Monday, July 18, 2016

It's Time to Pump You Up...with Lift by Daniel Kunitz


Title: Lift: Fitness Culture, from Naked Greek and Acrobats to Jazzercise and Ninja Warriors
Author: Daniel Kunitz
Publisher: Harper Wave
Publication Date: July 5, 2016
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

A fascinating cultural history of fitness, from Greek antiquity to the era of the “big-box gym” and beyond, exploring the ways in which human exercise has changed over time—and what we can learn from our ancestors.

We humans have been conditioning our bodies for more than 2,500 years, yet it’s only recently that treadmills and weight machines have become the gold standard of fitness. For all this new technology, are we really healthier, stronger, and more flexible than our ancestors?

Where Born to Run began with an aching foot, Lift begins with a broken gym system—one founded on high-tech machinery and isolation techniques that aren’t necessarily as productive as we think. Looking to the past for context, Daniel Kunitz crafts an insightful cultural history of the human drive for exercise, concluding that we need to get back to basics to be truly healthy.

Lift takes us on an enlightening tour through time, beginning with the ancient Greeks, who made a cult of the human body—the word gymnasium derives from the Greek word for “naked”—and following Roman legions, medieval knights, Persian pahlevans, and eighteenth-century German gymnasts. Kunitz discovers the seeds of the modern gym in nineteenth-century Paris, where weight lifting machines were first employed, and takes us all the way up to the game-changer: the feminist movement of the 1960s, which popularized aerobics and calisthenics classes. This ignited the first true global fitness revolution, and Kunitz explores how it brought us to where we are today.

Once a fast-food inhaler and substance abuser, Kunitz reveals his own decade-long journey to becoming ultra-fit using ancient principals of strengthening and conditioning. With Lift, he argues that, as a culture, we are finally returning to this natural ideal—and that it’s to our great benefit to do so.


My Review:

When I heard about this new release, I was intrigued, especially given my recent interest in going back to school to become a personal trainer.  Learning a bit more about the history of exercise and workout trends seemed like a pretty good place to start as I dive into this new career!

Kunitz does a good job of not only tracing the general history of exercise, but also discussing the societal factors that helped (or hindered) its growth through the centuries.  A significant theme throughout the book is the role that feminism has played in exercise, something that I found quite interesting in an arena that has historically often been male-dominated.  However, Kunitz shows that many fitness trends have been driven by either female preferences, or the roles that society has placed upon them.  While some of the historical detail got a bit dense at times, overall it was interesting to trace this growth over time.

The dryness of the historical detail was broken up by the personal anecdotes of Kunitz himself.  Previously inclined to drink and smoke rather than lift and eat smoothies, his transition into the world of exercise was entertaining to read about, and also provides a bit of motivation for those who are looking to get on the fitness bandwagon.  That said, I was also a bit turned off by his obvious favoritism towards CrossFit (and its close relatives--acroyoga, Parkour, etc) as the be-all and end-all of workout regimes.  While I realize that much of his historical musing leads to the point that this sort of functional, well-rounded fitness program is the "ideal", I have trouble getting behind the idea that one fitness program is inherently "better" than another.  I am not at all denying that CrossFit is an excellent workout (and I've actually been very interested in trying it myself for a while now).  However, to say that a CrossFitter is "more fit" or in better health than a marathoner, cyclist, or dedicated Jazzerciser feels wrong to me, if only because people have different definitions of what "fitness goals" entail and the paths they would prefer to take to get there.

This ended up as a 3-star Goodreads review for me: enlightening on the historical side, fun to read for the personal stories from the author, but occasionally tedious in detail and has a bit of a bias that turned me off.

As always, much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Want to find out more?  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.

Friday, July 15, 2016

July Mini-Reviews: Natural Parenting, An Amazing Mystery, and NEGAN!

