I Love Paris When it Sizzles

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Who needs an excuse to go to Paris? I certainly don’t, but a marathon is definitely a very good reason to make the trip! Long-time readers will already know that I’m a big fan of la plus belle ville du monde and, like the 1964 film starring Audrey Hepburn, the titles of my posts this week have been inspired by the words of Cole Porter:

“Every time I look down on this timeless town
Whether blue or gray be her skies.
Whether loud be her cheers or soft be her tears,
More and more do I realize:

I love Paris in the springtime.
I love Paris in the fall.
I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles,
I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles.”

Last weekend most definitely sizzled, providing less than ideal conditions for a marathon (you can read about that experience here) but ideal conditions to enjoy a weekend break. While we didn’t want to tire ourselves out walking miles and miles around the city (so easily done!) when we had a marathon to run, that doesn’t mean we didn’t take advantage of our time in Paris to enjoy some of the other things the city has to offer, so like last year I thought I’d share one or two of the non-running highlights (aka The One Where I Bore You With My Holiday Photos 😉 )

Cuisine
France, of course, is synonymous with fine dining, however some of the more traditional french fare probably wouldn’t sit very well on race day (anyone for steak tartare?!?) so we tended to structure our eating around what we knew would work for us. Our hotel had a great breakfast buffet, but I for one stuck to yoghurt, toast and pastries until after the marathon, then indulged in some sausages and pancakes the day after (but I was so hungry I forgot to photograph it!)

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For lunch the day before the marathon we had a slice of pizza, followed by reliving the joy we discovered last year: the Nutellino. Basically this is Nutella, a shot of coffee and some frothy milk, finished off with an extra teaspoon of Nutella sitting on top. Delicious!

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Dinner that night was onion soup (my favourite) and tagliatelle bolognese in a lovely Italian place we found last year. It’s on the Champs Élysées which can be pricey, but this one is reasonable and always really busy. Proximity to our hotel is another big draw!

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Post-marathon, anything goes! We had our free pint at Frog XVI (they have their own microbrewery and I chose Baba Boom!) and ordered one of their burgers. This one was barbecue, and to be honest I have no idea what it tastes like as I didn’t exactly savour every mouthful (and yes, I did cut the burger and take a bite before I remembered to take a photo -> runger!)

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IMG_1399We rounded off the trip with one last al fresco coffee on the Champs Élysées on Monday morning before heading to the airport (which I followed with an onion soup chaser. What can I say? I was hungry!).

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Well it would be rude not to! We paid a visit to one or two shops in the Carrousel du Louvre, including one of my favourites, Pylones. In the window they had a poster that seemed to be of me living my Paris dream life – I even had a wee cat! I bought myself a replacement for the mug I broke at the end of term with the same design on it which should cheer me up as the new term begins!

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History
Right across from our hotel we spotted these high walls which were clearly much older than the other architecture in the area. Intrigued, I checked my map to find these walls marked the Reservoir de Passy. Further searching online revealed some very interesting information about this reservoir. Built between 1858-66, it’s fed by the Seine and is not drinking water, but it does feed the fountains and parks of the city. Unusually, the reservoir itself sits five storeys above ground (it’s described as being like a series of swimming pools) and is open to the elements. There is a network of tunnels below the reservoir which were used as torture chambers by the French Gestapo during the Occupation.

IMG_1362By way of further intrigue, we also learned that the headquarters of the French Gestapo were nearby, on the very same street as our hotel, so we couldn’t resist a little walk to go and check it out.

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IMG_1363Maybe it puts a firm stamp on our vintage, but all Steve and I could think about was popular ’80s sitcom ‘Allo ‘Allo and couldn’t help wondering if we were on the brink of locating the painting of The Fallen Madonna!

Sightseeing
You can’t go to a city and not take in the sights. To be honest, most of ours was covered by the Breakfast Run and Marathon, but we still managed to fit in a bit of larking about for the camera!

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That blue line on the road marks where the marathon started. Apart from that there’s no sign that a race took place there just 24hrs before!

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I don’t know what all the fuss is about. The Eiffel Tower is quite small 😉

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Having my selfies infiltrated again!

I’ll leave you with the words of T.S. Eliot, who captures my feelings about Paris beautifully. The marathon may have proved tougher than expected this time, but we still had a fantastic weekend.

“Yet with these April sunsets, that somehow recall

My buried life, and Paris in the spring,

I feel immeasurably at peace, and find the world

To be wonderful and youthful after all”

From Collected Poems 1909-1962

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Where is your favourite place in the world and why?
How would you spend a weekend in Paris?

Paris When it Sizzles Pt3 – Marathon de Paris 2017

If you’ve read my previous posts on my trip to Paris last weekend (if not you can catch up here and here) then you’ll know it was a pretty busy weekend. And if you read my week in review then you’ll also know that marathon day didn’t entirely go to plan. In this post, you’ll learn a bit more about what happened.

IMG_1376Like any marathoner, in the days preceding the race I developed an obsession with checking the weather forecast for Sunday. The pattern went a bit like this:

Day 1 – Sunday = hot
Day 2 – Sunday = hotter
Day 3 – Sunday = hotter still…

And so on. Not the best conditions for this poor Scot who trained through the rains and winds of winter, with temperatures peaking around 12C (low 50s F). Everyone I spoke to over race weekend said the same: It’s going to be hot. Keep hydrated. I’ll probably take it easy…

Take it easy? But I put in weeks and weeks of training to get a sub-4, I wrote about it all over my blog and actually confessed to my goal whenever someone asked. Here it was looking like that goal was drifting away before the race had even begun.

So I reset my goal.

Instead of fighting to hit my paces, I would start out comfortably and just see what happened. If it became obvious that a sub-4 was out of the question, then I would just enter another race and try again. With that settled in my mind, it became much easier to head into race day without massive pressure to perform.

Race day began, of course, with an early alarm call. We knew that the hotel would serve breakfast from 6:30 and wanted to be down there as early as possible to give us plenty of time to finish getting ready before walking over to Avenue Foch, which we had realised we could reach really quickly from where we were.

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As we walked up to drop off our bags, it was already clear that it was going to be a warm day. Normally I would wear a long sleeved top, or at the very least some arm warmers, and feel slightly cool walking to the race, but not this time. This time I was wearing exactly what I would wear to run, with no extras. And I felt perfectly comfortable. Just how warm was it going to get? And when?

Like last year, there was a security check to enter the runners’ area. First our race numbers were checked, then a bag check, but this was fairly quick and we had expected it anyway. We both dropped off our bags, took a couple of photos and headed for the toilet queues before walking the short distance to the Champs Élysées (where there was a second check of race numbers) and the access points for each wave. Since I had hoped for a sub-4 time I was in the 3:45 wave and Steve was in the 3:15, so after one final selfie we parted ways to join the crowds trying to access the start area (this happens every year and my advice is just expect it and go with it – you’ll get in fine as the waves start to move forward).

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Once inside the start area I had a bit of space to take in my surroundings and snap a couple of pictures. I then decided I’d best have one last toilet stop (you know how it is – as soon as you think about nipping to the loo you immediately HAVE to go!) so joined a short queue. Unfortunately as I waited the 4 hour group was walked forward, engulfing the area I was standing in, which meant an inevitable delay to my start time as I would miss my wave heading out. I did manage to squeeze my way to the front of this wave, but in addition to the wave starts, Paris also splits the waves into the left and right hand sides of the road and staggers their starts. This allows volunteers to clear any discarded clothing/bottles/pre-marathon debris from the road. My group was walked forwards to the start line, then the right hand side was set off first and it seemed to take forever. At one point I wondered if all 57,000 entrants were being allowed through in this one group! A few people stared to climb over the barriers into this wave, but it seemed more sensible just to wait it out. The race is chip timed so there is no need to worry. Experience of this event has taught me just to be patient around the start and go with the flow.

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Eventually, we were underway. I had decided to listen to podcasts during the race to give me something to focus on, but didn’t start the first one immediately to give me a chance to monitor my pace and settle in to my rhythm. I waited until after the first mile to press play when I felt that I had adjusted into a suitable pace.

For the first 5k along to the Bastille, everything was ticking along nicely. I was right on my target pace and was managing to run in the shade at the side of the road. This continued until the 5 mile mark when I took my first gel, but by the time I hit 10k and the Bois de Vincennes it was starting to feel bit harder. The course had been narrow at points which had slowed me down, there were some short inclines and all of a sudden the sun was beating down with no real respite.

