Flat Tires

Posted on March 14, 2014. Filed under: More... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

flat-tire

I’ve seen this commercial several times. We see the face of a young woman as she changes her tire in the rain.  She appears anguished, there in the rain alone. We are distressed too.  Is she safe? Will anyone stop to help her?  The camera pans out to a man standing next to the car.

Appearances can be deceiving.

“I told you you could do it,” the man says.  The girl, obviously his daughter, smiles confidently in her newfound ability as the rain stops and they get into the car together.

I generally hate commercials, and I particularly hate car commercials.  But I love this commercial. I love that this father empowers his daughter, showing her that she need not rely on others to do things for her unless she wants to.  She can do what she puts her mind to.

I was lucky enough to have a dad like this too.  He believed in doing things himself whenever he could.  This is the man who built most of his home’s second story by himself on weekends, vacations.  The man who always mowed his own lawn, planted his own flowers, painted the house, the deck, the awnings, the lawn furniture.

Sometimes do-it-yourself worked out fine.  The second story carpeting looked fantastic, for instance.  Other times, calling in a professional might have been a better idea. But who needs a level driveway anyway? He was a firm believer in trying.

So when my first car needed an oil change, he took me to the gas station and showed me how to find the right oil and filter, then dragged me under the car to finish the job.  When my headlight went out, I fixed it, with my dad standing behind me. It didn’t feel so empowering, then.  It felt greasy. Dead-buggy. And I felt awkward doing something I wasn’t used to.

A few years ago, I had my first flat tire. I had never changed a flat with my dad, but I had seen one changed.  This tire wasn’t just flat, but blown right the heck out.  My fault. I was new to Texas, not used to the razor-sharp markers sometimes used to separate traffic lanes, and I ran right over a whole stretch of them.  The mechanic who later attempted to fix the tire asked if someone had slashed it with a machete.

I pulled over and sat in my car for a few minutes, hoping someone would stop.  I knew what to do, in theory, but I felt awkward doing it. What if I screwed it up somehow or made it worse?  What if I accidentally fell over into oncoming traffic when I tried to remove the tire?

But no one stopped. I got out of the car, more irritated that I was going to be late than that I had to change my tire. I hate being late. I unloaded the spare and parts from my trunk and watched the road with one eye.

A handful of cars drove by. No one stopped.

I jacked up the car, swearing as I dirtied my shirt looking under the car for the groove to place the jack in, and started to loosen lug nuts. Not an easy task, let me tell you. I stomped on the tire iron and could barely budge them, at first.

More cars drove by. Still, no one stopped.

Finally, I got the tire off.  A semi pulled over a couple hundred feet up the road.

“Hold on,” the driver yelled as he walked my way. “Let me finish that.”

I waited for him to get there, then thanked him for stopping to help.

“I wasn’t going to,” he said. “I mean, you look like you know what you’re doing.  But then I thought of my sister. If she had a flat, I’d want someone to stop and help her.”

I wasn’t sure what to make of this. How odd that I look like I know what I’m doing, I thought. Sure, I know the process, but I am not at all comfortable actually completing it.

“Do you think that’s why no one else stopped?” I asked him. “Because I look like I know what I’m doing?”

“I guess so,” he shrugged and turned his attention to the tire.

I crouched into a deep squat and hugged my knees as I watched him finish changing the tire, grateful that I did know what to do. And grateful that he did too.

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What Would You Give?

Posted on March 7, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

gift

For years I have not observed Lent. At first because I dropped out of the church, and then later, when I dribbled back in, because I got tired of seeing Lent trivialized. It’s not the latest diet, the Lenten 15, say, a plan to drop those last stubborn pounds in anticipation of swimsuit season. And it’s not an excuse to cut out meat on Fridays, only to show up at your local fish monger and indulge in lobster.

I, of course, have done these things in the name of Lent. Deprived myself of chocolate and Fritos or wine and beer in an effort to reach an objective that was personal and selfish, not communal and considerate of others.  I have established my goal, created my plan, and expected my God to follow along granting my desire. Like Aladdin’s genie, but maybe not so blue.

