That time when I did a half marathon

Well! Who would’ve thunk it?! The me of six months ago certainly wouldn’t have. But yes. It happened. Ladies and gentlemen, I ran a half marathon!

Fortunately, I had done the distance in my long run the week before so I wasn’t worried about whether I could do it. I guess my nervousness came from the officialness of the whole occasion. Rather than just me pottering along the river by myself for 6.5 miles then turning back around for home, there was more ceremony about this, more people. More people to see me fall over or talk aloud to myself (a thing I do often whilst running) or losing my running ‘form’ through achy-leg-ness.

My nervousness about trying to do everything right before hand (stay hydrated, get a good night’s sleep, don’t exert oneself) kept me awake a bit, defeating the very object of what I was trying to do. Thankfully that didn’t seem to affect me too much.

Off I went, to the starting point, for the third wave of runners (first is for fastees, second wave for medium-speed, third for slowees) and got my groove on. It is a very slow groove but that is how my groove is. It’s slow but continuous. No run-walking for me, thank you!

Mile 1 was pleasant enough, chitchatting and marvelling at the lady in front of me who genuinely looked like she was walking. I was puzzled by how she could be walking yet in front of me!

Mile 2 was the first time I noticed a mile marker and immediately my mind clicked into LongRun mode. I started portioning the thing up. One sixth done already! I said to myself. One sixth done. Easy.

Miles 3 to 7 were fairly uneventful in that I just portioned up time again. One quarter done. Half done. Five sixths.

Mile 7 to 8 I could swear I saw a tiny tiny horse in a field with people around it acting as they would towards a dog. But I stared and stared and was sure it was a tiny tiny horse. At this point my thoughts started to get away from me slightly. I felt like there was still a mountain of time to go. I was just past half way but it’s not the home straight until about three quarters, in my mind.

So I pressed forward, feet planting down each time, contemplating the mileage I still had to cover. I spotted a lady in a red top in front and kept my eyes looking up and forward and on her top. And while I thought and thought and wanted to sit down, my legs kept going, and I realised something. No matter what’s going around in your brain, your legs know better. So even if you’re sunk in the deepest despair, they will keep going.

I’ve always known that running long distances is a mental thing but it became even more apparent at mile 7.5 while having these thoughts, that your body can usually always do it. It’s whether your mind wins or your legs win.

Example conversation my mind and legs were having at this point.

Mind: “Oo, sitting down, hey? That would be nice.”
Legs: “Yeh. We’re not so bothered. We’re fine with the running. We like it. It makes us feel strong.”
Mind: “Yes, I know. But we’re not trying to prove anything to anyone. We did 13 miles last week. We know we can. If you wanna sit down, don’t beat yourself up about it.”
Legs: “Yeh, maybe. But not yet. Just shut up and let us do our thing for a bit.”
Mind: “But legs! I WANT to sit down! Pleeeeeeease….. oo! Mile 8! Good one. Five miles to go.”

You see? The legs know best. Between mile 8 and 9 wasn’t my finest hour. I felt like the home straight feeling could only kick in at mile 9 so I ran in a kind of mental limbo where I didn’t allow myself to indulge in home-straight feelings yet I didn’t feel the desire to sit down that I had at mile 7.

Mile 9 kicked in and my brain relaxed a bit. I kept checking how my body and legs felt and there was nothing to worry about. To keep my attention on my surroundings rather than the finish line, still 4 miles off, I greeted the things around me.

“Hello swans,” I muttered under my breath whilst looking out to the river. “Hello, field. Hello Eygptian geese. Hello trees. Hello other runners. Hello cheering spectators. Hello rowers.” And so on until there was nothing else to greet and mile 10 was upon me.

Three miles to go. Eeeeeasy. Only about half an hour of running to go. No big deal. Now 29 minutes. Now 28. O god. Stop counting. It’s not helping.

I watched the runners around me, some run-walking by this point, and congratulated myself that I had not stopped to walk at all. IT’S RUNNING OR NOTHING! I promised. Digging around in my pocket, I found a little snack which I practically inhaled then had trouble working out how to swallow as breathing heavily and closing one’s mouth to swallow need careful organisation.

Suddenly, despite the little hint of despair that threatened to take hold somewhere in my chest and destroy me, the eating had distracted me for long enough so that I only had a mile and a half to go. Them legs sure do know what to do if you leave em to it and stop interrupting with all your thoughts of sitting down.

