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Triathlon Across the USA: State #11 – Florida

Triathlon Across the USA: State #11 – Florida
Crabby Bills Restaurant across the street from Clearwater Beach.

Clearwater, Florida; November 11, 2012—TriRock Clearwater Triathlon

Joy and I used the timing of this triathlon to schedule a Florida vacation of a little over a week. The trip, in honor of our 39th wedding anniversary, provided opportunity to spend time with friends (Lyle & Diane in Deerfield Beach; Don & Sue in The Villages) and relax at the Holiday Inn in Highland Beach, one of our few romantic getaways.

Getting to the Florida Triathlon

We flew with my bike from Minnesota to West Palm Beach, Florida on Friday, November 2nd. Following a short drive south, we reached the Holiday Inn in Highland Beach, our base for a weekend visit with friends in nearby Deerfield Beach. 

On Monday morning, we drove to The Villages, about one hour northwest of Orlando, where we spent the night with friends Don and Sue in the house they had rented.  The next morning, we moved to a house in The Villages we had rented for four nights as part of a get-to-know-the-area package. 

Through the rest of the week, I ran and cycled with a group of 60- and 70-year-olds. Joy and I also played golf with Don and Sue, took in a movie, went dancing every night, shopped, ate out, etc. In short, we had a blast.

On Saturday, we drove from The Villages to Clearwater Beach, the venue for the triathlon the next day.  Before picking up the race packet, we enjoyed a fresh seafood lunch at Crabby Bill’s situated directly across the street from Pier 60, location of the transition area. After picking up the race packet and before driving to our hotel, we walked around the expo that was part of the triathlon.

1st TriRock Clearwater Triathlon

About 150 male and female triathletes from thirty-two states and five countries met for the inaugural TriRock Clearwater Triathlon on what was a near-perfect morning for a triathlon.  Skies were blue with a few wispy clouds. The air temperature was comfortable, though cool, especially with a light breeze coming off the water.

Distances for the individual legs of this USAT-sanctioned sprint triathlon were:

  • Swim: 0.34 mile (550 m)
  • Bike: 13.4 mile (21 km)
  • Run: 3.1 mile (5 km)
The swim for the Florida triathlon was in the cool water of the Gulf of Mexico at Clearwater Beach.  The exit for the swim was near the pier shown in the picture.  Source: commons.wikimedia.org
The swim leg of the Florida triathlon was in the cool water of the Gulf of Mexico at Clearwater Beach. The exit for the swim was near the pier shown in the picture. Source: commons.wikimedia.org

Swim

The water in the Gulf of Mexico was unexpectedly cold, around 65ºF. This meant that according to USA Triathlon rules, wetsuits were not only allowed but encouraged.

Swimmers started in waves based on age groups. The water was calm, making for a comfortable swim once I absorbed the initial shock of the cold water.  Upon exiting the water, we ran to the grassy transition area across the beach with its mixture of sand and small shells.

Bike

The distinctive feature of this race’s bicycle leg was the ride up and over three bridges spanning inner coastal portions of water.  The climb up and ride down from these bridges led to a challenging and, occasionally, fast (over 30 miles per hour) ride.

The first part of the bike leg of the TriRock Clearwater Triathlon took us across Clearwater Bay on the Memorial Causeway. Source: commons.wikimedia.org.

When not on a bridge, we snaked our way through neighborhoods in Clearwater, Belleair Beach, and Clearwater Beach, finishing the ride on Gulf Boulevard and Coronado Drive.

Run

The initial section of the run was along the causeway (bridge) that was also part of the bike course. On the way to the turnaround, we passed the first of several bands providing live music along the run course, another of the signature features of this race.

About one-mile into the run, we turned around and headed back in the direction of the park. At the roundabout across from the transition area, we continued on the completely flat running path along South Gulfview Boulevard, the street running parallel to Clearwater Beach. Here we encountered the next series of bands.

Following a second turnaround, we headed toward the finish line.

Results

Who says that ‘old people’ don’t take these races seriously? Maybe young people, but not those of us racing in the higher age groups.

This race again showed the competitiveness of older triathletes. The race for the second, third, and fourth places for the Males 55-59 Age Group was close; only 19 seconds separated the second and fourth place finishers.

