Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I like race shirts

Who likes race shirts? I like race shirts!

What runner doesn't love his or her race shirts? They are badges of honor, symbols of past achievements, and some of them just look damn cool! I've been to enough races over the years that I am starting to develop a fair collection.

At races you see many people wearing shirts from the races they have done. It is an opportunity to proudly display where you have raced, whether it was a local fun run or a prestigious marathon. Some wear these shirts to the race, but will change into their race garb just before the start. A number of races now give out shirts made of a light, technical fabric that wicks away moisture (much nicer to wear for running than cotton), making it easier to wear a race shirt during a race.

Unless the event hands out shirts following the race (you know, making you work for it!), you will also see some people wearing the shirt they just received for the race they are about to run. Unless there is a festive reason (i.e., wearing a St. Patrick's Day race shirt on St. Patrick's Day), I have never fully grasped this concept, as I would assume most folks show up to their races wearing clothing. Rock concerts have a sort of unwritten rule where is it considered uncool to wear a shirt featuring the band you are watching perform (for bad movie aficionados, this subject was discussed in the Jeremy Piven college comedy "P.C.U."); I think the same rule should apply to races. :)

While milling around before the Lumberjack Days race, I noticed a couple of people wearing shirts from races that I had also participated in. It really isn't that odd of a thing to see, considering we are all runners that are part of the same local running scene. But the two shirts I saw were from really small races with perhaps no more than 125-150 participants. What I am getting at is there can't be all that many 2007 White Bear Lake "Resolution Solution" New Years Day 5k t-shirts floating around out there. So, seeing another person wearing one of these same shirts that I have puts me in elite company. We are talking about a limited edition here!

I definitely have my favorites. A couple of them have fantastic cartoonish logos, like this year's Udder Run, or the 2005 Jan Horak Tofte Trek (which also included a misspelling of the word "Inaugural"). Others represent races that were important milestones or achievements for me, such as my first half marathon in 2005 at Des Moines, or the 2008 Fox Cities Marathon (which gave me a shirt just for showing up AND another for finishing). There are those I like to wear just because they are blindingly colorful, including my neon green 2007 Pike Island "Rundezvous" shirt, and a bright orange 2005 Paul Mausling Cross Country Run long-sleeved T (a special nod also goes to my shirt from the 2008 Superior Trail Race 25k which makes a blaze orange hunting jacket look dull by comparison). And one even has my picture on it; the 2006 Turkey Run shirt's logo was a negative image of the previous year's starting line, and I was able to find the silhouette of my stocking cap and face in the crowd!

And perhaps the best thing of all? You'll never need to go shopping for t-shirts again. :)

Until next time,


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Learning to fly at the Lumberjack Days 10 Miler

The historic Stillwater Lift Bridge on a gorgeous summer morning

Saturday morning I saddled up The Silver Hornet and headed east to the lovely river town of Stillwater, MN. It is time again for Stillwater's annual Lumberjack Days summer celebration. I would be running the 10 miler at the Freight House Road Races at Lumberjack Days (a race name that seems to get longer with each passing year). This would be my third time participating in this event.

I did not see the Monty Python troupe at Lumberjack Days... :)

A few cool things happened in the morning. One, on the drive over while listening to the local classic rock station, I heard "Learning To Fly" by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, a song I like very much which sort of became the theme of the day. Two, I pulled into the parking lot closest to the race headquarters and got a sweet corner parking spot (it is the little things, you know). And three, the lady at the packet pickup table actually pronounced my first name correctly.

The latter was the most astonishing thing. Virtually everywhere I go when my name gets called by a stranger, invariably it is pronounced "Gene." I've gotten to the point where I just nod and dismiss the error because it is far easier than explaining ("No, it is 'Jean'...yes, I know it is spelled 'J-e-a-n'...no, it is not a girl's name...my name is French," which by now has often caused more confusion than it was worth). However, she nailed it. Shocked, I told her, "You pronounced my name correctly! How did you know?." She replied with a wry smile, "Well, how else would you pronounce it?" Clearly, she saw my full French name and astutely pieced it all together; a sharp cookie. I know, I am rambling...but a GREAT start to the day!

