Ironman Cozumel

A year ago, Jess, Steph, and I decided we would race our first and ‘only’ Ironman on November 30th, 2014. We officially signed up for the challenge after margaritas on Steph’s birthday at the end of January knowing we would be in for a grueling journey. I didn’t anticipate that this would be the toughest year of my life. Close friends and family know that I often fill my plate until it overflows but this year was different. On top of training for an Ironman, I decided to finally apply to medical school (fast forward….I got in! I’m gonna be a doctor!!!!!). My time was so scheduled out that even within hours of visiting the ER for separating my right AC joint on a bike ride, I sat down to study for the MCAT.
So many obstacles throughout that past eleven months ran through my mind as I prepared for the start line in Cozumel, Mexico. Jess and Steph kept me sane (mostly). They were there for me when I became frustrated and overwhelmed with training and life. I’m beyond grateful for the guidance and advice Felipe provided by coaching our group. And for that I owe him copious amounts of brigadieros.
Seriously after that year, just getting to the start line felt like an accomplishment. I had no true goals for the day except to finish. There were loose paces in my mind but nothing I held myself accountable to because this distance has been extremely intimidating from day one. My body hasn’t handled marathons well in the past and so the nervousness about running a marathon off a 112 mile bike manifested throughout the season.
I’m an athlete. A competitor. I thrive off that stuff. This race had nothing to do with competing with others. This race was completely about competing against the fact our bodies are just not scientifically built to handle this kind of distance. This fact gets the best of most everybody at some point, even the pros who train day in and day out. So I will openly admit that I was simply scared.

Race morning

My emotions oscillated between being excited and nervous as I ate breakfast, chatted with Jess, Steph, and our amazing support crew, and got ready for the most challenging day of my life. The closer we got to the venue and after setting up the final nutrition on our bikes, the further my mind went into competitor mode. It’s only natural, right? I caught myself glancing at a woman’s back right calve for her age group category and had to remind myself that I came to finish. Flirting with competition will mean I walk the marathon.
It meant so much to go through the morning with Jess and Steph. The few days leading up to the race I was on repeat saying, “You guys, we are racing an Ironman…in Mexico.” Even two months later, reality hasn’t fully set in and the race is DONE.

Swim (50:20, 2nd in Age Group)

Us at Swim Start

Ironman Swim

(I’m to the far left!)

Swimming is my first love. The swim in triathlon is my time to have fun. I told myself easy. But there was this 30-34 age grouper female in my wave though who was swimming my pace. Normally, I’ll edge up alongside to invite that person to play. This was not the time to play. While I don’t kick a lot in longer open water swims and mostly use my arms, this was still around an hour of depleting energy stores that I most definitely needed for the bike and run. So instead, I drafted. This actually might be the first time I’ve ever drafted in an open water swim. Thoughts ran through my head. This isn’t cheating because we are allowed to draft. I’m conserving energy. She’s not even in my age group. Oh my goodness, I’m swimming off the coast of Cozumel!!! Look at all those fish. Would it be wrong for me to free dive to get a closer look? Focus. This is a long friggin swim. To be honest, I had no clue how fast we were going. It felt smooth and my muscles weren’t getting fatigued.
With no watch on the swim, I didn’t know my time or place. Nor did I care. Turns out I did better than planned. I’ll take it. I popped out of the water and bolted to my transition bag.

T1 (3:52 min)

Normally, I don’t write about transitions because they are quick and nothing special but Ironman transitions are very different. We had to go to a changing tent to get ready for the bike. I used my USA kit from a few years back over my incredible new tri kit. Stripped that the USA kit off, threw on my helmet and sunglasses, and went to apply more sunscreen. There were volunteers to help but I wanted to get my face myself and proceeded to spray my sunglasses. Good one Courtney. Classic. I sped out of the tent and went to grab my bike. Looking back I should have forced myself to take time to gather myself for the 112 mile bike but I was in race mode at that point. I was so frazzled that while hopping on my bike I ended up knocking off one of my water bottles. ‘Smooth Wagner, like butter.’ All of this was, of course, captured on film by my friends.

