Stagecoach Classic 2016

Rooftop Cartegena

I returned to Winter Park this past weekend to take in the 3rd annual stagecoach classic. I had attended the 2nd edition after having missed out on the inaugural event because I was in Cartegena with Jason in January 2014 and too busy drinking Club Colombia, sitting beside rooftop pools, and riding bikes up and down giant mountain passes to think about zipping around the nordic trails.

Notable discussion at the finish line about how/why the waxing was apparently slower this time around compared to last year even though the conditions should have been faster with the warm conditions. The tracks were perhaps a little softer than the previous year, but not so soft that they were breaking down as a result of hard kicking. Following the weekend I crunched the numbers to compare finishing times of people who competed both years. On average people were about 3 minutes slower than last year with 31/44 of those competing both years being slower than last.

Also calculated as a percentage of finish time.

The wax probably wasn’t really the contributing factor. Upon review of my GPS data there were some course modifications, in particular one notable one that made the course longer. Mystery seemingly solved. I felt notably better on the long steep climb at km 8 than I did the previous year and felt notably worse in the double-poling sections than I did last year… probably due to having lived at 5000 ft long enough to have made some notable adaptations and also due to weak-ass abs. I served myself some significant double-poling intervals the next day to inflict some damage. Some core-improvement before the Birkie would really be nice, it’s too late to make a huge difference but probably worth trying.

Main Difference
The field near km ~17. Red line shows the longer 2016 route.

Finish descent.
Altered due to new road I think.
After Aid #1.
Different but not longer.

Overall I’m a fan of the changes, made the course closer to 30kms, it was still a bit short. There are some simple loops that could be added around km 7-8 that could add another bit of distance to the front half of the race as well without dramatically altering anything or making things too much more difficult, just padding in some extra distance.

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How hard?

I imagine that I’d like to relay some stories from the Pyrenees on this blog in the coming months. They should be accompanied by appropriate photos and I’m making an effort to edit the photos down to a bite-sized snapshot rather than just dumping them all on the internet. The world doesn’t revolve around quantity, it revolves around quality. Quality riding is what I went to France for this fall and it’s exactly what I found. Typical days I was on the road for ten hours setting off within minutes of the sun rising, sometimes a bit less than that (but never much less) and sometimes a bit more (twilight, but never pitch-black). The average day was 8 hours 45 minutes of riding and around four and a half kilometers of vertical. A fellow rider remarked to his son over the phone one night “We biked up Mount Everest yesterday and today! Tomorrow and the next day we’re going to do it again!”

I remarked on twitter that this was by far the most challenging thing I’d ever done. The hardest day, stage 3, which had me worried for my wellbeing was impacted largely by mental challenges in addition to the physical. That said, it was the most physically demanding ride to complete that I had ever done. It would later be surpassed by Stage 6 which was completed with relatively fresh legs after a day of recovery.

A number of people have questioned whether or not it’s possible that these rides were so much harder than all of the ridiculous ideas that I can think up for myself at home. The answer to that question is both “Yes” and “No”. I’ll illustrate with a couple graphs to compare. The first is a chart showing the energy expenditures for each day measured in calories. These are calculations, but they are calibrated calculations and quite accurate, especially relative to one another. Included is how much fuel (food) must be converted into actual cycling motion. This does not include general bodily functions, the demands of thermo-regulation which are very large when your body is displaying symptoms of hypothermia, and does not include the body’s activity of muscular recovery running overdrive all night long between the stages repairing some of the damage inflicted to the body one day so that more damage can be done the next. Also not included are the energy demands of chewing approximately five times an average human’s daily intake of food!

Photo from gallery: CCC Pyrenees 2012
Caloric expenditure for various rides

The ten stages of CCC are listed at left. To their right are the energy expenditures of four of the most insane training rides I’ve done in the vicinity of Edmonton. The first two are “PL2010″ and “PL2011″ which are 200 & 240 km training rides on my TT bike interspersed with intervals all the way from home to Pigeon Lake and back. “FullCM+” was Edmonton Road and Track’s ‘Full Calmar’ ride extended with a visit to Spring-Lake with added intervals to make it 230kms long. Finally “THawk” is a 180km Tomahawk loop ridden steady-tempo, the hilliest training ride that we have in the vicinity of Edmonton. The next three rides are from my Jasper Training Weekend “JTW:1-3″, done as preparation for CCC in Jasper National Park, trying to find as much sustained climbing as I could. Finally at right are four ‘event’ rides completed in the mountains. The first two are races at Ironman Canada in 2010 and 2011. Next up is a 300km ride over Highwood Pass and back, and the final ride, and only one in excess of 8000 cal is the Golden Triangle ride completed this past summer.

Within the energy expenditure for each ride I have highlighted in red, the energy expenditure that plain physics demands to complete the ride is in red. This is the amount of energy needed to lug my body and bike over the mountain, nothing extra for aerodynamic drag or ‘going fast’, just the energy to complete. A full 18 hills on the Thursday Night circuit is about 700 calories for me and I’ll typically blow away another 800-1000 calories on a Thursday evening by doing it “fast”. Up to 60% of my energy on a Hills-night ride is spent going fast. On a long flat training ride, more than 85% of my energy is spent going fast. In the Pyrenees every day I was doing rides that were nearly as big as I could possibly do in terms of energy expenditure and less than 30% of my energy was spent going fast.

The magnitude of effort required to complete the first stage of the CCC was about 50% more than was required to complete the Golden Triangle. We then did the same thing the next day… and the load just piled on with basically no respite until the end (if you can call those days respite. Stage 9 had abnormally low grades (only 7 or 8%!) on two of the passes because we were in Spain so the mileage was high but the climbing low. Stage 10 was slightly abridged so that we could finish with time to pack bikes before a celebratory dinner of pork cheeks and some fine Catalan red wine.

I’ll also post the following chart, displaying the average work rate in calories burned per hour (stipulations as above regarding the many calories that are ignored). It shows that on average the intensity of these rides was on the low end for something I’d be able to sustain for an incredibly tough training day at home. This is for two reasons, the first is that when I plan a ride that is as hard as I can possibly handle at home I normally have at most a moderate day before and a moderate day after, never another that is similarly difficult. The second reason is that about 50% of the mileage completed in the Pyrenees was done while descending. The roads are technical on the descents and generally it’s irresponsible to pedal because you’re trying not to gain too much speed so that you don’t overheat your brakes and destroy your wheels. Those descents provide a good opportunity for digesting food at a lowered heart rate, so while the chart indicates that on average the day-long work rate is lower, the up-hill work rate is higher (up to 25% higher = comparable with age-group winning IM average effort) and the down-hill work rate is essentially zero with a few exceptions.