My heart lifted as I saw we were nearing our start point and I allowed myself to feel relieved. Through the park, into the passage under the road and turn the corner. 400 metres to go. As I plodded heavily toward the finish line, a voice full of the joys of spring sounded behind me and I felt a slap on my bum.

“Don’t let me catch you!” the woman with the 2hour 30min marker said. I had no idea I was in front of her. I’d thought I was far slower than 2 hours 30. The shock of it put fire into my bones and I shot off towards the finish, passing two people right before the line and finishing 13 seconds under 2:30.

It was very, very exciting to finish. Also very exciting to have done it. And very exciting to be able to walk afterwards. Actually, I ran to work the next morning and felt ok. So yes, little legs. It appears you really did know best.

Lunch break plaques

Hello everyone! Sorry I’ve been so absent. I have no valid excuse apart from ‘I’ve been reading some really good books that required all my spare time and Masterchef recently started again.’ Feeble. Sorry.

Anyway, I was on a lunch break from work the other day when I finally decised to capitalise on the amazing location and go get some biggies. The area is literally teeming with the ghosts of historically important figures and discoveries.

(I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t going fast at all. I mean, I was shuffle-walking at best but I’m counting that, ok?)

First up….

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…. a self-acclaimed blue plaque that I was sceptical about but it was actually listed in my book so I’ll let it in. Lillie Langtry was an actress who among other things, was one of Edward VII’s favourites and was the first celebrity to be paid to advertise products (Pears soap, in case you’re interested).

Second…..

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I found George Bentham further down the road. My intellectual jealousy prevents me from listing just how much of a child genius he was but suffice to say, he could read Latin, French, German, Russian and Swedish before he was 10. Before he was 10. Anyway, he devoted his energies to botany later, spending a lot of time in Kew Gardens. He was also Jeremy Bentham’s nephew. Well done, Sir, for being ridiculously clever.

Third up….

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Twice Columbian president, Alfonso Lopez-Pumarejo (1886-1959) was further down the same road and this was the address he used when serving as an Ambassador to the Court of St. James. He served during WWII and joined the Allied Forces then represented Colombia at the UN.

A man came out of this house as I was passing and dropped his gloves on the floor. I ran after him for quite a way because he had earphones in and gave him the gloves back, in the meantime spotting this little plaque.

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Mr Campbell-Bannerman, everyone! Another head of state, this time the UK Prime Minister during 1906-8. He was described as ‘a jolly, lazy sort of man with a good dose of sense.’ Sounds like my kinda person. Jolly. Lazy. Interesting factoid for you, he was the last Prime Minister to die in office. Nice house, Mr. C. B. Very nice house.

And that’s your lot, people. I’ve a few other plaques and my half marathon to write up so let’s hope this ‘spurt’ of energy keeps up and I get it to you soon.

Enjoy your weekend, everyone!

STATS
TOTAL MILES RUN – 14.8
BLUE PLAQUE COUNT – 30

Day out in Port Sunlight

Morning everyone! Enjoy this post from my regular guest blogger about a recent day out.

Today I visited the village of Port Sunlight on the Wirral. I have mentioned it before just briefly in the post on 22.1.14 (Point 5) but this was a proper look round the actual site. William Hesketh Lever, along with a small number of other Victorian businessmen, thought the way to improve the lives of their workers was to provide housing for them: think of the Cadbury family building Bourneville, Titus Salt building Saltaire, David Dale building Lanark on the banks of the Clyde, The Great Western Railway building a model village in Swindon and Richard Arkwright building Cromford amongst others. Lever built Port Sunlight to a very generous specification in that the roads were made quite wide and each house had a garden. As you walk around the roads it is surprising just how much space there is. (We saw a 50ft articulated lorry making its way round quite easily.)

We started at the Museum with its film, loads of storyboards and exhibits. It’s a fascinating story of how the whole thing came into being.

Let’s get straight in with a quiz which necessitates the use of a “Dibber” (if you’re actually there obviously). If you’re wondering what a “Dibber” is don’t worry just look in the first pic and all will be revealed. Anyway here is Question 1:

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And then Question 2:

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And then Question 3:

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Now of course you can’t go far anywhere round the Merseyside area without finding somewhere with a Beatles connection and Port Sunlight is no exception. So here we go with a number of Beatles related items.

First off is a poster they have from the Tower Ballroom in New Brighton dated Nov 1961.

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If you read the acts on the bill you will see Liverpool group Rory Storm & the Hurricanes whose drummer, at the time, was none other than Ringo Starr. Gerry & the Pacemakers were also appearing but look under The Remo Four. Who on earth calls themselves “Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes”? The mind boggles! Actually at 6’ 5” he was pretty tall I suppose. Apparently Cilla Black sang with the group until 1962 & Ringo had turned down an offer to join the group because the Beatles offered him more money.