Bike (06:34:40, 14th in AG)

If you’ve read any of my previous race reports, you know the bike is my weak point. The only time I like riding is in a large group of cyclists. When I can draft. And talk. This season has sucked for me on the bike. Jess is a beast and Steph just kept getting stronger. The competitor in me went into ‘time out’ this season as I sat in their draft for the majority of our rides and would usually get dropped. This killed but I had to admit part of it was just having too much catching up to do and then the other part was working every other Friday night shift at the hospital and heading to our long rides after a few hour nap. Miserable doesn’t begin to describe it. (#ironcranky) Even then, I knew I’d finish in a respectable time if I was smart about nutrition and pacing.

Ironman Bike
I’ll break the island into three stretches. So the first stretch heading to the south part of the island was about 12 miles and was pleasant. Maybe a small tail wind but nothing to write home about. Then you turn left and head into a wicked strong head wind for 9 excruciating miles. Heading back around the island was mildly pleasant as well. Just enough of a break before the south side stretch.

Court Bike 2
My goal was to finish without hurting my marathon too much. Despite training on flat roads with high wind, those winds just plain suck. Rumor has it that this year was one of the strongest winds to date for this race. I estimated between 6 to 6.5 hours on the bike depending on wind and other factors. So I wasn’t disappointed when I realized what my time would end up being because I battled on that horrific stretch. It would have been nice to even split the loops but the winds actually picked up and believe it or not the body gets tired after such a long time on the bike. I was in high spirits at the halfway point and then wanted nothing to do with the bike when my stomach started acting up.
This season has been a huge learning curve for proper nutrition. Part of my issue on the bike has been not getting enough calories (100-200 less calories an hour from what is recommended) and too late in the season did I finally realize that’s why I’ve been bonking on so many rides. There was still time to experiment but not enough time to fine tune everything. And instead of taking in too few calories in the first hour or two, I ended up going overboard. My stomach cramped and bothered me for the last three hours. I made bargains to take in the rest of my nutrition. Ok Courtney, at the next 15 minute mark you have to take a gel. And then you can have a sip of water.
Jess told me a really inspirational pep talk that a Navy SEAL gave the Alabama football team (insert Roll Tide! And here’s a link to the talk). The take away was drawing a line that you could cross in the sand and then crossing it. And then draw another line and cross it. So moved by the story, I drew a line on my right thumb nail and made ‘lines’ for myself the entire day. My ‘line’ for the bike was the 15 minute mark. Every 15 minutes, I sat up and stretched my back, took in some water and nutrition if I could handle it. Do you realize there are 26 intervals of 15 minutes in a 6 hour and 30 minute bike? Yeah I did that math.
The crowd support was phenomenal towards the north part of the island. So many people playing music and yelling “Sí, se puede!! Vamos!!”, which means “Yes, you can or Yes, it’s possible! Let’s go!” I must have been carb depleted at this point because whenever this was yelled at me, I got all teary-eyed. All sorts of emotional.
Coming in from the bike, I wanted nothing to do with my saddle and couldn’t wait to get off. My computer or mind was playing tricks because I swear we crossed the 180 km mark well before I saw signs for transition. I also couldn’t believe I had a marathon to run. What did I get myself into?

T2 (03:47 min)

I forgot how to walk. This apparently happens on the regular in an Ironman. Getting to the T2 tent was difficult. Having a volunteer empty the contents of your run bag and trying to remember what exactly you needed to do was also difficult. Especially because I decided this was a good time to talk in Spanish to the volunteer and seeing that I probably couldn’t have told her if I wanted my nutrition or Vaseline or shoes in English, made the experience even more fun saying it in another language.

Run (04:32 min, 15th in AG)

