Ironman Connecticut 70.3 Race Report 6-2-19

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Ironman Connecticut 70.3 is a triathlon I won’t forget anytime too soon! I wanted to love this event especially since it’s an iconic race with a lot of history and known for being a beast of a course. Even my coach Lisa along with other top pros from all over the world have toed the line at Quassy in southern Connecticut. This half Ironman event used to be under Rev3 management and was officially called Quassy Rev3. It takes place at a quaint old-fashioned amusement park with wooden roller coasters and many rides and attractions. And it’s located right on a beautiful body of water called Lake Quassapaug in Middlebury, CT. I was excited to learn that Ironman had taken over this event. I love the fierce competition that the Ironman brand draws from all over the world. And they always put on a fantastic and exciting event. Sadly, due to heavy fog that shortened the swim and around 2,000 athletes on the congested bike course, it made for a dangerous and crazy day out there.

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This event for me was purely a training race for Ironman Canada in Whistler, BC on July 28th. The timing on June 2nd was perfect. And a very hilly bike and tough run course were just what I needed to prepare for Canada which is known for an extremely tough course as well. I had already secured my spot at the Worlds 70.3 in Nice, France from doing Ironman Texas 70.3 this past April. So, I really had no pressure for Connecticut. However, I had hoped to make the long podium and cling onto a 5th place. I was a bit sad to have missed this by about a minute. 7th place is a little disappointing for me. However, the field was stacked and I wasn’t fully tapered for this race like I was for Texas. And Lisa reminded me that I had a lot of run volume heading into this race so I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. I still did well and had a good performance in spite of all the crazy variables on race day! And I never regret doing any triathlon as the experience is invaluable. I always learn so much from each event.

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We drove down to Connecticut on Friday morning. The 4-hour drive was pleasant until we hit the Springfield, MA area. We suffered through heavy traffic on I-91 and I-84 until a few miles from our destination. Being in Vermont we are not used to big city driving similar to Boston and where we lived in San Diego 20 years ago! But we made it to Middlebury, CT in one piece, just in time for the athlete briefing. The perks of getting down early enough is that we rolled through athlete check-in and got our packets with no lines. Scott picked up his packet and got the bracelet even though he wasn’t quite ready to race yet (due to a hip issue in the winter). He was able to walk into transition with me and make sure I was all set. Luckily, he’s back to training and will do the 70.3 in Whistler on the same day I tackle the full Ironman.

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We stayed at a wonderful rental home just 2.4 miles from Quassy park and the race venue which was super convenient. I loved this fully restored farm house so much. It was absolutely charming, cozy and plenty of space for Seth and Alexis who also stayed with us and participated in the race. The house is on a horse farm and animal rescue. We found the grounds so peaceful and pretty with fields, stone fences and woods outlining the property. It was quiet and soothing. We could have lived there! My favorite residents were Bentley and Tonka, two large adorable pot belly pigs who roam the property. They would make their way down to the rental house looking for treats while also munching on grass. We brought them carrots and apples and also purchased romaine lettuce which they loved. The morning we were leaving we heard something banging on the door. It was Bentley knocking and letting us know he was interested in more treats. That was hilarious and one of the highlights of the whole trip! I will miss Bentley and Tonka for sure!

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On Friday we drove the entire bike course which was well marked in bright orange arrows. The bike route went by our house which was helpful as well. I’m so glad I saw the course before the race. I was definitely concerned about the road conditions but our Vermont roads are just as bad if not worse in many places. Later Alexis made it to the house after she picked up her race packet. It was nice to hang out and chat and have a mellow evening.

Saturday morning Alexis and myself did a bike ride on part of the bike course just after 7am before traffic got busy. Scott ran about 6 miles and even did part of the run course. It was cool and nice out. I was a bit concerned with some squeaking noises coming from my back wheel and couldn’t figure it out so I turned around and still managed to get around 30 minutes. And I also did my 5 minute “activation” effort on the hills heading back to the house. Scott was able to fix my bike and it was fine for race day. As I was heading out for a 20-minute run Bentley had made his way down to the house and I met him for the first time. I wanted to hang out with him longer but had to get my run done. I felt decent but a little sluggish in the beginning as usual before a race. We later brought our bikes down to transition and drove the run course. It looked worse from the car than actually running it. But it wasn’t easy!

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Saturday evening Seth finally made it to the house. It was fun and relaxing to hang out with everyone. It really does help racing with friends and sharing accommodations. I get so nervous the day before a race and a bit of socializing helps calm my nerves. I was very concerned when I had stomach cramps before and after dinner but luckily they did go away later in the evening. I was afraid my upset stomach might interfere with my race day. I believe my gut just doesn’t enjoy carb loading that much as I get older.