My second gel at 10 miles gave me a lift, as did the cheer point from one of my favourite groups the Paris Frontrunners, part of an international LGBT running organisation. The gentlemen of the group, in drag, cheering us on and waving pompoms always makes me smile and gives renewed energy for the next part of the course.

But by the time I reached half way I was beginning to flag. I already knew I was off pace for a sub-4, but now a PB was slipping away as well. At first this worried me, not because of my desire for a PB, but because it was feeling hard much sooner than it should. Having spoken to others after the race, I felt much better as everyone described reaching a point (somewhere between 13-18 miles) at which they just thought, “nope,” and switched their attention to simply getting to the end. Thinking about the relative paces of these runners and the times they began the race, I think everyone came up against this at roughly the same time of day, towards the later part of the morning and what is effectively the hottest part of the day. But when you’re mid-race and alone (or as alone as you can be when surrounded by tens of thousands of others having the same struggle!) it’s hard to know that.

What I remember is of having a very strange experience: my legs weren’t sore, nothing was tight or off, it was just getting more and more difficult to get my legs to move. I described it to Steve as being like wading through treacle and he said he felt something similar. Presumably the heat (I think it rose to about 24C/mid 70s F rapidly and there was no shade other than the tunnels along the quai) was sucking all the energy away as our bodies were having to work so much harder to keep us cool. I noted my heart rate was higher than it had been on training runs where I was running quicker and knew that this race was just going to be about completing the distance healthily.

The further I ran, the more I saw people who were struggling – people at the side of the road clearly in a bad way, people on stretchers and the sounds of ambulance sirens. I would imagine most of this was caused by dehydration and was glad I had opted to fill my hydration pack right up with an electrolyte drink. I also picked up water at each aid station to take a sip and pour water down my back. And as for the hoses – what sweet relief! They were icy cold and each run through would elicit an involuntary noise, but it was so worth it!

At mile 18 beyond the Eiffel Tower I took a cup of that delightful pink Isostar drink that I believe to be rocket fuel. I always run well after that, but sadly it doesn’t last all the way to the end!

One thing I did find interesting was that despite the need for walking breaks to cool down and taking my time at aid stations collecting a sugar lump and orange segment, I was constantly surrounded by the same people, always looking at the same running tops. Clearly everyone was having the same battle that day in Paris. And despite my perception of not running well/taking lots of walk breaks, when I watched my race video I was doing something resembling decent running in every single part. It just goes to show how your perception can be skewed by the tough moments!

There was a slight change to the final miles this year, meaning the run through the Bois de Boulogne was a little different. I knew my watch was about 0.2ish of a mile ahead of the mile markers, so just kept trusting the information I was seeing, knowing that the end would finally come. Finally passing the 26 mile sign at the roundabout outside the Bois de Boulogne is the sign that the finish line is near, and that’s where I found my extra spurt to take me to the end – I even made a valiant effort to race Superman, but he got me right at the end!

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Finally crossing the line and stopping my watch, I fully expected the usual wave of emotion and tears that accompany the end of a marathon…but they didn’t come. On reflection, I think my reframing the event as a long training run meant that despite my relief at being able to stop running once and for all, that same rush wasn’t there. I hadn’t achieved what I had set out to do on this occasion, and was simply using this run as a stepping stone towards running an autumn race. The fact that I didn’t wake up feeling like my legs were on backwards was further testament to this: the race felt tough, but I clearly didn’t work all-out otherwise my legs would have felt much worse.

As I moved through the finish area collecting my T-shirt, medal and refreshments (I opted for water, another banana, an apple and enjoyed an orange segment on the move) I noticed lots of people seeking medical attention, more than I think I’ve noticed before, and felt glad once again to have reached the finish line without any ill-effects.

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Reclaimed bag in hand, I went to find Steve who was waiting for me at the agreed spot having had a very similar race experience to me. I got myself sorted out then we joined the queue for some photos. Isostar France had set up a couple of backdrops and were advertising free photos which would be published on their Facebook page. We got a photo together at one backdrop then went to the other for individual photos. We then shuffled off to take photos next to the rather apt “I made it” backdrop before our short walk back to the hotel (and the “Everest” that was the stairs to our room!).

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The first thing I did was lie with my legs up the wall for a good 10-15 minutes which really made me feel better. It was then time for a shower, change and catch up on social media posts before heading out to meet some others for some food. We opted for a nearby pub which we had been to before as we had spotted this encouraging sign the day before:

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We then rounded off our day with a short walk along to the Tocadéro to watch the Eiffel Tower as it was lit up with sparkling lights.

 

This marathon may not have been what I wanted it to be, but I’m not letting it get me down. There are some things you can control on race day – clothing, nutrition, attitude – and some you can’t, weather being one of the most obvious. Could I have pushed to run faster? Maybe, but I would probably not have made it to the end of the race and would be facing a lengthy recovery period before I could run again. By making the decision to ease off and simply complete the race, I know I’m in a strong position to train through the summer and enter an autumn marathon to have another go at breaking that 4 hour mark. A marathon is a strange beast: training can go absolutely perfectly yet anything can happen on the day. Much as I love Paris, this simply wasn’t the time for me to reach my goal. Next time, things might be very different. At the end of the day, with 4:32:07 I still ran a respectable time, even though my perception of it was that I performed badly. That tells me there’s much more in me and a faster time IS possible. Besides, I just had a weekend in Paris. What’s not to like about that?

 

Paris When it Sizzles Pt2 – Breakfast Run

Often a real highlight of the Paris Marathon weekend for me is the Breakfast Run. For just a few Euros (I paid 12 Euros extra when I booked my marathon place) you get a good quality tech T-shirt and access to a fantastic 5(ish)k run followed by breakfast. Ever since the first time we took part in this event I have loved the atmosphere, so was excited to return and experience the new route this year.

IMG_1205In the past, the Breakfast Run began at the marathon finish line, winding its way by the Trocadéro, over the Pont d’Iéna and around the Eiffel Tower to the other side of the Champ de Mars. This year, a new route was on offer. I’m not sure why it was changed, however it did strike me that the new route meant there would be no public access to the runner area (finish line etc) on Avenue Foch once it was set up, thus increasing security in a time of heightened alert.

The new route began at the Place du Palais Royal along Rue de Rivoli. This was perfectly walkable from our hotel, but in a bid to save our legs we decided to walk the short distance to the Champs Élysées, avoid the massive metro station at Charles de Gaulle Étoile (basically around the Arc de Triomphe) and get on the metro at the much smaller George V station for the handful of stops along to the Palais Royal (one of the stops for the Louvre).

As soon as we stepped out of the metro it was quite clear we were in the right place. All we could see were people dressed in the same branded T-shirt as us… and flags. Lots and lots of flags. People were milling about chatting, taking photos and, as you would expect, joining the queue for the loos. We were on the lookout for various people we were expecting to see, and despite it being quite hard to spot anyone in these circumstances (not only was everyone pretty much dressed the same, but there were apparently 3000 people signed up to run!) we quickly managed to find our German friend Stefan whom we met at the after-party last year. We also managed to locate our friends from Dundee (the ones we had caught up with at the departure gate in Edinburgh the day before), as well as a local couple we were expecting to see, and I was keeping an eye out for Tina aka She Who Dares Runs who had contacted me the day before we left to say she had secured a place to cover the marathon for Women’s Running UK and suggested trying to meet and say hello as we have been reading each other’s blogs for a while now (hi Tina!).

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IMG_1219While we were hanging about, I did have a couple of very unusual (for me) experiences. I guess I forget that people other than my friends and family might actually read what I post, so on the odd occasion, usually travelling to a big race, that someone actually recognises me from my blog, I tend to be quite surprised. As Steve and I stood around, another runner came over and said, “are you the blogger?”. I think my surprise was evident to the poor guy as I responded in the affirmative, but it was really nice to be approached like that, and even nicer when he got in touch later to identify himself and explain a bit more about how he recognised me. He might be reading this, so hi Carl!