Something was wrong. My legs felt tired for obvious reasons but my stomach hadn’t stopped cramping. I tried going to the bathroom and couldn’t. Water didn’t help. I took one Powerbar chew and immediately spit it out. I was in trouble. Hoping things would settle a few miles in, I focused on what I could control which was my pace. Despite hurting, I had to hold my body back and not go faster than the pace I’d been training for over the past season. Around the 3 km mark, I started heaving. Headed for a corner and relieved my stomach of all its contents. Oh shit. While my stomach immediately felt better, I just lost my nutrition, electrolytes, and hydration . And wanted nothing to do with the nutrition I had planned for the run. Game changer. Shake it off. Keep moving. I was really worried at this point about not finishing. My stomach gets upset a lot but throwing up hasn’t happened during a workout or race in probably 15 years.
Originally, my ‘line’ was going to be each kilometer over the course of 42 kilometers. I needed a more doable ‘line’ to cross. Running a kilometer and walking for 30 seconds seemed doable but my body didn’t like that. So I ended up doing what Meghann did for her Ironman last year. I ran for 1 min 30 seconds and walked for 30 seconds with the hopes of gathering myself and getting back to the original plan. This meant I was going about 45 seconds per kilometer slower than my training pace but it meant I had a shot of finishing in a gagillion two minute intervals.

Courtney Run
I finally saw Jess and Steph and while happy to see them together, I couldn’t even muster up fake enthusiasm to cheer them on because my body was reminding me I basically had nothing in my system and felt kind of dizzy. They were kicking butt. The nurse in me was cringing as I kept moving and only drank water or Pepsi.
Still feeling shoddy, I saw our support crew. This meant the world. I plastered a smile on my face. Heard Felipe tell me I was almost there with 75% of the marathon left to go and so I flipped him off and it was caught in a picture. Great. Bill chatted with me for a minute and I was simply in a bad place still worried about finishing but holding dearly onto my ‘lines’ and Felipe’s recent pep talk that during the race, I wasn’t allowed to make a decision about quitting. It simply wasn’t an option because my mind would play games. And oh did my mind play games.

Bill cheering on run
Around the 15 km mark, I bargained that I could drink water if I took a gel. Cue heaving but it went down and actually helped with cramps. New rule: take part of a gel every 5 km for the rest of the race no matter which shape my stomach was in. This helped me get to the halfway point and things finally clicked. I found a groove. My body and mind perked up. I was going to finish. I had been waiting for that moment. My little run-walk was working. It wasn’t fast but I was passing a good amount of people.
The second half marathon took forever but I kept marching on in two minute intervals and repeating that it was almost over. Without timing systems up , no watch on the swim, a bike Garmin, and switching over to my wrist Garmin for the run, I was not paying attention to overall time.
I recognized a male racer with capsules in little Ziplocs stapled to his hat. Genius. Naturally, I start chatting. ‘Is this your first Ironman?’ ‘Where are you from?’ ‘How’s the day going?’ ‘Oh that’s so smart of you to carry electrolytes that way…hmmm cough…I threw up an hour or two ago…care to share?’ Yeah, so I took somebody’s electrolytes, with caffeine. And don’t regret it a single bit.
As the day drew to a close, and my body kept holding the same pace I realized that finishing an Ironman was going to happen. I relaxed. Teared up occasionally. Joked that this was the stupidest friggin’ thing I’d ever done to people around me. Pretty proud that I made people from several countries laugh with that line. I kept pushing forward. I found spectators handing out Coca-Cola and drank that can like it was my life source. Pepsi was wearing on me. Gross. When people cheered, I smiled and hollered back.

Ironman smile
With 5 km left, emotions started to run high and I just wanted to finish. Finish an IRONMAN. When the 25 mile marker popped up, I wanted nothing more than the 26 mile marker. That thing took FOREVER. At this point, the crowd was going wild. I was crying. Full on ugly crying with pictures to prove it. This season grated on my soul. Crossing the finish line meant more than anything at that moment. To be honest, I don’t know what went through my mind besides gratitude. I was so thankful for this journey to be over.

Finish closeEmotional finish

courtney finishJess, Steph and me at Finish
FINISH: 12:05:38, 15th in AG, 72nd in Gender
I cried as one of the volunteers put on my medal. He asked if I needed the medic tent but I just blubbered that I was so ‘f-ing’ grateful for this race to be over. By the way, Ironman turns you into a sailor. I saw my friend, Chris, near the finish line offering me congratulations and water. I saw he had a Coke bottle and I immediately reached for it across the chain link fence. He mentioned the Coke was mixed with Rum and I thought, “All the better.”

What an incredible day. Jess, Steph, and I all had great days with ups and downs but we all finished. We all finished and with great times. I don’t know what I would have done without these ladies over the past year.