I have thought that if I could demonstrate to God my ability to deprive myself of certain things, then He would reward me. With what, I wasn’t sure. Nice things, a great job. Happiness, maybe. A medal.

I have even made running my idol, expecting God to affix wings to my heels.

But, as Woody Allen asserts, if you want to make God laugh, just tell him your plans.

What I’m figuring out, I think, is to focus not on the goal or the plan but, rather, on the gift, the ability God has given me. Like writing. Compassion and empathy. Mercy. And even running. And to remember that these gifts are not mine to keep. Gifts are meant to be given.

So the question I face this Lenten season is not what do I deprive myself of. Not exactly. I know that I can be self-disciplined. But what do I give of myself. What can I offer to others so they can be happier, better, stronger? How can I bring someone joy or compassion or love? Consciously and deliberately. Not accidentally or incidentally.

It’s Ash Wednesday today, the day I write this, and I’m still not sure how to observe Lent. A funny word, “observe.” Implying that we will hang around and passively watch something happen rather than actively participate.  But action is required. It is the end of reflection.

And, I think, it’s never too late to pare ourselves down to the bone, to become less in order to give more.

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Juggling Oranges

Posted on February 28, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

cute_oranges_by_annacabinet-d35xf2t

Tuesday was one of those days I wondered why I do what I do for a living. Why, exactly, am I here? Nothing was going as planned. The day was supposed to be devoted to grant writing. A deadline is coming too quickly. Just a matter of days.

The disruption started at 5:42am with one crisis and then continued until well past 7:00pm. It’s always the small things that get you, and the immediacy they demand. A coaching situation to resolve right now, a shortage of supplies at three sites to be remedied today, a promise to 18 girls that must be kept.

The confusion in time zones that causes you to miss a call you’ve had scheduled for two weeks.

And then the big things:  Remember that conference on Thursday? Guess what? You get to deliver a piece of it. Start preparing. Oh, and, to help, our team will have a one and a half hour conference call this afternoon.

Timing is everything.  How to participate in a conference call while driving to three sites and take adequate notes while running supplies into buildings? We are on point number two in the call, two points away from my piece. Surely I have time to sprint up to the school with 15 pounds of oranges, drop them where they belong, and sprint back to my car with my phone on mute before they ask me for my input? Barely. But I try. I can still answer questions out of breath, car door slamming, engine starting before I break three laws and drive in a school zone with my phone on speaker, resting on my knee.

But I am irritated. Anxious. There is too much to do and not enough time. I hear my other line ringing and messages piling up. Hear texts chiming, emails accumulating. My eye is on the clock and I’m thinking about the grant and remembering the other phone calls I was to have made today. An office day, it was supposed to be, an administrative day. A day to write that grant.

As I sprint two blocks from my car to the last school, up two flights of steps, and down the hall juggling another 15 pounds of oranges and my phone, muted conference call still going at my ear, I see her come out of the bathroom.

I don’t know her name, but I know her, this little girl. We met last week when I subbed for her team.  She is shy, chubby.  Tilts her head down and smiles bashfully when she sees me.  She is wearing a chain around her neck, the chain she got in Girls on the Run to collect little sparkly feet on. One foot equals one mile.  The girls accumulate feet all season as they accumulate miles.

One sparkly foot dangles from her chain. Last week, her teammates each got at least two feet. One girl earned four.

She stops walking and stands there quietly in the hall, rocking a little from side to side.

I know this girl.  Shy, chubby, not athletic, wanting to speak but too timid to do so. Waiting patiently just the same. She is me when I was 9, 10.

I take the phone away from my ear.

“You’re wearing your foot,” I say.

She nods slowly, smile broadening, and raises her hand to her chain.

I nod back. “Think you’ll get another today?”

She nods again, a look of determination deepening her smile, and clutches her foot.

“I think so too,” I say.

She raises her chin just a little and walks proudly back to her classroom.