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We were up very early on race morning. Due to limited parking at Quassy, most athletes were required to park in different lots and take shuttles to the race venue and transition. There were a few hundred parking spots across the road from the park but we had to get there a few minutes past 4am to secure our spot. And we were out the door at 3:58am and parked a few minutes later! I had learned after the race that the shuttles were a bit disorganized and many athletes had to wait a while. That would have been a nightmare for me as I prefer to arrive at transition when it opens. Scott and I are always early-birds but it’s how I cope on race morning. While we avoided much chaos with the shuttles, we now had to wait around for an hour and a half before we put on our wetsuits. Alexis, Seth and I were all very nervous about this race and the extra time just gave us more opportunity to focus on this.

The Swim

Race morning brought thick heavy fog to the area at Quassy Lake and the race venue. We could not even see past the second big yellow buoy on the swim course. This was my first race with heavy fog, so I still got into my wetsuit at my normal time expecting it to clear up a bit. After I was suited up near transition we walked down to the beach and swim venue. I was planning on doing a swim warm up at 6am since the race officially was supposed to go off at 6:30am.

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I did manage to get into the water for a few minutes. It was announced that the water temp was 66F and it felt a little chilly when I first got in, but later felt refreshing in my wetsuit. The water was actually quite nice. But after swimming a few short directions with many other athletes, we heard the announcement. The race would be delayed by a half hour and start at 7am. I got out of the water and sat on a beach chair with Scott and Alexis. By 7am the fog had not cleared one bit. They later announced the swim would be shortened to 750 meters which is only about 39% of the total distance in a 70.3 event.

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The crews worked hard to move some buoys and set up the modified swim. I’m glad Ironman puts safety first when it comes to the water! Soon enough we were told to line up in our corrals and get ready to swim. I lined up with the 37 to 40 minute swimmers since I have had good luck going off with my fellow swimmers. And I usually swim a 70.3 in that time range. Lisa thinks I need to line up with the faster swimmers but the last time I did that I had a brutal and violent swim experience. We waited for what felt like a long time. I chatted briefly to a few fellow athletes which always helps to calm my nerves. It took a while to even move forward. I could see the faster swimmers going off every few seconds.

After a long wait they stopped the rolling start just before the 35 minute swimmers and let everyone into the water. It was total chaos and extremely crowded getting into the water. There is a time limit to when athletes need to be done with the run race so due to time constraints, they let everyone into the water. It was 7:44 am when I hit my Garmin to start my swim race.

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This wasn’t a terrible swim for me considering the craziness. I remained calm and just went with the flow. I knew it wouldn’t be fun but also knew it was a short swim. I just followed everyone else even though we all had trouble seeing the buoys. I did notice throughout the swim that it was choppy as hell. With all the swimmers it was like a washing machine out there! After the first buoy I couldn’t see the next one but just kept going. Finally, the second buoy came and knew I just had to get to the red turnaround buoy. But many of us swam inward and then had to veer a hard left to get to the red turnaround buoy. No wonder my Garmin reported almost 950 yards.

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After getting around the first red buoy I made my way across the course. It still took a while before I cold see each buoy. It was still total chaos. One thing I noticed was that I was no longer nervous. But I wasn’t exactly enjoying this experience. Yet it wasn’t horrible either. There was little clear water but I could still move forward. There was still physical contact but no blows to the head or anything violent. One of our friends wasn’t so lucky and got kicked in the teeth! Ironman swim events can be rough!

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I made my way around the final turn buoy and headed back to shore. It wasn’t bad. The worst part was dealing with a male swimmer who alternated between breast stroke and freestyle. Most swimmers don’t realize the breast stroke kick is lethal in a swim race. I had to avoid being kicked by that crazy frog kick! I was super annoyed. And it was hard to get rid of him as his breast stroke was actually fast! But I did get ahead at the end and was finally out of the water. Thank goodness that was done!

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My official swim time was 16:37 which was not a catastrophe, but wasn’t stellar either. I probably missed the podium by this messy swim but it’s hard to really say for sure. With a clocked distance of 950 yards, my Garmin said my pace was a 1:45 for that swim which is slower than I normally swim in a 1.2-mile race. I know if it wasn’t shortened, I would have had a better swim as it takes me over 500 yards to warm up! Normally my paces are around a 1:41 mins/100 yards in a lake swim. And I would have had more clear water to actually swim properly! I didn’t feel cold and my right shoulder/upper arm didn’t feel sore in my wetsuit. I never felt panic or stressed-out swimming. I just got it done in less than ideal conditions. So overall it went well for me that morning considering everything.