Photo from gallery: CCC Pyrenees 2012
Work Rate (calories per hour) for various rides

I hope these charts give an idea of how hard is hard. I rode 86 hours and 15 minutes over the course of the 11 days on the trip but I think that’s possibly the most misleading metric for how hard the challenge was so I don’t think I’ll mention that stat again. It was hardly about the time, it was all about the quantity of work that needed to be done and so hopefully this has given an illustration of how much work that was. I’ll just make one last reminder that we did all 10 of those rides in the course of just 11 days.

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Enduro-Cross is a different Kettle of Fish

I decided that I’d better go ahead and sign up for the first enduro-version of cyclocross in the province even though it really didn’t fit with plans for ‘resting and not doing anything stupid’ the week before flying to France to go ride bikes. The race was not a rest, and depending on how you look at it, it was pretty stupid. Luckily it was also very fun. If it had been raining, it would have been very stupid and very-much-more fun. If you want to support the growth of a sport you want you’d better attend the race when it happens even if it’s a bit inconvenient. That’s the same question I’ve been asking myself with the arrival of the Challenge Family in Penticton. If you want to support it then you should show up right?

Photo from gallery: Racing 2012

I had been out to Blackfoot to pre-ride the ‘Kettle-Cross’ course twice before race-day, one time having done some ‘race pace’ efforts with Robin interspersed with some really mellow sections. The next time out I rode largely steady with Terra and Aaron.F and was feeling quite familiar with the demands that the race would throw at us. There were demands, but they were not overwhelming. It would be a test to see who could stay focused and motivated all day in-spite of an expected level of moderate discomfort in wrists and lower back. Riding with a group would prove to be a huge advantage in terms of not wasting time, and it would be challenging for me to be in an easy-enough gear for much of the race. I have bad habits with cyclocross, and instinctively I try to turn the cranks too hard. I expected that I could be in contention for racing with a lead-pack if the race played out that way. I had no intentions of setting pace until the turnaround halfway through the second lap, if I could be with a few competitors at that point I would make a move on the fastest and smoothest part of the course and go for the finishline from about 30 minutes out.

My race started out pretty much as I expected. A lead pack formed with 7 people. I was there. There were interruptions caused by crashing but I evaded them and had made the lead bunch, a feat I was quite proud of as all the rest of the dudes in that group race elite (and I do not!). We hit the fenceline, a relatively open section of the course, and I was working hard but I was still in contact and was confident that I could remain in contact. The grass had been freshly cut here, and by freshly I mean “it smells like freshly cut grass”. The freshly cut grass amassed in my rear brakes and started to drag. I tried to flick it out but it wasn’t coming out. At this point I had to either get off my bike and lose contact with the lead group or keep pedalling and hope that the clump of grass would come dislodged. It didn’t and eventually my heart-rate had reached 192 bpm, with me trying to keep up while riding with the brakes on. Essentially that was the end of my racing. I had to get off the bike to clear it out, but even after I was remounted and rolling again I was suffering from a visit deep into the red-zone.

I rode with a couple chase packs for a while but a few minutes of absolute maximum effort had messed up my back and my blood sugar. Retrospectively, I should have dislodged the brakes earlier, or been sponsored by Norco and riding a disc-equipped Threshold, or been luckier. I would have chosen either of the last two options if they were presented. I had sorted myself out a little bit by the time I was on the Lost-Lake-Trail headed towards the end of the first lap, but at that point I crashed and crashed hard. I was railing a corner and came across another cyclist stopped on the trail, totally surprised to see him I instinctively grabbed the brakes and hit the ground. Luckily, the ground was mostly mud and quite soft to land in, unluckily, the mud also contained a big root which got me right in the ribs. It took a bit to get going again but having no other option but to ride my bike out of the woods, I didn’t have a lot of choice about what to do. I was on-track for 3 hours at the turn-around but took a break to stretch my back and get a water bottle before venturing out for another lap at the advice of Corey “let’s just get some training in”. I was about 10 minutes out of contention at this point and took it easy through the next bumpy section, chatting with a few friends and generally trying to give my body a bit of a break from the abuse I had already dealt it while still making forward progress. As I neared the end of what Strava terms the ‘Hilly Section’ I decided I had better still make a race out of it.

I started lifting the effort at around this point and made my dash for the finish from around the 40 minutes to go mark. I didn’t ‘max effort’ the return trip because I had reminded myself not to do anything else stupid, but did put down a consistent solid effort on return. It would have been about this spot that I would have decided to go if I had been ‘racing’ so I guess it was good practice for next year. Now you all know my strategy so I should be easy to beat. I’ll do a lot of things the same next year, both a camelback and bottle for fluids and gummies loose in a pocket for food. Hopefully I don’t crash into a mud puddle as that leads to a significant degradation in the flavour of said gummies.

Saturday I fly out for the French adventure. Total ride distance is 1953 km with 43060 m of elevation gain. The equivalent of riding from Edmonton to Moab Utah with 153 repeats up and down the switchbacks at Mount Norquay.

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ITT Provincial Championships – 2012

Photo from gallery: Power Data 2012
Second place on Elite Podium with
Brian Countryman and Stefan Schreiber.
Bruce Copeland (Master) beat all of us!
snapped by Stephen Paiano

Provincial Championships of the race of truth went down this past weekend. It was the flattest ITT course that has been raced for provincials in a number of years, much much flatter than ACME, and arguably flatter than when it was on the ring road in Calgary, and definitely flatter than the Canmore course. I don’t know the history long enough back before that to know which other courses have hosted provincials. We raced west from Graminia school near Devon with two 90 degree turned for about 19kms, pulled a 180 and returned him the same way. We had a light but consistent breeze from the south meaning we had a crosswind for the majority of the course. The road quality isn’t dangerous (i.e. potholes) but it is about as bumpy as a road gets where you can still call it paved. I had very sore hips following the race as a result of the pavement quality.

