nuts, 5 x almond (scotch) pancakes, 2 x baby-bel cheeses, water, 1 x salt tablet, 3 half little cups of squash
- no actual nausea, just the need to self-wind (described in detail unfortunately) and the feeling after 40 miles that I couldn’t eat, even if I needed to, which I didn’t
- Feelings of loss of energy through lack of calorific intake (particularly lack of carbs) – none
- Post-event DOMS in lateral quads (nothing dramatic – not like when I cycled in Majorca on enormous cranks and struggled down the aircraft steps at the end of the flight in absolute agony!); no DOMS in calves or hip flexors.
Now the full story …
The furthest I’d run in one go was 35 miles, and although I’d run events longer than 50 miles, they were multi-stage adventures. I needed to see if I could do a substantial ultra distance in one hit. I scouted around for my first 50 miler and liked the look of the Ladybower in the Peak District; I’d run the route once, it was stunning, and decided that loops was my answer to not getting lost (I always get lost). Then ‘Caesar’s Camp’ got mentioned in dispatches; it was ‘underground’; it was a bit ‘mad’; the Race Director (RD) played sad, wrist-slitting country songs as you ran through base camp, just in case you were enjoying yourself too much; it was totally un-PC, with abusive language on the web-site and a clear intolerance of wimps; you even had to enter by cheque – it was that minimal! It appealed (I know, I’ve been told I ought to go and see someone about this), I entered and promptly forgot about it in the midst of daily life.
We followed our team mate Bryn Green on his Double Brutal challenge, up and down and round Mt Snowdon: 5 mile swim, 230 mile cycle, 56 mile run … incomprehensibly tough. He was running further than I was going to have to, after swimming and cycling 2 Ironmans. I couldn’t get my head round it – I couldn’t even get past the bike bit … at the end of the Ironman cycle ride (112 miles) I need to get off my bike!! To have to ‘go round again’ was simply too awful to contemplate. He did it! 34 hours of accurately-dubbed brutality. We were exhausted just tracking him … how on earth was I going to manage my challenge?
With a couple of weeks to go, I thought I’d touch base with my Running Buddy (RB) Jason Smith and make sure all was well at his end; the reply was short: “achilles tendin-f*****g-itis … AGAIN”. It wouldn’t be an adventure if everything went to plan.
On the Tuesday before the race I read the small print. Holy Sch-Caesar’s (as Nicole would say!)!! I texted RB. “7600ft of ascent alone?!?!?! 1520ft of climbing on each one. Did you see the profile?!?! OMG what have we done?!?!?”
Worse, the start time turned out to be midday, apparently to ensure that all runners, no matter their chosen distance (there were 50 & 100 mile options, as well as a 30 mile option, starting at midnight!), would be running in the dark. A few further clicks around the scant website revealed not many numbers actually finishing (on lap 5 I learned that the average annual DNF rate is 70%), with the grand total number of runners who’ve actually completed the 100 mile challenge in 24 hrs, over the course of 7 years was … 17!!! I tried … and failed … not to worry.
Stupidly, I texted Bryn for supportive encouragement – I knew he wouldn’t let me down … “Don’t worry, it’s only 10 mile x 5 🙂 How far is the bike ride?”
So much for the supportive encouragement.
Penultimate Race Day
Traditionally one of rest and final preparations. Shambolically, I had not one, but 2 run coaching sessions booked, so by the end of the day I’d run 10 miles and walked to and from train stations another 3. So a half marathon in my legs the day before they were going to be asked to do further than they’d ever done … by a long way. Nice one Helen – not.
With a faff and a flurry we managed to throw everything we thought might be needed into the car, and were waved off with my husband’s rallying words: “I don’t think I’ll bother coming down – I’ve got things to do” … whilst totally in keeping with the ultra’s unpandering and unsympathetic theme, I remember wondering if I had, finally, bitten off more than I could chew. Just in case I needed some more cortisol in my system, I started worrying.
