I can see the light at the end of the tunnel…I mean…the shoulder on the side of the road.

My theory of good weeks following bad weeks proved itself valid, as I had a great week of training last week. In my world, the week begins on Monday, not Sunday, a factor that would have made the previous statement untrue otherwise, since my long run Sunday fell significantly short of pleasant. It was only 13.5 miles though, so I told myself it was better to have that run be sub-par and look forward to a solid 18-miler the next weekend.

I miss you, track!

I miss you, track!

To avoid the issue I battled the week before when I tried to do a track workout, I chose to do a workout earlier in the day Tuesday rather than at night (er, at 6:30pm…same thing). As I feared, the track was not shoveled after the snow we got at the end of the previous week. Luckily, the snow had been completely cleared from the neighboring turf field, so I took advantage of its unoccupied state and did 5 x 3 laps, or 1255 meters, with about two minute rests. It was so windy, so that definitely was an added factor, as well as the slightly soggy surface. I ended up averaging 6:30 pace for the intervals, granted my GPS was accurate while running in a square, which wasn’t as fast as I would have liked; however, I got out there and did it, and after the week before, that was okay with me. I was also very grateful to have the turf available for intervals when the track was covered in snow.

Thursday was a workout I was both looking forward to and anxious about…clearly, signs of a workout that was going to be worthwhile. I wanted to do another five mile tempo, maybe even six, but I did not want to do it on roads with shoulders covered in ice and snow, with cars forcing me to break my stride and jump to the side every few minutes. A coworker had told me she did a tempo run in Hillsborough, a couple towns north of here, and there were huge shoulders and no traffic. I didn’t have to be at work until later that day, so off to Hillsborough I went. It helped that it was almost fifty degrees with full sun: short sleeves and shorts, hooray! I will spare the details of how the few errands I had to do before this run caused me to almost pay a frozen yogurt shop worker to use the bathroom as a locker room. It happens. That is all.

I mapped what I thought looked like a good course ahead of time, and wrote the turns on my arm, like so:

I failed to write one road/turn here, which made me improvise a bit at one point, but it was all good. I used the first two miles as a warmup: 7:46, 7:48. At mile 3 I picked it up to tempo pace and held it for the next 5 miles. There were some gradual inclines and declines, and a steep, short hill during the second tempo mile, but for the most part the course was much, much flatter than places I normally run. Splits: 6:52, 7:10, 6:56, 6:51, 6:41 (34:30, 6:54 avg). I thought about going for a sixth mile, but instead decided to do a recovery mile, then do 4 x 60 seconds hard, 60 seconds easy, then cool down back to the start from wherever I was at that point. This ended up being pretty fun. The easy mile was 7:42, and then the on-off minutes and cooldown looked like this:

I was pleased that my “recovery pace” after the tempo was around 7:30; it felt very comfortable. Overall, I managed to run 10 miles in 72 minutes, for an average pace of 7:12. Although my tempo two weeks before was faster, I averaged an overall faster pace for this run and a farther overall distance, and this route had considerably fewer downhills. It was one of those runs that left me with rekindled confidence as well as a killer runner’s high. I put the windows down on the way home (for about five miles until I was freezing of course) and blasted this awesomeness:

I usually match…but when I don’t, I really don’t (not shown: traffic-cone orange shirt).

Brooks Transcend group run

That evening was our group run with Brooks. I was thinking about doing two miles really easy in the Transcend, but decided against it since a lot of people ended up showing up and so I didn’t feel bad for not participating. I still have yet to test out the shoe, but I recently read Jesica’s thorough review on rUnladylike, so I will direct you there for now! What I did learn was what astronaut ice cream tastes like. I can’t say it’s better than real ice cream, but I’m not even a big ice cream fan, so what do I know.