I finished third in my age group, 8 seconds behind the second-place finisher and 11 seconds ahead of the fourth place finisher.

After the Florida Triathlon

Before traveling back to Minnesota, we made one more overnight stop in The Villages. With this visit, we could see our friends once more, enjoy more dancing at Lake Sumter Landing, and pack my bike for the airline ride home.

Race Firsts

  • First triathlon performed with a vacation to celebrate our wedding anniversary.
  • First triathlon with the swim portion in the Gulf of Mexico.

Leave Your Questions and Comments Below

What type swim do you prefer? ocean? lake? pool? Why?

Have you combined a race and vacation? If so, what has been your favorite?

Please share your comments below.

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Triathlon Across the USA: State #21 – Michigan

Triathlon Across the USA: State #21 – Michigan
Ski resort near Ironwood, Michigan during the summer.

Iron Mountain, Michigan, June 29, 2014 – Northern Lights YMCA UP Northwoods Triathlon, Lake Antoine County Park

Thanks to an 1835-36 dispute over a narrow strip of land in what is now northern Ohio, our trip to the Michigan triathlon was much shorter than it could have been.

Before you leave, let me explain.

The dispute, known as the Toledo War, led to the eventual granting of the Upper Peninsula, or UP, to Michigan instead of Wisconsin. The result? We could race on the western side of Lake Michigan while still being in the state of Michigan, most of which is on the eastern side.

Getting to the Michigan Triathlon

Since we were traveling to northern Michigan for the triathlon, we decided to visit Joy’s cousin, Linda and her husband, Tom outside Ironwood, Michigan. We arrived late Friday afternoon following a leisurely drive along the southern end of Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin.

After breakfast in Ironwood the next morning, Tom and Linda took us to some of their favorites sites. This included the Copper Peak ski flying jump and Black River Harbor where we were chased by swarms of black flies just as had been predicted.

Later that morning, we made the journey to Iron Mountain, continuing to soak in the laid back feeling of the area. After a late lunch and a drive through this town of a little over 7,000 residents, we checked into our hotel. Before picking up the race packet at Lake Antoine Park later in the afternoon, we drove the bike course, one of our typical pre-race rituals.

4th Annual UP Northwoods Triathlon

About 70 triathletes gathered at Lake Antoine Park for the Northern Lights YMCA UP Northwoods Sprint Triathlon.

Distances for the individual legs of this sprint triathlon were:

  • Swim: 0.31 mile (500 m)
  • Bike: 17 mile (27 km)
  • Run: 3.1 mile (5 km)
Ready for the swim with wetsuit in the cool waters of Lake Antoine at the Michigan triathlon.
After a short swim to check out the bottom of Lake Antoine and warm to the chilly water, I was ready for the triathlon to begin. The light mist before the race brought out umbrellas by some spectators.

Swim

The 500 meter swim for this triathlon occurred in Lake Antoine, a clean, shallow lake with silty bottom perfect for the park, campground, and cabins that surround it. The water was also cool enough to make me glad to be wearing a wetsuit.

I was assigned to the first wave of ten swimmers. With a great start, I found myself alone and apparently leading the wave.

The previous months of swim training were paying off. I was entering a whole new level in my triathlon racing and could even see myself first out of the water.

About that time, I was awaken from my dream. A young lady on a stand-up paddleboard yelled down to inform me that I was off-course. Instead of keeping ‘the buoys on my left’, I was swimming on the left side of the buoys. Now back in the real world, I re-joined the wave realizing that I was not in the lead. 

One good thing about triathlon is that it keeps one humble.

Bike

Fortunately, the light rain had stopped by the time I came out of the water. The roads were essentially dry as we headed onto the bike course.

We exited the park to the left following Lake Antoine along its southern edge, eventually merging onto Lake Antoine Road.

At the split, where Lake Antoine Road turns into the park, we continued straight, onto Upper Pine Creek Drive and the first hills of the course.

An example of the rolling hills on the bike course at the Northern Lights YMCA UP Northwoods Triathlon, our Michigan triathlon.
The bike course at the Northern Lights YMCA UP Northwoods Triathlon was full of rolling hills lined by trees and the occasional deer. Picture courtesy of Northwoods YMCA.