I hoped to average 360 watts which if well distributed should put me close to the win based on the field of guys who had signed up. I had been off the TT bike for the previous 3 weeks, which wasn’t what I had planned, but with work demanding some things of me on Tuesday nights which are my designated TT nights it was just how it was. In the end I managed 349 watts average with a normalized power of 352, indicating a variability of less than one percent! That doesn’t mean I executed perfectly though, I would say I made a fair number of mistakes.

Photo from gallery: Power Data 2012

Starting with the non-mistakes. I did recon the course the day before and was feeling familiar. I think I’ve ridden that road in excess of 10 times this season now so I knew how it all fit together. I loosened up with a walk first thing in the morning and ate a big but late breakfast timed for the start. I did my electrolyte loading protocol that I developed last year because it was supposed to be hot (it was, 30 degrees and sunny) and started my warmup at 45 minutes before the start. I warmed up a half hour including 5 minutes in the bottom of Z4 and then did another interval pushing towards the top of Z4 and lifting cadence which I’ve found is important to do so that my glutes loosen up and I can access good power around 125+ cadence. This is especially important for crit-racing warmup and probably less so for TT. I warmed up with an ice pack under my jersey to keep my core temperature from starting to rise prematurely and headed over to the start on time (never making that mistake again after the disaster in Banff).

If you look at my overall pacing from the above chart you can see a strong start, probably a bit too strong. I was relatively consistent though the first third dialed in to the 360 watt target, and showed a drop of nearly 10% between the halfway mark and the four fifths mark. That fade can be attributed a few things, a small overestimation of average power, rising core temperature, lack of practice in the back-half of long intervals and generally poor pain tolerance. The pain tolerance issue is partially driven by lack of specific practice this season. Most of my suffering in 2012 has been amongst other athletes, not on my own. This has been good for motivation during those training sessions but adversely affected my capability to motivate myself through the really intense moments of pain and the mental battle to stay attentive to the appropriate stimuli in this race. I was able to recruit a strong finish from myself… but it was actually probably too strong. I could have fared better through the second half overall if I could have started a mental push for the finishline from a bit further out. If I think of my best time-trials, the push for the finish started from between 2/3 and 3/4 of the way through the race, usually drawing mentally on the idea that I had an endurance card to play relative to most of my competition. I suppose if I ever did have that advantage I also had it in this race but I was preoccupied with pain management this time around. On Sunday I only had a finishing push from 88% of the way through to the finish, only half of the finishing kick that I’ve shown before.

Photo from gallery: Power Data 2012

The variability in speed over this course was minimal, the consistency of the course was sufficient that it would be very difficult to apply more power when moving slowly and less when moving quickly. The power distribution shown at right indicates that I wasn’t really able to execute any strategic power distribution at all. I think that’s mostly because it was pretty much impossible to do without more hills. Nothing was steep enough downhill to provide material rest so consequently there wasn’t really anywhere I could spend more power in exchange.

Upon closer examination of the power file there are three things that I saw happen. For each one I’m going to plot the power variability from what I should have been doing ‘on average’ at that point vs how much power I actually was doing. The ’should have’ is the white line from above, which already isn’t perfect but the factors affecting the overall pacing are generally separate from what I’m going to show here.

Photo from gallery: Power Data 2012

Setting out I did my best not to totally load up my legs from the start line and settled in quite well during the first 5kms. After negotiating the first two corners I was feeling into my groove and started to get a bit impatient because things were under control. This was where first mistake happened. I should have been content to sit at about 360 watts and wait for the pain to catch up with me, the race had barely begun. I should have noted that my heart-rate was already starting to get close to 180 bpm. Instead I just took note of my breathing which was totally controlled (as it should have been) and started to raise my game a little bit. Raising my game a little bit amounted to doing 800 meters at an average wattage 60 W higher than I should have been. Being worried that I wasn’t going hard enough I basically redlined for more than a minute. As a direct result of that stupidity I took my heart-rate across the 180bpm line, and loaded up my legs heavily with lactate. It took a subsequent kilometer averaging 40-50 watts below target to get that lactate to clear. I’m lucky that I’ve been working on lactate clearance because if I hadn’t that could have effectively been the end of my race. It wasn’t, but it put me firmly into discomfort a lot earlier along the way than I should have been. From that point to the turnaround I had to start employing all of the motivation that I could find to stay focused. Normally I don’t have to start into my reserve of pain-tolerance that until halfway.

Photo from gallery: Power Data 2012

Following the U-turn this plot basically show some incredible variability. I am not doing many prolonged surges above or below my target watts but it shows that I’m having a hard time getting it right. I’ll do a half dozen pedal strokes hard and almost immediately back off the throttle because it is killing my legs. The whole section is done with minimal shifting of the gears but this is a real section of muscle-protest and it’s clear from the profile that I’m incapable of calming myself down and just doing what it takes. Riding smart and distributing my power through this section would spare the legs from a lot more pain that’s going to develop soon (next plot) but I just wasn’t able to do it. The result is me not getting as much speed out of the power that I am putting into the road as I should have been because I couldn’t stay calm to do it. I distinctly remember feeling like things were on the edge of falling apart when I couldn’t sustain a feeling of ‘push’. I was lucky to have a 30 second power displayed on my Garmin, because it kept me in the game, confirming that I was doing alright and that I hadn’t blown apart yet which was consoling.

Photo from gallery: Power Data 2012

The final case study comes basically immediately before I start to make a final drive for the finishline. What I can see in the power profile here is a succession of spots where I lift my power output up and then gradually it fades off again. This is indicative of an argument between my head and my body, where I am consistently asking myself to pick it up a little bit and then fading back again. Unlike the previous plot, I’m no longer able to keep the average power up. I’m fading and getting mad or frustrated with my legs and starting to push them again briefly. These are little periods of pushing myself too hard and fading back relatively gradually. There’s quite a bit of acceleration and deceleration going on here. I’m shifting gears quite a bit to try and find a cadence where I can generate power but I’m not finding anything that I can manage to settle on, pretty much everything hurts at this point and the finishline still seems a long ways away.

Photo from gallery: Racing 2012
These things are hard to get!

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Jason LaPierre Race Evaluation

This past weekend was the Jason LaPierre stage race in Calgary. I skipped the hill climb because I needed to work on Friday and went down for the Saturday evening criterium and Sunday’s hilly road race.