Saturday was the first long run in my training that felt like a legitimate long run. That is, not a run I would do if I were not training for a marathon. The plan was 18 miles, and I luckily found a buddy for the entire thing. I decided to be smart and not do much besides go to a yoga class and eat dinner the night before. I was already multiple steps ahead of my first super long run last year. In short: this was the shortest 18 miles I had ever run. We talked the whole time, and made for excellent matches in terms of pace, lack of awkwardness, etc. This whole phenomenon makes me laugh when I think about it, because it’s almost like going on a date. I just wrote so much more about this and then took it out, which means…separate post to come – subject: why a first run is like a first date! But back to the run itself: I keep mapping similar things, yet adding on an extra corner or two as the run gets longer. This time, I took us down a road I’ve always been curious about, called Aunt Molly Road. Come on, don’t lie. You’d be curious too. It turned out to be a very interesting stretch of road, including an unpaved section, a farm, a lot of trees, and a vulture sitting atop a telephone pole. Curiosity satisfied indeed. Of course I added the infamous hill in reverse as well…and my running buddy still wants to run with me again sometime. I think. So that’s good. We stopped back at the car for water but that was at 16.5 miles or so…not really necessary but I took a few sips and we did a small loop for 18 (18.33, actually). In terms of fuel, I was also going to have a PowerGel on the run, and one for “breakfast.” I was hungry when I woke up, so I had both for “breakfast.” Oops. The good news is, I didn’t feel like I needed it on the run at all, and felt like I could have kept going. Summary: I feel way stronger than I did at this point in marathon training the first time around (last year). Long miles feel easier. Big hills feel easier. There is very little thirst, or bonking, or slowing of pace. I was excited to have completed this run, and am simultaneously looking forward to the 20-milers ahead of me, because I know they’ll just make me even stronger, especially mentally to be honest. [AND THE SNOW IS MELTING! BIG DEAL. SO EXCITING.]

What I did with my wet clothes after the run...sometimes you've got to be creative....

What I did with my wet clothes after the run…sometimes you’ve got to be creative….

Oh, and let’s not forget my weekly elevation report:

(Watch got screwed up, aka I forgot to restart it for awhile, hence the cut-off.)

So, I’m already well into the week after everything I just wrote about…and contrary to the pattern that developed before, it’s been quite alright! The E. Murray Todd Half Marathon is this Sunday, March 2nd. A couple weeks ago I was feeling pretty underprepared, but now I’m actually excited. The course is rolling the whole time:

emurraytoddelevationchartHowever, it looks like the hills are less massive than the ones I’ve been running. I’m looking forward to putting the work I’ve done so far – and yes, I finally feel like I have actually done some hard work – to the test and seeing what I can do. I’m not gunning for a PR, or even a PR effort, but rather a hard effort over 13.1 miles that will serve as a benchmark and confidence-booster for the rest of my training for Boston. It would be nice to run faster than I did on the somewhat hilly Caesar Rodney Half course last year, though. So while I’m not going to state an overall time goal, I will say that I would be content maintaining around a seven-minute-mile pace effort, or slightly faster.

“Throwback Thursday”: gaining strength from weakness

throwback-thursdayIt’s Thursday, or “throwback Thursday,” as many of you will recognize via Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. I am writing not with the intention to share photos from high school or childhood, nor to look back on races of the past. I have always been a fan of these things, don’t get me wrong. The thing is, every day is throwback Thursday for me. One thing most people don’t know about me until they have known me for awhile is that I have an…interesting memory. I think we all have selective memories; mine just happens to select to remember a lot of details about a lot of things. It is a blessing and a curse, but one thing is certain: it’s difficult to turn off. I’ve looked for a switch and couldn’t find one, so I guess I just have to be content with it. “Remembering” and “feeling” are two separate things, so it’s not like I can’t “let go” of things or not think about them for a very, very long time. They’re there somewhere, though.

This past weekend included an important part of my training for my second marathon, as well as watching and reading dozens of videos, articles, and comments related to the USATF Indoor Track and Field Championships. As I do more and more successful workouts and long runs, accept “good lucks” and other positive comments from customers at work and friends in daily life when asked questions about my running lately, my mind can’t help but “throw back” to times when things weren’t so great. The feelings are far removed and not worth going back to “re-feel,” but they might have been necessary evils that paved the way to where I am today. If I had not endured those tough times, physically and emotionally, maybe I wouldn’t be training as smart as I am. Maybe I wouldn’t appreciate every run like I do today. Maybe I wouldn’t understand the struggles of new and injured runners, competitive and recreational alike, and consequently be less relatable from both professional and personal standpoints. Someday, as a physical therapist, I want to be able to say, “I’m training for ____” or “My PR is ____” when asked and have those statements be means by which people will be inspired, not defeated. I didn’t start this blog until after all those struggles were over, and since then I only wrote about one significant injury. Those who knew me in college know that had I written a blog back then, it would contain totally different content. To give you an idea: it was really easy for me to pick a random entry in my old running log and find this just now:

March 25, 2011. Two or three weeks after the [very sudden] onset of my pubic ramus stress reaction/fracture/whatever (#7).

