#337 Winter 100 - Race Report

Winter 100 done! Buckle #23 earnt! Completing the Centurion Grand Slam this year (in fact did all 6 of the Centurion Ultras, they really are the #1 ultra outfit in the UK!). Finished dead last in the Slam results mind you after another fairly ordinary Centurion performance, I am sure none of the team there today would believe I own 5 sub 24 hours finishes this year! This race was pretty much sorted in the first 400 yards when we hit the junk trail known as the Thames Path! Whilst it wasn't as bad as TP100 in 2013 there was still way too much clag for me (my new expression for slippy, sloppy, muddy trail) which immediately slowed me from 8 minutes pace to arthritic sloth tip toeing around like Bambi on ice trying to keep upright, I really just do not have the ability or or confidence on anything single track, muddy, rooty, rocky or hilly for that matter. I am a flat track whacker... and my race was basically done at about mile 15 when I felt the dreaded ankle go from mild awareness to really very painful indeed within about 50 yards.

85 miles is an awful long way on one leg, but the new simple plan was 25 miles in 5 hours and then get it done in the remaining 25 hours as that's 20 minute pace, i.e. slow tip toe stroll, which was handy as that is basically what I did! Lights were on at 37 and iffy trail and night time, the arthritic sloth left me for dead! I'm utterly hopeless! On the plus side the rain held off till the night, so it really could have been much worse, the aid stations were too nice and I just struggled along to a 28:20 kind of finish time, which would have been quicker without the ice cream and cookie stops perhaps! lol

I guess though the difference between me and those who DNF'd for assorted reasons (I only saw one person worthy of a DNF who couldn't physically move about mile 86, no idea what everyone elses excuse was) is that I want these things, would have been easy to call this one quits early on, or at 50 with the prospect of maybe a 16 hour second 50, but the game here was simply to get out the aid station at 50 and get on with it, so that's what I did, 25 too early to quit, 75 too late and frankly I thought of the world that gets up and looks at what I am doing every morning and I wasn't prepared to write some lame excuse on here, or be sensible, you'd all understand of course, but I want buckles and challenges more than understanding. So got it done.

Huge, huge thanks to Rachel for her crewing and pacing duties 33 miles of dragging the sloth along! She is now dozing, I am stuffing my face in McDonalds! I mean recarbing....


I'd never been remotely keen on Winter 100 when it was in November as that meant a very short day (hence a stupid long night!) and likely to basically be a swamp, not my idea of fun, but with Centurion bringing the event forward six weeks to mid October it made it more appealing, slightly anyway and this was the year that I was doing the Grand Slam of Centurion events so if you want to do that then you have to do the Winter 100 too! If I'm being very honest though I was never that sold on the Centurion Slam and not even that sure I wanted to do Winter 100 at all, let alone North Downs 100, even sitting here now afterwards I'm not that sure why I did it! lol Well I do really as they are the best ultra events in the UK and if you want to do 100 milers in the UK then as far as I am concerned the list starts and stops with Centurion (I'm not on their pay roll by the way!) to me they're the "full service" ultra set up not some "old school" set up, I'm soft and like my creature comforts at aid stations, but most importantly I feel they look after you. So I want to do 100 milers so I'm there. The problem with this mental attitude is that I'm not wholly committed to the events, so I do poorly at them, I'm 7/7 at their 100s (I've done a couple of 50s too but I tend to think of anything that only needs one Garmin as a nice day out) but never done one to my satisfaction. Which is then a vicious circle as I don't do the work to get better at them, so don't do them well and the circle continues until I decide to break it, which I suspect I won't because I don't like the trails much that the events are on. I might as well train in gate opening skills than in running to improve times for example! I'm joking of course, I ran in to a gate full on early on which I thought was ajar rather than shut. I am right off gates at the moment. Clearly many folk are doing a million times better than me at these events so its nothing to do with the events it's just me being useless!