Somewhere within the next 2-3 miles, I experienced another ‘Race First’ – braking for a couple of deer crossing the road in front of me. I was never close enough to collide with the curious, young animals. However, that could have changed had they been spooked and decided to return to their original side of the road. Better safe than sorry.

After another mile or two, this road made a right angle turn. We were now on an even more hilly portion (see the picture above). We turned onto US Highway 2, traveling on its shoulder for 1-2 miles before exiting onto Lake Antoine Road. From here, we headed back to the transition area.

Run

A portion of the ‘out-and-back’ run course included roads within the campground of Lake Antoine Park. Several campers enjoyed their morning coffee while cheering on the triathletes.

The run eventually exited the park to the south following the same road around Lake Antoine we had biked earlier. At the midpoint of the 5 km run, we turned around and returned to the finish line along the same path.

After the Michigan Triathlon

We had plans for dinner at our Minnesota home with family that evening so left almost immediately after the race. Following a shower at the hotel, we set out on our six-hour trip home.

Race First’s

  • First race during which I braked for deer crossing the road.
  • This was the first race during which I wore my race number belt under the wetsuit. This saved me a few seconds in transition since I did not need to put the race number belt on before climbing onto the bike.

Leave Your Questions and Comments Below

What has been a lesson for triathlon training or racing that you recently learned?

Have you encountered any animals (like deer in this story) during a triathlon?

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Triathlon Across the USA: State #26 – Washington

Triathlon Across the USA: State #26 – Washington

Bremerton, Washington, September 13, 2015 – Tri Turtle Tri, Wildcat Lake County Park

With yesterday’s race in Oregon, I had completed triathlons in half of the states of the USA.  Today, I would start the second half with the triathlon in the state of Washington.

A Short Trip to the Washington Triathlon

After the awards ceremony for the Best in the West Triathlon, Joy and I pointed our van to Wildcat Lake Park, a county park outside Bremerton, Washington.  Our goal was to reach the park in time for packet pickup for the next day’s race.

We reached the park, which is located within 10 miles of the eastern edge of the Olympic National Park, with time to spare and collected the race packet. 

Meet the Race Director

There is no doubt in my mind that Lisa Ballou is the reason for the longevity of Tri Turtle Tri.  She is organized and among the most enthusiastic of race directors I have met.  Lisa’s email signature – ‘Lisa B, your Tri Turtle’ – gives you a sense of her fun-loving personality. 

Her frequent communications before and after the race encouraged both experienced and first-time triathletes.  For example, take a look at her description of the swim course from an email sent a few days before the event: 

“The ½ mile SWIM will travel in a clockwise triangle. Volunteers will be positioned on surfboards about every 100 yards along the course. Swimmers can stop and rest at these markers, if necessary. In addition, there will be swim volunteers in the water with flotation noodles to aid swimmers needing personal assistance.”

After a single sentence description of the race course, Lisa dedicated the remaining space to encouraging those less-than-confident swimmers. I know that if I were concerned about the swim, I would feel a whole lot more comfortable knowing that the water was filled with people ready, willing, and able to help me complete this first leg of the triathlon.

Another Triathlon Doubling as a Fundraiser

2015 was also the 10th year that Tri Turtle Tri donated part of its proceeds to local fitness and wellness programs, which included a free community wide “Family Fun Run” to encourage families to greater fitness.

This was the also the third year that Tri Turtle Tri, through Tri Turtle Wellness, had awarded a college scholarship to a Klahowya secondary school graduate.  The scholarship was based on the student’s essay describing how the Kitsap Tri Babe motto, “The miracle is not that I finished, the miracle is that I began,” was relevant to their life.  

Race director Lisa Ballou with two of the members of the Klahowya Secondary School cross country team she had coached. The young man on Lisa’s left completed the triathlon while the one on the right served as a race volunteer.  The picture is courtesy of Lisa Ballou.

10th Annual Tri Turtle Tri SprintPlus Triathlon

About 400 participants gathered on this drizzly morning at Wildcat Park to swim, bike, and run in and around Wildcat Lake.