The rest of our time in Cozumel consisted of relaxing, enjoying, and talking about just how glad we were that it was all over.

Enjoying the finish

Enjoying life after

Diving in Cozumel


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Thoughts on the Night Shift Eater

I separate people into two categories. Those that “eat to live” and those that “live to eat”. Of course, I fall into the latter. My fondness of healthy foods (most of the time) and working out kept my weight down the majority of my life. When I first started working as a night shifter, I worried about sleeping during the day and staying awake at night. Never did I imagine my biggest struggle would be my weight. I gained 18 lbs. in less than two months making no obvious changes to my eating and exercise habits . 

So, I’m a nurse with my first degree in Biology and a personal interest in nutrition but I wasn’t pulling myself out of this hole. Understandably worried about the rapid gain I talked to a few friends. One of them recommended a Registered Dietitian with a M.S. in Exercise Physiology who happens to kick butt at Endurance Triathlons. Her name is Marni, also known as Trimarni.

Marni was fabulous. She offers a consultation service that examines what you are eating and why you are eating what you are eating. That seems like a mouthful. The logs were the most helpful because she identified my trouble spots. For example, I would think a healthy snack on-the-go was an apple, she would remind me about the satiety that an added protein would provide. Reviewing my logs really showed how my “healthy” eating wasn’t always that healthy especially when I didn’t plan ahead. 

So did I lose any weight working with Marni? Not immediately. I also wasn’t looking for a quick fix. My stress and emotional eating habits were difficult to break. The most important lesson I took from her was how to “mindfully eat”. 

Here are some eating lessons I’ve learned working night shift the past two years.

Tips for the Night Shift Eater

Plan ahead. This may seem like a no brainer but not planning leaves you with Cafeteria food. At my hospital during night shift, this means quesadillas, Philly Cheesesteaks, and onion rings. The only healthy option is grilled chicken or the typical salad bar. 

You don’t need to eat full meals at normal times. My biggest mistake was trying to have “typical meals” which going into a night shift could mean breakfast at 7am, lunch at 12 pm, dinner at 5 pm, “lunch” at 2 am, breakfast at 8 am and then sleeping. Marni is really big on not letting your blood sugar drop too low and encourages eating smaller meals or snacks more frequently. Low blood sugar leads to bad food decisions. So now I split a lot of meals.

Calorie tracking isn’t the devil. Calorie tracking made me nervous at first. My fear was setting myself up for restricting calories. But I had a really difficult time grasping just how many calories I was consuming. My first time I had well over 2,000 calories in a 24 hour period. Yikes. MyFitnessPal App is my tracker of choice.

Brush your teeth. At 4 am, the carrots and hummus you brought sounds less appealing than the cupcakes a coworker baked for everybody. For some reason, brushing my teeth seems to lead to better decisions at the more difficult hours.

Think about the true purpose of food. I’m a self-proclaimed foodie. I love finding good restaurants and cooking fabulous meals to share. Indulgence isn’t a four-letter word to me. And yes, it’s okay to treat yourself occasionally. Food shouldn’t be a reward or a coping mechanism. My first year of nursing, I would reward or cope on a daily basis. “You had a rough night. Let’s stop here for food.” “You survived this week. Treat time!” All those rewards add up to extra weight. Food should be nourishment. Nutritious doesn’t have to taste bad either.

Crock pot meals, stir-fries, salads, and smoothies. These are my go-to night shift saviors. Crock pot meals can be cooked in large quantities and frozen in portion sizes for later use with minimal work. Stir-fry is one of my favorite healthy quick meals. I use a pre-mixed vegetable bag and sauté with some sort of protein adding some spices. Our hospital gave us one of those reusable containers with separate sections. Perfect for keeping salads from getting soggy. Doesn’t hurt I found out about ginger dressing. That stuff is incredible. Lastly, smoothies allow for jam packed quick nutrition that I can sip on during my commute.

In conclusion, with these changes I’ve lost most, but not all, of the weight. Numerous studies prove night shift isn’t ideal for our bodies. You don’t need research to tell you it’s not natural. Night shift really exaggerated my bad eating habits. I’m much happier now than I was last year mostly because I feel better. Any night shifters out there have additional advice?

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Whelp…I registered



I’ll let the picture speak for itself. 