But anyway back to the plot (there's a plot?!!) I was never that sold on W100 so never really prepared that well for it, never was "all in". Now to be clear on this my "all in" and most people's "all in" are probably two poles apart, my minimum preparation is spending a couple of hours going over the route and getting the traces in my GPS devices and when I say going over the route I don't just take the supplied ones which to me are just general guides. I go over it, small scale over satellite images and pull in the trace to the yard if I can. I want to know EXACTLY where I am going. If there is Google Street View of the area where an aid station is, then I'm taking a look at that. 100 miles is an awful long way, getting lost at them is not an option for me, I tend to just live on my Garmin trace, checking it every few hundred yards with what I see around me, if I know I have a turn coming up then I'm looking for the markers, if it's straight then I'm not bothered and so on. But otherwise I was fairly unprepared and it being 4 loops of 25 miles from a central hub and having the good fortune of Rachel crewing for me meant I could just be lazy, throw everything in the car and play it by ear. Not totally the way to prepare but I was being lazy.The bad news was the weather and the forecast in the week up to the event had gone from dreadfully wet, to wet, to not too bad back to wet again and the day was forecast to be pretty miserable, with a nice big dump of rain the night before. The saving grace was that it was going to warm, 17C during the day and only 15C at night, be breezy, so would be a bit chilly, but real mild so nothing to worry about. The pain in the butt with Centurion events is the compulsory kit you have to carry, and whilst I don't personally agree with it, it's the rules (and I understand why they have them but I'm a big boy now) so of course I comply with them. It then does mean I'm carrying a jacket I have no intention of ever wearing (I have three others with me that I do) and long tights that I didn't even bother opening the packet of, I wore shorts at Yellowstone at -12C, I reckon I can cope here, two maps, what for? I have three GPS devices with me, so they'll come in handy along with the compass, two light sources at 10am? Mmm... but does mean for example that I am carrying a "waterproof jacket" whilst wearing the one I actually want to be wearing as its only "shower proof" and its too warm for my heavier waterproof one. OK bitch over about compulsory gear. And for any Centurion folk reading this yes I do understand and always feel free to kit check me at any time!