Distances for the individual legs of this USAT-sanctioned triathlon were slightly longer than those of the typical sprint triathlon, hence the name ‘SprintPlus’:

  • Swim: 0.5 mile (800 m)
  • Bike: 15.6 mile (25.1 km)
  • Run: 3.4 mile (5.5 km)

Swim

The temperature of the water in Wildcat Lake today was below 78⁰F meaning that according to USA Triathlon rules wetsuits could be worn for the swim.  The cool drizzle made the wetsuit even more desirable.

The half mile (800 m) swim followed a clockwise triangular path with two right turns before exiting the lake.

I made two mistakes on race morning that caused me to waste time on the swim, even if only a few seconds.  First, I had not identified the swim exit on the race course map.  I also missed the portion of the pre-race meeting during which Lisa pointed out where swimmers were to exit

As a result, during the final leg of the triangular-shaped course, I set a trajectory toward the area where we had entered the lake, instead of toward the actual exit which was 10 to 20 yards left of the start.

Triathlon tip: Take time before the race to learn the course as much as possible.  This should involve learning where to exit the swim typically by identifying a marker near the exit.

From the exit of the water, we climbed a steep hill on our way to the transition area.  Upon reaching flatter ground, the remaining jog to the transition area involved dodging, and occasionally stepping on, sharp rocks protruding from the ground.

Bike

The 15.6 mile (25.1 km), out-and-back bike course took us on local roads, initially west of Wildcat County Park.  At about half way toward the turnaround, the course shifted to a southwesterly direction.  Sparse traffic allowed us to enjoy the evergreen trees, deciduous shrubs, and ground cover that was only occasionally interrupted by an access for a home or small business. 

A short distance before turning around, we exited the main road onto one that looped around to rejoin it about a half-mile southwest of where we had left it.  While the scenery still included stands of tall, straight pines, this area reminded me a lot of the northern part of my home state of Minnesota with its splotches of bogs and wetlands within the forests.

We then rejoined the main road for our return to the transition area.  At this point, we were within 3 miles of Hood Canal, a fjord that makes up part of Puget Sound.

A Hilly Ride

Even though the course featured an elevation gain of between 750 and just under 900 feet (230 to 275 m), depending upon the map used, I really did not recall it being that hilly.

There were two, actually three, reasons for the hilliness going unnoticed.  First, except for the sizeable hill at the beginning and end of the course, most of the course consisted of modest rolling hills.

Secondly, while we were riding on major traffic ways for the area, there was so little vehicle traffic on this Sunday morning, that we could enjoy the forests and wetlands along the course.

Finally, and most importantly, I was distracted by concern about my tires going flat.  As the drizzle continued throughout the race, more water collected on the road.  Hearing a hissing sound brought back the unpleasant memories of a similar sound, the one I heard during the Rhode Island triathlon in the minutes before I crashed as a result of a flat tire. 

Focused on the sound and remembering the pain of the crash, I became increasingly convinced that one of my tires was losing air.  With mist collecting on my glasses, it was impossible to get even a quick, clear glance at the tires to see if they were becoming flat.

When I could no longer stand not knowing if a crash was imminent, I stopped along the edge of the road.  After dismounting, I inspected each tire by pressing them firmly between my index finger and thumb.  Thankfully, I learned that all of my suspicions had been wrong.  Both tires were fully inflated, even if dripping wet.

I relaxed and finished the bike leg.

Run

The 3.4 mile (5.5 km) run left the transition area toward the entrance to the park for a counterclockwise run along roads which had been cut through the woods surrounding Wildcat Lake.  The tree-lined run course followed the left side of the local road, traveling against the negligible Sunday morning traffic. The course included a continuous series of hills, most gradual but several quite challenging.  At the top of the last hill, the course made a left turn for a final sprint to the finish line.

Race T-Shirt

For most triathlons, the t-shirt is provided during packet pickup either the day before or day of the race.  Tri Turtle Tri was different in that the t-shirt was presented only to finishers after they crossed the finish line.

Another unique feature of the t-shirt was that it included the participant’s names.  My name was the top one printed on the iconic turtle’s right flipper.

collage showing logo on t-shirt for Tri Turtle Tri and closeup of area with individual participant names
Logo from the 2015 Tri Turtle Tri finishers t-shirt (left) and the portion around the right flipper containing the names of some of the finishers, of which mine was listed at the top (right).