I tried to go with a couple moves on Saturday night and did some attacking of my own but the pace was incredibly fast. In the end we averaged 49.5 kph! Rundle Mountain was doing their utmost to keep things together and Red-Truck didn’t care, I think they knew that Bailey (who was only a half second down on GC) wasn’t going to be able to gain time on Dave (winner of Friday’s hill-climb) because he’s small and Dave is a pretty strong all-rounder. Strong enough to mark him in a flat crit, that’s for sure. At about halfway I gave up interest in trying to get in a move and just sat in. HR was down around 140-150 which was a joke, but when you can pedal around 99% of the course it’s easy to not get dropped from a pack of 40 guys.

Photo from gallery: Racing 2012
Photo by Masa Higuchi

In the end I had found myself on Paul’s wheel and I thought he was going to be a good wheel for the finish. Instead I should have chosen to try and mark Sean Crooks (obviously!) but at the time I figured Paul was a better bet because I knew that other people wanted Sean’s wheel and no-one was going to try and get a lead-out from Paul. I couldn’t discuss with Paul and it turned out he didn’t have anything left because he has been drinking too much beer. Paul moved me up a bit but it was too little too late and when I went to sprint I was boxed in by Peter Toth. That’s embarassing, there’s no way I should have been behind him. No disprespect to Peter who is a very impressive racer, but his wheel is not where you want to be positioned if you’re sprinting for the top spots. In the end I was on the brakes before the finish line. I was feeling really good and should have tried to mix it up with the big guns for the sprint. I think my confidence to do that wasn’t there during the race but outside of the race I know that I should. This is something to improve next year. I can beat lots of those guys, based on my performance in the circuit race the previous weekend which was a stronger field. I shouldn’t be afraid to jockey for the best positions in the pack I deserve to be in the mix for the win because I can finish in the mix for the win.

Photo from gallery: Racing 2012
Photo by Masa Higuchi

Sunday’s race

Colter attacked on the start line and I had lined up at the back and couldn’t do anything about it. The move that went up the road was very strong, with Brian from Velocity, Ian Auld, Colter and Eric from Rundle. We could tell from early on that Rundle didn’t want to let that get too far away because they wanted a win and so I didn’t chase much. Paul was motivated to chase it and he did quite a bit of work with Ben from Exergy. I think they were just having a fun time chasing and not really thinking about the big picture. After about a third of the race we had been going incredibly fast and the break was turning itself inside out to stay away and Colter blew up. As soon as we saw him come back we knew that the break wasn’t as much of a threat because Red-Truck would chase. At the halfway point of the race it became clear that Red-Truck wasn’t going to chase nicely… they attacked hard on the big climb and basically bridged to the break with both of their remaining guys, 4 others went with them. I was caught in no-mans land, just missing that front group and waited for the next group because I couldn’t get back on alone. we formed a group of 3 which eventually turned to 8 and we were able to get back on. A bunch of guys got shelled here though and the peloton was much smaller for the second half of the race. With 1.5 laps to go another small break went but it included Rundle’s newest guy to Cat2. Based on their reluctance to let even Eric on a long leash early in the ride it was clear they’d rather have the end-game include Sean Crooks and Robin Clegg for the uphill finish. Also, Dave from Garneau was likely to chase or try and bridge because he had more than a thousand dollars riding on the weeklong GC. I just sat on and didn’t work here either.

In the end we caught that little break thanks to a lot of solid work by Dave with about 5 kms to go. Retrospectively I should have counter attacked just prior to the catch and tried to solo in. I was feeling better than when I had tried a similar move the week before however I hadn’t been successful at that race and didn’t really want to fail at the same thing twice in a row. That was my best chance at a win though so I should have taken it. In the end it came down to an uphill sprint and I was 6th I think across the line. The usual suspects were ahead of me, Robin Clegg, Mac Garvin, Bailey McKnight, Dave from Garneau, Sean Crooks, and I think Ben from Exergy got relegated for a yellow line violation which was hardly his own fault. He almost ditched his bike on the wrong side of the road! They still haven’t posted final times but I think I should be in the same time group as the winner. Behind me there was a gap if I’m not mistaken.

I have had quite sore muscles recently. I think I can do a lot of damage to them during workouts & races because my cardio is very good at the moment. I am also spending a lot of time at my desk not moving which doesn’t help with mobility and flexibility and generally feeling limber and relaxed through the hips. I am doing no hard work between now and ITT provincials, just some sub-threshold steady efforts. I want to feel strong on Sunday and really hope that I can crack the top 10 this year, I missed out last year by 30 seconds. I am previewing the course on Wednesday. I might also go preview again on Saturday in advance on Sunday’s race, the extra familiarity with the road and maybe even a TT helmet training ride should help a bit. 30 seconds is one percent. Hopefully I can draw on all of the little bits and get them to add up this weekend.

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Great White North – 2012

The day started with fried eggs and a liter of yogurt. Many great days in the past four or five years have begun that way. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. With my blood sugar controlled and some fat and protein in my stomach I made my way out to the lake for the start of the race. After pumping up my tyres and talking with everyone I wanted to talk to I still had an hour to kill. I sat myself down amongst all the commotion and relaxed prior to the start. Eventually when I couldn’t see any other athletes who weren’t wearing their wetsuits I finally decided I should put mine on. We then proceeded to make our way to the beach and stood around for another 15 minutes waiting for the horn to send us off on our way. I had got myself pretty cold by this point with the lightly falling rain and bare-feet on the sand, and was a bit concerned but reminded myself that the water was plenty warm and I’d be fine once I got going.

Photo from gallery: Great White North - 2012

I started in the front row despite knowing I’d swim at least 10 minutes slower than the fastest swimmers that day. There were 800 people lined up and only 400 meters to the first turn and I didn’t want to be stuck in the melee that would inevitably result. I swam the fastest 400 meters I have swum so far in 2012 to start the race, and turned ahead of the vast majority of the commotion. I then proceeded to try and spend the next 1600 meters catching the drafts of the dozens and dozens of people who were passing me in the water. It sounds like a totally stupid strategy, but retrospectively I think I would probably do it again. It made for a very comfortable swim, and I never felt strained. I also wound up swimming quite quickly thanks in part to the fact that I was always in a good position to get a draft (i.e. amongst swimmers who are faster than me).