Now if you’d like a listen to them for a couple of mins check this out

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28g6FpGf7ak

Now look at the picture that comes in at about 28/29 secs. How strong is this guy?? Two on each arm. Very impressive!

However the biggest shock on the poster is the ticket price – 5/- (which equals 25p today)!! And for that you got 5½ hours of music!

Next up is a pic of the Beatles in their days before those famous suits they wore. (After their early trips to Hamburg they had gone for the leather look.)

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By Aug 1962 Ringo had joined them and was playing drums when they appeared at a Horticultural Dance in Port Sunlight and here is the plaque
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Note they are now headlining the show supported by the 4 Jays and the ticket price has gone up to 6/- (30p) since Nov 1961.

Then an exhibit which reminds us of how telephones used to look:

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As we walked further round we came to the Leverhulme Hotel which was originally opened as a cottage hospital in 1907. In the forecourt is an Anton Dala sculpture called Trophy.

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And the only car in the car park was THIS!!

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As I was taking my pic the owner came out and he told me he gets 14 mpg out of it! Think about it. He opened the door so I could have a quick look (not a sit) inside and that’s the nearest I’ve ever been to the dashboard of a Rolls.

We had a brief look inside the hotel and there were a number of paintings around the place. I liked this one:

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Just something about it.

Then it was over to the church and the burial place of Lever & his wife.

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Here’s the very imposing front entrance to Lever House office building.

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Then we saw some houses with an unusual design. Check this out

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Can you see what caught my eye? Look at the upstairs bedroom windows. Although there is a wall separating the two houses it’s interesting that the bay windows are joined so that each house effectively only has a half of the bay.

Next stop was for some lunch at the Garden Centre Café. We put our orders in and by the time we’d got cutlery and found a window table, taken our coats off and had a couple of minutes conversation the food arrived! Couldn’t believe it – never been served that quick before. And it was really good. A plateful for £5.25 – a cheese omelette, chips (proper ones) & salad. Then finished off with a “free” pot of tea as I had a voucher from something we’d bought earlier. I got 3 cups of tea out of the pot! Brilliant food and brilliant service – well done them!! Definitely worth a visit if you’re ever in the area.

Now the next thing we came across was something I’d never heard of – an Analemmatic Sundial!

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First off you stand on the area with the current month. Your shadow is cast and will intersect with one of the upright posts which will tell you the time

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However the pesky sun had gone in and with the clouds around didn’t look like it was coming out again any time soon so we had to walk on.

Anyway here is a link to a pic which shows you how it works

http://www.steveirvine.com/pixhen/sundial_pg1a.jpg

When it opens up double click the image and you get a more detailed explanation.

There is so much to see round the village and we didn’t have time for things like the Art Gallery so went off to have a wander round the nearby village of Thornton Hough (about 4 miles away). Lever had bought a house (Thornton Manor) in the area but it’s now in private hands as a wedding venue so we couldn’t go in. Lever was concerned at the conditions people in the village were having to live in. He basically knocked all the houses down and started again. However there was a big difference here in that the people who lived in these houses were not his own workers as they were in Port Sunlight. He was just genuinely concerned by their state of health.

Time was moving on and we wanted to get back before the Friday rush hour started so it was off home for a relaxing cup of tea via The Wallasey Tunnel.

A cheat plaque

Hello gang. Don’t worry. I haven’t forgotten about finding plaques to tell you all about. The only thing is that once you’ve done all the ones on the way to work, you have to wait til you have enough time to go further afield to find more. And when one keeps going to work and not having a day off….

You see the problem?

But last Friday, Danda and I went to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not (I’ve never been before, crazy!) and apparently I had printed the wrong bit of the ticket so we had to go to an internet cafe nearby and print off the right bit and on the way, we spotted this.

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It’s a blue plaque commemorating that Dr William Hunter’s house and museum was there during the 1700s. He was a leading anatomist and physician and was famous for his studies on bone and cartilage. His big claim to fame was being appointed physician-extraordinary to Queen Charlotte in 1764. When he died, his varied collection went to Scotland and formed the basis for the Hunterian Museum which, in 1807, became Scotland’s first public museum.

So, all in all, a pretty cool guy. Thank you for your contribution, Sir, and for adding an unexpected historical element to my search for an internet cafe.