But by far the strangest thing happened when I was waiting for Steve to reappear from the toilets. A runner came over brandishing a phone and making the internationally-recognised sign for taking a photo. Since Steve and I were wearing our kilts for the run, we have grown used to people wanting pictures as a kilt does tend to draw attention, so I assumed this to be the case again. But no. Not only did this guy want a photo, he seemed to recognise me from the blog and was quite excited about it. A rather bewildered Stefan took the photo for him, and I was quite glad he was there to witness the moment as I’m not sure Steve would have believed me otherwise. Why not? Because the guy who wanted the photo was from Hong Kong. Yes, Hong Kong! Who knew my blog had ever reached Hong Kong!!! Now I feel internationally famous lol!

IMG_1217Shortly after this it was time to get underway. The route took us from the Place du Palais Royal, across Rue de Rivoli and into the Place du Carrousel where the famous pyramid is located. This meant our first photo stop and in among the melée we managed to lose sight of Stefan.

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IMG_1226After this it was along the quai and over the Pont Royal with the Musée d’Orsay on the other side. We stopped on the bridge for some photos as the Breakfast Run is untimed and not at all competitive so times don’t matter. It’s an event all about experience and friendship – more of a display or procession than a race.

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IMG_1232We then followed the quai along the river Seine past the Pont Alexandre III until we reached the Pont d’Iéna. Again, stopping at various points for photos.

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IMG_1243From this point, the remainder of the route was the same as previous years as we came up from the Quai de la Bourdonnais, along Avenue de la Bourdonnais and made a final right turn onto Place Joffre to the finish in front of the École Militaire where there was a real party atmosphere.

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IMG_1252Once over the line we stopped for some more photographs, mostly with complete strangers drawn by our kilts, during which I heard my name called and turned to see Tina – she had actually managed to find me among all those people! Circumstances meant it was a bit of a rushed meeting, but we did manage a selfie and I was most excited to later feature on a post on the Women’s Running UK instagram account!
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fullsizeoutput_1da1Photos done, we headed for the tables with breakfast laid out. In the past this has been a bit of a scrum, but this year felt much better organised with a proper queue formed and croissants/pains au chocolat being handed out by volunteers. Much less pushing and shoving! I managed to score a pain au chocolat, coffee, banana and bottle of water. I drank the coffee while queueing for my banana and water, but the rest we took over to a bench with a front row view of the Eiffel Tower. Not bad for breakfast al fresco!

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IMG_1255Suitably refuelled, we began our amble across the Champ de Mars, which always takes a while as we stop to talk to so many people and take advantage of the great photo opportunities. We first had a chat with some women from Canada – I hope they had a great marathon – then caught up with the Dundee contingent for a while. I was also intrigued to see an impromptu yoga class taking place in the Champ de Mars and was inspired to do one or two poses myself!

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IMG_1329Finally, we reached the Eiffel Tower and due to some new security measures there, we were unable to walk underneath so instead took a path around the side which turned out to be beautiful. There were gorgeous gardens and stunning views of the tower framed by trees. I’m really glad we took that route and will definitely go that way again in future.

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I was impressed that SCHNEIDER Electric managed to get their branding everywhere 😉

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Our final stop before returning to the hotel (which was within easy walking distance by this point) was the Trocadéro to take in the tower views. Over the last few years there has been some work going on around this area which often obstructed the view. This work isn’t quite finished, but there is much more space now to get some nice photos of the Eiffel Tower.

IMG_1343Once more, The Breakfast Run didn’t disappoint and we had a great morning enjoying the famous sights of Paris (along with one or two others with the same idea lol!). Here’s some of the Facebook Live video from the last section of the run that was posted on the official marathon page. The last minute or so gives a real flavour of the atmosphere:

If you’re ever in Paris for the marathon weekend, I highly recommend taking part in this event. You never know, you might see me there…!

Next up: Marathon day!

Paris When it Sizzles Pt1 – Salon du Running

In common with many other big races, the first point of call for anyone taking on the marathon challenge in Paris is the expo, known as the Salon du Running. This is where you have your medical certificate checked and collect your race pack (as well as any extras like Breakfast Run entries, sightseeing tickets or pasta party access). As with other years, we headed there straight from the airport as we’ve found this makes the rest of the weekend much easier. We had a late check in at our hotel and the expo was open until 9pm, so this made sense.

The Salon du Running is held at the Parc des Expositions at Porte de Versailles on the south side of Paris, and getting there from Charles de Gaulle airport in the north is pretty straightforward. We always get the RER into the centre of Paris then change to the metro, but this year we were given the tip that we could get the RER as far as Cité-Universitaire then get a tram right to Porte de Versailles from there. That meant only one change and in a small station which made it even easier. It was really nice to go on the tram and see a bit of Paris above ground in the early evening after spending most of the day confined to transport.

On arrival at the Parc des Expositions it was clear that security had been further tightened up from last year. Visitors were separated into runners collecting their bibs (or dossards in French) and those just visiting to see the exhibitors. At this point there was a bag check before we were allowed anywhere near the exhibition hall.

IMG_1169Once inside, the first thing to do is take your medical certificate and ID to be checked. All runners are sent a notification document (convocation) in advance to print out and bring, and this is stamped when your medical certificate is accepted. You then take this document to the right desk to collect your race pack (race number, bag tag and safety pins). This section of the expo alone is pretty big and there’s still so much more to do!

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IMG_1171Number in hand, we usually head for the display with the medal and finishers’ T-shirt so we can see what we will be earning that weekend.

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IMG_1172We then move on to collect our runner’s bag which this year was another foldable rucksack (in a different colour and this time featuring side pockets for a drinks bottle) containing a leaflet and sample of tiger balm. I’m sure there were a couple of other items last year!

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IMG_1199This time we then collected our T-shirts and flags for the Breakfast Run, confirmed the new start point for the event and had a look at the map to get an idea of where we would be running.

fullsizeoutput_1cfbAnd then, some fun. There are always tons of photo opportunities such as the Tag Heuer clock counting down to the start, the wall with the names of all the registered runners (it’s tricky to find yours, but perseverance does it!) and some other backdrops.

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We then passed through a mock-up of an aid station (they were using this to educate runners about the recycling opportunities at the aid stations I think) to head into the main part of the expo, starting with the gift shop!

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I always like to buy myself a souvenir so bought a plum-coloured tech T-shirt with the date of the race and course map on it and a zip up hoody with the race details on the back.

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IMG_1442From there, we wandered through the various exhibits until we found what we were most interested in: the pasta party! We hadn’t purchased tickets for this in advance as we wanted to wait and see what was on offer, but we had enjoyed the deal on offer last time and there was something similar again. For 12 Euros (I think!) we could get a pasta dish, drink (including a beer) and dessert. I decided on pasta bolognese, beer and a nutella crepe, although I did have to have a bit of an argument (in French!) to get the beer as the barman kept insisting it wasn’t in the deal. Eventually he got someone else over who told him it was. A bit embarrassing all round, but I really wanted that beer and wasn’t going to give up!

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While we were eating there was a yoga class taking place nearby which I enjoyed watching a bit of, then we meandered our way to the exit via one last photo op with Asics. They had a backdrop set up and you could get both a printout of the photo and have it emailed to you, which was cool. Their setup also let you add filters but I preferred the original version.

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After that, we were done. It would be really easy to spend hours among the stands at the expo, especially when it’s busy, so going on Friday evening was definitely best as it freed up Saturday for the Breakfast Run and some pre-race relaxation rather than the stress of being on our feet for ages to pick up our race packs. We were able to get to our hotel in good time to unpack and get organised before getting a good sleep. And look what we could see from the end of the road:

IMG_1198Always a beautiful sight!

Keep an eye out for Pt2 – The Breakfast Run

Week in Review – Race Week

And just like that, it was race week! Looking back, it hardly seems like any time at all since I began the year with the New Year Triple, but in reality there are many miles between the 1st of January and the first week of April. Today I’m linking up with Jessie @ The Right Fits and Jess @ Jess Runs ATL to share my preparations for race day.

Since it was the second week of my two week taper, things were a little gentler this week, while still maintaining the rhythm of my training. I also had the benefit of being off school for our spring break, so that meant more opportunity to relax at home and feel better rested for the big day. Here’s how my week looked:

Mondayswim rest plus sports massage
Tuesday – bike intervals at the gym then swim
Wednesday – 4 miles easy
Thursday – PT session plus Ashtanga yoga
Friday – travel to Paris
Saturday – Breakfast Run
Sunday – marathon!!