“Hey?” I hear someone say my name and I remember my call. “Are you there?”

“Yes, I’m here,” I take the phone off mute and watch the girl walk down the hall.  Now I remember why I’m here.

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Do You Recognize Improvement When You See It?

Posted on February 21, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Picture of sand dune in the Sahara desert of Morocco.

Two weeks ago, I stood at the bottom of Temple Hill, the steep half-mile hill with the false top three quarters of the way up, my hill-repeat nemesis, and stared up. It was cold that day. Windy. But it was the last day for hill repeats in this round of training, for this particular half marathon, and Carrie and I had just finished our series of repeats. I wanted to mark the hill in my head. Remember the grade, the cold and wind, the burning that did not transpire in my lungs or quads. Not this time. We had improved.

Improvement can be such an elusive thing. Often not because it doesn’t happen, but because it can be so slight it’s almost imperceptible. If we don’t pay attention, we miss it.

Take, for instance, this hill. We were finished and walking back to our cars before we realized some small things.

  • We did five hills—and chatted up and down the entire time.  Previous training days were silent affairs, the loudest and most extended sound often the gasping for breath.
  • Once we reached the top, we turned around and ran down.  Not so on earlier runs.  We breathed too hard, then, and had to walk a good quarter of the way down until we could even begin to run.
  • And once we hit bottom we turned right around again to run back up, no down time in between.  On earlier runs, I would have preferred to camp out at the bottom for awhile. Build a fire, maybe. Roast some marshmallows.  But there was no need to this time. We had improved. And we almost missed it.

Did it make a difference on race day? Training always does. We ran the Austin Half Marathon, the hardest course in my half marathon experience so far because of all the hills.

We finished the race knowing we ran well and could not have done anything different. That’s the best feeling after a race. When you’ve given it your all.

And the second best feeling is knowing that your all is an improvement.  Carrie PRed. I ran my second fastest half marathon time.  It’s the small things that matter. Put enough of them together and you get something big.

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Like Mother…and liking it

Posted on February 7, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

hands of mother and daughter

No wonder I’m a runner.  Just look at my mom.  No, she’s not a runner. I have, in fact, no memory of seeing her run anytime, anywhere, in my entire life, ever.  No. She’s decidedly not a runner.

She’s a shooter, and a darn good one. This year, she will be inducted into the National Skeet Shooting Association Hall of Fame.  Quite an accomplishment, and one I am profoundly proud of her for.

You’d think with a mother possessing that kind of ability I’d become a shooter myself. Not a chance.  I was never patient enough to shoot well. Plus, the whole thing seemed so involved.  Too much equipment—and then you have to clean it. Too much effort to go somewhere other than out my front door to practice. No thanks. Not for me.

For a long time, I didn’t quite understand her obsession—for lack of a better word—with skeet.  It wasn’t until I took up running in my early 30s that I began to understand how a person could spend so much time and so much effort doing something that seemed so, well, frankly so insignificant.

But my mom’s obsession is not with obliterating little orange targets.  As mine is not with becoming perpetually faster.  Medals aren’t the goal for either of us.  Becoming a better person is.

In the past several years, I’ve come to see several parallels between running—a pursuit that requires no other equipment than a pair of shoes, can be practiced anywhere at any time, and can result in a conditioned body—and skeet shooting—an endeavor that requires expensive equipment and accessories, must be practiced at a specific venue, and rarely produces an increased heart rate.

Every time we step onto the playing field, we’re competing primarily against ourselves.  Sure, it might be nice to actually win something, but becoming good enough to win consistently takes time.  Hours and hours of time.  Dedication. Persistence.

The goal I want to achieve at almost every event is to do better than I did the last time.  Sometimes, my goal is simply to finish, uninjured. But I’m my own biggest rival. My most enthusiastic cheerleader and my worst enemy.  Yet with competition comes the confidence acquired when reaching a goal as well as the quiet grace and humility attained when giving it everything yet falling short.