First we missed the motorway turn-off, then I realised that I’d forgotten the one item that might enable me to fulfil Subtitle 1 – charcoal tablets – and then RB decided he definitely couldn’t start without more caffeine; a pitstop at the local Tesco’s was in order. Finally, we arrived to a wet and muddy car park taken over by a Warner Bros film crew and mountains of equipment, interspersed with lycra-clad extras. Spotting the registration tent, we thought we’d do well to get that bit over and done with, given the normal queuing factor. In and out in less than 2 minutes, clutching our finishers T-shirt! Now there’s efficiency for you. With 15 minutes to race briefing, we hurriedly adorned ourselves with all the kit one could possibly think could be required on a 10 mile trail run (?!), and made our way over to the back of the gathering runners.
I couldn’t hear a word the RD was saying, so asked a nearby runner to relay: “All dickheads wearing a back-pack, move to that side”. Nothing happened. “Come on, come on, we haven’t got all day”. A good number of ‘dickheads’ shuffled over to ‘that side’. Those not wearing a back-pack looked on smugly and knowingly. “All those wearing a dickhead Garmin, stay there”. Mmmm … RB dashed back to the car having ‘forgotten something’ and I ‘stayed where I didn’t want to be’. “All those wearing dickhead compression socks, stay where you are”. Relief! I hate running in those things (people … do you realise you’re making it harder for your calves to work against the external pressure of the fabric? Why would you do that?!?!?! And don’t get me started on the upside-down nonsense that’s positively endemic since the lovely Chrissie endorsed them. I’m being good, I’m being PC … no names, no pack-drill!). I hurried back to the ‘safe side’ before RD noticed my footwear (I’d find out soon enough what he thought of Vibram Fivefingers … no prizes for guessing his first adjective).
Humiliation complete, with 3 minutes to go to Race Start, RB and I dashed back to the car to do the only thing dickhead runners focussed on self-preservation would do: dispense with the back-packs and distribute all manner of ‘essentials’ about our person and a running belt.
There were a considerable number of runners in just shorts and a T-shirt. Madness! In accordance with all rules regarding outdoor sports, we’d ‘layered’. Not sure there was anything as formal as a Race Start – RD had no doubt spat out something about dickheads getting going – but there was a surge forward. I pressed ‘start’ on my offensive wrist equipment … surreptitiously. I planned to record the first lap and save it separately, in case of needing a ‘breadcrumb trail’ to follow if we got lost (usual MO).
Quickly, we found ourselves at the back (usual MO!). Doesn’t everyone realise that it takes at least 7 minutes to divert the blood from the non-vital organs, the glands producing the hormones and the intestines, to the working muscles? Given we were going ‘a very long way’, and to thoroughly warm up RB’s achilles tendin-f*****g-itits, we gave our blood some extra diverting time and 13 minutes later we started to run. YAY! Race ON!! 2 minutes later we were walking again due to arriving at a very steep incline. I mean, really steep. The kind of steep that burns your calves and quads simultaneously and forces you to stop and whine at the random forces that placed that kind of incline in the way. What were they thinking? And we have to do this five times?! Thank goodness RD wasn’t in ear-shot – we might have been DQ’d for unacceptable levels of moaning.
By the time we’d reached the top we were baking. Layers started being peeled off and we congratulated ourselves on our wisdom in ridding ourselves of the burden of a back-pack. Onward we went, scouring the military wasteland for arrows and red/white stripey hazard tape, marking the way. It started raining. In fact, it started pouring (I would call it something else but I’ll leave the swearing to RB & RD). Quickly – waterproofs round our waist – we were soaked.
We ran the flats, walked the uphills and simply aimed to stay upright on the downhills. Foliage was recruited to stabilise feet on immensely slippery slopes. What an adventure 🙂 Then – our first stile. Well, not really a stile. A ‘stile’ would infer something you used to clamber up and over something else. In this instance, the ‘something else’ was a barbed wire fence. The ‘stile’ took you up – then – with an enormous gap to straddle with nothing else but the barbed wire beneath your nether regions – having damn near done the splits – your feet finally found the other side. It was a demanding manoeuvre … on Lap 1.
We’d been going for so long, I’d almost forgotten there was an aid station half way round. Arriving in a clearing, we were suddenly faced with the harsh reality that we’d only just made it to half-way round lap 1. How long did that take us? I daren’t look. I don’t think 5 miles had ever taken that long. RB took on board provisions. I didn’t need anything. Onward. They shouted at us from their impressive waterproof clipboards. We’d missed the turning back into the forest. Focus!