March 25, 2011. Two or three weeks after the [very sudden] onset of my pubic ramus stress reaction/fracture/whatever (#7).

Runners can go ahead and say that an injury doesn’t affect their overall well-being. I’ll call bullshit. It’s going to happen, at some point. You can’t separate running from life all the time. I say that’s okay. Looking back at these kinds of days – so frequent in college – I understand that they made me stronger. Stronger emotionally, mentally, physically. Do I wish they didn’t happen? Well yeah, that would have been nice. But they did, and I am okay with it. The reason I wanted to get out some words about this is because a lot of people who might meet me now and talk about running, or read my blog, might not understand that for every run I do that is “fast,” or “easy” or “great,” there were about a hundred awful runs, days in the pool, and days in pain for every one. So, I guess my point is, cliche as it sounds, giving up is about as silly as not letting Gabe Grunewald race at Indoor Worlds. That’s all.

Oh, but here’s Kara Goucher at Homecoming. #tbt

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What I learned on Valentine’s Day

I’m obviously a little late with this, as Valentine’s Day was over a week ago…but who doesn’t want to extend the love for another week, right? I’ve never celebrated the day in its traditional sense, but I sure had fun last year making running-inspired, styrofoam Sweethearts candy replicas and throwing around fake snow in the window while everyone else made dinner plans. I had no reason not to come up with an equally fun display this year, and so I took a few minutes to find an idea, and suddenly a glittery masterpiece was underway. You know that saying about being distracted by shiny things? That phrase is actually about me. I am instantly drawn to glittery and shiny things; they make me so excited. Anyway, for the first part of this post, please enjoy the following photos from my Valentine’s Day store window, 2014 edition:

First, I constructed a giant cardboard heart. The concept was an oversized card, or love note to running. I had no clue what I was going to write on it.

20140130_191013I miraculously cut it out:

20140130_212007…posed with it:

20140130_211159…and proceeded to write notes like, “Meghan’s heart – do not touch/break” because…well, I was already making a giant love note to running out of cardboard, there was no harm in furthering the corniness of the ordeal.

The result:

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20140131_19521120140131_195148For the record, these little scraps of confetti paper were way easier to clean up than the clingy styrofoam “snow” from last year! I’m not sure what to do with the giant “card” now, but I’ll figure something out….

…but back to what I learned

I learned more than the fact that our vacuum cleaner is so awful it doesn’t pick up loose glitter from a carpet. I learned a fundamental reason why I love running. As I mentioned in my last post, the week of Valentine’s Day wasn’t going so well. I was planning on doing a workout Wednesday night, and then I felt sick and needed to bail on that. Thursday it was dangerous to go outside with all the ice, snow, and wind, and I still felt kind of sick. I committed myself to getting up early Friday and doing a workout regardless of the road surface. That is, I was going to suck it up and join the rest of the world…on the treadmill. This was a huge deal for me. I hadn’t been on a treadmill other than to test shoes since 2008. I had never done a workout on a treadmill either. I was determined to have fun with it though; I was telling myself I’d get to play with the speed, I’d get to wear shorts and a tank top in the dead of winter for once, I’d get to listen to music. Things I normally don’t do. It would be fun (insert meme here?).

The plan: walk to the store. Get on the treadmill. Warm up two miles, switch into flats (another bonus point, I thought!). Run two miles at ~6:30, into one mile at ~7:00, into two more miles at 6:30. Cool down inside or outside. The warmup wasn’t too bad. I felt good and thought the hard segments would be fine. HOWEVER. I ran the hard two mile segment in around 13:10, with my pace faltering (meaning, I needed to hit the down arrow or I’d be at the back of the belt) as the end neared. I faced a mental battle, as well as a row of orange Nike shirts (the treadmill faces the wall now…). This was awful. How do so many people do this on a regular basis?! Props to all of you, seriously. Running on the treadmill takes a tougher person than running outside in the snow. I’m not sure if that is true or makes any sense, but that is what went through my mind that Friday morning. I jumped off after the two miles, feeling dizzy and dehydrated. I threw on a long sleeved shirt and gloves and ran outside.