I'd actually been fairly sensible leading up to W100 (read lazy) as since Black River Run 100 had done a couple of flat road marathons and if I'd done more than 10 training miles I'd be surprised, so was reasonably rested (read seven pounds too heavy) and was hoping that my legs would be OK and that generally I'd just be able to run along and magically produce a sub 24 time for a respectable finish. I didn't really have any goals, sub 24 would be nice, 26, yeah OK, get it done. I'd given these goals about 8 seconds thought.Being very lucky I had Rachel drive up to Goring after a not great nights sleep (why does this happen? Laying in bed thinking, go to sleep you bastard you're not sleeping tomorrow, go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep. I'm 48 and now I am laying awake thinking, so how do you go to sleep? It's ridiculous. I'm an idiot). Have a nice chat with folk, look at the gloom, its forecast to basically rain all day and then clear up, few showers in the night). I finally decide that it's a Goretex shoe day, I love the Hokas, but love dry feet more. It's rained heavily overnight but it's been dry in September so may the trails will be OK. As is my wont I sit down for as long as possible before wandering off to the start a few 100 yards up the road.I wander up to near the front as my plan is the same as all my plans. Just go off as fast as I feel like I can go without pushing it for as long as I can. It's not much of a plan. I've discovered that UK (and European ultras) tend to start off fast but even then I still need to be quite near the front to avoid getting held up and as we're into single track quite quickly don't want to be held up at the back.As usual we're off on the dot and away we go. Nicely downhill, 8:xx pace and for about 100 yards all is well, soon notice that its a bit puddle like, mmm... then some mud, so I am immediately looking where I am going and watching footfall for basically the next 100 miles. Then some gates and then we're into single track and now its play the "let's keep upright" game and I remember why I don't like the Thames Path so much in places, for much of it, lovely wide tarmac trails. But there is a surprising amount of gates and muddy single track, surprising to me anyway! I forget about the rubbish bits! It's maybe only a quarter suspect on the first 12.5 miles loop out, much of it is just fine and fair bit of decent stuff. But I am just useless at start/stop running and even worse on anything suspect, muddy, slippy. I need to train on this stuff and I don't so I continue to be useless on it, I appreciate its just me, I am almost flattened by Ed Catmur on his return leg as he is flying whilst I am being a fairy. Although to be fair I'd probably have flattened him, he's half my weight! But it can be done, just not by me! I am patting myself on the back though for choosing the right shoes, feet remain nicely dry. My "A" plan which I had thought of 3 seconds before giving Rachel an ETA for my 50 mile stop at Goring (it's pointless being crewed early at a 100 when there are aid stations every 6 miles or so) was to knock out a sub 10 hour 50 and then grind out a 13:30 second 50. Wasn't too long before I realised that wasn't happening, miles were ticking by OK, but not quite as quickly as I would like and then ran into a gate which didn't improve my mood. The gate before had been ajar and I thought this one was too, but wasn't. Whack, silly me! And then a few minutes later avoiding clag (my new word for rubbish trail) I managed to wander in to a bramble bush giving me some nice bloody scratches on my arm. It was going to be one of "those" days. I actually managed to go astray about mile 15, just following a group of runners rather than living on my trace and they missed a turn but only went maybe 25-30 yards astray before I realised and we all sorted ourselves out. Always a valuable lesson, don't blindly follow runners, they might not know where they are going either!Just after this on a bit of clag I noticed that my ankle which had been troubling me since June (and had been remarkably OK in recent weeks to be point of, ah, maybe that's gone away) within the space of 50 feet went from very mild awareness to really rather painful. Little walk was good, back to running and its OK, but really wish it wasn't hurting as its just gnawing away and I now I am paying attention every step to try to keep it level (which is tricky in single track trail when wet and slippy) and my pace starts to fall away a bit and then by mile 20 the walk breaks are starting. I can run but I'm not doing sub 24 now I know already (and knew since mile 0.25) so time to start taking it a bit easier, but just a bit, and its a bit of a battle with myself. I know I want to get as far as I can in the daylight, it'll be dark not long after 6pm and its a long night ahead so the more that can be done in light the better but the harder I run the sorer the ankle gets, walk and it eases right off. The good news though is that the rain has held off and the dunking we were going to get hasn't happened. Yay! New plan is get out of the 25 mile aid station under 5 hours, in a perfect world I'd have liked that to have been 4 hours. I'm just never doing that at my current fitness and ability levels. But manage that OK, grab my drop bag (even though crewed I had one there with my stuff in (and more in the car!) just in case for some reason Rachel couldn't meet me or find me.) The set up here is very efficient, you come in one door, one lot of aid goodies, a volunteer asks if you want your bag, that appears, munch, fill up with M&Ms from the drop bag, regret eating the mint M&Ms the night before suddenly, but you just can't beat Peanut Butter M&Ms (thank you Sally Silver for the packet!) and off out another door handing the drop bag back for the next loop. On to the Ridgeway this time which I quickly realised I'd been on before at some other event (I think XNRG and an LDWA one too). Although more "technical" (what is a technical trail?! Roots and rocks? Damned if I know, I think its just a term people use to make running along on anything that isn't tarmac sound a bit double hard) than TP it's rather nicer, far fewer gates for starters and nicely winding through woods (which in the nice afternoon weather is good, at night I am thinking this is the land of 1000 trip hazards!) and far less mud.I'm slowing down by now as getting a bit tired, ankle is sore and not really feeling very well. I'm dripping in calories but do feel a bit sick and my hydration doesn't seem right. Putting lots in, but nothing coming out which is never a good sign. Meet Jez Isaac about mile 32 (coming the other way of course!) and he's not happy and having a bad day, I'm not not terribly sure my "encouraging pep talk" did much good as was sad to hear he was out at 50. You can tell neither of us is that bothered about time now as we actually stop to chat and this is too early to be stopping and chatting. I wish now I'd given him my "Grade 2 Pep" talk rather than the more Gentle Grade 1 one! Some poor pilgrim on leg 3 got a bit of a Grade 2 when he advised that he thought they were pulling out at the next aid station- "do not quit in the fu*!*#ing dark, just get out of 75, that's all you have to do, you'll be fine when the sun comes out just don't quit in the fu*!