As you can see, I made a little tweak at the start of the week by removing my Monday swim. I’ve written a couple of times about my elderly cat (she’s 16 and a half!) who now has an age-related health condition. This can be managed, but she can be prone to infections and other side effects of her condition and she had been unwell over the weekend, indicating a need for a change to her medication. I hadn’t slept well due to listening out for her through the night (I suspect it was a bit like having a sick child!) and had an appointment for her at the vet on Monday afternoon so I decided to stay at home and keep an eye on her instead of going to the pool. The good news is that her new medication has her bouncing back and much more herself again, which has been quite a relief for me. To get a bit of movement in my day I simply walked to my sports massage then shifted my swim to Tuesday.

IMG_1093That swim came after my bike workout. I made this my final hard workout of this training cycle and completed 20 reps of my intervals – the peak number at every stage. It felt a bit different doing them in the morning, but I felt strong and this gave me some confidence in my fitness which was consolidated by a decent swim afterwards. I then enjoyed a short time in the hot tub and sauna before heading home for a restful afternoon. My post-bike selfie also provided some entertainment for people on social media. Clearly I worked hard lol!

IMG_1094On Wednesday my traditional hill reps were replaced by an easy run to keep my legs turning over. Steve suggested about 4 miles and I set off on a loop I quite like, guessing a bit at the distance. It turned out to be 4.75 miles. Oops! Still, it was a nice start to the day and in the afternoon my parents, fresh back from a winter in Florida, visited for a cup of tea and a discussion of the cat’s medical needs since they would be taking care of her over the weekend.

IMG_1096Thursday was a beautiful day. The kind of day that makes you want to go for a run, but by this point my running legs were being rested ahead of the marathon, so after I had done all the things I needed to do to get organised for the weekend (by which I mean making lots of lists. I do love a list!), I decided to take a walk in the sunshine and enjoy poking about some of the nearby paths that I run along while I could take advantage of a more leisurely pace. I’d have loved to stay out longer but had packing to do!

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IMG_1151In the early evening I then headed to the studio for my usual PT session with Steve for some final work on my upper back mobility. Yet again, he couldn’t resist diving into my selfies!

IMG_1159After that, Ashtanga yoga. I REALLY enjoyed the class this week. I felt centred and like I flowed well between postures and in some I felt like my flexibility had improved a little more. I suspect things will feel a bit different next time in my post-marathon body! If I can get anywhere near my toes it will be a miracle lol!

Friday is usually my rest day, but this time it was my travel day. I got up early to make sure I had time to not only get myself ready, but to make sure I had given my furbaby all her assorted medications before leaving so that it would be a little easier for mum later in the day. I had packed everything for my trip the night before, so it was just a case of popping in the last minute items then we were off to the airport. We had expected to bump into Simon, who we had first met under similar circumstances last year, but before that we also bumped into Steve’s friend Fiona who now lives in Paris but had been back in Scotland for a few days and was heading back home to run the marathon as well. The departure gate at the airport is starting to feel like an annual reunion of the Paris marathon runners ha! We chatted a bit while waiting to board which helped to pass the time. Once on board, we discovered that there was an ITV film crew involved in making a documentary about becoming a pilot on board the flight. They were mainly filming in the cockpit but were also getting some shots around the cabin. I’ll now have to watch out for this coming on TV just in case I can spot myself!
IMG_1167The remainder of the weekend will be covered in more detail in separate posts, however I’ll include some highlights here:
Our first port of call in Paris was the Expo to collect our race packs. We ate there at the pasta party, had a look around the exhibits then headed for the hotel to unpack and get some rest (after a quick walk to pick up some bottles of water, during which I “returned the favour” with Steve’s selfie!).

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IMG_7550Saturday we were up bright and early for coffee and croissants before heading over to the Place du Palais Royal for the start of the Breakfast Run which was using a new route this year. I always love this event as it truly has such an international feel and we always find ourselves chatting to complete strangers, bound by the spirit of the marathon, and often stay in touch with many of these people via social media or our blogs afterwards. This year was no exception, and of course I have a photo or a hundred to remember the experience! Afterwards we enjoyed a second breakfast of coffee, pain au chocolat, banana and water while taking in a lovely view of the Eiffel Tower across the Champ de Mars!

IMG_1252 IMG_1268We then meandered back to the hotel to get changed then headed out for some lunch and a few “errands” before opting for an afternoon nap and some chill out time back at the hotel before dinner. Basically it was a day revolving around food and marathon preparations!

IMG_1340On Sunday we were up early to get breakfast as soon as it was available, before getting organised for the short walk to the start/finish area. I had been watching the forecast all week and every time I looked, it was getting warmer. Walking up to drop my bag off before 8am without any need for warm clothing was already an indication that temperatures were going to soar. In the end, that put paid to my plans for a sub-4 time. I’ll write more about this in another post, but I know from speaking to others that practically everyone was much slower than anticipated and had to reset their goals in order to complete the race. It may have been disappointing on the day, but my time of 4:32:07 is actually my second fastest marathon time ever thanks to my oddly chequered history with the distance, and knowing that this was a below par performance gives me hope that I CAN do it under different circumstances. Once I’m recovered, I’ll be thinking about my next marathon and having another go at that elusive goal.

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IMG_1389And that’s it. A valuable reminder that it doesn’t matter how well your training goes, there can still be a spanner in the works come race day. You can only control so many things, and sadly the weather isn’t one of them. By resetting my goal I finished feeling healthy and injury-free so I can pick myself up, dust myself off and live to race another day. That’s way more important than risking my health over a finish time.

Look out for further Paris-related posts later this week with all the details!

Did you run or race in the heat this weekend? How did it go?
Anything you’d like me to write more about in my Paris roundups?

‘Your Pace or Mine?’ Follow Up: A Running Record

In my recent review of Lisa Jackson’s Your Pace or Mine, I noted that the final section of the book is given over to the reader to use as a record of their running. I really liked this idea, but since I read the book on my Kindle rather than in paper format, I didn’t have the opportunity to fill my record in. Instead, I thought it might be fun to write up my record book (to date) as a blog post. It’s going to be a long one so put the kettle on!

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Favourite Race Photo
I have a few photos that I like: some from mid-race, some post-race medal shots and some of me leaping around like a loony after a run. But when it comes to actual race photos, my all-time favourite is this one from the Paris Marathon in 2016. I was undertrained thanks to being stopped in my tracks by a stress fracture at the end of 2015, but on race day I was injury-free and determined to get out there and enjoy a self-conducted running tour of my favourite city. I ran it my own way, stopped to take photos and enjoyed a buffet of orange segments, sugar lumps and that pink sports drink they hand out that acts like rocket fuel! When the photographers snapped me in the finishing straight, I looked like I’d had an awesome time, even though I was completely exhausted and my legs were begging for mercy. Sometimes you just have to forget your race goals and go out there to have fun.

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Name
Allison a.k.a The Running Princess

Date When Started Running
I don’t have the exact date for this one as my diaries from that part of my life are not all that detailed. That said, I can remember the day itself clearly. It was the beginning of term in August of 2005. We actually started on my birthday that year and it’s entirely possible that it was actually on my birthday that I went for my first run. My friend who is a PE teacher (and at the time we were car sharing for work as well) took me to the local park and told me to start running at the pace I thought was about right. Predictably, I set off far too fast and didn’t get very far at all. My friend then sorted out my pace and so began weeks of building up the length of time I could run before having a walk break (which had to be shorter then the running time). The first time I ran all the way round the park (about a mile and a  half) without stopping was my first big running milestone.

Age When Started Running
I was just about clinging on to my twenties when I took those first tentative steps, however I was in my early thirties before meeting Steve and venturing beyond the odd slow 5k plod.

Reasons Why I Run
My first ever blog post was all about why I run, but I suppose that was really only about why I started, not why I run now. At first it was all about a personal challenge and wanting to raise funds for charity in memory of my gran; now, running is a habit. In many ways it continues to be a personal challenge as I look to improve my times or push myself in new ways, but even without that challenge I would still want to run and it only takes a spell of injury to remind me of how important running is for clearing my head, helping me to manage stress, releasing endorphins and giving my thoughts some clarity. I love how running makes me feel both mentally and physically as it helps me to keep sane as well as fit. Running makes my body lean and strong. And it also makes me hungry! I love the appetite running gives me and surprising people with exactly how much food I can put away!