Through the forest along twisting, turning trails (we’ll remember these trails), roots hidden by fallen pine needles
creating a lush feeling underfoot. Gorgeous – a enchanted forest wonderland (we’ll remember this ‘enchantedness’), past lakes, past cows (oh no! My biggest nightmare! I’d heard about the evil cows on this military wasteland. These were white. What were white cows doing here For Goodness Sake?! Luckily, I had my ‘anti-cow’ CHEK stick with me for protection). OK RB, have you seen any hazard ribbons recently? Back-tracking (past the cows again!!!), we found the turn-off we’d missed. Phew – only an extra 200m or so – not bad given our history.
Whaaat!!!? The hill was steep, and the stones big, and the path narrow, and it went on, and on, and on.
We could see other runners up at the top, so assumed we weren’t far behind. I still don’t know where the route went, but it was over 30 minutes before we were running where we’d seen them. We were far behind! And that slope turned out to be the ‘last killer one’ – before the last ‘splits stile’ – before the last crossing of the highest point – and then a few ups and downs – before the last forest – before the penultimate up … followed by the penultimate down – into the clearing, where you could SEE the base camp to the right, but you were forced ahead UP another STEEP climb, to then have to negotiate the STEEP SLIPPERY descent into the car park, and THEN finally over to the registration tent.
Sod that – the car was nearer. We had kit to dispense with. Ignoring the shouts (yes, we knew it was ‘that way’ we were just saving steps), we headed to the boot to discard extraneous dickhead stuff.
RD was beside us. “What did I say?” “We were just getting rid of a few bits” “What did I say?” “Don’t know, we’re virgins” (Why did I say that?!?!) “I said to come straight down the descent and to the base – no pissing around with cars until you’ve registered your lap, dickheads. I will tear you two a new f*****g ar***ole if you do that again”.
Luckily, RB is a colo-rectal consultant surgeon, so he couldn’t have threatened two less ‘bovvered’ runners. But, in the spirit of having signed Ts & Cs, and not really wanting to test RB’s surgical skills quite at that moment, we abandoned the car boot and scurried over to get zapped by the barcoder lady. Suitably lazered, we returned to the boot to further off-load irritating, needless gear bouncing around on running belt (even more irritating that RD was proved right!). Having jumped up and down a few times to test the new set-up (because obviously that’s a good test for running?!?!?!), I then discarded the running belt altogether, deciding, if it couldn’t fit in pockets I wouldn’t bother with it. This was going to be tougher than I thought, and carrying extra wasn’t going to help.
Lap 1: 2 hrs 29 minutes. Whhaaatt?! Longest 10 miles ever!
Pleasantly unburdened, we continued. We’d only missed 2 turnings, and now we recognised that at any junction there would always be at least some ribbon floating somewhere to mark the way. They had done a good job, and all fears of getting lost, especially once dark, were subsiding.
Somewhere just shy of the half-way aid station, RB stubbed his toe. It was on one of those twisty, turning, narrow forest trails. Cursing his misfortune, we trotted on. 10 minutes later, he stubbed his toe again. This time, the cursing took on a different tone, a different volume and a different pitch. It was broken. That was for sure. Not daring to look at it, after some hopping and impressive cussing from RB, we pressed on. Passing the half way station, remembering the right turn, we continued on (I had a bit of water this time and 3 of my pocketed Brazil nuts, which had gone soggy in the rain), hoping for the best. The injury seemed to have affected his nerve as it had all gone numb ‘down there’ … making hay whilst it seemed possible, we climbed, descended, twisted, turned, avoided cows, straddled, got overtaken (!! yes – lapped!!) and finally arrived back at base camp to head directly to the ‘clock-in’ area (fast learners – no longer dickheads, surely?). Once our race numbers had been zapped, we headed back to the car to inspect the damage. Definitely broken. Undeterred, RB strapped it up and we gathered head torches. Never in a million years had I envisaged having to collect the head torches at the end of lap 2! By dark, I’d fully expected to have 3 laps under our belts … Feeling peckish, I stuffed 3 almond pancakes into my mouth, closely followed by another 2.