*#ing dark" - before he mentioned he was the pacer and I'd passed his runner a few dozen yards back! Oh well...The night is beginning to loom up as the trail descends down some vertical slope which I know shortly is going to be a horrible uphill! And at the 37.5 turnaround I, for the one and only time during the event delve in to my pack, for my headtorch, I got a new Petzl v14.2 for this one as I wanted something brighter than I had, mental note to self, at least test these things a bit before using them in the wild as spend the next 15 minutes trying to get it comfy on my head! The problem with brightness is that basically equates to weight and the heavier a headtorch is the more it needs to fit right I suspect. Was never that happy with how it felt, but did feel brighter even on the dimmer setting, in fact later on for no reason I can actually remember now I had it on dim for hours rather than bright. Why? I can't even fathom what I was thinking of now! Suffice to say I'll be sticking with this for now and although I'm really not terribly happy running at night at the best of times, let alone with a billion trip hazards I did feel I made a decent effort back to 50 in the dark. I ended up doing 11:30 for the 50 which isn't great, but was at least moderately pleased that from 37.5 to 50 that I gave good effort.I had texted Rachel to ask her to bring my Hokas for the third leg as I guessed (correctly) that it would be like leg two and not so muddy that I couldn't keep dry feet and these felt brilliant after 50 miles in "probably their last run" Salomons! Like marching around with boxes of tissues under your feet stomping through little puddles like monster trucks! Rachel kept me company for a mile or more as we left Goring back up on to the Ridgeway and I wonder how maybe people who called it a day at 50 realised how gentle leg three is compared to the others? No gates, all double, triple quadruple width trails, next to no mud, lovely tarmac, some very, very runnable downs. The first few miles are on road or dirt road so just easy stuff by the time you're on to anything remotely suspect you'd be too far to go back again! There were far too many people sitting around at Goring and I just felt like shouting out something like "come on you lot, time to go, get out the bloody door." With more expletives. That's the fun run done, time to earn your buckle, but you don't of course. Had a quick chat to Lisa Hewitt crewing for Ellen who had just gone astray and I had almost caught up by the sounds of things (in fact at the turnaround was maybe only 2 minutes behind) and then it was music on head down to 58 where Rachel was picking me up for 4 miles back and forth from Bury Downs to Chain Hill, the rain started on the way back, nothing serious but not what I wanted. Those 8 miles passed way quicker than the next 8 after she left me again! It's just the hard hours between 3am and 5am, really felt pretty sick, bit tired and the DNF thoughts creep in. I can sit down, have a sleep, get dry. Who cares about another buckle, I've got far more interesting 100s on the horizon, 25 miles back in the clag on the Thames Path, who wants that? I could be in bed in three hours and so on. Were never serious thoughts though, you just have many, many hours of things to think about in the night! Was forecast according to the notice board at Goring to be heavy, but the saving grace was that it wasn't cold. I didn't bother to put on gloves for example and was no point putting on the waterproof jacket (I had on a medium weight shower proof one as I knew I would be a bit chilly, but nothing much). It did stop for a while before starting again for a nice soaking before Goring, but was wet already so didn't make too much difference aside from make the Thames Path a bit muddier! It's funny now in retrospect looking at the times for this, I basically did a 7:45 marathon, on what was good trail, nothing much in the way of hills, fair bit of tarmac and felt I made moderate progress and a steady of not outstanding effort. I really am very slow at night. I'd have guessed at six hours from memory, Garmin's don't lie. I have no idea how people do running on "feel" if I did that I'd be doing 45 hour 100s! Rachel met me again at 75 and I switched back to the Salomon's in an act of stunning stupidity after 74.98 miles of carefully keeping my feet dry I stepped in a puddle and got my right foot wet! So changed socks as well and hoped they would be OK. By now its gone 0500, the tiredness is kicking in (oddly I had been super tired about 5pm the previous afternoon!) and you know that aside from a mechanical disaster you're going to finish so its just the CBA time and laziness kicks in. From Goring to Whitchurch I can barely keep awake and am on the lookout for a bench for a nice sit down and doze! This though is where some experience comes in because I know I have over 10.5 hours to wander 25 (OK 27 in reality, the legs aren't all exactly 12.5 miles but close enough) miles which is treacle pace and all I have to do is keep moving at any pace and I'll get it done just fine. The next four miles is pretty horrible as the Thames Path is really yukky in places with the rain and I'm wobbling about and basically just trying to keep upright and not fall in the Thames, oddly coming back in the afternoon sunshine I wonder how I managed a 30 minute mile as didn't seem 10% as bad in the sun and it had dried out somewhat!At Whitchurch I decide to have a sleep, which doesn't happen of course, but a sit down, some brilliant home made cookies and two minutes (maybe 10) eyes closed. I know I advocate not sitting down during 100s but I was at mile 80, with hours to spare and was in zero danger of a DNF. And did you not read about the brilliant home made cookies? My main concern was would they still have them on the return leg. I did think about squirreling away a couple in my pack, but couldn't be bothered to carry them! (Rachel bless her carried a chocolate cookie for me for 33 miles and then I ate it on the way home!! I didn't want chocolate cookies till about mile 96. I am awful fussy about what sort of cookies I fancy at what stage of ultras!! lol In my defence I have ordered her a new sat nav as a thank you for all her hard work looking after me).The lights turn back on again, the head torch finally comes off and now its just the slog home. Sadly that involves walking to Reading and back. Reading I discovered was designed by some sick mind who just for a laugh put the "Welcome to Reading" sign about six miles from the bloody turn around. It went on forever along lovely trails and tarmac and perfectly runnable wide bike path type trails. So obviously my request to Rachel was just keep me moving under 20 minute mile pace, which writing this now sounds pathetic! I couldn't walk that slow now if I tried! OK maybe RIGHT now I could but tomorrow I couldn't. my feet were sore, ankle numb, legs were just dreadfully tired and I'd just given up by now. My token efforts at running from time to time were basically Rachel's walking pace and she dutifully dragged me along at about 18/19 minute pace. 17 miles to Reading and back and that pace is basically Sunday.Plod, plod, plod. I did get around for a couple of hours to sticking on my iPod for some serious 15 and 16 minute pace plodding. A bit anti social but I just find I can plod marginally quicker to music than not. Another nice sit down eating boiled eggs and cheese wraps (can you tell the sickness went?) and back to the plodding. Tum de tum, how many lines of plodding shall I write? Err, plod, Rachel popped in to a cafe and we had ice creams and a brilliant can of ice cold diet coke. You can tell there is no time pressure as I am standing there drinking it rather than walking and drinking in case I spill a drop!