Reading has been a bit slow lately, but I've had SO many good books on the docket!  Here's a quick rundown of 3 of my most recent reads:

Push Back: Guilt in the Age of Natural Parenting
Dr. Amy Tuteur
Dey Street Books, 2016
borrowed from the library

(Sorry, this review became a little longer than mini!)  As soon as I grabbed this one on impulse at the library, I was afraid that I might get my Good Mommy card taken away...haha.  But seriously, I saw that subtitle and HAD to read it.  Personally, I find modern-day mothering to be positively FRAUGHT with guilt that others try to impose upon your parenting style--no matter what style that may be.  But the natural parenting industry gets top marks in the guilt-mongering category.  And I say that having taken a fair number of "natural" parenting methods myself--breastfeeding, cloth diapering, blah blah blah.  However, I also picked a lot of "not natural" parenting options: epidurals, formula, the list goes on.  So, I've seen both sides.  And I never can understand why people find the need to judge so much on these topics.  Dr. Amy Tuteur delved into that issue, and what we can do to push back.

Overall, I found Tuteur's discussion to be a refreshing rebuttal to the constant sanctimommy, holier-than-thou banter that you see on social media these days.  She specifically takes on 3 aspects of natural parenting: "natural" childbirth (meaning no drugs, no c-sections, etc), breastfeeding, and attachment parenting (co-sleeping, babywearing, etc).  She discusses the actual scientific evidence that supports (or fails to support) each of these concepts, and shows how the natural parenting industry skews and misquotes these findings in order to further their agendas.  And anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE a good discussion of the actual, published SCIENCE behind a concept.  That said, women who are currently pregnant (or plan to become pregnant soon) may want to pause before picking this book up--part of me thinks I would have loved reading it before having kids, but the other part of me isn't sure, as Tuteur is very straightforward about the data behind the risks of pregnancy (mortality rates for mother and child, for example)...things that I know would have made me rather anxious while pregnant.  Something for mommas to consider.

My only hesitation in recommending this book is that Tuteur's vitriol against the natural parenting industry is a little much at times.  I would have preferred if she could have kept a more level head in her discussion of the issues, as the scientific evidence speaks for itself in many cases.  And anyone who is a hardcore La Leche League/Dr. Sears/etc. follower will likely not enjoy this.  However, if you're as sick of parent-shaming as I am, give this book a try!

Before The Fall
Noah Hawley
Grand Central Publishing, 2016
borrowed from the library

Current contender for my favorite book of the year!  Before the Fall is a positively fabulous mystery/thriller that had me reading well past my bedtime, captivated by every page.  A small private plane crashes off of Martha's Vineyard, and only two passengers live to tell about it.  What ensues is an investigation into what caused the mysterious crash, as the two survivors struggle to navigate the next steps in their lives.

Hawley's storytelling style played a major role in my involvement with the novel, as he flashes back to each passenger on the plane to show you what they were doing in the years, months, and days leading up to the crash.  You get new pieces of the puzzle added with every chapter.  The book also goes beyond being a simple mystery by making interesting commentary about the power of the media in the wake of national tragedies (sadly very relevant right now).  I won't say more for fear of spoiling this one for you, but I can't recommend it highly enough!!

The Walking Dead, Compendium 3
Robert Kirkman et al
Image Comics, 2015
borrowed from the library

Only recommended if you read the first two compendiums, but this one is SO good!!  Compendium 3 brings you up past where the TV show is now, with the introduction of Negan.  All I can say is, season 7 is gonna be a doozy FOR SURE (even if Negan's first TV victim is not the same as it is in the comics).  This collection ended on a pretty shocking note, and I know it's going to be a while before there's enough editions for a Compendium 4...so it may be time for me to start figuring out how to get my hands on individual issues!  :)  The Walking Dead is the first comic series I've ever read (my only other graphic novel/comic experience was The Watchman--also very good, though quite different), but it's got me thinking I should look into this medium a bit more.

What are you reading these days, reader pals?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Well-Read Runner: Marathon Training Update + Butterfly Compression + INJURED?!


Hello, runner friends!  It's been a while, but I am still here, chugging away at marathon training.  I'll give you a quick update, as I'm currently at the halfway point (week 9!) of the training.

Honestly: right now I feel like I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Up to this point, my longest run has been 12 miles, and I kind of just feel like I'm half marathon training.  I actually have a half marathon scheduled this weekend (Shoreline Half, part 3 of the Four Seasons Challenge), which I am treating as a regular slow-paced long run.  After that though...things get serious!  Some weekday runs will be up to 7 miles (eventually as high as 10), and my long run the weekend after Shoreline is 15 miles--the longest I will have ever done.  EEEKKK.