IMG_0605Proudest Running Moments
Running has given me lots of opportunities to feel proud of myself, so narrowing it down to just a few was a bit challenging! Here are some of my highlights:

  1. Completing my first ever marathon in Paris in 2010
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  2. Running my first ever sub-2 hour half marathon at Aviemore in 2012
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  3. Topping the podium for the first time ever when I won my age group at the Cool Summer Mornings 5k in 2013
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  4. Running my marathon PB in Paris in 2014
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  5. That time I ran 4 races in one weekend at the Edinburgh Marathon Festival 2015
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  6. Finishing as second female and ninth overall!) in the Caped Crusader 5k in 2016
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‘Dreaming Big’ Goals (Races, Places, Times)
I love this heading. A chance for me to think about the things I would do if there was absolutely nothing to stop me. I would love to run all the marathon majors, something which isn’t an option for me right now as they don’t all fit in with my school holidays. I’ve run London, but would love to go back again with a Good For Age time. Right now that would be sub 3:45, a full 20 minutes faster than my current PB. We are dreaming big though! I would also love to do a Run Disney race. I know there’s a half marathon at Disneyland Paris now, but my ultimate dream would be the Walt Disney World marathon. My sister has done this, but again I’m held back by my school terms. Finally, there’s this year’s goal of some race PBs: if I’m dreaming big then it’s a sub-4 marathon, a sub-1:55 half marathon and a sub-50 10k. My other dream is to run in Central Park. It doesn’t have to be a race, I’d just love the experience of lacing up my trainers and heading off for a run in such a famous location.

Most Memorable Races
I’ve got a lot of wonderful memories from racing, but I think I’m going to pick my “firsts”:

  1. My first ever “proper” race – the Kinross 10k in 2009
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  2. My first ever half marathon – Aviemore in 2009. Memorable because Steve proposed the night before so all I can remember of the race is running along lost in thoughts of wedding dresses, possible venues and the most fun way to tell my parents later that day!
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  3. My first ever marathon – Paris in 2010
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  4. My first ever experience of the Paris Breakfast Run in 2014
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I’d also like to include running around the race circuit at Knockhill for the Graham Clark Memorial race, running over the Forth Road Bridge as part of a 10k race, and, of course, that time I ran a 10k PB (by one second!) at the Great Scottish Run then proudly announced my achievement to one of my running heroes, Paula Radcliffe!
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And although not technically a race, I’m including an honourable mention for parkrun during the I Am Team GB weekend when I got to meet a local Olympian and see a Rio medal up close.

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Favourite Running Motto/Mantra/Race Sign/Motivational Quote
My favourite mantra is “I can, I am, I’m strong” which I came up with for my first marathon. I had picked up an injury and seemed to be surrounded by people telling me that running my marathon was impossible. My mantra was a way to fight back against all the people saying, “you can’t” and remind myself that anything is possible.
I don’t often remember race signs, but I do love seeing all the firemen out in force in Paris with signs slung from their ladders declaring “les pompiers sont avec vous” (the firemen are with you). As for a motivational quote, it has to be this one:

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Funniest Running Moments/Favourite Stories Heard on Runs
Well, there was that time I got charged at by some scary looking cows whilst taking part in a trail race. Unfortunately the race route was such that I then had to run back through the same field on my return. Thankfully the cows had moved on to another part of the field by then!
There was also the time I did the Edinburgh Winter Run around Arthur’s Seat. It was freezing cold and as I came down off the hill it started snowing. I thought this was absolutely hilarious so the official photos showed me laughing like an idiot in the middle of a blizzard!

Favourite Medals/Race T-shirts
Funnily enough, I have a fair few of these! After a bit of thinking, I’ve decided on the medal and finisher’s T-shirt from Paris in 2010 (my first marathon), my London Marathon medal and, as a collection, my 4 Paris Marathon medals and the commemorative T-shirt I bought to mark the 40th edition last year. As a bonus, I’m also going to include a medal from a virtual race – the Platform 9 3/4k from the Hogwarts Running Club, an event I’ve participated in 3 times now.

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Charities Fundraised For and Amounts Raised
Since I began running to raise funds for charity, you’d think I would know exactly what my total is. But I don’t. Back then donations were made by sponsorship form, however I think across the 3 times I’ve run the 5k Race For Life I’ve probably raised around £150 for Cancer Research.

An early example of my signature "medal pose"!

In 2011 I pledged my support to a local charity, PKAVS (Perth & Kinross Association of Voluntary Services). They provide support to a number of different groups, perhaps most especially known for supporting young carers. I was inspired to help as a friend works for the charity and listening to her describing the challenges some people faced made me feel I should do something about it. Working alongside the charity, we set up the idea of “going that extra mile”, with participants joining teams for the Edinburgh Marathon Relay. Most were new to running and Steve put on weekly training sessions (often aided by moi) to help everyone prepare. For me, it was actually an extra 26.2 miles as I committed to running both the London and Edinburgh marathons which were just a few weeks apart. It was my first really big challenge which I completed, with a PB (since beaten) in Edinburgh and a total of £800 raised for a good cause. It was a real family affair as Steve also ran the marathon while both my dad and my sister were in relay teams.

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More recently, Steve and I took on an even bigger challenge when we decided to fundraise for Macmillan Cancer Support following our experiences of seeing family members and others close to us battling cancer. In 2014 I was supposed to run 3 marathons (Paris, Edinburgh and Loch Ness) however injury forced me to withdraw from Loch Ness and replace it with an all-new challenge: cycling! I took to two wheels and completed Cycletta Scotland which had Macmillan as the title sponsor. In 2015 I decided to take care of my unfinished business by running the Paris marathon for Macmillan in order to complete that triple marathon challenge I had set. But, being one who never does things by half, I also decided to go bigger with my cycling and take on the Etape Caledonia. I then rounded off what was basically a spring challenge by taking on the Edinburgh Marathon Festival – 5k and 10k on Saturday then half marathon and final leg of the relay on Sunday (logisitcs meant it wasn’t possible for me to go from the half to the full marathon). With over £5000 raised in 2014 (with massive thanks to my friend Ian and his clients for their support) and a further £1000 in 2015, that made a grand total of over £6000 raised for Macmillan. Phew!

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Biggest Challenges Overcome in Races
Generally speaking, my biggest challenge is injury. I have completed marathons despite being in a great deal of the wrong kind of discomfort (I’m looking at you Lochaber Marathon of Pain!) and also when undertrained as a result of injury. This is why I believe I’ve never truly demonstrated what I’m capable of over 26.2 miles.  But the fact that I’ve completed those races demonstrates that I can overcome challenges, usually with an altered goal.

Races With Best Snacks/Entertainment/Crowd Support
Without a doubt the best snacks have been at US races, particularly the Cool Summer Mornings 5k which often has post-race hot dogs, pretzels, beer, etc despite the fact that these will be consumed around 8am! The Chocolate Sundae Run, while a bit of a boring route, did have the draw of ice cream at the finish line! I also enjoy the on course “buffet” at the Paris Marathon as they lay out raisins, sugar lumps, sliced banana and orange segments. I can say without a word of a lie that those oranges have been the greatest thing I’ve ever tasted and a sugar lump late on the in race provides a fantastic boost to get you moving.
IMG_6102 When it comes to both entertainment and crowd support, the title needs to be shared by both London and Paris. I run with one earphone in so I can tune into my music if I need to without having to faff about, but I have absolutely no recollection at all of actually listening to my playlist in London thanks to all the various places blaring out music along the route, the wall of noise in Canary Wharf and the unwavering crowd support in the final stages along the Embankment when every fibre of your being is screaming to stop but every time you do, someone shouts at you to keep on going. In Paris there has always been phenomenal support from “Les Pompiers” but perhaps not as big a crowd as in London. That all changed in 2016 when, probably in an act of defiance at the atrocities that have taken place in the city in recent times, the streets were lined with supporters cheering the runners on and fighting back against those who commit such terrible acts. Paris also prides itself on the huge number of “animations” (entertainment) along the route. There are an assortment of bands in just about every genre you can think of from rock and pop to a bit of German oompahpah and the always fun samba bands. Many have dancers as well and the lift the entertainment gives the runners is visible.