RD spotted us. “What are those on your feet dickheads?” Was it even a question? My stick also interested him, so I diverted his attention by making sure he knew it wasn’t a ‘cheat stick’ but ‘anti-evil-cow-protection’. I escaped with no further verbal abuse and considered myself lucky.
Lap 2: 2 hrs 29 minutes (!)
It wasn’t long before RB’s ‘numb’ became ‘throbbing’, and not long after that, running with a ‘favoured side’ started the inevitable slide of form and the beginning of all sorts of new niggles. It was around 6pm and Annabel, who’d been over
at Bracknell watching her husband play hockey but had promised to pop over and give us a bit of support, found us at a track junction. We filled her in, whilst she and her gorgeous border collie Pippa trotted with us until the next viewpoint. Not entirely sure how this was going to work, RB + broken toe descended first. Somehow, he made it down and round and up and across, and up, and down … and then the light started to go. For too long it seemed (but probably only 10 minutes), it wasn’t light enough to see properly where you were putting your feet, but neither was it dark enough for the head torch to be helpful. In this half-light, enchanting forests became enchantED forests and everything was way too spooky … and RB kept stubbing his toe. The numbness had properly gone, to be replaced by waves of light-headedness and nausea from pain. The pain + fatigue were causing him to run badly, the poor light was making it very difficult to miss low-lying obstacles and running was becoming increasingly difficult. We walked more. We entered another forest – ooer – proper dark – head torches went on, full-blast. Who cares about batteries? I needed to see the ghoulies and ghosties if there were any. Can you imagine what it would have been like if timed over Halloween Weekend?
Passing the half-way point with a (for 10 miles) broken toe was impressively bonkers.
Passing the white cows, who were now glowing in the dark in the forest, was super scary.
She didn’t show it at the time, but with hindsight I can now see that when we finally stumbled over Annabel about 3o minutes from base camp, she was worried. RB’s running was now limited to any areas of smoothish track … there weren’t much … and it had taken us a long time to negotiate the terrain back towards the start. I had forced 2 Paracetamol down him before starting the last big, steep, stony climb and we were waiting for them to take effect. Half an hour later we were still waiting for them to take effect. Finally back at base camp, having completed an ultra distance of 30 miles – 15 of them with a broken toe – he was still stubbornly waiting for them to take effect. Meanwhile, I was worrying about us making the cut-off and worrying about how cold I was getting, worrying about his lovely wife never letting him out to play again, just plain worrying really.
After much caring firmness from 2 understanding, fellow running souls, a pig-headed RB (are you reading this?) responded with obstinacy, wilfulness and recalcitrance, before common-sense finally prevailed and he relented. Swapping kit bags into Annabel’s car and whipping off my sweaty, wet short-sleeve, I donned my long-sleeve hoody, put a plastic bag over my feet in order to pull cheap, garish rugby socks with the feet cut off over my muddy Spyridons (great trick from my days spent assisting swollen legs into medical-grade compression garments), stuffed a Baby-Bel in my mouth, hugged RB good-bye and headed off solo (and warmer).
Lap 3: over 3 hours, hopefully less than 4, not really sure, didn’t dare look.
I’m not allowed out running on my own. Now I was not only alone, I was without my RB (feel for me too – this had ‘impact’!) AND it was pitch black. Annabel and Pippa met me behind the base camp tent to see me off with another Baby-Bel. Yum! Motivated by her support, I trotted off with my torch on full-blast. It wasn’t too long before I was following a head torch that seemed to be moving at roughly the same pace as mine. I sped up to catch it and run with company. I had come across ‘Karen’ who was racing in the 100 miler, and was on her 5th lap! I decided to stay with her for as long as I could, with the goal being to not be alone when I passed the scary, evil cows. We chatted as we ran, doggedly running every bit that wasn’t an uphill slope. She was inspiring. A single mum with an 8 year old, she gets up early, runs on her home treadmill before her daughter wakes, goes to work, collects her daughter, sorts dinner and homework and ‘together time’ and then, once her little girl is in bed, she’s back on the treadmill. THAT’S how you fit it all in. As she said, if you want it enough, you make the time. Her last race was a 24 Enduro event, where you run as many times round a 1 mile course as you can in the time. She ran 132 miles!! Round and round and round. Mind boggling.