I ran about four miles and loved every step of it, ice or not. The sun was as bright as it had been in days. The streets were slushy messes, but I felt so free. This was it, this is why I love running. No, I didn’t get in the rest of the workout. I wasn’t running a decent pace on this dangerous, uneven surface. But that was okay. Because for those four miles spent on the treadmill, especially those last two, I didn’t like running very much. I wasn’t having fun. I’m not saying I expect to have fun on every run, but I should at least feel like the run was my choice, and that I would rather be doing it than not. I didn’t feel that way on the treadmill, and the stark comparison of the post-treadmill run outdoors made me realize that I loved running in part because it makes me feel free.

When I run, I shatter the demeaning power of self-doubt and feel like my most confident self.

There’s no need to think of what others think of me when I run, because I’m doing what I enjoy most and that is all that matters in that moment. 

When I run, I can reach a mental and physical state not many others can understand, and that is something special.

I can run away from annoying things – whether they are people playing loud music, or taking up the entire sidewalk when they walk, or my own self feeling too tired to accomplish all I want to do, or thinking too much about one thing.

At one point, I realized I was wearing my favorite running shorts and shirt, like I planned it but I didn’t. I felt like I could run all day, conquering the world, at least my world, one street at a time. Eventually I headed back though, because I did have to work all day. What began as a bad experience with a treadmill, an overheated room, and legs that questioned my sanity for starting this thing in the first place ended with a renewed sense of passion for running…one could even say it was like the perfect Valentine’s date. 🙂

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Training check-in between snowstorms

I started this post – okay, wrote the title and saved it as a draft – over a week ago. I was having a great week of training and finally felt like I was able to do workouts and runs that allowed me to assess where I stood in terms of fitness. The week that followed was quite the opposite. This pattern is leading me to believe that we may need “bad” weeks to appreciate or even have “good” weeks of training…at least, that’s what I’m telling myself. This in turn got me thinking about all the blog posts I read that mention such “bad” or “good” weeks, and the bigger picture…which totally deserves its own blog post, but I’m pretty sure when I publish two at once, one never gets read. Anyway.

The week of February 3rd…the “good week”:

Actually, take it back to the preceding weekend. I did a solo 15-miler on Saturday, and it was SHORTS WEATHER! This was glorious. I also think I was a bit dehydrated. When mid-forties gets you dehydrated…that just says the weather we have been having otherwise is just wrong. I found a new giant hill, and was loving life while running up it. Seriously. It was one of those awesome top-of-the-world kind of hills, with a view that only lasts a moment before you descend, but it stays in your mind for the rest of the run.

feb1hillsI averaged a little slower than I would have liked on the run for feeling so good (8:00 pace), but to be fair this was probably the hilliest loop so far, and I didn’t want to look at my watch much, just go by feel.

Monday was the first snowfall of the week…I went for a sloppy run once the snow stopped and some plows had made their way through town in the evening. It wasn’t horrible, but obviously pace went out the window with the footing I was dealing with. Oh, then I had this. I nearly forgot (man, that was a good week…):

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It was worth the snowy trek. And here are some necessary snow pictures…for those of you jealous of us freezing, buried New Jerseyans! (Anyone, anyone?)

snow

Tuesday was Intervals practice and I was really hoping our plan to improvise would work! You never know what is shoveled….We really lucked out, because we found a turf field that had been snow-blown. The perimeter of two lacrosse fields ended up being 0.27mi, so we went with that and did a down ladder workout of sorts. After, I ran right to the gym and did some lifting and abs…I can’t say my half-mile run home from the gym was very fast or pleasant, but it was an evening well spent, in every sense of the word. Wednesday was the day New Jersey turned into an ice skating rink, and I ended up working all day and that was it. I didn’t feel like myself at the end of the day – just sort of restless – and it was a reminder that a.) I’m getting used to more training, and b.) running and cross training is definitely not all physical. The latter is a simple concept, but I forget it too often.

This was taken by someone else who scoped out the possible workout locations a little early...no photos of the actual loop we did but it's inside the fence! The lights weren't on...but that was okay, snow makes quite a bright perimeter.