STATS

TOTAL MILES RUN – 14.4

BLUE PLAQUE COUNT – 26

The Laughing Cavalier and unexpected plaques

On Sunday, Danda and a friend and I decided to have a day out ‘up London’. First we visited the Banqueting House, the only remaining part of Whitehall Palace, which was all but destroyed in numerous fires. Banqueting Hall is noteable firstly, because of it’s stunning huge Rubens’ paintings on the ceiling (they are mind-blowing) and for being the place Charles I was taken right before being beheaded. He was walked up the stairs, through the Banqueting House and then out one of the side windows onto a scaffold that had been built for the occasion. It was so strange thinking that a perfectly healthy man had been walked up here, the same direction in which I was walking, knowing that in a matter of minutes, he would have his head chopped off. Wierd.

As you enter the hall, you see people lying all over beanbags on the floor and wonder what on earth is going on. Then you realise that the only way to take in the magnitude of the Rubens’ ceiling is by getting on the floor and filling your entire vision with it. It’s so amazing. Here’s a picture of the hall, to try and do justice to how amazingly historic and beautiful this place is.

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Next up, lunch then the Wallace Collection. While heading toward Manchester Square, we spotted a blue plaque so I stopped where I was, turned on my running app on my phone and got my run on. It must be the easiest three plaques I’ve ever got! Within 0.1 miles on a day I wasn’t even looking for them, I found John Hughlings Jackson (neurological physician who lived in the 1800s)….

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…Sir Julius Benedict (German composer and conductor)…

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…and Alfred, Lord Milner (British statesman who served as the High Commissioner for Southern Africa and also on Lloyd George’s War Cabinet during the First World War).

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Easy peasy!

Next up, the Wallace Collection blew my mind. The art collection there is amazing.

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Velazquezs that I’ve only read about, huge Titians that I could have spent hours looking at, Van Dycks that were sombre and exquisite. Danda and friend were sat waiting outside while I wandered about, open-mouthed looking at the bronzes and discovering new fascinating artwork and painters. After a visit from Danda to gently hurry me up, I tried looking more quickly around the rest of the main gallery when I came across something that made me stop, unable to move on.

It was the Laughing Cavalier.

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It. Is. Stunning.

Literally. I was stunned.

I don’t know whether it has the same visual impact seeing the photo I took but look at his jacket. Look at the intricacy of the pattern work on that coat. And the way the splits of the material on the arm falls open and shows the folds of the shirt underneath. And that lace cuff and how you can see through it. I can’t even imagine being able to paint like that. I can’t imagine the concentration it takes to complete. I can’t imagine being able to create something so beautiful.

I also love the cavalier’s face. I think he’s terribly handsome (if I was going to have an art crush, it would be on him – and also on Charles I, he’s rather handsome). I just think he looks quite approachable, a little flirty if anything. When I saw him, I found myself grinning back before I realised what I was doing. I then hurriedly checked around and no-one had caught me acting like a wierdo so it was okay.

Forgetting the hurry and Danda and his friend waiting outside, I watched the Laughing Cavalier and basked in wonder at how this amazing piece of artwork had been created. I love how no-one knows who the Laughing Cavalier really is. It means he doesn’t come down to earth with a bang. He doesn’t turn into a real person with a history which might detract from the painting.

Anyway, I’ll stop being all dreamy now!

When I finally left, Danda and his friend had grown bored waiting for me and gone for a wander and found more blue plaques. So I turned on my app, got running and found them. Again, it was ridiculously easy. I only covered 0.2 miles and ticked off another three plaques.

These two were on the same house, eeeeeasy!

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Captain Frederick Marryat was a Royal Navy officer, novelist (pioneer of the earliest sea stories) and inventor of Marryat’s Code, a maritime flag signalling system. Also at this address is George Grossmith Jr, who was a (are you ready for this?) British actor, theatre producer and manager, director, playwright and songwriter, best remembered for his work in and with Edwardian musical comedies. If that wasn’t enough, his father was the songwriter and actor, W. S. Gilbert, of Gilbert and Sullivan.

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Last but not least, the great Simon Bolivar! I’d had no idea he had a London plaque. I also had no idea that his full name was Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar y Palacios Ponte y Blanco! He was hugely influential in liberating South American countries from Spanish influence and needs little explanation to realise that his success lead to Bolivia being named after him. If you haven’t already heard of him, go Google him. He’s interesting.

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STATS

TOTAL MILES RUN – 14.4

BLUE PLAQUE COUNT – 25

The elusive Arthur Hughes

After a failed trip yesterday morning to find a plaque near London Bridge, I was determined to win the Plaque Game and last night, after attending a work meeting on Kew Green, I decided to find the blue plaque I had missed on my very first plaque run.