I lost Karen at the 2nd ‘splits-stile’, after the half-way point, after the spooky toadstool family living on the tree-stump (which wasn’t so spooky second time round in the dark, with her company) but sadly, before the evil cows. They hadn’t moved position, but they definitely shuffled as I ran past … thankfully my legs were still working well and I managed a little extra speed as soon as they snorted.
In the dark, as I passed runners, head-torches were picking out my madly stripy socks, and for once the passing comments weren’t of my footwear, but of my calf-wear. Much more fun! And yes, you did read ‘as I passed’. Life in the old bird yet 🙂
Still not afflicted by the dreaded nausea, my preventative strategy seemed to be working: drink to thirst, eat when hungry (no sugar), take charcoal tablets with food/drink, as soon as bra feels tight and saliva can’t be swallowed, recognise that as a sign and deal with it. The ‘dealing’ turns me into a bit of a freaky bulimic endurance athlete, but it was working so far, so I didn’t care. Without further ado, I fail to fulfil Subtitle 2. Ablutions were abounding. Symptoms noticed, I’d stop to stick my finger down my throat, and with a bit of wiggling, out would come an enormous, rather disgusting, but always relieving, loud and sickening … burp. Turns out, the fact I’ve never been able to spontaneously burp – maybe a handful over my entire life – is the reason for my endless troubles with nausea. As I exercise, I swallow air which gets trapped, can’t escape, and over time distends the stomach -> nausea. I’m like a big grown-up baby that needs winding when I’m out adventuring. My kids tried to teach me how to burp, but it just led to me feeling sick whilst still sitting down! Sugar makes things much worse, much faster, because the sugar fermenting in my stomach leads to gas, leads to distention … you get the picture.
So, spotting the last hideously steep, stony slope ahead in my now-very-dimmed-(but-full-moon-is-helping)-headtorch, I decided to relieve myself before attempting it. The result was a blast so noisy I had to look around to make sure no other torches were within earshot. Oh, the trials of being an endurance bunny. But it was working. Although I was having to use my ‘finger-trick’ fairly regularly, it WAS temporarily ridding me of the symptoms and the debilitating, and walk-inducing nausea hadn’t arrived. I wondered if I could stave it off for the whole event?
Over the lip, onto the windy plateau and straight into a surprised Annabel. Apparently, I’m “only a few minutes behind Karen and looking good”. I’ve not dared to clock times. It was what it was. I couldn’t go any slower because of fear and cold, and I couldn’t go any faster because of the terrain. I would finish when I’d done the distance. It was a big boost though to hear her words of praise and encouragement, and they did wonders for my morale. I’d also needed to go to the loo for the longest time, but didn’t dare stop on my own in the dark. Would she mind loitering to protect me from lurking scary stuff? “Do you need a pee?” “No.” “Oh (*laughing*) lets go find something for you to hang onto whilst you squeeze it out” (now there’s the mind of a fellow ultra-distance, modern-convenience eschewer! Just want I needed!). No need. Hip flexors were fine. I squatted down where I was, just off the path. Quickly done, a magnificent ‘message’ shone in the fading light of my head torch, and I felt proud that I’d left a decent mark on Salisbury Plains … just before a couple more head torches came over the lip of the hill …
Sorry – a story of mine isn’t a real story unless ablutions of all varieties are involved.
Annabel and a pretty tired Pippa disappeared off down a road to base camp whilst I headed off the long way round, along more tracks, trails and slopes, feeling buoyed by a solo lap nearly completed. I still hadn’t looked at the time, but Annabel had ssured me ‘cut off’ time wouldn’t be an issue.
I got scanned in and shoved another layer over my hoody. RD quizzed me again over my stick – I escaped without confiscation.