This was taken by someone else who scoped out the possible workout locations a little early…no photos of the actual loop we did but it’s inside the fence! The lights weren’t on…but that was okay, snow makes quite a bright perimeter.

Thursday I did a five-mile tempo in the middle of a nine mile loop. I was planning on going alone, but I ended up with a great partner/pacer at the last minute. We warmed up three miles (during which I forgot to start my watch at one point, so my perfectly-planned, mile-by-mile workout was kind of messed up before it started…oh well), all uphill…then did the next five of the loop at tempo pace. Going into this, I had no idea how any sort of pace in that range was going to feel, because I’ve only ran faster or slower than that since the Philly Half. I thought I’d aim for what felt like 6:50-7:00, but told myself I wouldn’t be discouraged if it was slightly over 7:00, because the route was rolling (and the shoulders were covered in ice…). I just wanted to see what my legs would decide “tempo pace” was on this day in early February. It was probably more downhill than uphill, but there was more elevation gain in the third mile for sure. My splits were: 6:46, 6:45, 7:03, 6:39, 6:37, giving me 33:50 for 5 miles (6:46 average). I was really pleased with this, because we were talking at times. Just a few words, but I didn’t feel like I was racing or anything. It was definitely a relief to know my tempo pace is 6:45 at this point in training. Pretty sure that was a 5 mile PR!

The week of February 10th…the “bad week”:

First, it wasn’t really a bad week. It would have been if the IT band soreness I felt after my long run Saturday had developed into anything remotely bothersome for longer than a day after. In my typical paranoia, I started the week by taking two days off of running completely, icing twice a day, and constantly assessing how I felt on stairs. Oh, and wondering if Boston was out the window. Let me emphasize that I actually had no pain, I’m just that paranoid. I skipped the Intervals workout Tuesday (hill repeats) and did an easy run to test out my leg instead. It was totally fine – no discomfort at all. PHEW. You must understand that with me, something can go from “bothersome” to full-on, season-ending “injury” in one simple run. So, I wasn’t hurting but that run was still awful. So tight, so tiring. Further proof that I want to take fewer days off than I used to feel comfortable with. I think I can handle it now, and I think it will help me, not hurt me.

The good thing about the long run though, was getting to meet Hollie in person! She, Greta, and I slid up and down hills (okay, I made it sound too easy there) for sixteen miles.

Photo credit: Hollie.

Photo credit: Hollie.

The rest of the week was a comical failure, honestly. I had a workout attempt just like this one from April, but I couldn’t try again because there was a snow and ice storm the next day. And I still felt sick. Ultimate combo of un-motivation and frustration. What did get me motivated for a 75-minute bike trainer ride in my shed?

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THIS.

I only wish I had stumbled upon it sooner so I wasn’t so behind everyone else as they’re starting the new season (released in full this past Friday)!

The ending (please let it be the ending!) to this sub-par training week deserves its own post, so up next: what I learned on Valentine’s Day. I’ll give you a hint: it has to do with treadmills dreadmills. There will also be glitter.

It’s my one-year blogoversary!

Wednesday, February 5th was my BLOGOVERSARY!

It’s been a year since I published my first post on this blog:

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What a year it’s been! I can honestly say, I didn’t realize how much happiness this blog would bring me over the past year. What began as an outlet to write the things I was already “writing” in my head on every single run led the way to amazing opportunities, from running Hood to Coast with Nuun to just connecting with customers from work and new friends on a daily basis. I have made interesting discoveries about myself between the lines of my posts, and I have turned around bad days just by writing at the end of a long day. Thanks to everyone who has read this blog over the past year!

This has been in the works for a few weeks now, but today I actually wrote the “About” page and a very short first post…I’d like to introduce you to my new, secondary blog, dedicated entirely to my art projects! It’s called “Painting by Letters” (for now…), and you can check it out here.

Some exciting Boston training updates coming soon!

The loneliness of the 23-year-old distance runner

It’s no secret that distance runners are of a different breed, on several levels. We understand that there is fun in seeing the sunrise, in the final miles of a long run, in downing water at any given point in the day. Most runners have supporting friends and family members who understand a runner’s lifestyle and often adapt to it themselves, particularly if they also are runners. What is seldom talked about, however, is the conflicting motives and decisions of a relatively young, but not high-school/college young, long distance runner. This is what I would like to call, the loneliness of the 23-year-old distance runner. I’ll explain.