Things that have been helping me out so far in marathon training:

1. Getting enough sleep!  Almost all of my runs are still being done at 5-6am, so I am really trying to be good about getting to bed at a decent hour.  I don't always manage it, but I'm doing well enough that I don't feel completely exhausted (yet).

2. Eating right.  I still gorge on my faves sometimes (cookies, ice cream...hey, I'm burning mad calories over here!) but I have been VERY good about getting enough protein and fruits/veggies, which makes a huge difference.  I've also cut back my alcohol intake, and usually will not drink at all before a long run.  I'm no alcoholic, but seriously, summer drinking time?  It's hard to turn away a Sam's Summer these days!!  :)

3. Good stretching/cross training/recovery.  I have tried to be very diligent about foam rolling regularly, doing yoga 1-2 times a week, and not ignoring my cross training days (as I used to do).  Biking, swimming, and strength training are my friends!

I am also LOVING compression socks lately for recovery.  I had a few pairs already, but recently got a chance to review SLS3's Butterfly Compression socks, and became an instant fan:

They felt great on the run, and I've been using them for recovery post-run as well.  I never thought I'd see the day that I'd be wearing pink running wear (let alone with butterflies on them), but seriously, these are so fun (and they do have other colors!).  I got a few compliments from other runners while wearing!

SLS3 has them available in their Amazon store HERE, so if you're looking for some fun new running wear, check it out.

Things that have not been helping me during marathon training:

Only 1 thing.  Injury.  

WHOMP, WHOMP.

Yeah, the last 10 days I have been battling some sort of lower-leg ailment.  If I had to guess, it's a calf strain (I've had trouble getting in with an orthopedist, so Dr. Google is diagnosing for now), though I have no idea what brought it on specifically.  July 2 I did a 12 mile long run that felt AMAZING...until I got home.  And then my lower right leg hurt, a LOT, but mostly when running or going down stairs.  I took the holiday weekend off, only doing yoga.  Walking in sneakers vs. flip flops helped ease it as well.  Tuesday I tried the 3 mile run that was on my schedule, and while it didn't feel amazing, I was able to finish it.  However, Wednesday (the 6th) I tried a 6-miler, and had to call it quits after 4.5.  Pain was getting worse and starting to radiate up my hamstring.

I haven't run since then.  EEEEKKK.  And yes, I do have a half marathon this Saturday that I am running (or walking? at least finishing) come hell or high water.  In the meantime, I have been giving my leg lots of rest, ice, and compression.  I've also been cross training (biking, swimming) to keep up fitness.  Do you know how long it's been since I swam laps in a pool?  EIGHTEEN years ago on the JV swim team.  You know what though?  Turns out I forgot how much fun it is.  So I guess the upside to injury is that I'm rediscovering my cross training options.  I MAY have said the T-word (triathlon) recently to my husband, and he MAY have looked at me like I'm crazy.  That's for another day...
Getting ready to rock the YMCA pool. I know, the swim cap is super hotttttt.
Anyway, as of yesterday (the 12th) I finally woke up and felt like the pain was getting better.  Only a slight pinching pain in my calf, and only when I push off my right foot to run.  So my plan is to try a short 2 mile run tomorrow or Friday, just to see what I'm up against for this weekend.  Then it's fingers crossed for Saturday...and after that, re-evaluting where I'm at for marathon training.

I'm really hoping that this injury has a quick recovery period, because if I have to take too long of a break, this marathon is probably not a good idea for me right now.  I know there are marathoners who have cross-trained their way to the start line, but that's really not the way I want to get there for my first one.  I will cut back to the half marathon if I have to, though the thought makes me sad/frustrated/NOT happy.  I am SO looking forward to this first 26.2.  But I know running through injury isn't smart, so if I have to put it off for a while, I (reluctantly) will.