Lap 4: Results still not out – no idea but less than lap 3. Got a text from RB who was safely home after much use of cruise control … toe ‘bent’ … eeuuww 🙁
Lap 5 – Final Lap
Feeling as if I could afford to ‘treat’ myself, I’d picked up a mini Mars bar at base camp and as I bade cheerio to Annabel and Pippa (who this time were going to snuggle up in the car and rest for a few hours until I got back) I tried to eat it. Disgustingly sweet, my tongue rejected reflexively and it spilled out of my mouth onto the trail. Oh dear. I didn’t feel particularly hungry, but I felt as if I ought to eat. I tried half a Brazil nut and that got ejected too. After a mauled – but not swallowed – almond pancake also ended up as biodegradable litter, I gave up.
Before parting, I’d also swapped head-torch batteries but kept the new one on dim from the start. Running out of battery, with only a diddy light round my waist as an emergency, would have been catastrophic. Not because I wouldn’t have been able to see – the moon was stunning – but because my mind would have totally freaked me out. The fear of running out of torchlight – and the fear of the feeling of panic that overwhelms me when I get chilled – kept me running. Unless I was thrown into a walk by the incline, I ran. I even ran some of the hills I’d walked in earlier laps, until my quads told me to stop it.
I ran past other runners. On the same lap as me. Running the same distance as me. People commented that I was
looking good, that I was ‘still up on my toes’. I knew I was running well, I could feel it and I was enjoying it. There were moments where I felt I was in running heaven. I could barely feel my legs, and my new mantra “Easy-Peasy” (thanks Tarne!) literally lifted weight off my feet allowing them to be lighter and quicker. My wonderful stick, as well as having anti-cow powers, was cradled between my palms giving me strength. It’s hard to describe it, and I may sound nutty, but it was what it was. A magical experience I’ll never forget. I was feeling so brave and empowered, I was even able to stop and take a photo of the creepy family of toadstools living on the tree trunk in the enchanted forest …
Pride started to take over. I took a glance at my phone which told me it was 0100 hrs. Annabel had warned me that I might get over-taken by the 30 mile runners starting at midnight. Not knowing how long I could keep it up, I pressed on, determined to fend them off as long as possible. Not that there would have been anything wrong in being over-taken by fresh runners … it was just silly pride. That, and feeling that there was no need to prolong the action any longer than absolutely necessary. Nothing was hurting, nothing was seizing (the splits-stiles were a definite struggle, but then again, I’ve never been particularly bendy at the best of times!), yes I was tired, but I wasn’t injured in any way … unlike my poor RB.
I pressed on, past the cows (with barely a blip in my heart rate!), up the final (my turn to swear) bastard, steep, stony slope with the only thoughts being “YOU WILL NEVER HAVE TO DO THIS EVER AGAIN” and then “YAY” at the top; past my substantial gift to the Plains, along and over, and along, and through, and round and “where’s the end? It’s got to be soon” and …
… my 60 seconds of glory, captured forever on my iPhone … the memory of which is still giving me tingles and catching at the back of my throat …
Kit I actually required:
Lightweight, rain-resistant jacket with pockets; merino long sleeve, short sleeve, hoody & beanie; tri shorts with leg pockets, baggy shorts over top; rugby socks; head-band, head torch + spare battery, tiny waist torch; lip salve (multi-use not make-up!!), tissues; salt tablets, charcoal tablets, tiny water bottle holding 4 gulps; phone; VFF Spyridons; anti-cow-super-powers-special-stick.
Nutrition: 3 brazil nuts, 5 almond (scotch) pancakes, 2 Baby-Bels, 1 salt tablet, 3 small cups of squash, water.
Caesar’s Camp 2013: 51.9 miles (according to my illegal Garmin) in 13 hrs 24 min. Not an official time … results not up yet … perhaps dickheads don’t get official times 🙂
And BIG THANKS go to RB for starting the adventure with me, Annabel and Pippa for finishing it with me, Mrs Green for being with me in spirit, Tarne for my mantra and my husband for staying up until silly hours to carry my kit into the house.
Recovery: DOMS started day after event, peaked midday on second day, gone by third morning. Walked 2.5 miles post event daily to mobilise. Trotted down road on Day 3 of recovery … legs worked fine, but still feel like I need to go to bed early.
Caesar’s Camp 50 Mile Endurance Run 2013 … Been there. Done that. Got the T-shirt. Job Well Done!!
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