Yours truly, the Lift Bridge in the background

As always, they bussed us out to Square Lake Park north of town to the race start (this just in: they have not improved the suspensions on school buses since I was a kid!). The weather was gorgeous and seemed as if it would be quite warm today. Sunshine was abundant, only blocked by an occasional wispy cloud. Winds were strong out of the northwest, but that was good because it would more or less be helping us towards the finish. The real saving grace was that the humidity was extremely low, and the air felt almost crisp. It would be a nice day for running, even if it heated up to around 70.

Milling around before the race, I loved the people watching. You see the most interesting outfits (such Capri-length running tights on a 70 degree day). I learned of a local running club that clearly has its priorities in order. I also saw a couple of turkey vultures doing lazy circles over the starting area looking for fresh roadkill. A bad omen? Hmmmmm.... :)

This race is always well attended with over 1100 runners in the 10 miler. Shortly after 8:00, the starter's pistol was fired, which resulted in numerous audible gasps and scared most of the field half to death. We hit the country roads and headed south to Stillwater.

The course is mostly flat with a few minor hills and slow, steady inclines to negotiate. But there are some awesome downhill stretches, and I would guess this course actually has more downhill than uphill. It is very pretty as well with a mix of farm country and some woods (some wildlife too; I saw a Cooper's hawk and heard catbirds mewing en route). I ran at what I thought was a brisk but comfortable pace. I wore my watch today to help keep tabs on myself, and my pace was roughly the same as the 10k I ran over the 4th of July, so I was moving along.

The weather was strange because it was sunny and felt kind of warm, especially in areas with no shade. However, the wind felt really good, having almost a cooling effect for me. Normally I don't do so well when the temperatures rise, so this was something of an anomaly. I felt good, so why slow down?

I started to get excited when I made it through the 8 mile mark. I knew I was going to have a good finish at this point. You can start to see the Stillwater Lift Bridge with less than two miles to go, so that is worth an added boost of energy. The finish line is practically in the shadow of the bridge.

The crowds in Stillwater were great. There were no doubt a lot of people left over from the 5k watching the finish, so there was quite an impressive gallery of people lining the homestretch. I even had a pretty nice little kick right at the end.

Some might remember I established a new PR at the 10 mile distance back in May at the Northern Lakes Run. I did not beat my previous PR; I absolutely destroyed it. I crossed the line in 1:16:37 (results here), blowing away my previous best by over 3 minutes!

What my new 10 miler PR looks like according to my watch (just add one second for the official time!)

This was something of a surprise. Coming into today, I was feeling like I could beat my previous 10 mile PR if I had the right day. I had no idea that I could beat it by that much. I love little surprises like that!

Never have I run this fast for that long of a distance. Maybe I am finally learning to fly, as Tom Petty would say; learning how to be faster, that is. Who knows? All I know is that this was a really good day.

Oh yeah, and the race shirts this year absolutely rocked!

Another fantastic race T-shirt; I love this year's logo...only in Minnesota could you imagine a lumberjack and a gopher doing a log roll! :)

Until next time,


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cool clouds

We had some popcorn storms rumble through the metro this afternoon. It did not rain in my neighborhood, but I did get to see some impressive clouds.

Popcorn storms in the Twin Cities, looking to the east

You will notice my resident immature eagle is enjoying the sights of the weather event from the osprey platform!

Does anyone have the phone number for Jack Bauer? :)

It has been a fairly uneventful week of running. Three five milers over the last three days. I spotted several of the usual suspects; my resident eagle, indigo buntings, common yellowthroats, lots of ring-billed gulls over the lake, sedge wrens, song sparrows, cardinals, catbirds, cedar waxwings, eastern kingbirds, goldfinches, and of course, bunnies. I did see an honest to goodness gopher on yesterday's run, so that was new (I see far more chipmunks than gophers in these parts). Nice days, nice runs. Summer in Minnesota at its finest!

Unrelated to anything at all, I also saw a funny bumper sticker in the parking lot when I finished my run. It said "Peace, Love & Cocker Spaniels." I am not even a dog person, but who can argue with that? :)

Until next time,


Monday, July 20, 2009

Chicken, beer, and some weekend wildlife

What a great weekend!