The Bike

The bike was crazy! This was the most dangerous bike course I’ve ridden so far in my triathlon journey. I knew this course was well known for being very hilly and difficult. What I didn’t realize was that the roads were in such bad condition. And with the shortened swim, the roads were extremely congested with so many inexperienced riders. I would have loved this course if it had about 900 riders versus 2,000 riders on the course. My understanding is that the field was much smaller when it was a Rev3 race. It was very technical, hilly with constant ups and downs. Lots of punchy hills just like the riding we have in Vermont. It was the perfect storm for some very bad accidents that did happen. One guy is in the hospital and needs facial reconstruction. This athlete is an experienced rider but got caught up in the mix of bad riders not being able to handle their bikes down a very steep and technical section of the course. If the swim had not been shortened, there would have been a bit more space between riders but 2,000 participants is still too much for this race course. Most of the roads are secondary and not wide enough. Also, the course is open to traffic. I hope that Ironman does the right thing and caps the participant list for next year. I will never do this race again due to my experience in Connecticut.

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I’m glad we did drive the entire bike course on Friday after picking up my race packet. I was definitely a bit surprised and concerned with the road conditions. While I ride on worse road conditions here in Vermont, I was a bit surprised I’d have to race on bad roads, dodging pot holes, large cracks and crevices, pavement on top of old pavement and general rough road needing to be refreshed. Winters destroy the roads in New England! While many of the potholes and cracks were marked in red, there were a few that were missed. I have never seen so many people on the side of the road with flats, bottles all over the road, and even several lost sun glasses and nutrition.

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I had a better transition this time and quickly got my bike to the mount line. I was very concerned to see so many people in transition and so many people getting onto their bikes all at once. The shortened swim created so much congestion from the moment I clipped into my pedals to most of the race. After the swim Scott was waiting for me to leave transition with my bike. He said he saw so many riders falling over just trying to clip into their pedals (at least 20!!). He said it was insane how many people couldn’t even get onto their bike. And because of that he was terrified for me as he knew I’d have to get through and ride around all these inexperienced riders. I used to race road bikes in the 1990s so I have good bike handling skills and can ride anything. But this was special!

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I stayed calm and knew I would have to be very careful and mindful. Tony, the race announcer was telling athletes to stay away from each other on the bike course. I could hear this as I was leaving transition. I felt confident in my fitness and trusted my bike handling skills. It wasn’t impossible to weed my way through the bike course, but I had to constantly pass riders on the left. Too many people were riding 2 and 3 abreast so I sometimes had to ride briefly into the oncoming lane to pass. The first few hills were sketchy as many riders were trying to figure out how to shift into their small chain ring once they hit a hill after a fast downhill. I got very frustrated on one hill when I saw people swerving and trying to shift. I witnessed the worst bike handling skills I’d ever seen in any type of race or triathlon. I’m not throwing stones, but it’s obvious there are many athletes who have not spent enough time developing adequate bike handling skills. Scott was worried about inexperienced riders crashing in front of me or not holding their line down the steep descents and hitting me. Thank goodness that didn’t happen but I never felt safe even though I’m good at staying out of trouble and can respond quickly with my bike.

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One woman in my age group passed me after about 10 or so miles. I was able to keep her in sight for a while. Her bright pink race kit was like a beacon among the packs of riders ahead of me. She was on a road bike and was taking more chances than me on the down hills. For me safety is first and after a while she was gone. I was not going to attack the hills that fast on a tri-bike. I did notice on the results that she was only a minute or so faster overall on the bike but I had a much better run.

I noticed the first 20 miles went by in an hour and a minute which was better than expected for the course. But I knew the rest of the course was going to have even more hills and climbs. I was doing well with my nutrition and was grateful for the cool and cloudy weather. There were even times where I did feel a bit chilly on the down hills. My legs were feeling the fatigue in my quads after 20 -25 miles. But overall, I was feeling decent. My neck wasn’t terrible as I hardly ever found opportunities to get into my aero bars for more than a couple minutes. I really would have preferred to be on a high-end road bike for this course!

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The bike course is very scenic and rural but it was hard to appreciate it while racing due to the constant congestion and bad road conditions. We even saw a bear crossing the road after 40 miles when we drove the course on Friday. I really had to focus and pay attention so I couldn’t really look around at all. So, I missed the vineyards and couldn’t really admire the pretty lakes for more than a second or two. I was still not happy with all the riders I was passing, and still a bit frustrated that the roads didn’t clear up with bike traffic.