Photo from gallery: Great White North - 2012

Upon exiting the water I saw 36 minutes on the clock and was very pleased. I was a bit of a zombie in transition, being quite dizzy, but I was soon on my bike and not feeling so bad at all. I lost my bottle of gatorade within 25 meters of transition when crossing a speedbump and navigating traffic that was employing typical age-group triathlon bike-handling skills. It was raining and only 10kms of downhill tailwind to the first aid station so I just pedaled on.

I did the first downhill tailwind section of the ride pretty much as you would expect me to: fast! I rolled an average speed of 49.6 kph to the turn southbound. I was in love with life at this point, riding a bike very fast is pretty much my favourite thing in the world to do. Turning south I started to pick off a number of friends and team-mates many of whom looked calm and relaxed and enjoying their days so far. Turning west into the headwind I started to focus on head-position to maximize my aerodynamics through what would be a key portion of the course. I had settled my heart-rate quite nicely after the swim and was ready to start cranking some watts. My legs were feeling good and I was on-target as far as I was concerned, the field was beginning to thin out quite significantly at this point and the people I was passing I was no longer ripping past.

Then I heard a hissing in the rain and thought that my brake pads had started rubbing on the rim in the rain. I don’t know why, but when I reached down to try and adjust my front caliper my rear rim hit the road and I went a bit squirrelly, the hissing was gone because all of the air had drained from my tyre. I was very calm about the whole situation, knowing that my hopes of earning a fastest-bike-split-of-the-day-cheque had now gone out the window. There was nothing I could do now, but dose my blood-stream with too much adrenaline. Before I had stopped I already had the lid off of my tube of sealant and was going to try and be moving within 2 minutes.

The sealant didn’t go in for whatever reason. Maybe because the whole thing was soaking wet, maybe because the sealant was a couple years old, maybe because it couldn’t go ‘around-the-corner’ of the cutout in my disc, or maybe just due to operator error. I had to do a full tyre change, Cam had now pulled up in the support vehicle and jumped out to help. I thought I was going to get a spare wheel from him but evidently he’d already given his spares away for the day because the wet roads were causing a ruckus for debris getting stuck to tyres. I had the new tyre out and it took some elbow grease and thumb strength to get the old tyre off before I could pop the new one on. Soon enough I was off down the road, but was going to be a pretty big chicken regarding cornering on the spare. The wet conditions meant I had almost no confidence that the glue would make a quick bond.

Photo from gallery: Great White North - 2012

Leaving the scene of the crime I had a low heart rate and was absolutely killing it for a while. This was a big problem, my lower back started to hurt and I had also got myself pretty chilled during the 9 minutes spent at the side of the road. I had totally forgot what I was doing, namely riding a bike in a triathlon, and was trying to catch back on to the peloton in a road-race. It was a terrible strategy and when I realized what I was doing I was pretty mad at myself and then got really un-focused on the task at hand.

I had begun to then pass all of my friends and team-mates for a second time as I went through the river valley. Did I mention that I was scared for my life going down the hills in the rain on a poorly glued tyre? I was scared shitless and wasted a lot of free speed in the process. Coming out of the river valley the second time I started to regroup a bit from the thrashing I had given myself immediately after the flat and set out for the final 30kms or so back to town. I did an alright job through this section of pacing myself with a lot more restraint knowing that I had already done some significant damage.

Photo from gallery: Great White North - 2012

Entering transition I was feeling pretty disenchanted with the whole idea of running 21 kms. It was a good thing that it wasn’t until after the race that I realized how little running I had done in the lead-up to the race. I had some sort of mental block or something because I had imagined that I had done pretty much the same lead-in to this half-iron run as I had done during my lead in to the Oliver half-iron run. I hadn’t. In fact, during the four weeks prior to this race I’d only run once, and only for 18 minutes.

Naïvety was my friend, and I set out and jogged alright for the first kilometer, one of my better brick transitions in recent years. Then my lower back started to tense up and my calves started to really ache and groan. The lower back was directly related to my stupidity on the bike, and the calves were directly related to my lack of running. I was actually having a pretty fun time at this point. A large part of this was due to the fact that I had tons of energy and that the only things that were limiting me were muscles. I wasn’t very happy with things but I feel like I had an alright mood which was a vast improvement on where I’d been on the bike when I was being an idiot. It’s a lot easier to be in a good mood when you’ve got sufficient glucose to feed your brain. I jogged along for a while, mostly keeping it moving faster than 5 min kms. I was stopping to walk briefly at the aid stations to try and give my legs a bit of a break. I then found that I was drinking too much coke when I did this and eventually quit walking the aid stations because I specifically needed *less* aid.

Photo from gallery: Great White North - 2012

I stopped for a few seconds and stretched some muscles when I passed some buddies cheering on the run course. I also wanted to unload the CO2 cartridge that I was carrying. I waited up long enough to let Travis catch me and then we ran along together for a little bit. I couldn’t get my heart rate up at all, I couldn’t get the muscle recruitment to warrant it, and so I was fully capable of chit-chatting as we jogged along. Annett passed us here despite not moving like her regular self, and later Kris who was running well, showing off some serious leg speed and focus. As we saw the leaders coming back I felt inspired to do some crazy cheering because the rain was keeping most of the spectators away. It was down-right exciting to watch Stefan come by, I was almost 100% sure that he would catch Kyle Marcotte based on their proximity and how the two of them looked.

I was slowly making progress along the course and wasn’t being passed by too many more people. There are some longish straightaways just before the turnaround which seem like things are spread out but it actually goes by incredibly quickly if you just focus on the running. As I left the turnaround I ditched my sunglasses with Ben and had a little bit of a headwind which cooled me down a little bit which was nice. The humidity was at 100% and running with a tailwind meant that sweating wasn’t really working as effectively as it should have been so despite it being around 15 degrees, I was getting hot. The tension also released in my lower back and I was able to pick up my knees a little bit. I started to lift my pace and set my sights on maintaining the gap to the people ahead of me instead of fading further. As I progressed along the course my hips and lower back opened up a bit more and I finally was capable of running. Once I could finally start accessing the muscles my heart-rate was able to come up and I ran quite nicely indeed. I started picking off the fading triathletes ahead of me and passed between fifteen and twenty during the closing half hour of the race. When I finally could run I made good time, my calves were killing me before I started running hard and my hamstrings really started to complain when I lifted the pace but I was pleased to average 162bpm for the closing stretch at 4:17 per kilometer pace. I was quite pleased with this outcome and pleased that when I finally did have an opportunity to get a race out of myself I didn’t just jog it in to the finish, but rather laid it on the line and went for it.