Sunday night I had the pleasure of joining several friends at the local Buffalo Wild Wings for chicken wings, beer, and conversation. Most of these people are friends I met back in the early 90's at my very first "real job." We have all remained very close over the years, and this is a regular meeting place for us (although we frequented these places since way back when the franchise was known simply as as "BW3" and was not quite as family friendly!).

We remarked at how things have changed over the last decade and a half from our younger years. Some folks now have their toddlers and small children with them, others have kids that are now out of college. One of my buddies remarked that he is getting "multi-focal lenses" for his glasses. And a few us us recoiled in horror when our server brought out our food order. She started passing out strange looking items such as salads, moderately healthy looking sandwiches, and something called a "Buffalito Wrap." Salads? Sandwiches? Wraps? There was a time when we all just ordered a massive pile of wings (heck, some of us weren't even aware that there were other items on the menu!). Anyhow, it was a fantastic night. Great to see the crew!

As for the rest of the weekend, I spent a lot of time outside and got to do some hiking around. Here are a few of the things I found:

On Saturday I was driving by a pond in the morning and had spotted these two trumpeter swans. I returned in the afternoon with my camera. As luck would have it, they were napping very close to the shore. Both of them peeked their heads up to check me out, but promptly returned to their slumber when they realized I was no threat!

Trumpeter swans taking an afternoon siesta

The trail edges up at Elm Creek are covered with these plants. I suspect they are a weed, but they have the cutest little flowers on them. They have an interesting name, the lesser daisy fleabane, no doubt in reference to their daisy-like appearance.

Lesser daisy fleabane

I couldn't help but notice that the acorns on the oak trees are getting quite large. This should help make for many happy squirrels this fall!

Cluster of acorns

I was also fortunate enough to stumble upon an entire family of common yellowthroats at Elm Creek. There were at least four or five babies, as best I could tell. They are very hard to keep track of because they love to stay in the thickets. But papa yellowthroat (the mama doesn't have the mask) and one of the children were kind enough to pose in the open for this almost passable picture. What a treat!

The "Masked Bandit"; a common yellowthroat with his baby

Until next time,


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Running, bunnies, pizza, chicken, and beer


Saturday morning was fantastic. Temperatures were almost chilly in the mid 50's, but that makes for perfect running. I ran the same route as last weekend and put in 13.5 miles. It was a great run. I love these cooler days because you feel like you can run forever.

I saw lots of great wildlife, too. I flushed a pair of great blue herons, scared up a green heron, and saw catbirds, cardinals, sedge wrens, great egrets, cedar waxwings, a baby Baltimore oriole, and I even spooked an 8-point buck and sent him crashing through the forest. And of course, there were plenty of....


You might recall last weekend was a new PR in terms of bunnies per mile. Well, the bar has been raised again.

Saturday's run produced a new record of 30 bunnies for a record shattering 2.22 BPM. I am guessing a lot of these bunnies were the same ones I saw last weekend, except that a few more of their friends joined them.

This is getting out of hand. We are being overrun by rabbits.

This is kind of what it is like along the trails, except the bunnies don't dance... ;-)


I tried a new pizza dough recipe on Friday. The original recipe was ultra simple (from the "Big Sur Bakery Cookbook"), consisting of nothing but flour, salt, water, and yeast. I decided to improve upon it and added some sugar to help the yeast, as well as some good olive oil (because that's just how I roll). The results were fantastic. This was the lightest, most pliable dough I have ever made. It was fun to work with.

I made a homemade pizza with stuff that I had on hand; tomato sauce, double-smoked bacon, fresh sage leaves, and some Pecorino-Romano and fresh mozzarella cheeses. Great pizza! The crust got nice and crispy on the bottom, yet it retained a nice chewiness with a light and airy quality. Delicious. Remind me to use fresh sage on pizza more often, particularly when there is a pork product involved. The aroma alone was amazing!

Homemade pizza rules


For dinner on Saturday night, I embraced my inner Norwegian and made a roasted chicken with lemon and dill. The recipe is pretty much straight from the pages of "Kitchen of Light" by Andreas Viestad.

Viestad insists on using a ton of fresh dill for the recipe, and I agree. Stuffed in the cavity, it helps to permeate the meat during cooking. And, rubbed on top of the chicken with the butter, the bits of dill get crispy and almost sweet. I love dill. Roast chicken rocks.