It’s 1:30 in the morning on a Friday night. You are still at the bar, surrounded by your friends. All of whom do not have to run fifteen miles in the morning as you do, but I’ll get to that later. The bar announces last call, your friends decide to go back to one of their houses since there is “free” beer in the fridge there. Now, this may be a night with no shenanigans or craziness (read: no one breaks anything, no one gets yelled at). You may be in the middle of a good conversation with a few people, or you may have just met a new group of friends. There may also be food back at the house, and let’s face it – you didn’t have enough dinner because you worked late and headed straight to meet your friends at 10pm, and, um, it’s food – you always want food. So, you get your coat and parade down the street to the house. You have another beer once you’re there because everyone does, you’re thirsty, and why not. 2:30 approaches. Everyone is still having fun and you don’t feel like ditching the scene yet, so you stick around. You pour a glass of water since you don’t want to be dehydrated on your long run. Then it starts to creep in: the “I’m alone” feeling. You start to wiggle your calves around, making sure they feel okay since they were tight yesterday. You worry that the heels you’re wearing are giving you a black toenail, and try to not make it any worse by sitting down. If it’s this late and you’re still “out” (not chilling at a house) – maybe dancing – it’s even worse. You start to wonder why everyone else is having fun and you would rather be asleep: didn’t you decide to come out? Didn’t you want to dance? Didn’t you want to drink? Didn’t you want to see your friends? Why do you want to call it quits on the night out and have pizza? Will you ever find a balance? Why am I here? I shouldn’t have come. The story ends with you waking up at whatever time you need to, going for the run, and feeling just fine. Why? Because you’re 23, that’s why, and you can handle it all. You somehow hydrated and ate enough between chats and bars and everything and it worked out fine.

So there you have it: that is what has been going through my mind on a typical weekend night.

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It sounds stupid to say that balancing marathon training and 23-year-old life is hard, because I obviously don’t have to go out. Here’s the catch though. Most of my good friends are not runners. I don’t care if they don’t understand; they are my friends and I’m going to go out with them and have fun. I didn’t make socializing a priority in college; I hardly feel like I made lifelong-lasting friends there, and that is my fault. I feel like I’m getting a big second chance, and I’m living it to the fullest. Being in limbo complicates the issue more, because brings into play money: keeping up with friends who have more money (ahem, everyone) is also difficult, especially when it comes to budgeting food. Another reason I go back again and again, experiencing the conflict each weekend is, not only am I 23, I’m 23 and single. If I’m spending a night in, or just chilling out and going home early, I’m doing it alone. That just seems to be the way things are: if you’re single, you go out and socialize. I have no problem with this (I tried being an introvert once…it lasted a few hours).

This is a strange, strange time in my life. There’s no doubt that since I turned 23 in the fall, my lifestyle choices have conflicted with one another more than ever. On one end, there are the bloggers I admire, with families or boyfriends, who write about all the fun workouts they do and are in bed by 9, who maybe have a drink once every couple weeks. On the other hand, there are the friends who maybe go to the gym sometimes (but seem fit, since, you know, they are 23), work 9-5, and think 2 AM is a decent time to crack open a 6-pack and continue the party. The issue lies in the fact that I want to be both. I’m doing a pretty good job, but I think I have to work on some things. 3 AM is becoming the new 2 AM: problem #1. I do think that if I had a like-minded significant other currently, things would be different because I would be closer to a similar lifestyle on a more regular basis.

I distinctly remember the day I learned this wasn't true, and it ruined everything. EVERYTHING....

I distinctly remember the day I learned this wasn’t true, and it ruined everything. EVERYTHING….

I do think I am luckier than most people, to have running in my life. On my long run Saturday, sandwiched between two nights similar to what I previously described, I was cresting a [new, awesome, top-of-the-world-view] hill when I really started thinking about this. How great was it, to be able to live all aspects of life to the fullest? I’m living and learning…not all decisions are good decisions. The life of a 23-year-old distance runner trying to make up for a sub-par social college experience isn’t always easy, but I wouldn’t trade any part of it for the world.