So we practice, because practice breeds perseverance.  It makes us better, faster, stronger. More accurate, more consistent. This is, of course, true of any sport, but I’ve seen both shooters and runners practice in the absolute worst conditions. I long ago stopped chiding my mom for spending hours outside in the brutal Michigan winters or the searing Texas summers.  How can I chide her when I have practiced my own sport in typhoon stage 3 readiness or cold so piercing that icicles formed on my hat, scarf, and mittens?

I realized, during one particularly cold run when I initially could not feel my legs, that we both live a sort of Senecan philosophy:  If one prepares for the worst, she will be more likely to do her best when it counts. It is what self-discipline is made of.

Running and skeet shooting both are solitary endeavors.  You might be surrounded by people, but most of the competition is meted out in your head.  Your success depends largely on what you believe you can do.

But both are team sports too.  Your friends are also your competitors.  Mostly, they genuinely want to see you succeed.  But they also want to succeed themselves.  On the field, you are simultaneously together and alone, so deep in your own head that you could very easily lose the connection with the person standing right next to you.

But you don’t. Because you recognize the critical role support plays and how sometimes the difference of just one word of encouragement (or spite) can make or break you.

Ultimately, both sports are a test of character. Ultimately, neither running nor shooting is a game. How you show up in each is how you show up in life. I’ve seen people I thought were kind and compassionate off the playing field turn into mean, puerile creatures on.  And I’ve been pleasantly surprised witnessing an act of kindness from a stranger.

At heart, what we are when we compete is who we are as people.

In all these years, my mom’s character has been refined by shooting.  She possesses a quiet confidence in her ability yet a humility I sometimes find bewildering. She continually and sincerely roots for the success of strangers as well as friends.  And I have never seen a more graceful loser.  I am lucky to have her as a role model, a mother, a friend.

No wonder I lead an organization that inspires joy, health, and confidence in young girls.  Just look at my mom. That’s what she inspired in me.  In fact, she still does.

She took up shooting at a time when women were not allowed to be members at some clubs. At a time when girls didn’t do such things as shoot guns, get dirty, spend time outside in the cold and rain, in spaces dominated by men. Her family, some friends, much of society gasped in disapproval and said, No, you can’t.

With the determination and dignity she’s always possessed, my mother said, Really? Just watch me, and went on to become one of the best.

How many times in my life has that pernicious voice at my ear told me, No, you can’t.  Sometimes that voice is my own. Yet there my mother is, standing beside me, in quiet faith insisting, Yes, you can.

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Why Change?

Posted on January 17, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

socrates

Last time I checked, it’s still January.  We’re just over halfway through with it and already change is hard.  I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions.  Not really. I simply realized (once again) the need to be deliberate, to be present, since the present moment is all we are truly given.

A fortune from a cookie is pinned above my desk to remind me:  “A focused mind is one of the most powerful forces in the universe.” I vow to start each day, before I ever get out of bed, focused with a prayer first of thanksgiving for this day, and then for guidance:  Wisdom in my decisions, prudence in my actions, compassion in my communication.  Then and only then will I allow my mind to be crowded with all there is to be done today.

But, as it turns out, even as small a change as this is hard to make.  Just yesterday morning, for instance, my alarm went off at 5.  I knew all the things I had to do that day, as I do every day, because I keep a calendar and a to-do list, both of which I review frequently.  I planned to get up and run, then write, then work from home for a couple of hours before some afternoon meetings.  If I didn’t get up in time, something would have to give. And I knew that something would be either my running or my writing, neither of which I am willing to sacrifice.

I have changed the way I think about both writing and running. I don’t have to do them every day, only some days, and on the days I choose to do them, I do them deliberately.  So much pressure removed, so much focus added. Both activities improve tremendously, and so does my attitude about them.