So, 9 weeks down...and the next 9 weeks should be interesting!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A Runner's Read! Run the World by Becky Wade


Title: Run the World: My 3,500 Mile Journey Through Running Cultures Around the Globe
Author: Becky Wade
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: July 5, 2016
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Fresh off a successful collegiate running career—with multiple NCAA All-American honors and two Olympic Trials qualifying marks to her name—Becky Wade was no stranger to international competition. But after years spent safely sticking to the training methods she knew, Becky was curious about how her counterparts in other countries approached the sport to which she’d dedicated over half of her life. So in 2012, as a recipient of the Watson Fellowship, she packed four pairs of running shoes, cleared her schedule for the year, and took off on a journey to infiltrate diverse running communities around the world. What she encountered far exceeded her expectations and changed her outlook into the sport she loved.

Over the next 12 months—visiting 9 countries with unique and storied running histories, logging over 3,500 miles running over trails, tracks, sidewalks, and dirt roads—Becky explored the varied approaches of runners across the globe. Whether riding shotgun around the streets of London with Olympic champion sprinter Usain Bolt, climbing for an hour at daybreak to the top of Ethiopia’s Mount Entoto just to start her daily run, or getting lost jogging through the bustling streets of Tokyo, Becky’s unexpected adventures, keen insights, and landscape descriptions take the reader into the heartbeat of distance running around the world.

Upon her return to the United States, she incorporated elements of the training styles she’d sampled into her own program, and her competitive career skyrocketed. When she made her marathon debut in 2013, winning the race in a blazing 2:30, she became the third-fastest woman marathoner under the age of 25 in U.S. history, qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Trials and landing a professional sponsorship from Asics. 

From the feel-based approach to running that she learned from the Kenyans, to the grueling uphill workouts she adopted from the Swiss, to the injury-recovery methods she learned from the Japanese, Becky shares the secrets to success from runners and coaches around the world. The story of one athlete’s fascinating journey, Run the World is also a call to change the way we approach the world’s most natural and inclusive sport.


My Review:

If Becky Wade is not the luckiest runner-traveler out there, I don't know who is!  With the help of the Watson Fellowship, she got to travel around the world for a YEAR and run.  And run.  And run some more.  And learn about how other cultures approach running.  If that doesn't sound like an insanely cool trip-of-a-lifetime, we have very different bucket lists. :)

Run the World is Wade's memoir of her year of running travels.  If you're a runner, this book will open your mind to all manner of different running techniques and traditions.  As Wade mentions often, American runners tend to focus on gadgetry, speedwork speedwork speedwork, and structured training plans.  However, she found that success as a runner doesn't always translate to keeping track of your pace on your Garmin with every run.  And every great runner does not always "carb-load" with pasta the night before a big race.  The things we take for granted as "must-haves" or "must-dos" as runners are not always available or desirable in other running cultures.  Wade's book highlights those differences and the ways she was able to combine some of them with her old running routines to make her training even more effective.

There are so many facets of this book for readers to enjoy.  Yes, there is the exploration of running culture, but the book is also peppered with international recipes for yummy runner foods that Wade discovered throughout her trip; descriptions of beautiful running locales the world round; and the wide variety of people she was able to form connections with in the running community.  My initial awe at the details of Wade's journey quickly combined with admiration for her ability to comfortably jump right in to cultures that were entirely new to her.  Wade rarely stayed in hotels or hostels, instead managing to find lodging with local runners or coaches during her stay in each country.  Not only did this steep her in the daily life of the host country even more, but it required her to have a certain amount of bravery as she experienced a trial-by-fire introduction to each new culture.  I'm not sure I could have done that with such a low level of anxiety!

Run the World is an excellent read, especially for the runners and the world travelers among you.  Bonus: just before I opened my computer to write this post last night, I pulled my new issue of Runner's World out of the mailbox and found a feature about Becky Wade (and Run the World) inside!  So check her out there as well.  She is also racing in the US Olympic Track and Field Trials THIS WEEK in Portland, Oregon, vying for a spot to compete in the 3000m steeplechase.

Go, Becky, go!  This is one runner/reader who will certainly be rooting for you from afar after following your running journey in this book.

As always, much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour.
Want to find out more?  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE. And connect with Becky Wade via Twitter and Instagram.