Photo from gallery: Great White North - 2012

The flat tyre cost me 9 minutes and 30 seconds when it should have cost me two. That’s mistake number one. Mistake number two was getting distracted by the flat tyre and making all kinds of pacing errors which proceeded to cost me relatively significant amounts of time on the bike, but more importantly the surging locked me up for the run. I don’t know how likely it is that I could have managed the 4:17 pace for the whole half marathon even if I had paced the bike properly, I would have been limited by my lack of running and my calves and hammies would have protested louder and louder eventually. Also, I wouldn’t have been able to access the ‘redemption’ motivation that I had to finish strong. ‘Redemption’ motivation may have been replaced by ‘competitive’ motivation if I was still in the hunt for a fast race, who knows, I didn’t have any of that on the run, that’s for sure. I didn’t have a PR in me at all by any stretch of the imagination (sub 4:14), but I would have easily been inside 4:25 without my mishaps, and possibly close to the 4:20 barrier. The 4:20 barrier is not just notable because it’s 4:20, or because Tim Clark’s race number was 420, but because it’s the threshold for qualifying to race as a professional. Eight guys did it this past weekend.

Thanks to Becky and Lenka for the photos.

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Banff Bike Fest

Photo from gallery: Racing 2012

Warm-up for the Banff-Ave criterium. Sulphur Mountain in the background.

Photo: Jon Wood

Banff Bike Fest was a frustrating weekend, it was fun and I learned a lot, but performance was poor and I made a number of mistakes. I rode a top 10 performance in the Thursday night hill-climb, coming in less than 10 seconds shy of the win. I got my absolute best out of myself on this climb but suffered tremendously as a result. I aches in my lungs for two days following, this included the road-race the next day and the morning of the TT. I made an error regarding my start-time for the TT which got the best of my mentally and I did not ride according to my ability as a result of loss of focus. The mistake was an amateur error and letting it affect my performance was another amateur error. Despite this I rode 45 seconds faster than the year prior. I felt that I raced quite well in the criterium despite getting stuck near the back early on. I kept calm and maintained position and did move up the field on a number of occasions when the opportunity presented itself. This was a big success in my eyes despite a poor ranking in the end and having no ability to make contributions on behalf of the team. Following the race, I recovered poorly, delaying re-fueling for too long, and not getting enough good quality rest. If I race again I will be staying in Banff, the price differential is not worth the opportunity cost to the race itself. The next morning I suffered fatigue and abnormally responding HR during the RR, I was in the mix during attacks and counter attacks on the first lap but couldn’t feed enough fuel to the muscles during the climbs to stay with the pack. This resulted in me being gapped by the peloton on two or three different spots on the circuit and being forced to chase back on. After being dropped for the fifth time it took all that I had in me to catch back on including the help of drafting a truck to gain some speed. By the time I got back on my peripheral vision was going grey and I decided I was a liability to the peloton to ride like that an on the next uphill I resigned myself to the fact that I didn’t have what it was going to take to ride with them. I did another lap and a half at that point to make sure that I got a result of +laps instead of DNF. I wasn’t sure if it would have any bearing on my eligibility to have my hill-climb count towards the Team-GC competition. In the end, our club placed third on the GC with all 7 of 7 having times count towards the final result, something we were quite proud of.

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Power Analysis – Oliver Half

The above shows my performance statistics from Oliver Half in 2011 and 2012. 2012 is green because it is the faster of the two rides, and red is the slower of the two rides. The average power in 2012 was lower, so to fairly compare the pacing strategies I am displaying a graded power (mean matched dataset) instead of the raw values. I had computer trouble in 2011 for the first kilometer and am consequently only displaying a subset of the full ride of 93 kms (starting from a bit past the first mile marker onwards). Discussion of the contributing factors to faster speed on less watts are detailed in my 2012 Race Report. In summary, a lighter bike (almost 700g down) and a collection of improved aerodynamic factors made that possible. This post details the strategy, which is as we will see, a major contributor.

The faster sections of the course are the parts where there was a tailwind in 2012 where there were negligible wind conditions in 2011. (km 13.5-24.5 & 52.5-63.5 were faster due to tailwind) There are basically no slower sections with the exception of an early portion where I was suffering the effects of poor swim-training. There are also many situations where my several-second power peaks in 2011 were higher than in 2012 with no net result of improved 30 second power (the smoothed line doesn’t indicate a net power expenditure increase by spiking the power up). The interpretation is that when I briefly push hard I need to briefly rest, but I can get more power out by staying steady. These occur throughout the files, a couple examples are: km 20-21, 27-29, 33-34, 57-58, 69-70, 72-73, 88-89. Every time this happens it is probably worth a second or two advantage, and my files are littered with them. That’s not to say there were no situations where the reverse happened (worse pacing in 2012) see km 58-59, 61-62, 81-82. These all occurred towards the end of the race where I was starting to push the pace a little bit. The conservative riding early on was strategically superior to the racing mentality that occurred later in the race. The opposite occurred in 2011 when I was in the midst of other closely paced riders early on and was riding solo off the front in the second half. By swimming slower I began the ride just blowing past other riders and caught similarly paced athletes in the closing stages, the pacing outcome reflects this.

So, to try and investigate with some summarized statistics, was my power more distributed or less distributed in 2012 than 2011?

Photo from gallery: Oliver Half Iron 2011 Photo from gallery: Oliver Half Iron 2012
Photo from gallery: Oliver Half Iron 2012

These plots compare my speed (x axis) with my power output (y axis). Top left is 2011, and is compared with 2012 on the right and on the bottom. I displayed the 2012 image twice to help draw correlations both vertically and horizontally.