Favourite Fancy-Dress Outfits
Running in fancy dress is not really my thing, but it has happened:

  1. Taking part in a Santa Run every year
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  2. Wearing my kilt for both the Perth Kilt Run and the Paris Breakfast Run
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3. Celebrating our parkun’s birthday with fancy dress. So far a beach party theme (in November!) and a superhero theme. To be honest, I quite enjoyed running as Supergirl!
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Most Beautiful Places Run In
I live in Scotland so beautiful places to run are often just a few minutes away and I love nothing more in nice weather (it can be a bit miserable and lonely when the weather isn’t so good).
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Away from my standard training runs, the Lochaber Marathon was beautiful, even if I didn’t really enjoy the race thanks to an injury flaring up. And of course, there’s my beloved Paris. What a beautiful city to run in !
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Countries I’ve Run In
Scotland (obviously), England (London Marathon), France (Paris Marathon), USA (training runs and events in Florida every July). I’m really going to have to work on adding to that list!

Cities I’ve Run In
6/7 of the Scottish Cities: Perth, Dundee, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Stirling, Inverness
London
Paris
Davenport, Florida
Winter Park, Florida
Tampa, Florida
Clermont, Florida

Marathon Majors Completed
Only London. One day…

Friends I’ve Made Through Running
Running has brought a lot of people into my life, from those I’ve trained for marathons with (connected for life!) to those I consider my “parkrun family”. Running also led me to blogging and there are several people I’ve come into contact with through blogging that I would probably never have met otherwise like Jaynie, Danielle and Kyla. It’s also what ultimately brought me to the Tough Girl Tribe and the fantastic women there. Running is such a fantastically inclusive community and provides a shared experience to base a friendship on or just start a conversation. Just one of the many reasons why I love it.
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Personal Bests (Time/Date) 5k, 10k, 13.1, 26.2, Ultra, Tri
I’ve got these listed on my Race History tab, but here they are again:

5k – 23:14 @ Perth parkrun 2015
10k – 50:14 @ Great Scottish Run 10k 2015 (aka That Time I Met Paula!)
13.1 – 1:56:35 @ Aviemore Highland Half Marathon 2012
26.2 – 4:05:07 @ Schneider Electric Marathon de Paris 2014

Race Record
This is a list that could go on for a while! All my race reports since I started the blog are under the Race Reports tab, but to summarise (and account for those pre-blog years!):

5k x 33 (inc Christmas events)
Parkrun x 66
5 mile x 2
10k x 20
10 mile x 3
Half marathon x 13
Marathon x 8
Other distances (e.g. EMF Relay, CHAS Devil Dash) x 10

Total = 155 events (89 if you don’t count parkrun) – phew!

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And now it’s your turn! Either write a post of your own to create your record book or share some memories in the comments below. I can’t wait to read them…!

US v UK Running Lingo

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I’m always intrigued by linguistic differences both within the UK and between other English-speaking countries. I notice this most when I visit Florida, and for the first day or so my dad often reminds me to “speak American” so I can be understood! And it’s not just me. Earlier this week I got an email from my blogger friend Jessie at The Right Fits with an idea about working together on a post looking at some of the differences between US and UK running lingo. Jessie ran the London Marathon this year and her experience there, combined with reading UK-based running blogs like mine, really made her notice differences in the way those in the US talk about running compared to here in the UK. We put our heads together to bring you this post – US v UK Running Lingo: A User Guide!

(You can read Jessie’s version of this post here)

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PR/PB: Personal Record vs. Personal Best!
Jessie may hear some Americans call it a PB, but generally it seems that PR is the preferred noun to discuss a personal record. PR is even used as a verb: “She PR’ed at Boston!”
Of course PB’s are the lingo in the UK, including as a verb: “She PB’ed in her race!”!

I ran my biggest PB at the Paris Marathon in 2014:IMG_2863

Tank/Vest:
To Jessie, when she thinks of a vest, she thinks of a down winter gilet, not what she calls a tank top. But in the UK, a “vest” is your sleeveless running top: “He was wearing his club vest.”

Sneakers/Trainers:
Jessie says she really loves the term “trainers” and is hoping to bring it to the US! Yet currently, if she mentioned trainers to her friends, they’d think she was talking about a personal trainer who’s helping her with strength training, not the Brooks on her feet!

Gear check/Bag drop:
Runners in the US drop off their post-race stuff at Gear Check. In the UK, it’s Bag Drop!

Packet pickup/Registration:
At the expo, our US friends head to packet pickup ahead of a race. In the UK, you just head to registration.

Boston (and BQ)/London (and GFA = Good For Age):
I commented on this on Jessie’s “What it Means to Run Boston” post that in the UK, Boston isn’t the big deal. Rather, the “big” deal is the London Marathon, and here, you want to run a “Good for Age” time in another marathon in order to get in. In the US, it’s all about the “BQ!”

Bib/Race number:
To non-runners, the term bib probably means something a baby wears when eating in a high chair, but to US runners, the “bib” is what you pin on your “vest” with your race number. I just call it a race number!

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Corral/Pen:
In the US, runners are grouped into starting corrals. Which corral you end up in depends on your qualifying time or your predicted finish time, but in the UK, it’s the starting pen!

Sweatpants/Trackies (tracksuit bottoms):
Chilly before a race? Americans don their sweats. You put on your trackies or trackie bottoms in the UK!

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Portapotty/Portable Toilet:
In this post, Jessie discovered the existence of the female urinal! But even the regular facilities have different lingo- in the US, these are portapotties. We refer to them as portable toilets or portaloos (although this one is a brand name and I know they can be quite protective of it, so let’s stick to portable toilets!).

Spandex/Lycra:
Those tight fitted shorts? Jessie calls them Spandex. I call them Lycra.

Register/sign up for a race, vs. ENTER a race:
In the US, they register for a race or they sign up. In the UK we enter a race!

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OTHERS:
Since some of my family lives part of the year in Florida, I’ve had the opportunity to run races in the US as well as the UK, like this one last month:

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I’ve noticed that at almost every race I’ve done in the US, the national anthem is played at the start. There’s nothing like that in the UK, it’s just any announcements from the race director, then you’re on your way.

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Jessie has also noticed from my blog and from following UK runners on Instagram how huge parkrun is here. When she ran the London Marathon she saw a sign that read “Wave if you love parkrun!” and felt “in the know” about what parkrun was from my blog. While there are some parkruns in the US (currently 6 compared to over 400 in the UK), it’s still very much a new thing and unfamiliar to most, whereas for me the last 5k of a marathon is “just a parkrun to go!”. Where Jessie lives they have Flapjack Friday, which I understand as an early morning run followed by some food. Sounds pretty good to me!

One last difference- Post Race Food:
Jessie found this one really interesting. I’ve noticed that there tends to be a difference in post-race food. I don’t mean in the goody bags [or SWAG bags in the US] but the food laid out. In the UK we really only have food laid out if the race has been organized by a running club and it will likely be sandwiches (using the UK term meaning the filling is between slices of bread) or filled rolls (what Jessie would probably call a “bun”) and home baking (cakes, biscuits [that’s “cookies” in the US, we only call them cookies if they have chocolate chips!], etc) and any fruit is pretty much bananas or maybe apples whereas races I’ve been to in the US lay out a lot of BBQ, potato chips [“crisps” in the UK], pretzels, watermelon, etc.”

Jessie agrees, having noticed this at the London Marathon. The post-race food wasn’t quite as extensive as she sees at US marathons. Though they did have Jack Link’s beef jerky (straight from Northern Wisconsin!) which made her feel a bit more at home!

Huge thanks to Jessie for sharing her thoughts for this post!

If you haven’t started following Jessie, definitely do so! And with the helpful lingo in this post, you’ll actually know what she’s talking about! 😉

You can follow Jessie on BlogLovin and Instagram!

Fun in the Florida Sun!

As I said my goodbyes before heading off on my Florida trip at the beginning of last month, I found myself rather confused by the number of people who kept telling me not to run too much while I was away. I really couldn’t understand why they were telling me that. I mean, I know for some people a holiday is a chance to take a break from working out, but for me it’s a key part of my day to day life and it would feel really strange not to take advantage of the nice weather to enjoy training in different surroundings. The idea of not running just didn’t make sense! So today I thought I would share a bit about how I train when I’m in my “second home”, as well as some of the other fun things I did when I was away.