Friday, July 1, 2016

A Midpoint Check-In for 2016

Hello, reader/runner friends!  Today marks the first day of the second half of 2016, so I thought it would be fun to check in with how I'm doing on the reading and running fronts so far this year.  I have also been admittedly absent around here lately, so it serves as a way for me to let you know what's going on in my little corner of the world these days.

Let's start with Reading:

So far I've read 25 books this year, not bad!  I didn't set a goal for 2016, but I've read a LOT of great books in that group of 25, and as such the reading has been easy.  It's nice when you don't feel like you're getting hung up on a lot of slow reads or DNFs.

It's hard for me to pick favorites, but a few contenders for the "best so far" of this year would be What Alice Forgot, Everyone Brave is Forgiven, and Alice & Oliver.


Running:

I went back in my Nike+ history and found that I've run 426.5 miles this year so far--woohoo!  I have never kept track of my yearly mileage or set a monthly/yearly mileage goal, but I went further back to 2015 and found that I ran 364.2 miles in the first 6 months of that year.  I think this Four Seasons Challenge is definitely helping me stay motivated!  Last year whenever I finished a big race, my 70-100 mile/month frequency would plummet down to 25-40 miles/month if I had nothing to train for.  Now that there's always a race on the horizon, I'm getting out there more often and am feeling more consistently race-ready.

Two of the Four Seasons races are done...the next is in just a few weeks (Shoreline Half on July 16), though I'm using it as a training run for the September Rochester Marathon.  Marathon training is going REALLY well, but the July training schedule amps up the mileage quite a bit, so check in with me again in August to see if I'm still so enthusiastic.  ;)
Me at the 19K finish line back in May...yeah, hoping I can look like that at the marathon finish too!
Personally:

My most significant news of late is that I am going back to school.  Yup, again!  A bachelors and a masters didn't seem like enough, so I decided to add an associates degree (haha).  This fall, I'll be starting classes to get my degree in Fitness and Recreation Management (with a concentration in Personal Training).  The eventual goal is to get a job as a personal trainer once Tater Tot is in school full-time.  That's not for several more years, so it gives me time to spread out the coursework.  You can get a personal trainer certification without going to college for it, but doing it that way does not require any hands-on experience, which I would like to get before heading into the workforce.  The degree requires an internship, so I'm pretty stoked about the opportunity to gain experience in the field before I (hopefully) get a job!

This is a huge career change for me (you may remember I was in higher ed administration before), but one that I am extremely excited about!

That's where I'm at these days.  I know I post less frequently, but I do so love my blog and all my bloggy friends--I hope that, as always, you'll stick with me through this new busy season in my life!  :)  While I know I'll have to trade some pleasure reading time for textbook reading time this fall, I have such a long list of excellent TBR books that I know I won't be ignoring it completely!

How's your 2016 going so far??

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Giveaway/Beach Read Alert! Mystic Summer by Hannah McKinnon


Title: Mystic Summer
Author: Hannah McKinnon
Publisher: Atria
Publication Date: June 7, 2016
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Since finishing graduate school, Maggie Griffin has worked hard to build an enviable life in Boston. She’s an elementary school teacher in a tony Boston suburb, a devoted sister, and a loving aunt. With her childhood best friend’s wedding quickly approaching and her own relationship blossoming, this is the summer she has been waiting for.

But when Maggie’s career is suddenly in jeopardy, her life begins to unravel. Stricken, Maggie returns home to seaside Mystic, Connecticut, where she expects to find comfort in family and familiarity. Instead, she runs into Cameron Wilder, a young man from her past who has also returned home, and whose life has taken a turn that puts Maggie’s city struggles in harsh perspective. When tragedy strikes for Cameron, Maggie is faced with big decisions as she weighs what matters most and strives to stay true to the person she’s become.

Set against the gorgeous backdrop of a New England summer when past and present collide, Mystic Summer is a gorgeous novel about looking back, moving forward, and the beauty that blooms when fate intervenes.