After about 35 miles I caught up to a woman in my age group on a road bike who was clearly an experienced road rider. We leap frogged for the rest of the bike course. There were times I just kept her in sight and other times she slowed and I took the lead. While I caught her, she clearly wasn’t going to let me go. She had another teammate who was in the next age group. This 52-year-old was a bit heavier and rode the down hills screaming fast. So, it was the three of us for a while. After about 40 miles there were some very fast extended downhills. I was riding a bit out of my comfort zone making sure not to lose contact with these fast female riders. At this point the roads were a bit less congested with bike traffic but still enough riders around me where I had to remain vigilant.

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The bike course is 53.2 miles so a bit short. And I was totally fine with this! I was very happy to see the 45 mile sign and thrilled to see the 50 mile sign! I couldn’t wait for this to be done. The last few miles passed some very lavish and ostentatious mansions with amazing stonework on the massive grounds. I could see Qaussy Lake to the right of me in the distance. I knew we were almost done. I took the final lead with the woman in my age group (Suzanne) and rode to the dismount line. I was done and made it safely!

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Overall, I was very happy with my bike time of 2:55:28 for that course on that particular day. My overall speed was the same as Syracuse last June. And I’m very happy about that because this course was much harder, hillier and so much more technical. And the congestion on the course also made it a slower ride for me. I will always ride safely and not take unnecessary chances just to be a couple minutes faster. It’s not worth it! Out of 97 women who finished I had the 12th fastest bike. I am a little disappointed but also know I made a tactical error by not starting sooner on the swim. And thus, I had to deal with more bike traffic. I hate to be so negative but that’s how it all went down and this is my experience from that Sunday. Again, I hope Ironman and WTC make this a safer race next year for the bike leg.

The Run

My transition from bike to run wasn’t bad. I’m getting better at this. The sun decided to come out at the end of my bike journey to make my run a bit toasty. I was so happy to be done with that horrendous bike course and start the best part of the race for me. It wasn’t my best 70.3 run but not my worst either. I had a good bit of run volume leading into the race and didn’t have the full taper. So, I’m OK with how it all went down. The course is hard but fair. It’s hilly and challenging but had a few spots with shade. It felt like there was more downhill than uphill but the two little out-and-backs were sunny and harder especially on the second loop. Overall it was a pretty good course with a nice uphill at the end on mile 13.

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The run starts with a good shaded downhill on a twisty road leading to the loop we all did twice. As I was making my way down, I noticed it was very warm and humid once the sun came out. The woman Suzanne who I had been playing leap frog with on the bike passed me on the run going pretty fast. I was surprised as I hardly get passed by other women on the run. She started out at a bit over 7 min miles but slowed down on the second half. She ended up as the 6th woman just ahead of me by less than a minute overall. And she was 2 minutes faster on the run. I feel if this was a full Ironman, I would have closed in on the three women ahead of me. I’m a patient runner! I started the run in 13th place and ended up in 7th with a mile to the finish. As usual I ran out of pavement.

Once I got onto the loop it felt a bit hard. I had clocked a 7:42 on the first mile heading downhill to the loop trying to be conservative. The next couple miles felt a bit hard and hot. I saw Scott at a corner right by the first aid station. It was so great to see him! I was doing fine but it didn’t feel like it was going to be a fast run with the hills and sun. I was grateful for the awesome volunteers. I always had plenty of water and ice at most aid stations. That helped! It wasn’t terribly hot but it was the warmest run after a cold spring in Vermont.

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The end of mile 3 brought me up the first out-and-back which was a gradual uphill and then back downhill. I was doing fine on the first loop. Then it was a long straight stretch to mile 4 and the second out-and-back which had an aid station. This one was also exposed to the sun but not bad on the first loop. After this section it was back onto the long straight-away and down a good descent. I was careful not to trash my quads on this. I’ll admit I didn’t mind the downhill at all. It was a bit fun! The course was a bit crowded and I sometimes had to run outside the cones to pass people but it wasn’t terrifying like the bike course!

At the bottom of the hill we veered right and went up a few gradual hills. Nothing too bad. I was expecting worse. We drove the run course but the back side wasn’t as bad as it looked from the car. We passed the high school on the right with a beautiful track. And then it was a good stretch with sections of shade and nothing too strenuous with elevation. I liked this part of the course the best to be honest. Some nice houses and many trees for shade made for a pleasant run.