Stats for the rides are as follows:

2011 2012
Time: 2h20m14s 2h17m41s
Rank: 5th 2nd
Avg Power: 315 298
Norm Power: 298 286
Variability: 5.7% 4.2%

The answer to the question “was my power more distributed or less distributed?” is that my power is less distributed. I was more careful with where I spent my watts in 2012 and didn’t deviate widely from my average power… on average. This shows in the variability of the ride. The variability index is down by a one and a half percent. That’s a lot if you ask me compared against the kind of range I see across all the rides I would do in a season (Rides vary from around 3 percent to 15-20 percent). If I hadn’t been sick I wouldn’t have had the cautious attitude, I think that helped me out in this regard. The cautious attitude is one that stops the body from hammering and ramping up huge power spikes.

If we look closely at the comparison of the two density plots you can see that with this visualization my power actually appears to be more distributed. The density cloud in 2012 is narrower and more stretched out than in 2011. This means that with respect to my speed, I made a more conscious effort to work hard when moving slowly and to back off slightly when moving quickly. I have very few data points in 2012 where I was soft-pedaling when I wasn’t going quickly, nor do I have many datapoints where I was drilling it when already at high speeds. In this regard my power is very distributed according to what was going on during the race, it is strategically distributed. The impressive thing is that I was able to strategically distribute power more effectively in 2012 but still reign in my overall power distribution (variability %). This to me shows that I am developing a strong maturity in pacing, that I am capable of executing the ride with a strategic advantage over my previous self. This is encouraging to say the least!

Moving forward I believe that I can still improve my power variability overall. Being sick and cautious really helped me out during this race, but I wouldn’t want to race sick all the time. I should be able to calm myself and focus into the same mental space when racing. If I am confident that the patient and conservative race strategy is superior then I have good reason to execute it. This is very difficult to do in practice, it’s difficult to actually race with a body full of testosterone, adrenaline and other stress hormones, and restrain yourself from feeding off of them and punching the power way up. At basically any point in time during that ride my body is capable of being at four times the power output of where I’m currently riding within just 5-10 seconds. I have evidence of this capability from sprint training where I routinely hit 1200+ watts a dozen times over the course of a ride. When I want to go fast it requires a lot of restraint to not start cranking huge power right now!

Allow me to do some inaccurate math here, consider these numbers as largely qualitative. Keeping the power variability within 4% on a ride that averages 300 watts is really asking my body to keep the power variability within 1% of my demonstrated 1200 watt capacity. Improving on that (to, say 3.5%) is asking myself for an improvement that’s only a small fraction of one percent, a fractional improvement of only a couple thousandths over where I’m at right now! I shouldn’t be surprised, that’s what it’s like at the top, the differences are minute: I missed the fastest bike split by only 14 seconds this year!

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Oliver Half 2012

I raced the Oliver half this past weekend. Preparation was essentially negligible with regards to triathlon in the prior three months. I have placed a focus on racing bikes and my limited training time has been focused on reaching the next level in road-racing rather than doing anything to prepare for racing a long course triathlon. I have to my advantage the fact that both sports are relatively endurance focused and I did run relatively consistently through the past winter. Swim training in the 100 days prior to the race included one 750 m swim during a sprint triathlon, and one early-morning open-water swim the morning prior to the race. Run preparation was on and off, but mostly off, it included a 10 mile run with Travis on the Monday prior where I felt like things were manageable between the 4:30/km pace and 4:40/km pace. I was racing with one data-point for HR and pace and hoping that extrapolations from there would be somewhat accurate.

I found myself feeling slightly sick on Friday as the day progressed, and relatively sick on Saturday. Sunday was worse again and my resting HR the morning of the race was 8 bpm higher than it should’ve been. I didn’t feel incapable of racing, and because I had used valuable vacation days to make the trip and incurred all kinds of expenses like gas and the condo, I never really questioned at least starting. Monday, post-race was my sickest day and I am now recovering slowly. Recover was delayed by too much time on Anarchist pass in the rain, or too many wineries, or both.

Race day arrived, and after the requisite preparations I lined up ready as I was going to be on the beach. I was pretty calm about the whole thing, I was confident in my ability to perform alright once I got out of the lake and decided on an all-day strategy that should get me to the finish line as quickly as possible. Swim only moderately hard to conserve energy, two stroke breathing the whole way to stay comfortable and not risk getting out of breath. Ride a solid but conservative bike split that would enable me to recover from the swim, eat well and prepare nutritionally for the run, and then run as close to an even-split half marathon as possible, starting steady and seeing what I had in reserve during the closing stages of the race. I didn’t expect to find much left in the tank.

Photo from gallery: Oliver Half Iron 2012
Swim Start
Photo from gallery: Oliver Half Iron 2012
Swim Exit

The swim was relatively uneventful, I felt like I was overheating at the first turn and threw my swim cap onto a nearby kayak and continued on without a swim-cap. That was much better and I felt comfortable but tired during the closing stages. I pulled out of the water to hear Steve King announcing that the lead female had just exited the water. I estimated her to have likely swim 29 minutes, meaning I would have swum around 36 minutes. I believed things to be going quite well except for that I was tired. I wasn’t really sure how much traffic surrounded me, and fortunately I had no idea how far back through the field I was as that would have been demotivating. I opted to not run past anyone in transition and just go with the flow and try to get my heart-rate to settle. This wasn’t a fast strategy, it was a survival strategy.

Photo from gallery: Oliver Half Iron 2012
Dave's Photo
Photo by: David Roberts

Jumping aboard the bike I had a target power target of around 300 watts. I knew that because I was sick I needed to watch heart-rate as well as power and be willing to adjust on the fly, after a half lap I had to switch my target effort to what I realized was actually going to correlate to around 150 bpm and backed off my target to hopefully average between 280 and 290, realizing that I’d either fade hard due to illness or more likely (because I was being optimistic), build through the last hour on the bike. I got all sorts of conflicting feedback, some of it inevitably due to illness, and some due to poor swim fitness, as well as some due to the hair-raising experiences that inevitably occur when one has to pass nearly two hundred competitors while aboard the bike. I almost quit after a half lap, and then almost quit again after one and a half laps. I was a bit concerned about causing a severe chest infection if I really dug deep and got the lungs burning. Instead I just held back and kept going, I wasn’t really working very hard and so I figured I’d just keep cruising along.

Travis's Bike
The lazy-man carrying solution for
a spare tubular and CO2 cartridges.