My Review:

I haven't read a lot of beachy romances lately, but when I saw the title of Mystic Summer and realized it was set in Mystic, Connecticut, there was NO way I could turn it down!  Nothing like a hometown (well, almost hometown...I grew up in next-door Groton, but spent a fair amount of my youth hanging around Mystic) read to kick off the summer.

Even though my main attraction here was the setting, I ended up loving the story itself.  Maggie is a great protagonist--she's a smart woman, but makes a fair amount of mistakes as she navigates this uncertain time in her life.  I appreciate that she isn't a perfect character who never fumbles or questions her decisions.  She also finds herself in a rather messy love triangle, the results of which I found satisfying without being corny or predictable.  There may not be anything groundbreaking or heart-stopping to this novel, but it's got BEACH READ written all over it.  Fun characters, summer flings, high school nostalgia, and even a wedding thrown in--what else could you ask for?  I was able to read this in a few small sittings, and it was a great choice at a time in my reading life when I really needed a smartly-written, yet lighthearted novel.

As a local, I'll say that McKinnon's ability to bring out the atmosphere of the town was admirable.  I loved all the shout-outs to nearby shops and landmarks (Bank Square Books, Harp and Hound, the drawbridge, woohoo!).  However, I am morally obligated to point out a few inaccuracies, though I'll keep the list short in order to not sound TOO picky: based on where Maggie lives, she and her friends should be alumni of Fitch High (GO FALCONS!!) not Stonington High, the Naval Base is in Groton (not New London), and there is NO local resident who eats at Mystic Pizza nearly as often as Maggie and her friends do (tourist trap! haha).  Okay, I'm done.  Told you I was being picky.  ;)

Anyway, since today is the second official day of summer, I'm recommending this one for your poolside read list for sure!

As always, much thanks to Lisa and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour.
Want to find out more?  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE. And connect with Hannah McKinnon via Twitter and Facebook.
GIVEAWAY TIME!!
The publisher has made 1 copy of Mystic Summer available to be won by one of my lucky readers.  Just fill out the Rafflecopter below!  US/Canada entrants only please, giveaway ends 6/28/16.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, June 13, 2016

He Will Be My Ruin by K.A. Tucker


Title: He Will Be My Ruin
Author: K.A. Tucker
Publisher: Atria
Publication Date: February 2, 2016
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Twenty-eight-year-old Maggie Sparkes arrives in New York City to pack up what’s left of her best friend’s belongings after a suicide that has left everyone stunned. The police have deemed the evidence conclusive: Celine got into bed, downed a bottle of Xanax and a handle of Maker’s Mark, and never woke up. But when Maggie discovers secrets in the childhood lock box hidden in Celine’s apartment, she begins asking questions. Questions about the man Celine fell in love with. The man she never told anyone about, not even Maggie. The man who Celine herself claimed would be her ruin.

On the hunt for answers that will force the police to reopen the case, Maggie uncovers more than she bargained for about Celine’s private life—and inadvertently puts herself on the radar of a killer who will stop at nothing to keep his crimes undiscovered.


My Review:

I haven't jumped into the mystery genre in a while, but I was happy to give this one a shot after reading that description.  I'm new to K.A. Tucker's work, but recognized her name, and this was a great first novel of hers to jump into.  He Will Be My Ruin combines a sassy protagonist, several shady suspects, and of course, a few good red herrings along the way.  I was pleasantly surprised by the end result.

At first, I thought for sure that I had this mystery all figured out from the get-go.  I had it narrowed down to two possible suspects, and couldn't see how Tucker would manage to have it NOT be so predictably one of them.  However, even though I kept going back to my two main targets, by the end of the book I had suspected EVERYBODY (except maybe Maggie) at least once.  Tucker builds just enough oddity into each character that it's easy to concoct a motive for nearly any of them.  Plus, she creates unexpected side plots that flesh out the mystery more and more as the novel goes on.  I won't give away the ending, but I'll say that it was a spectacular finish that left me happy to have gone on the journey to get there.

This review is about as straightforward as it gets: if you love a good whodunit, with lots of quirky characters and a little bit of romantic spice thrown in, then He Will Be My Ruin is a good bet.

As always, much thanks to Lisa and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Want to find out more?  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE. And connect with K.A. Tucker via her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

 
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