Maybe it was because I didn’t actually run to find it, as I was in work clothes and didn’t have running shoes on. Maybe it is because I thought I could fool you guys by just walking there then giving you an excuse. Whatever the reason, the trip was doomed.

I found the correct house alright (I remembered number 22 this time, NOT 23!) whipped out my phone, turned on the camera, got my face in shot with the plaque, took a picture and the whole phone went black. The battery had died and when I got home and plugged it in to charge, I turned it on and saw that the photograph of the plaque had not been saved.

I realised that I would have to make yet another trip to Kew Green (my fourth!) to find Arthur Hughes’ plaque and get evidence of it. After work today, then, I changed into running gear and set off.

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Finally! Success! Who would’ve thought that one little Pre-Raphaelite painter could have caused me so much confusion?!

I am pleased to say that Arthur Hughes is worth it. His two most famous paintings, April Love and Ophelia, are marvelous, the colours vivid and the characters full of emotion. He was born in 1832 and died in the Kew Green house in 1915. He exhibited in the Royal Academy most years since his first painting, Musidora, was shown there when he was 17 years old. He also illustrated, among many others things, some of Keats’ poetry. I salute your talents, Mr Hughes. I just wish you hadn’t taken so long to find.

STATS

TOTAL MILES RUN – 14.1

BLUE PLAQUE COUNT – 19

The hills are my friends

Ok, it’s official-ish. I ran 10k today in a race situation and completed it without either of my legs breaking! Woop!

It wasn’t really a ‘race’, as such. Yes, we all set off from a start point and each had a number and each got a time, etc. But it was splashy and slippery and muddy and didn’t really feel competitive in a proper way. Some parts were just too damn muddy to build any real speed up. I was too busy trying to pull my feet out of the ankle deep mud that was trying to suck my entire body in.

As the crowd headed to the start line, I hung back, as is my way with group runs. That way, I either stay in the same position at the back or I take over a few people. I’m happy at the back. As we got going, I settled into a rhythm quite easily and when I saw the 2k sign, I multiplied how long I’d been going for by five which, coincidentally, was my exact finishing time, to the minute. A few of the people in front of me who had pushed themselves to go fast to start with had now slowed to a walk, tired by their initial efforts. And this is why, I thought, I don’t go fast at the beginning (or ever!).

Feeling comparatively speedy, I overtook the walkers and imagined myself graceful and Baywatch-esque. Until, that is, a tall gentleman who was doing something only one notch up from a walk passed me by and then I acted all cool, like I didn’t even care.

It was a lovely route to run, actually. There is something striking and very attractive about the harsh leafless landscapes of winter. Sometimes, when there was no-one else near by and I was crashing through the outstretched branches of trees on a teeny tiny path, I felt like an explorer in a far-off land and couldn’t help grinning.

As the run-walkers exerted themselves overtaking me, then slowed to a walk and I overtook them, I realised where my advantage in this game lay = in the hills. Because Danny of Project Awesome makes us run hills for 45 minutes every Friday morning and encourages us to go faster and keep running and not walk, I can now deal with hills without too much trouble. I’d approach a downhill and, with the high mud factor, slow down to avoid the possibility of falling. I would hear the run-walkers behind me seeing a chance at easy fast mileage and they’d take me over, hurling themselves down bravely in order to get ahead. Meeting an uphill at the bottom, they would slow to a walk and pant heavily. I would then approach the hill with my Project Awesome head on and overtake them and run it. It got to the point where, nearer the end, I was praying for hills to give me a bit of a lead.

1k from the end, I approached a very steep downhill that a steward was telling me I should “just charge down” because “you’re less likely to fall”. I didn’t doubt it but I still didn’t fancy charging down the mud hill so I dropped onto my bum and slid down to find a fairly wide river at the bottom. I was told again to “charge” across and took his advice this time. The water was freezing and came almost to my knees but, wierdly enough, it was quite refreshing. As I clamboured up the equally muddy incline on the other side to head for the finish line, I didn’t feel tired. My legs felt fine and my body felt fine. I reasoned that, if necessary, I could maybe have done the course again, which made me feel hopeful for the fact that there’s a half marathon in 7 weeks that I’ve been unsure about but maybe it will be ok? Maybe my legs will not break?

As I headed to the finish line, I was handed water and a bag of goodies and, perfectly timed, Danda then arrived on the scene to take a pic, obviously.

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Mission accomplished! (More hills next time, please.)

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