Whitchurch after 832 hours finally shows up and its a nice afternoon now, jacket comes off, sit down for a nice chat and more cookies. I seriously consider how I can inject the chocolate chunks in to the cookies (they have raisins in). Could I mash them all up perhaps on a plate. Eventually even I realise that we're basically just sitting there so off we go. My game plan had now changes to lets take so long to finish that all the mud has dried up but as next July wasn't a viable finish time Plan B of 28 hours odd worked pretty well. The horrors of the night had dried out and I had no recollection whatsoever of the gentle inclines, nice trails, lack of mud and only half a dozen gates rather than the fifty at night, the vertical ascents and descents and rubbish swamp of a trail!The finish finally arrives, can't claim to a sprint finish! Some poor chap has a go at giving me a handshake and a hug, the handshake works OK, but the hug less so. There is too much bloke hugging, James Elson gives the correct manly handshake and a well done and hands me my buckles. Job done! Nici gets a hug as she's a girl and I explain that there is too much male hugging. I probably use politically incorrect language! But have a nice chat with James (Elson the chap who runs Centurion and I'd say the guy who has raised the standard of UK ultras in the last three or four years through the roof. I would say single handedly but its the team he's managed to assemble that make it all possible, just looking around the finish area you've James himself, Drew Sheffield, Allan Rumbles and James Adams all of whom own double hard ultra finishes, they've been there and done that so know what it takes to put on these things.) and while away half an hour whilst Rachel has some hot food I don't fancy. A table full of finish line food and I think I had one jelly baby and a raisin. (Both singular!)Got it done, and have to say, feel OK about that. The time was poor at 28:21 but my ankle wasn't great, the trail wasn't great, the night was long and compared to Thames Path 100 where I was both hopeless and just looking for an excuse to DNF but couldn't find one so finished it, here despite the conditions being worse there was no real danger of a mental DNF. I'd probably rank it my second favourite Centurion 100 after South Downs, but ahead of Thames Path and everything that isn't called Langport is ahead of anything on the North Downs of Doom. I'd probably like it even more if it were called the "Middle of Summer 100" and there was a marshall at each gate holding it open! I'm still off gates.