After the Race

Following the race, Joy and I went back to the hotel for a quick shower and to finish packing for the next leg of our trip.  The first stop was at Anthony’s HomePort and Oyster Bar in the Seattle suburb of Des Moines for a scrumptious seafood lunch with Joy’s cousin Karyn and her son.

We finished lunch around mid-afternoon and made a short trek to nearby Kent where we would stay the night before resuming our journey home the next day. 

The return included stops in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; Bismarck, North Dakota; Watson, Minnesota to visit Joy’s cousin Tom; and Hector, Minnesota to visit our eldest granddaughter.

Race First’s

  • First time for three races in one week.
  • This was the first time that my name was printed on the race shirt.
  • First race for which the T-shirt was presented after crossing the finish line only to those who completed the race.

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Triathlon Across the USA: State #25 – Oregon

Triathlon Across the USA: State #25 – Oregon
Weddle Covered Bridge in Sweet Home, Oregon

Sweet Home, Oregon, September 12, 2015 – Lewis Creek County Park, Foster Lake

The Oregon triathlon was the second of three sprint triathlons I would complete in seven days.  The first of the three, the South Davis Recreation Center Labor Day Triathlon in Bountiful, Utah, was finished.  The third was the Tri Turtle Tri in Bremerton, Washington set for the next day.

 

Sightseeing Before the Oregon Triathlon

With four days between arriving in Oregon and the next triathlon, Joy and I toured the western part of the state, beginning in Crater Lake National Park.  After the better part of a day of stopping for pictures and to read information displays at numerous locations around the crater, we headed toward the southern end of Oregon.

The route we chose led us into the northwest corner of California where we connected to Highway 101, also named the Oregon Coast Highway once we re-entered Oregon.

During the next three days, we made our way along the entire length of the Oregon coast, passing for a short time into the southern end of Washington state.

 

A Leisurely Trip Up the Coast

We had no schedule beyond the need to arrive in Sweet Home on Friday afternoon.  So, we took our time, stopping and lingering at places that caught our attention, like Lincoln City where we learned about crabbing (see photo collage below).

Crater Lake - Lincoln City Oregon - Cape Meares lighthouse - Arches Rock

Crater Lake (upper left); Joy receiving instruction on trapping crab (upper right); Top of the Cape Meares lighthouse (lower right); Oregon coast at Arches Rock (lower left).

 

Great Seafood

Both of us experienced more than a few jaw-dropping moments while taking in the beauty and diversity of the inland and coastal landscapes.

For lunches and dinners, we took advantage of our proximity to the Pacific Ocean to partake of the local seafood.

The most memorable of these meals was during our overnight stop in Florence.  It was at the Waterfront Depot Restaurant that we enjoyed the most scrumptious halibut, a crab encrusted fillet with a sweet chili sauce, that either of us has had, even to this day.

By Friday afternoon, we arrived, as planned, into Linn County, the “Grass Seed Capital of the World”, and Sweet Home, the host city for the Oregon triathlon.

 

Free Camping

While registering for the race, I noticed that the call for race volunteers came with the offer of free camping within Lewis Creek County Park.   Joy and I decided that she would volunteer for the race, in part so we could take advantage of this offer.

We had purchased a two-person tent intending to camp at the park on Friday night.  Camping offered two benefits.  First, it would save the cost of a hotel.  However, second, and even more importantly, it would avoid us having to rise before dawn to get to the race site around the time of the opening of the transition area.

However, it became clear that camping was no longer our first choice for the evening once we arrived at Lewis Park for packet pickup on Friday afternoon.

Sure, the park was gorgeous, and it had all the essential facilities.  However, temperatures in the high 80°F and unseasonably high humidity made the thought of camping completely unappealing.  We had both become too accustomed to climate control, not to mention mattresses, for a good night’s rest while in a tent in these conditions.

One of the volunteers at packet pickup told us that the hotels within Sweet Home were fully booked for the weekend.  However, thanks to a last-minute cancellation, we were blessed with the availability of a clean, air-conditioned motel room.

Triathlon tip: Some have called triathlon ‘a rich man’s sport’ because of the cost of equipment, nutrition, registration, travel to the event, and more.  However, there are several ways to minimize the costs, such as camping at the race venue when available and using the suggestions in this post from Training Peaks.