Roasted Chicken with Lemon and Dill


I discovered a tasty brew. If you like beer with lots of hops, you might like the Boulder Beer Company's "Hazed & Infused" dry-hopped ale if you can find it in your area. A pretty bronze color, a very floral aroma, with a crisp, hoppy flavor and a dry finish. Anyhow, it is really nice, and I am finding it to be delicious.

Goes well with Led Zeppelin

Until next time,


Friday, July 17, 2009

Busy week

This has been a very busy week. Lots going on at work, and I spent all day yesterday in a meeting with customers, so I am really glad it is Friday! :)

Running this week has been largely uneventful. Rather comfortable days, however, actually quite cool for mid July (it is all of 61 degrees as I type this!). It has made for nice running.

Not too much new to report in terms of wildlife. I did see the resident juvenile eagle on two occasions this past week. He was hanging out near the nest, so I know it was him. His size is amazing; incredible how fast they grow. And, he looks to be gaining independence, so another successful year for my resident eagle pair. Nicely done!

Also, I have noticed an influx of Monarch butterflies this week. Not sure if there was a recent hatch in my area, but they have been all over the meadow this week, and they weren't there the week before.

I have a minimal agenda this weekend; long run tomorrow morning, hopefully a hike on Sunday morning, and I am meeting friends for chicken wings and beer on Sunday night. (Mmmmm....chicken wings and beer)

Until next time,


Monday, July 13, 2009

Weekend hikes, and broiling gone awry

One of my birding trails; I was scolded by an indigo bunting in the "tunnel" created by the canopy!

First of all, anyone who is interested in birds will want to check out my Dad's post about the chestnut-sided warbler. He was able to follow a family from the building of the nest to the departure of the fledglings. It is very cool.

The past was a fun weekend. Saturday night I made pad Thai for dinner, flipped between NASCAR and Tour De France coverage, and did some reading about how the Founding Fathers developed the Constitution (How is that for a crazy Saturday night?!).

I went up to Elm Creek Park on Saturday after my run and on Sunday morning. The highlight was adding a new bird to my life list: the blue-gray gnatcatcher. I nearly dismissed him as a chickadee from a distance, as he had a long tail and a vocalization similar to a juvenile chickadee. I am glad I investigated, as it turned out to be an exciting find!

Also I encountered a yellow-throated vireo, which I saw mere minutes before the gnatcatcher. A striking bird, and I had only seen this guy once before, so that was fun. Other birds included the common yellowthroat, an indigo bunting that chastised me for getting too close to the nest, sedge and house wrens, catbirds, American white pelicans, redstarts, downy woodpeckers, plenty of goldfinches, a yellow warbler feeding her baby, and I even heard our state bird, the common loon.

Both Saturday and Sunday were gorgeous mornings. Below are some assorted images from those hikes:

From a hilltop overlooking a marsh; some interesting clouds on Sunday

It is amazing how red the sumac has gotten since last week.

One of the horse trails I hike on; sedge wrens and common yellowthroats love the grassy area to the right

A red squirrel snacks on some berries

A monarch butterfly caterpillar on a milkweed, getting ready to make a home for the coccoon

Black-Eyed Susan in full bloom

And, just to be consistent, I need to throw in a food picture! :) Sunday night I made the chicken leg cacciatore recipe from the "Urban Italian" cookbook. I have liked everything I have made from this book, and the cacciatore was no exception.

Chicken leg cacciatore, Urban Italian style

I even screwed up the chicken a little bit. The recipe calls for broiling the chicken legs for a few minutes and then roasting in a hot oven until cooked through. The idea is that you would then toss the chicken in the sauce just before serving so it retains some of the roasted character and texture.

Well, my broiling/roasting skills managed to set off the smoke detectors. This resulted in a comical, Jacques Clouseau-esque scramble around my apartment to open windows, prop open the door to my deck, and wildly fan the smoke away from the detectors with a kitchen towel. I felt like an idiot. For fear of the fire department showing up, I abandoned the recipe and simply stewed the chicken legs in the sauce until tender and done. The dish still tasted great; it just wasn't as the author intended.

Three things can be learned from this experience:

1. My smoke detectors work
2. Don't be afraid to improvise in the kitchen
3. A marinade of extra virgin olive oil dripping on hot metal creates smoke :)

Until next time,


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Hopping down the bunny trail

Daylight in the swamp; this morning's sunrise (you can't see them, but there was a family of wood ducks on the pond to the left and under the tree!)