The first thing to say is that I know my summer break is a chance to relax and recharge, so I’m certainly not getting on the plane with any intention of training as much as I would at home. I also don’t really plan it in the same amount of detail as I would at home. My runs are shorter and are fitted in around any other things we might have planned in the week (the only fixed things are the two races we did, which you can read about here and here). And given the heat, I know my pace will suffer so I prefer to just relax and enjoy the early morning run, perhaps listening to a podcast or perhaps enjoying listening to the world waking up. Similarly, I’m not going to have access to the same facilities for my other workouts, but Steve and I work with the resources we have, maybe doing some drills or using playground equipment to create a workout. This year, I took a mat with me and did a bit of poolside yoga as well to help stretch my body out.

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My favourite Florida workouts are the days we get up early and head out for a run with my dad. None of us run at the same pace, but we cover the same route and have a few sections where we will pass each other going the opposite way, so it’s not always just me trundling along at the back (yes, my dad is still pretty speedy, although I did manage to pass him one morning!). When we get back home, Steve and I head into the pool to cool off then do a bit of stretching or yoga. I really enjoyed those poolside yoga sessions. They made me feel relaxed yet focused and were a great start to the day. After that, we dry off and enjoy breakfast outside under the lanai with my parents – usually watermelon, toast and coffee.  By the time we’ve eaten, the sun is hitting the sun deck and we can slather on the sun cream and get settled with a book. Bliss!

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The key thing to remember, is that the trip is fun so any workouts we do should be fun as well. There’s plenty of time throughout the rest of the year for really serious training, so it’s nice to be a bit more relaxed about workouts. One morning Steve and I did some yoga poses in the playground; another time we laughed at the number of playground rules we seemed to be flaunting! The playground is around a mile from my parents’ house, so we jog there and back, sometimes taking the scenic route home just to extend the time we’re out. It also gives us a chance to run together, something we never do since our paces are so different.

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Another habit we developed this year was going for a walk later in the day. We’ve both been wearing activity trackers, and were determined to meet our step goal every day – fairly straightforward on days we ran or were out and about, not so easy on lazy pool days! Sometimes we used this as an opportunity to walk down to the nearby supermarket for some snacks, but other times we simply took a walk around the neighbourhood and had a chat. We even met some local wildlife!

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The main focus of the trip was to relax, read and recharge whilst enjoying the weather, but we did have a few fun days out too…

I had a fabulously relaxing spa pedicure and gel manicure:
IMG_6918We went shopping, mainly at outlets and my favourite, Disney Springs:
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We enjoyed beautiful Florida sunsets (and a couple of spectacular storms!):
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We were spoiled with a fortnight of my mum’s delicious home cooking!
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And we rounded the trip off with a day at Epcot. Dad usually gives us some money towards a theme park day as early birthday presents, and this year I really fancied a day spent enjoying the food and drink in World Showcase, as well as some of the usual Disney delights!
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(Yes, I did buy mouse ears. As far as I’m concerned, it’s compulsory!)

After all that I was sad to come home, but did so feeling much more myself after a really stressful year. Besides, I was starting to miss my cat (who apparently missed me too!).

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Roll on next summer!

Where have you been this summer?
What (if any) training do you do when you travel?

Race Report – Caped Crusader 5k

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Another Saturday in Florida means another 5k. When we were making our holiday plans, we initially weren’t sure what our second race would be and were considering heading down to Clermont parkrun, but then dad came across a new event taking place at the National Training Center (also in Clermont) which offered the chance to earn a medal (and we all know medals are important!). And so it was that four of us signed up for the Caped Crusader 5k (my sister missed out this time as she flew home the day before).

The Caped Crusader 5k forms part of the NTC Lace It Up Series, now in its second year. This is a series of three races of progressive distance, with the principal aim being to get more people running. The series began in June with a 2 mile race, followed by the July 5k and will conclude in September with a 10k (and 5k option). Many of the participants in the Caped Crusader 5k were completing their first 5k, however the events are aimed at all fitness levels and ages. This suited us fine given we would be a party of three runners of varying speeds and one walker.

It was an early start for this one as the race began at 7am and we had to make the half hour journey to Clermont. We were also going to an unfamiliar part of the area and were unsure how much parking there would be as well as how long packet pickup would take, so wanted to be there for the 6am opening. As it turned out, there was plenty of parking and the start/finish area was right by where we parked so it only took a few minutes for us to to collect our packets and be back at the car getting organised. At least we got to see a beautiful sunrise as we walked across the athletics field!

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After getting organised and visiting the toilets, we had about half an hour to wait until the race began. There didn’t seem to be too many people around, but there was a great announcer getting everyone ready to go and reminding everyone to stay hydrated (even in the relative cool of 7am it still gets warm really quickly from the moment the sun comes up). I spent the time sizing up the other participants and trying to decide who looked like they might be speedy, however I had a feeling that the fastest runners were probably at parkrun. There were a few fast-looking guys, while most of the women looked like newer runners (although that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t fast!).

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Shortly before 7am, the national anthem was played. Not being American, I’m never entirely sure what to do while the Star Spangled Banner plays and simply do my best to stand in a respectful way throughout.

When the anthem had played, we were called forward and I noted there was a real reluctance from most people to line up at the front. A few of the speedy-looking guys did move forward and I lined up behind them, next to dad, then precisely on time at 7am the race got underway.

Photo - National Training Center Facebook page

Photo – National Training Center Facebook page

The route took us around the perimeter of the South Lake hospital, and dad had warned me that it would likely be hilly (Clermont is the only place I’ve ever visited in Florida with hills, and while the new route of the Cool Summer Mornings 5k is flat, the previous route was quite hilly). What we didn’t know was HOW hilly it would be.

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Leaving the athletics field, the route almost immediately doubled back on itself so I could see the runners behind me and was struck by how many there seemed to be given that the start area had seemed quiet. I wasn’t far behind dad and aimed to keep him in sight as we made our way around the course.

As we joined the main part of the course that would loop around the hospital, I could see the front runners stretching out ahead of me, with Steve one of three at the front. I did a quick count and guessed I was about 10th (!!) with at least one, maybe two women ahead of me. This was uncharted territory and I remember wondering how I could be so far up the field when usually I’m more of a mid-pack runner, but I guess the newness of the race combined with the number of newer runners accounted for the discrepancy. I wasn’t sure if I could stay in 10th position, but was going to give it my best shot.

The first half mile or so swept slightly downhill, then after a tight right turn we began to gradually climb before another right turn bringing us to the 1 mile marker. As we reached the top of that first hill, I was aware of another woman on my left shoulder, and immediately decided that she was NOT getting past me. The course was levelling out so I was able to speed up a bit, then we went in to a lovely swooping downhill section where I was able to drop the hammer. Glancing behind at the bottom of the descent, there wasn’t a soul behind me anymore.

From this point on, I was largely alone. I could see the runners ahead of me, but they were slightly too far away to chase down, however the motivation of staying ahead of anyone else kept me going. I was running nice and evenly with the first mile ticking over in 8:06 and the second (after another short hill) in 8:01.

There was a water stop around 2 miles and I grabbed a cup to pour down my back, but sadly it wasn’t as cold as I would have liked! At this point we ran briefly through the grounds of the library and community college and I realised I had caught up with the runner in front of me. I passed him (he didn’t look too pleased) and carried on as we re-joined the main path looping around the perimeter.

Another sharp right turn and I saw a hill looming ahead of me. A steep looking one. Because of my position in the field and the way the runners were strung out, I couldn’t see any runners ahead of me so was running along wondering if we were going up or not, but when I caught sight of dad beginning the uphill slog, I knew what was coming.

Realistically, it was no different to the sort of hill I run up regularly at home, but deep into a 5k and in direct Florida sunlight, it was tough going. I looked back over my shoulder to see how close the guy I had passed was, and realised he was slowing much more than me, so I got my head down and kept going. My watch was telling me I was just half a mile from the finish, and I knew the last part of the route was the same as the start to take us back onto the athletics field, so I knew it couldn’t be too long.

At the top of the hill, relief: some shade! I could also now see the last part of the route so it was time to get a move on and finish this thing. I no longer had any idea of my position in the field, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to slow down now!

As I turned onto the path back to the field, dad was on the other side of the switchback and heading for the home straight. Not too long afterwards, I was there too and as I ran back onto the grass with the gantry ahead of me, I heard the announcer say, “here’s our second placed female.”

Did he mean me?

Well there was nobody ahead of me and nobody behind, so he had to mean me. I was second female!!! I hurled myself over the line, collected my medal and plunged my hand into the tub of icy water which contained cold bottles of water (I kept it there for a moment, enjoying the cool sensation on my hot skin). I found Steve (who had finished 3rd) and dad, who had been about a minute ahead of me, and found a nice shady spot on the grass to sit and wait until mum finished.