But yesterday morning at the sound of the alarm, rather than starting my day with a prayer, I started with the rapid blur of mental gymnastics as I thought about how to change my day’s already-established plan:

I don’t really have to put in eight miles today I can do it tomorrow because tomorrow I have a running meeting on the Salado Greenway Trail at 11 and we’ll probably run four miles so I can always go early and put in four before or stay later but I can still get up at 5 to get my writing in because if I do run then instead of now that cuts into tomorrow’s writing time and…

It was cold and dark, you see, and I had eaten too many Cheetos the night before. I just wanted to lie in bed a little longer, until my stomach didn’t feel queasy. Or until spring.

And then it hit me. This whole idea of change. Not only that I was bucking against my own self-imposed new system, but that there was another change I needed to make too.  I couldn’t go to the trail to run alone.  Because that would be stupid. Unsafe. And the one change I felt compelled to make after New Year’s Eve was to not run alone in secluded places. Not since Lauren Bump’s murder.

So I rolled out of bed and got ready to run in a place that may or may not be safer than a trail:  my neighborhood.  I’ve always thought of my neighborhood as safe, just as I’ve always thought of the trailway as safe.  Now, in my mind, they are equal.  And now, for the first time in my life, I carry pepper spray. Another change to get used to.

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Deliberation

Posted on January 3, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

melt-of-gold-beach-glow-golden-ray-reflection-rocks-sea-sunrise-768x1366

Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.

~ Henry David Thoreau

Going into this New Year, I didn’t have much time to reflect. Usually, I like to spend a few days thinking.  Looking backward and forward. Writing things down—a plan, a list, the Hamlet T-square of things to be or not to be.  But this time, there simply was no time.  Too much work, then too many parties, an abundance of family, and before I knew it, it was New Year’s Eve.

The whole time I wasn’t preparing, I recognized it, and it bothered me.  I wanted to look, wanted to reflect. The past year stood before me like a full length mirror, but each time I tried to gaze into it, I was distracted by what was in front of me and couldn’t see in.

On December 30, I stopped worrying. I was talking with a friend about relationships, including our relationship with our self.  We both agreed that many people can hardly see themselves as they truly are, may never see themselves as others’ do.  My friend meant literally. I meant in every other way.

If we look into a mirror and cannot accurately see our own reflection, then how can we expect to look backward at a year and accurately reflect on ourselves? Our sight is often distorted. We see what we want to see, what we are able to see, what we are prepared to see.

I am thus going into the new year looking forward rather than back, even if 2013 was a good year. More important, I am focusing on—with appreciation, gratitude, joy—where I am today, since today is what I have. And the day has only begun.

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The Bravest Runner

Posted on December 20, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

barefootrunner

By the time the 5K was over, word had spread about the young girl in stocking feet.  Sobbing, she crossed the finish line without her shoes, her mother trailing not far behind.  Her coaches saw her coming from across the line, where they stood holding finisher’s medals, waiting to crown their girls.

What happened? Her coaches surrounded her, concerned that she was injured.

It took awhile before she could stifle the tears enough to tell them.  Blisters. Painful blisters bubbled up on her feet about a mile from the finish line.  She could hardly go on in such pain, and her mother told her she could stop if she wanted to.

Not her.  She was too close and had worked too hard, had been looking forward to this race for weeks and couldn’t possibly stop now, so close.

She took off her shoes instead and ran a mile in her socks, crying all the way.

A coach hugged her tight. If you can do this, she said shaking her head, you can take anything life throws at you.

My hero, the bravest runner at last Saturday’s Girls on the Run 5K. I hope I grow up to be just like her.

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Hill Repeats, or why dog poop can be your new best friend

Posted on December 13, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

steep-grade

Carrie and I are at it again. Another half marathon, another training plan under way, working toward the Austin half marathon on February 16. We are using the same training plan that got us through the San Antonio Rock ‘n Roll half marathon just a few weeks ago.

Which means we start with hill repeats.  Temple Hill.  The nearly half-mile, pretty darn steep monster hill we conquered last time around. Only it doesn’t feel like a conquest. It feels like an initiation.

Monday. Four to five short hills were on the schedule. Half way up Temple Hill, or the equivalent of six lampposts.