I have spent a lot more time riding and racing with my powermeter since racing Oliver last year at this time and was able to use it to strategically allocate effort a bit more effectively than last year. I am also riding a lighter and more aerodynamic bike due to a number of adjustments I made to gear and position. I eliminated the aerodynamic penalty of carrying a spare by storing it in an added sliced-open aero-bottle as a P4-esque fairing to the bottom of the downtube. I am also running no stack height between my aerobar pads and base-bar. I am also running 3T brakes instead of the outrageous stock vision brakes that came with all the old Cervelos. I made some adjustments to cable-routing which greatly reduced the effective frontal area of the head-tube. I also switched to “CeeGee” pads which materially absorb vibration rather than diffuse it. They allow me to comfortably rest a larger fraction of my torso weight through my shoulders to the bars which relaxes the upper body on narrower elbows and longer extensions. This allows me to lower my torso further without biomechanical penalty of inducing lower back stress or engaging upper-body musculature to support my torso. This is in contrast to my old position on the TT bike which was as low as I could go with that aerobar configuration. This position may also have been improved by adopting a slightly greater anterior pelvis tilt with an adamo saddle rather than a fizik arione. The pelvis thin is a guess not a measurement. I made those alterations at the same time, in concert they are an improvement and I cannot distinguish one isolated source. I am also more practiced riding this year with an improved head position, settled on through roll-down testing. This is a simple test that is worth perhaps a watt or three when averaged across the whole bike course. It’s one of the things that people should be learning from Fabian, DZ and Wiggins. Where you carry your head matters, even if it’s just for a couple seconds at a time.

Photo from gallery: Oliver Half Iron 2012

Bike at racecheck-in

All together I was able to cover the course 153 seconds faster than last year while expending less energy: 284 Watts [avg] vs 298 Watts [avg], while being in better shape meant it was an even easier bike ride. (training data suggests that 310 Watts [avg] would have been realistically achievable with good health). All of these improvements were of marginal financial expense; notably, I am still riding my P2 frame and second hand aluminum braking surface tubular tri-spoke and disc (circa 2006). Independent industry data doesn’t even suggest that if I were to buy a super-nine and firecrest 808 I would have made these gains. I saved almost 2% of my time and conserved more than 4% of my power output (Quarq is accurate to 1.5% and was re-calibrated prior to both races). Some of the aformentioned position and gear adjustment was saving me time but strategically superior time-trialing was worth a fair portion of the improvement, which is significant. Strategic riding is not something I see many people working on as hard as they could (or should). I don’t even think I’m that good at it yet (clearly I’ve gotten a lot better though).

Photo from gallery: Oliver Half Iron 2012
Photo from gallery: Oliver Half Iron 2012
Photo from gallery: Oliver Half Iron 2012
Goofing around

A detailed power comparison including a number of case-studies on pacing decisions will inevitably follow on this blog… stay tuned.

On the bike I consumed: 1 bottle of powerade (~170 cal), 600 calories of shot blocks. ~120 calories of banana (2 halves), ~3.5 bottles of Gatorade (600 cal), and about a liter of water. I drank a fair amount and did pee once on the run. That put me at ~1500 calories which was more than I needed by a reasonable margin, but I was concerned about caloric expenditure during the swim being abnormally high. This concern was relieved when after the first 5 cups of coke on the run, I was feeling fueled and confident I’d make the finish without any risk of energy deficit. At that point I switched to alternating just a gulp of water or coke instead of drinking. Running with only marginal caloric consumption is a proven strategy for myself, it allows me to in theory run a higher HR on the run which is strategically beneficial. Those higher HRs weren’t accessed in Oliver due to illness and preparation that was lacking. Generally though, it felt like the right decision.

Photo from gallery: Oliver Half Iron 2012

I started the run at around 4:25 pace and faded off close to 4:50 as I began the second lap but was able to recover focus and really pushed myself through the final 4 kms. That led me to a 1:39:00 run. I did the calculations last year regarding course measurement and the correction factor for grading this to an accurate half-marathon. My graded-time based on pace is 1:34:44. Sub 1:35 is more than acceptable in my opinion considering run fitness and illness. Sure it’s 5 minutes off of where I should be and 10 minutes off of where I’d like to be but I need to be realistic about my life-situation at the moment. HR and pace on the run correlated more or less in line with what I had expected and that indicates I would just benefit from a bit of run frequency in the next month rather than any at-pace or above-pace work. Doing this will not require huge muscular-stress so I think it’s something I can try and commit to in the coming couple weeks as prep for GWN.

Photo from gallery: Oliver Half Iron 2012
Photo from gallery: Oliver Half Iron 2012
Photo from gallery: Oliver Half Iron 2012
Photo from gallery: Oliver Half Iron 2012
Photo from gallery: Oliver Half Iron 2012

Unsurprisingly the rest of the crew we travelled down with had pretty fantastic days on the course. Lesley exited the water in fourth and was riding in third overall until she was eventually passed by Kris who went on to win the women’s race by running 10 minutes out of the leader off the bike. Bridget surprised all, including herself, by escaping knee pain and was able to run the whole thing, something she was debating even attempting only days prior to the start. Travis tapered long and hard for this race, thanks to various business trips, but got around the course in fine form, more than redeeming the disaster in the furnace that occurred last year in the blazing hot conditions.

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How long was the swim?

The recurring post-triathlon question:
How Long was the swim…
the Oliver Half 2012 edition

Photo from gallery: Oliver Half Iron 2012

We have to presume that the swim course is on-average the length that is advertised (2km). We also presume that the distribution of swimmers is equivalent from year to year. There is a confounding factor in that the prize money for this race has changed from year to year which may affect the depth of the elite field. Without professional triathletes being designated as such in the results it is impossible to correct for this factor. With this year’s result we can change our assumption from last year as we are adding data to the all-time list, where calculations showed that the 2011 swim was likely 2085 meters in length. This adjusts last year’s likely distance to 2052 meters in length. It shows a likely distance for the 2012 race of 2150 meters, impacting the swim time of the average competitor by 3 minutes and 12 seconds. Pro-rating my swim performance chops off 2 min 53 sec and has me swimming a 38:30 which is lousy but not embarrassingly so, considering swim training consisting of one 750 swim during a sprint-tri and one 15 minute training-swim the day before race day and nothing else during the prior 100 days.

Photo from gallery: Oliver Half Iron 2012
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