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There were some refreshments available: bananas, apples and hot buttered biscuits (similar to what we call a scone in the UK) but I was too hot to want much and just grabbed an ENORMOUS apple to eat in my shady spot. Whilst sitting there, I examined my splits and was quite pleased that the third mile, despite being slowed by the big hill, came in at 8:34 before a sprint finish which gave me a time of 25:45. Not my fastest, and slower than last week, but in this field still enough to bag me second female and 9th place overall!

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Steve and I took some photos (at which point a guy stopped me and asked if I had been at the First Responders 5k the previous week. When I confirmed that I had, he said that he had recognised me!), then it was announced that there would be prizes for the top 3 men and women. No podium this time, but when my name was announced I was presented with a plaque to mark my achievement. Steve also got one as 3rd male. This called for more photos with the branded backdrop and we had a nice chat with the official photographer who was really impressed by us running so well in conditions vastly different to home.

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Photos done, and all of our party located, it was time to head home. Once back, I had a delve into my race pack to reveal a selection of leaflets, discount coupons and a branded hat. The race info had said it would be a medal and a hat, so I was quite content with this as I don’t think you can expect a huge amount of swag from a new event. I’m not really a hat wearer and at first I thought it was going to be too big, but once I adjust it it will make a good rainy day hat to keep the rainwater out my eyes!

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Overall I thought this was a pretty good event. The pre-race info was clear, parking was plentiful and packet pickup was easy. There were plenty of toilets and the route itself was really well marshalled and signposted so there was no real chance of going wrong. As for swag, the hats seem to be pretty good quality, the medals are HUGE and the plaque I won is of similar quality to other ones Steve and I have won from previous races on holiday in Florida. I’d certainly be happy to do it again next year if the dates work out for us.

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Race Report – Cool Summer Mornings 5k 2016

Regular readers will know that every July Steve and I pack a few bits and pieces and head over to Florida for a couple of weeks. And despite several people, rather inexplicably, telling me to “try and not run too much” (???) while we’re away, we prefer to seize the chance for some early morning workouts before it gets too hot, followed by some serious sun lounger time. We also like to try and race a couple of 5ks and ever since 2012 the July race of the Cool Summer Mornings series has been a feature of our holiday plans. This year would be our second experience of the new route which was introduced last year (you can also read about our experiences in 2013 and 2014 on the previous route) and since I knew I was in better form than a year ago (based on parkrun performance) I was looking to beat last year’s time of 25:58 and, hopefully, win an age group prize.

Experience has taught us to set off early for this race, which takes place about half an hour away in Clermont. Our race was due to start at 7:35am, however there was also a triathlon and duathlon ahead of that, so we wanted to be there in plenty of time to get a parking space, collect our race packs and queue for the toilets. As it turned out, the car park was pretty busy but we got a space ok then walked over to packet pickup which is always really straightforward. Bib numbers are assigned alphabetically, so 4 out of the 5 of us (mum, dad, my sister, Steve and I) had consecutive numbers, making it really easy to collect them all together.

After collecting our race packs our usual routine is to head back to the car to get organised: pin on our race numbers, attach the timing chips to our shoes and gather up the various bits and bobs we would be taking with us. We then made our way back towards the start area via the toilets (which of course had a big queue!).

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The races in this series are always themed and the July race tends to have a pretty patriotic theme. This year, it was First Responders (ie what we in the UK call the emergency services) so there were loads of first response personnel around supporting the event, including a massive fire truck with an American flag hanging from the extended ladders (this reminded me of how supportive the Paris fire fighters, or pompiers, are of the marathon each year).  I took a few photos then began getting organised to run!

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Dead on time, the race started and I set off. I was unsure what pace I would be running, as my only run in the Florida heat so far had been a couple of days earlier (the first morning after we arrived) and that was a slow paced run, more designed to help me to acclimatise and get my body into the right time zone than anything else. After a long haul flight with a super early wake up call, I wasn’t exactly at my best! So as I set off, I was surprised to find that I was moving at my usual parkrun pace from at home. At home, I can near enough maintain that for the whole 5k, but I knew that in hot conditions it would be a different story. That said, as we started the sun went behind a cloud, making the air feel a little cooler and when my watch alerted me to the fact that I had run a mile, I found I had covered it in 7:49 – new territory for my Florida running!

Photo - Sommer Sports Facebook page. If you look carefully, you may just spot me!

Photo – Sommer Sports Facebook page. If you look carefully, you may just spot me!

The course is an out and back along the waterfront trail, with the turn at around 1.5 miles. There is a water station at the one mile/two mile point, so I was able to grab a cup of water to pour down my back as I passed by (the cloud over the sun made a difference, but it wasn’t exactly like running in Scotland!). Shortly after this, I started to see the lead runners heading back and was able to high five Steve who was fairly far up the field. I also saw dad, who wasn’t that far ahead of me, but he was in a world of his own and missed my wave!

Once round the turn, it was back the way I had come. This is usually the part I find toughest as I’m heading into the sun, and of course it didn’t stay behind that cloud for the entire race!

As I began the return leg I was struck by how many runners seemed to be behind me, many just out for a sociable run/walk, many in fancy dress. I’ve found races in the US much more open to slower participants, particularly walkers, than in the UK (although parkrun caters for all). I somehow managed to miss my sister, but she says she waved at me (I guess I’m just like my dad sometimes!) but spotted my mum just as I reached the water station. After pouring another cup down my back, it was time to dig in. Mile two was a bit slower at 8:20 and I was really starting to feel warm!

The giant flag suspended over the finish chute by the fire truck meant that I could see where I was going for some time. I knew that I would have to run past the start line and veer right onto the grass to finish under the gantry. With about half a mile to go I could feel my body protesting – I was hot, tired and wanted to stop, but I also knew that I was on to achieve my target of beating last year’s time so cajoled my legs into carrying on. Mile three 8:24.

As I approached the turn onto the grass, I could hear Steve shouting at me about another runner behind me. Last year, I had something left in the tank to speed up, but this year I’d gone all out and really didn’t have anything else. I ran as hard as I could to the finish, crossed the line and stopped my watch. I had wondered if I might manage a sub-25, but it looked like I had just missed out on that. Still, I was DEFINITELY faster than last year by a huge margin so it was just a case of waiting for the chip times and seeing if it was enough for a prize.

I was given my medal by a nice police officer, collected a bottle of water then paused to double over and recover before returning my chip and making a bee line for the cooling tent.

Photo - Sommer Sports Facebook page

Photo – Sommer Sports Facebook page

Feeling cooler, Steve and I helped ourselves to a can of beetroot juice then took some photos before joining the queue for food. Like last year, there was a ticket attached to our race numbers to get food, but nobody took it from us. Funny the things you can manage to eat at 8:30am when you’ve been up for ages and run a race!

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We also had a drinks ticket, so once we’d eaten we joined mum and dad in the queue for a beer then just hung around until the results were published. I got a print out of my provisional time – 25:02 – and was delighted to find that this put me in second place in my age group. I was even more pleased as I knew that prizes from this race are pretty quirky (my previous hauls have included a hand painted tile and a branded pint glass) and this year was no exception – they were fire engines and I REALLY wanted one!

Photo - Sommer Sports Facebook page

Photo – Sommer Sports Facebook page

It always takes a bit of time until the prize giving, and with so many age categories that itself can take a while (especially since dad would be one of the later categories and won his age group, as did Steve). Eventually, though, we were all set with a haul of three fire engines between the five of us so headed back to the car for the journey home.

Photo - Sommer Sports Facebook page

Photo – Sommer Sports Facebook page

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Once back, I finally had a chance to investigate the contents of the goody bag I had been given at packet pickup: race Tshirt, Hammer gel, hydration tablets, teeny tiny towel and some leaflets. There was also some shaving gel and deodorant, which I gave to Steve. And of course, I had a pretty chunky medal and my fire engine!

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I was also able to get a proper look at the results and learned that apart from being 2nd (out of 51) in my age category I was 13th female out of 334 and 44th overall out of 526 finishers. Pretty pleasing stats and, like last year, a race with more female than male participants which I find really interesting. This race continues to grow in number (well over 500 now) and there can be the odd hiccup, but overall I enjoy it.

Roll on 2017!
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