We braced ourselves at the bottom, walked in circles, mentally preparing for the trek. I leveled my gaze on the ground in front of me as we started the first repeat. We chatted two-thirds of the way up, counting lampposts.

On the second repeat, I noted objects to guide me. Look for those markers, and I don’t have to count. A rust-colored sign at lamppost two, a screw in the middle of the sidewalk between lampposts three and four. A pile of dog poop at lamppost five.

I grimaced when I first saw it. Some poor soul had already imprinted his shoe with it, and I was immediately angry. What kind of moron let’s their dog poop smack in the middle of where people walk?

By the third repeat, I was breathing too heavily to be angry with the pile or its owner’s owner.  I remembered it was there, looked for it, ran around.

By the fourth repeat, I was almost glad to see it, sitting there near lamppost five, not so far from the end.

By the fifth repeat, I actively sought it out, raised my head in anticipation. Why is it taking so long to come into view? Is that it up ahead? No, that’s a leaf. Where is that darn poop?

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, there it was, like an old friend waiting patiently for my arrival.  I was never more happy to see something so foul, so repelling, yet so close to the finish that I wanted to sing. Instead, I breathed deeply and smiled in relief as I crossed the line.

That wasn’t so bad, we said as we bounced down the hill, instinctively avoiding the pile. We did it, we sighed. We reached our goal.

***

Tomorrow is Girls on the Run of Bexar County’s Fall 2013 5K, the culminating event for our season, where our girls get to experience first-hand what it feels like to finish something they’ve worked for 10 long, hard weeks to achieve. The excitement is palpable, among the coaches as well as the girls. We hope that the confidence the girls gain when they cross the finish line travels with them to every other area of their lives, for the rest of their lives.

I know they are nervous going in. If I could offer them just one bit of advice, it would be this.  You don’t have to embrace the dog poop you encounter on your path, but you don’t have to fear it either. For all you know, that pile of poop could very well be the harbinger of joy and relief, of much better things to come. Step around it. The finish line is waiting.

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Recovery Doesn’t Have to Keep You Down

Posted on November 22, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Courtesy 2milliondogsblog.wordpress.com

Courtesy 2milliondogsblog.wordpress.com

It’s been 3 years since I’ve run San Antonio Rock n Roll half marathon, and now I remember why.  The weather in San Antonio is fickle.  Last Sunday, race day, saw a record high of 89°F.  This Sunday, we’re expecting a high of 42. Go figure. Nevertheless, it was a fun race with a great route. I’ve spent this week recovering, including not running but doing some stretching, strength training, and core work instead. I’d forgotten how much Pilates hurts.

Because of the heat on race day, it was a hard recovery. But following these tips helped ease the pain.

Ice, ice, baby

I know. I can’t believe I said that either.  But an ice bath is the way to go.  Get in the tub, run a couple of inches of warm water, switch the warm to cold until your legs are covered, then pour in the ice. Bags of it, to the tune of 30 lbs.  You may need to wear your cold-weather running shirt in the tub with you. And you probably need to be clutching a very large cup of very hot liquid, but ice will ultimately make your legs happy. By the next day, they’ll be thanking you.

Hydrate

This was the first race where I hit every single water stop.  With all that heat, I needed it. Drinking the day before and during the race, however, is not enough.  I drink all day long after a race ends.  I don’t mean beer, although there’s nothing like an ice-cold beer after a hard, sweaty run; I mean water and electrolyte-replacing liquids. You won’t wake up Monday morning feeling hung over if you keep the liquids coming.

Feed your body well

My body always feels weird the entire day after a hard race.  I feel depleted and want to eat, but nothing sounds good.  I’m often tempted to eat pizza or Cheetos.  Racing is a nice excuse to offer myself that kind of reward, but there’s something about a greasy, cheesy slab of dough that just doesn’t sit right with me. Then again, neither does a steak. I can never decide. I find that I have to practically force myself to eat something, and I have to rationally choose the foods best suited to recovery, the right combination of healthy carbs and protein.

Fortunately, I survived the race—and the ice bath.   When’s the next race?

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