A gorgeous Saturday morning. Low 60's, not much humidity, and abundant sunshine. I put in 13.5 miles today, a nice and steady long run.

A few good wildlife encounters; I surprised a mama deer along the trail. I also had a rooster ring-necked pheasant land on the trail right in front of me only to do an about-face and hightail it back into the bush in road runner-esque fashion. The aforementioned wood duck family was a treat. The little guys were making a cute whistling noise that echoed across the pond.

The highlight was spotting 27 bunnies along the trails! In terms of sheer numbers, that is the most I have ever seen on a single run. And, it makes for a perfect 2.0 bunnies-per-mile ratio (a new BPM PR, eclipsing a previous best of 1.75 BPM on 12 mile run!). It was astonishing. They were everywhere! Of course, it is easy to pad the stats when you meet a mom and four little dudes in one spot. :) Still, there was a lot of fur on the trails today!

Bunnies, bunnies, everywhere! The was bunny #24 this morning, the only one who cooperated long enough for a photograph.

I was just reading an article in the local paper talking about about how the rabbits have had such a favorable year, and that many bunnies are having second batches this summer. A number of the bunnies I saw were quite small, so I think that is obviously the case. I am officially declaring this the year of the rabbit!

Thankfully, none of the bunnies I encountered were this vicious... :)

Until next time,


Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Don't leave home without it

As of late, I have rarely been running without my camera. For some reason, yesterday I forgot to take it with me.

It should come as no surprise that this would be the day I encounter a mama deer with her spotted fawn less than a half mile into my run. They even stopped in an open area to watch me go by!

Later in the run, I ran into yet another deer in a wooded area along the trail. She was sharing a grassy patch with one of my resident bunnies. Both of them also stopped what they were doing to check me out. I started laughing. All that was missing was Mr. Bluebird on my shoulder and it would have been a Disney cartoon come to life.

Remember your camera next time, dummy. :)

But, the camera was with me on Sunday morning. That was my day off from running, so I got up early and headed out to Elm Creek for what ended up being a really nice 2 1/2 hour hike. Lots of good birds, including several common yellowthroats (this has been a fantastic year for them; I have seen more this season that ever before), and I even got scolded by a pair of indigo buntings, obviously getting too close to their nest. Flowers are blooming, butterflies are cruising around, and it truly looks like summer.

Here are a few photos from Sunday:

Mud Lake at the Elm Creek Park Reserve

The sumac is starting to turn a reddish color

Here is the brilliant papa indigo bunting that was upset with me. His camouflage is not very good! :)

Daisies along the edge of the trail

And, once I got home from the park, I made bacon-wrapped meat loaf, sour cream and chive mashed potatoes, and asparagus for Sunday's dinner (the leftovers have been making for the best cold meat loaf sandwiches, too!)

Until next time,


Sunday, July 05, 2009

Firecracker Run, part deux

In 2008 on the 4th of July, I ran in the 32nd annual Firecracker Run 10k in the town of Excelsior. I had so much fun last year that I decided to partake in the 33rd annual running.

Excelsior Bay on an overcast 4th of July morning

Excelsior is a pretty little city on the south shore of Lake Minnetonka. It still has a lot of small town charm despite being swallowed up by the metro area. They have a cute downtown area with lots of neat shops and restaurants, as well as a fairly impressive view of the lake.

A family of geese floating on Lake Minnetonka

For a weather forecast that had originally looked kind of nice, the day sure started off gloomy. Temperatures were around 70, it was overcast with occasional drizzle, and extremely humid. It felt steamy. Oh well, at least the cloud cover would offer a break from the sun, right?

Pre-race set up down in Excelsior Commons Park

The race starts and finishes at the Excelsior Commons Park. It runs through scenic residential areas to the east of the downtown area. The course is largely flat, but there are a couple of rolling hills to keep it interesting.

This race also really seems to embody what it is to be a "fun run." It has great community support (everyone seemed to know each other), and it is quite social. There was an interesting mix of a number of very talented local runners, as well as some runners who looked like their legs hadn't seen sunlight in years. There is a little something for everyone at the Firecracker Run!