 

5th Best in the West Triathlon Festival

Headquarters for the Best in the West Triathlon Festival was Lewis Creek County Park, in Willamette Valley a few miles east of Sweet Home.  The park is home to Foster Lake, a reservoir created by a dam along the South Santiam River.

The Best in the West Triathlon Festival, managed by Best in the West Events, was a two-day affair.  Saturday included sprint and half Ironman distances of the triathlon and duathlon races.  In addition, each of these included relay versions in which two or three participants shared a leg of the race.

Distances for the individual legs of the USAT-sanctioned sprint triathlon in which I took part were:

  • Swim: 0.3 miles (500 m)
  • Bike: 12 miles (19.5 km)
  • Run: 3.1 miles (5 km)

On Sunday, college men and women competed in the Olympic distance race.  Others, called ‘age groupers’, raced in Olympic distance triathlon and duathlon events as individuals or as part of men’s, women’s, or coed relay teams.

Sunday also included events for children and those wanting to “test the water” with triathlon.  Kids competed in either a short or long course swim and run.  There was also a ‘Try-a-Tri’ distance for both children and adults.  For this event, the distances for each of the three sports was roughly half those for the sprint triathlon.

More information about the various races is on the event website.

Saturday’s event began with the half Ironman triathlon swim.  Sprint distance racers started once all the half Ironman racers had finished the swim and were on their bikes.

 

Swim

While the air temperatures were warm, the water temperature was below 78⁰F making the race ‘wetsuit-legal’ according to USAT rules.

Before the start, we waded into Foster Lake to about chest depth.  Here we waited for the start signal which, for this race, was produced by a real shotgun.

Best in the West Triathlon swim start at Foster Lake Oregon. (Picture courtesy of Best in the West Events.)

The Best in the West triathlon open water swim took place in Foster Lake.  Swimmers took off with a real shotgun start. (Picture courtesy of Best in the West Events.)

 

With the shotgun blast, we swam away from the beach toward the first orange buoy (visible above the horse’s neck in the above picture).

At the orange buoy, we turned left and swam to a second turn buoy.  At this second buoy, we made a second left turn and swam back to the beach.  Upon reaching the beach, we jogged into the transition area.

 

Bike

The flat bike course ran along the northern edge of Foster Lake following North River Road.

After 2-1/2 miles, we reached the end of the lake; the end containing Foster Dam and a small hill that drops about 100 ft (30 m) over a quarter of a mile.  The course continued about 3-1/2 miles to the turnaround on a residential street in the northwest corner of Sweet Home.

From here, we rode back along the same route as we had just covered.  This time, we climbed up the hill at the dam.

Bike course for Best in the West triathlon on North River Road at Foster Lake Oregon

A portion of the bike course for the Best in the West Oregon Triathlon was on the road that runs along the north side of Foster Lake. (Picture courtesy of Best in the West Events.)

 

Run

The run course covered a short distance of grass and a wooden footbridge.  Other than those, the run was on paved roads and trails within the park.  The gradual rolling hills with climbs of 50 to 70 feet (15 to 21 m) provided enough challenge to make the race interesting.

However, the shade and overall beauty of the tree-lined paths made for a pleasant finish to the triathlon.

Best in the West triathlon run course in Lewis Creek County Park Oregon

The run course for the Best in the West sprint triathlon was nearly completely covered. (Picture courtesy of Best in the West Events.)

 

Awards Ceremony for the Oregon Triathlon

I finished last of those in my age group (males age 60-64).   However, for this race, it was also a third place finish which qualified me for one of the awards given to the top three finishers in each age group.

The award (pictured below) was among the most unique I have received to date.  You can see other novel awards at “5 Unique Triathlon Medals; They are No Longer Just Metal”.

Age group award from the Best of the West sprint triathlon.

Age group award from the Best of the West sprint triathlon.

 

After the Race

Following the race, we rushed back to the motel for a shower before returning to the park for the awards ceremony.

It was then back on the road to make the five-hour drive to Bremerton, Washington.  Our goal was to reach there in the late afternoon in time for packet pickup for the next day’s triathlon.  Spoiler alert: we made it in time.

 

Race First’s

  • First triathlon with a “shotgun start” involving a shotgun.

 

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