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Hello body. My name is Courtney.

As an athlete, you learn about your body in different ways. You learn to separate the pain of pushing harder and from the pain of an oncoming injury. You develop an awareness of when all cylinders are firing or when you are about to run out of fuel. Hopefully, you learn how to best nourish your body before, during and after a workout. You acknowledge when your body needs rest and when to be relentless. If you get really in tune, your internal clock starts ticking and you can speed up or slow down so that each lap is within seconds of the previous one.

Right now, I’m going through a reintroduction. Muscles are complaining that I forgot existed. Where have my calf muscles been for the past year? Maybe too much information, but I think there’s actually bruises over my sit bones. Currently, my body is in a state of shock. the past year has mostly been “do what you feel like” or “get some type of workout in for the day”. I didn’t “feel” like getting up this morning and riding 100 km. But I did. And I’m glad.
I’m not in tune with my body anymore. I don’t know what it needs and I definitely don’t have a good sense of how to maintain proper pacing. So welcome back body. I’m going to use and abuse you. I’m going to push you and test you but I’ll also feed you quality food and get plenty of sleep. I’ll pay attention and back off if injuries come about. “Hello body. My name is Courtney…I don’t know if you remember me. It’s been awhile.”

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Courtney’s Levels of Bike Fitness

Since 2007, I have battled with the saddle. Sometimes I love the rush of speeding along the road and other times the bike is my personal torture device. The only thing consistent about my bike training is inconsistency. I definitely prefer riding in groups over alone. Yes, I know triathlon is raced without drafting but riding in a group is better than not riding at all? Right?

During off-season the bike is usually my first sport to get the boot. I’d rather brave a heated outdoor pool than the crazy freezing Florida winter. Given the numerous times I’ve had to get “back into bike shape” I developed my own scale of bike fitness. Instead of a well researched and methodical measurement system, I determine my bike fitness by my thoughts.

Courtney’s Levels of Bike Fitness

  1. “Not happening” – this means a bike ride just isn’t happening. I’m not motivated and don’t care to even check my tire pressure. I was probably at this level a month ago. No bike fitness exists at this point. 
  2. “Alright fine, I’ll ride. Just for a little bit though.” – Motivation is starting to creep in but my fitness involves being able to push and pull the pedals in a circle to move me forward slowly
  3. “Let’s do this. Oh shit. I’ve got a lot of work to do. I’ll hold on as long as possible.” – Fitness is coming back but I get dropped a lot. I’m somewhere in this phase now. My main goal is to cling to the back wheel of the person in front of me as if it were my life source. Do not ask me to bridge a gap, climb a hill, or handle sprints well.
  4. “Okay. Hmmm. I’m hanging on. Let’s have some fun.” – Drops are rare. Motivated and have enough fitness to handle the unexpected need for power or speed. Pulling other people without fading remains a challenge.
  5. “Bring it on. I can do this. Keep going. Faster. Harder. Push it.” – Finally happens after months of consistency. Not getting dropped. Handling speed changes while drafting and able to pull my weight in a group. This is when I LOVE the bike and kick myself for ever taking a hiatus. 
  6. ??? I actually don’t know because I’ve never reached that level. Maybe this season. Feeling determined.
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Friendly Competition

I’m lucky to have found such great training partners. My only regret is my crazy schedule preventing me from training consistently with them. This season, however, I’m committed to training as much as possible with them even if it’s not convenient. 

I know I’ve mentioned once or twice that I’m competitive. Let’s face it, competition can be a lot of fun. Competition can also have an ugly side. Fifteen-year-old Courtney didn’t know the difference between friendly competition and good ol’ fashioned rivalry. My swim team was supportive of each other to a degree. It was definitely best for friendships if our best events were different. There were some tense moments when one friend would beat the other for whatever reason. Sometimes that person simply worked harder, sometimes the other person had a bad race, sometimes things just happen. If I could talk to my fifteen-year-old self, I’d say “Chill out. It doesn’t matter now and it DEFINITELY won’t matter in 10 years when none of you swim anymore.” Mostly, I was competitive with myself and the clock but there were a few times I saw the ugly competitor not be genuinely happy for my teammate’s stellar performance. Ah, thank goodness we grow up.