Things I Learnt

  • Getting shoe choice correct is crucial. I made the correct call on Salomon/Salomon/Hokas/Salomon. Whilst I would dearly have loved Hokas for the last 25 (and it probably cost me an hour) the Salomon's kept my feet dry and whilst they're bashed, they're just fine.
  • Clag is a good name for rubbish trail
  • It's only clag because of my lack of ability on it, if I want to get better then I have to work at it. Or I can bitch about it instead, my choice.
  • Cookies are brilliant when you fancy them and you can never predict what you fancy and when. At mile 68 I'd have been throwing them up, at mile 98 I regretted having eaten the one I had "for the road" 15 seconds after leaving the aid station! Note for self really: Be better hydrated before a 100. 12 S!Caps before switching to Saltsticks is about right for electrolyte balance, was a little bit dehydrated I think for the first 40/50 miles. About right the rest of the time.
  • From a crew/pacer perspective...

    Emily Hannon suggested that I include Rachel's facebook posting before it gets lost in the ether which is a good idea to tie this together!So that's the end of a season of Centurion events - a mix of completing them myself, crewing and pacing, and volunteering. It's been an adventure to have supported Traviss in his quest for not only the Grand Slam but all 6 events. (Editors note: Rachel successfully competed SDW50 and SDW100 this year, NDW50 in 2013) So here's a peek into what pacing an arthritic sloth to a Grand Slam finish is all about.....Sat 6.45am - the drive to Goring begins, the car is loaded, prep done and feet taped (that's an act of love in itself!)10am - and they're off. We've agreed that he's perfectly capable of sorting himself out for the first 50 miles so I have a few hours down time which I spend catching up with fellow crew Lisa and then off for a few hours with best friend who conveniently lives just an hour away.6pm text from Traviss with instructions for what he wants at 50 miles with an ETA of 9pm. I know from that things will have not gone quite to plan and we're in the long haul! (Editors note: I'd managed to convince Rachel that there actually was a plan!) 8pm arrive back in Goring ready in night time running gear and wait. And wait.9.30pm ish Traviss arrives - all systems go for a change of shoes, get food and fluids in him and walk out with him for a couple of miles on the course catching up with how his day has been, and news of other runners. Back to the car and drive up to Bury Downs aid station at 58 miles where I will pace him out and back for 8 miles or so. So far the rain has held off but it's pretty windy up on the exposed Ridgeway. Hang around chatting to folk and giving encouragement to the weary pilgrims!Midnight - Traviss arrives and we make steady progress up the turnaround and back around, mainly marching, a little running. The wind picks up and the rain starts in the last mile or so together.2.30am Back in the car for the drive back down to Goring. Arrive about 3am - am cold and a little sleepy so make some hot porridge in the car to warm up, and try to shut my eyes but the rain is coming down steadily so perhaps get about 30 mins in total. Give up and desperate for the loo so wander back down to the HQ at basecamp with all he/I need for the last 27mile loop.5.30am - Traviss arrives - another sock and shoe change and we head out into the darkness again. The first 2 miles are pretty sloppy and slippy and we make slowwww progress. Instruction once the going gets better is to keep to 20 min miling. The sun takes an age to come up and we're both munching chocolate coated coffee beans to stave off the sleepiness. The next aid station arrives, quick stop and at last we can take the head torches off. For the next 7 hrs and 22 or so miles I walk in the main ahead of him keeping at a steady 18/19 min pace. Occasionally he breaks into a jog and for a couple hours he switches on his music for a boost and our communication settles to a thumbs up every 10mins or so! As the sun comes out the layers come off - the downside is that's more to carry in my race pack. Pacing means being vigilant to hazards on the course, opening gates and popping into a passing cafe for an ice-cream and cold can of coke!2.21pm - after what seems an eternity the finish line is in sight and we cross the line back into HQ for the last time. Time for a bowl of chilli, another cup of tea and a chat with the last of the pilgrims and the Centurion team.3.15pm - we head off home. Roadworks on the M4 make for slow progress and it quickly comes apparent I need some sleep. Now. We pull off to a McD's as Traviss needs to do some work and wants some food. Noisy car park neighbours means sleep isn't happening but the 30mins of at least some shut eye time does the job. Back on the road and we finally stagger in the door of home exactly 36hrs after leaving!I'm under no illusions that my support makes the difference between success and failure for Traviss - he's made of strong stuff and has a wealth of experience in completing these events uncrewed/unsupported - but I do know it makes the back end of these 100milers, and the logistics of traveling to/from a whole lot more bearable and pleasant and they are great adventures to share together. And I do know he is incredibly appreciative of that support. Looking forward to more Team Willcox adventures next year


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