Yours truly before the start of the race

At 8:30, they turned us loose on the streets. I managed to put myself in a good position at the start so I avoided a lot of congestion. Runners quickly fanned out and we ventured into the residential areas.

The route is pretty; lots of nice homes and many big trees in these older neighborhoods. The roads were also sort of winding, so there were a few twist and turns.

I thought it was hard running on Saturday. Even with no sun, it was still kind of warm and the humidity was off the charts. I tend to labor in stuff like this and felt like I was sucking air.

And, for the third race in a row, I didn't wear my watch. As a little experiment, I've been trying to run by feel and not be too concerned about time. The only times I heard were being called out at the one mile and five mile marks.

My race was going better than I had suspected. When I got to the five mile mark, I had passed that in just over 38 minutes. That was enough information to give me a little boost; I was on a good pace and running faster than I had originally thought.

Winding back into downtown, the runners made a beeline to the finish in the park. I had a decent kick at the end, too, passing a few folks coming down the home stretch. There is a really good crowd at the finish here, so when you run into the chute, there are a lot of cheering spectators.

I crossed the finish line in 47:08 (results here). Not only was that almost 2 1/2 minutes faster than last year's time, but it was also my second fastest 10k ever. The race ended up being a rather satisfying performance for me, especially in such humid conditions. Nice! Even better, they give you a red, white, and blue bomb pop popsicle at the finish line! :) Talk about a treat after a warm race.

The only bad thing that happened is that I did not get to partake in my semi-regular, post-race tradition of Chinese takeout. I checked out several restaurants in my neighborhood that are of the Asian persuasion, and all were closed for the 4th!


With no plans to do any cooking, I dined on a rotisserie chicken from Lund's, all the while learning a valuable lesson to become more aware of what businesses close for national holidays.

Until next time,


Friday, July 03, 2009

Friday off

Always nice to have a day off from work. Love these holidays. Of course, it felt like a Saturday (I even e-mailed my folks to wish them a happy Saturday!).

I had a nice long run of 11 miles. Gorgeous morning in the low 60's to start, and very calm. The run was good. I felt pretty spry today. I encountered 8 bunnies today for a decent .72 BPM. And, the wild raspberries are getting ripe. I found a nice patch along one of my trails and stopped for a berry break! Good stuff.

Following my run I headed up to Elm Creek Park to see what was happening. As it turns out, lots!

Many of the babies are starting to appear. Baby chickadees following mom around demanding food. A pair of house wrens were wildly upset with me as their babies were nearby in the thicket. A mama American redstart was feeding one of her children. And, a juvenile downy woodpecker was busy eating elderberries (he looked like he was still working to perfect his woodpecker moves).

(By the way, all of those birds I mentioned in the above paragraph were seen in one location. I didn't move from my spot for at least 20 minutes. I also saw some catbirds, heard the red-eyed vireo, and photographed a curious red squirrel here. It was wonderful!)

A photogenic red squirrel at Elm Creek Park

I also found this pretty red baneberry plant (I believe)

Tonight's dinner was from the pages of "Urban Italian" again; grilled (in my case, George Foreman grilled!) shrimp wrapped in pancetta and sage leaves and drizzled with lemon juice. I served it with a tabbouleh I whipped up (which was not from "Urban Italian" - it was from Ellie Krieger), which seemed like a perfect summer side dish.

Grilled shrimp wrapped in pancetta and sage served with tabbouleh

A delicious meal. The shrimp had great flavor, nicely accented with the salty pancetta, earthy sage, and bright lemon. The tabbouleh was light, flavorful, and fresh tasting. Hopefully this will give me the fuel I need for the Firecracker Run tomorrow! :)

Until next time,


Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Roger Rabbit

Not a great photo, but this is one of my regular bunnies per mile...

He though he couldn't be seen, but the ears make for terrible camouflage! :)

Good running the last two days. Temperatures have been somewhat cool, in the very low 70's, with plenty of cloud cover. Quite a contrast from last week. I felt almost speedy out there.

Safe travels to those of you traveling for the holiday weekend. I am staying put again this year. Battling the traffic heading "up north" is no fun, and it looks like the weather is going to be gorgeous down here.

Good luck to those of you racing as well!

Until next time,

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