My group of IM Cozumel training partners have different strengths and weaknesses. We are varied in speed but not so drastic that it’s obvious who is going to come ahead of whom. Race day will be unpredictable. Injuries, weather, nutrition, etc. can all play a role in somebody’s performance. The great thing about understanding the difference between friendly competition and unhealthy competition is I will be proud of my group no matter what. 

For instance, my friend J is a long time runner turned triathlete. One nickname for her is Tasmanian Devil, I’ll call her “Taz” for short. She earned this nickname because she is speedy! Taz kicked my butt her first triathlon season. And I was proud of her. I wanted her to succeed. I also loved trying to hold her off or chase her down on the race course. 

I’m pretty sure Taz will come ahead of me at IM Cozumel. Who knows and it really doesn’t matter. This won’t stop me from thriving off mutually pushing each other in training or on the race course.

I can say the same thing for the other ladies in our group. Today’s morning run wouldn’t have happened thanks to my love of the snooze button…actually I just usually just reset my alarm. If I had managed to wake up I am not in shape to hold the pace H and I held all by myself. Nothing crazy since it was supposed to be an easy run but the competitor in me wouldn’t back off since she was by my side.

All this to say, I’m really excited about going forward with IM training with people by my side. I truly will be proud of them throughout every hard workout and early wake ups. I will also be proud of great performances and empathize with rough races.

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And my body goes “Like Whoa”

Whoa. What is this feeling? Soreness? Exhaustion? Generalized muscle fatigue? My body only vaguely remembers being pushed this hard.

Saturday my group did a ride a little too late for me to get back in time for a nap before my 12 hour night shift. So instead, I slept in (for me) And hopped on the trainer for 1.5 hours. I’m not a lover of trainers. They just don’t motivate me. No way around using one this year. Anybody have any tips?

Sunday kicked my butt. The plan was to bike 30K out and then Time Trial 30k back in a draft line. Afterwards we had a 4K run. Now usually I prefer miles, mostly because that’s what I’m used to, but Felipe creates the workouts and so kilometers it is.

Majority of our rides take place near Alafia because there are a lot of open roads with minimal traffic. Only complaint is the wind. It’s a four letter word to me. Wind switches directions so you don’t seem to get the same return as hills. Although I do love those nice and rare stretches of a tail wind. Who doesn’t? Cozumel is going to be flat and windy which makes Alafia the perfect training spot.

First half of the ride was steady and somewhat enjoyable. The second half hurt. Really hurt. The wind gusted and just didn’t seem to stop. I only remember one or two spots with a tail wind. The last 10K I struggled mentally. My quads and hamstrings burned in protest. “Dig deeper” became my mantra towards the end. Our usual route takes us up a stretch with a steady incline with about 5K to go. I’m not as familiar with the routes so I was preparing for that hill knowing I’d get dropped. It didn’t happen…we took a back way fortunately. The last mile I mustered some type of willpower to hold onto Steph’s back wheel.

First brick of the season. I had no clue what to expect. My goal pace was about 5:00 min/km but the ladies all started in a pack but after the first kilometer we settled into our own pace and I focused on having a straight back and good form. Each kilometer was more difficult than the last. My pace reflected this struggle, with maybe 3-5 sec each km. Overall I was happy with staying under my goal with a 4:45 min/km average but need to improve with consistency. Phew. Done. I was EXHAUSTED. Especially since I worked those 12 hours Saturday night and took only a few hour nap before the ride.

Thanks to another shift Monday night I had to move my evening long run to the following morning. Knowing I had a busy day working both of my jobs there really wasn’t another option than 6 am. Woo hoo. This might be the norm for most people but waking up before 6 am and working a night shift means being up for more than 24 hours with a 1-2 hour nap in the middle. Does it make sense why I took a serious training/racing hiatus?

The run tested me. Easy enough pace around 5:30 min/km for the 50 min with a friend. The last 25 min I was ok my own and the excuses to stop early started to pile up. Nobody would know. I would. Does it really matter this early on? Yes it does. You’ve already had a good run and it’s going to be a long day. Dig deeper. My body was spent but I was proud of finishing. No short cuts this season. No slacking. I have a choice to do the training the right way or not.

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