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Before I knew it, I was turning right to do the loop one more time. Again, the photographers were across the pond on the left making a nice spot for photos. I smiled and ended up with a couple nice race photos. The initial hills on this loop this were a little bit harder and my paces slowed on this section. My slowest section was mile 8 at an 8:20 pace but I was hot and ready to be done. Luckily, my next mile clocked a 7:49 and I stayed consistent at around 8 min miles for the rest of the loop. Again, Scott was on the corner after the aid station taking photos and cheering me on. I was so happy to see him! That gave me a little boost!

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The two out-and-backs were hard and I just couldn’t get my body to move much faster. Subconsciously I’m not sure if I really wanted to either after such an ordeal on the swim and bike. My effort felt good enough. Do I need to work on this attitude?? Could I have moved faster? Maybe, maybe not. It’s easy to speculate after the race!

The longer downhill was again welcomed and I made my way up the small hills by the high school and again marveled at the beautiful track. The nice stretch with the shade felt a bit harder for some reason. I think there were a couple false flats that I didn’t notice the first time around. But alas I was soon done with the second loop and so happy to head back to the finish.

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The twisty roads back were hard but not impossible. Mile 12 ended on the road back and mile 13 worked its way back to the main road. The big hill wasn’t bad and I even passed a woman in my age group heading up it. I kept my own pace not worrying about her as I knew I could have fought her off if need be. Scott ran this part on Saturday morning and said it wasn’t bad. And he was correct. However, at the end of a brutal 70.3 it’s not exactly easy either! I was so happy to get to the top as I heard Tony announcing the finishers. I was so close and so happy! It was a short distance to the park and I made my way to the finish. Again, I passed another woman in my age group on this stretch. Luckily the finisher’s shoot comes up quickly and I was running down it feeling so thrilled! I was smiling and feeling joyful running to the finish. I loved hearing Tony announce my name and where I was from in Vermont. What a day! I was done!

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My official time was 1:44:19. I had the 5th fastest run time in my age-group which is one of the worst placings for me in an Ironman 70.3 run. I was a little disappointed, but Lisa reminded me that I wasn’t training for this race. My main goals were a worlds spot in IM Texas 70.3 back in April and Ironman Canada at the end of July. This was purely a training race for Whistler, Canada. It’s also getting harder at the top of my age-group. And with a stacked field for this race I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. I had a good run on a difficult day. It was a brutal bike course and then a warm and humid run. I’m grateful for crossing the finish line with a respectable run for that day.

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Sadly, none of us made the podium but we all finished safely even if it wasn’t one of our best races. We hung out later at the house for a bit and walked up to the barn to visit the pigs. Scott and I made a stop at a wonderful food store with organic produce and so many vegan options called New Morning. If I lived there, I would shop there every day! Seth headed back to Vermont even after we begged him to stay. Alexis, Scott and I had a beer and enjoyed hanging out and relaxing. While it was quite a sh*t show of a race we did share some funny stories. None of us will forget Quassy!

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Monday morning, we hung out with the pigs and took a bunch of photos with them. Bentley and Tonka both made their way down to the house. I was feeling decent considering such a tough race day. My legs were a little tired and fatigued but much better than Texas. I was surprised at how well they were doing. We were packed up early and made our way onto the road back to Vermont. Luckily, we found an alternative route that took us to Springfield and we avoided Hartford and I-84. It was a much more relaxing drive back home. We made one stop to visit Stella, Anne and Steve since we wouldn’t see anyone until later in the year.

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Overall, I can’t recommend Ironman Connecticut 70.3. And I am very saddened to write this. While the fog was no one’s fault, 2,000 athletes on the bike course is just too dangerous even if the swim hadn’t been canceled. If the participant list isn’t capped in the future, I will never be back. And it’s disappointing since it’s not a bad drive to Middlebury, CT from Vermont. I will note a few positives about this race. The volunteers were awesome! Thank you so much! The announcer Tony Lugo was great! I really enjoy him! He announced at Ironman Puerto Rico 70.3 when we did that event in 2017. The lake is beautiful and clean. The venue is unique. Again, I’m still glad I raced Quassy and got to tackle this famous course. I just didn’t like feeling so unsafe out there on the rough roads with that much congestion. I hope Ironman does the right thing with this event!

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Thank you Lisa for your smart and careful coaching. And thank you to the best husband in the world. Scott was so awesome! He took care of three athletes that day!

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Next up is Ironman Canada in Whistler, British Columbia! I’m very excited for Ironman # 4! Stop back again!

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