Princeton Half Marathon 2014

There are many reasons why we run. We run to feel good, we run to achieve goals, we run to start or end the day well. Sometimes, rare moments that can’t be put into words as well as feelings, we run to have control over something in our lives. To prove a point even if we don’t know what that is. To think about something as small and primordial as the very next step in front of us. Runners sometimes need to run, because it’s the only thing that makes sense in a world where so many things don’t at all. These are the runs that are the angry or angsty or sad songs on a day we aren’t thinking too hard about them, just merely basking in the feeling. They’re the strangely entertaining scenery whirring by you when you really meant to read on the train. We’ve all had runs like these, that feel like we could run forever as fast as we can, nothing is impossible. Rarely does this run coincide with an actual race. For the Princeton Half Marathon, it did for me. Every single second of this race, there was nothing else I was meant to do but hammer the course to the ground. It was my duty.

Pre-race in the store.

Pre-race in the store.

I thought it was going to be a horrible race. I hardly slept, hardly ate, and hardly drank water the night before. I even started to feel sick to my stomach a half hour before the start. I woke up just before 5 AM 100% ready to run this race. I was ready at 11 PM as well, in fact. I did the course two weeks before and it was definitely hilly. Definitely not fast, I thought. I didn’t even think a PR was in the cards even if it were flat, or maybe I was in shape for it, but I didn’t think I’d have it on that day.

My plan on the line was to just run. See what I had in me and run with it, whatever that was. Try to keep my effort level in the 6:50-7:05/mile range give or take depending on the elevation. The wind had howled overnight and in the morning, it had hardly stopped. The temperature was around 40 degrees. I could tell just from my warmup that we were about to get blown all over the road, but I wasn’t too concerned. The first couple miles were heading down to the battlefield, and by that point the crowd around me had thinned out considerably. We were on uneven gravel at the start of the third mile, then back onto the road which was so windy, then back onto gravel again. Miles 1-4: 6:34, 6:51, 7:06, 6:54.

In the woods, a girl snuck up on me and passed me. I already knew there was one girl way head of me from the start; I could see her ponytail and pink socks. I forced myself to stay focused and stay right on this other girl, and I did. I passed her back shortly after on an uphill on Alexander, and made sure I stayed strong and dropped her. The Washington Rd. hill was coming, the part everyone was dreading but I knew that once it was over, my favorite part of the race would begin. I tend to feel mentally and physically better during the second half of a half marathon, and I already knew I preferred the second half of the course. So I was actually excited. I kept it controlled up the hill, and absorbed the cheers from the spectators. At the top was the Nassau Street crossing and a sweet downhill into the north side of town. All four corners were lined with people cheering, and crossing that street was was one of my favorite moments from the race. Miles 5-6: 6:54, 7:17 (hill #1).

The beginning of the Washington Rd. hill. It turned out the girl who snuck up on me was my friend's sister....

It turned out the girl who snuck up on me was my friend’s sister….

The next mile was mostly downhill or flat, with a short uphill at the end combined with what was definitely the worst gust of wind of the entire race. I started to really find my stride in this mile though, into the next. The splits sounded fast but didn’t feel fast. Miles 7-8: 6:39, 6:36. 

In the next neighborhood there was a left turn on a random street. I knew this because I did the course two weeks before with a queue sheet in my shorts pocket, basically. I was pretty focused on my own race, but I did notice a few runners up ahead running straight, past the turn. I was coming up on a guy I knew, and I heard him ask a woman standing on the corner if this was in fact where to turn. She seemed to reply in the affirmative, and I was confident in my knowledge of the course anyway, so I turned with everyone else around me and didn’t think much else of what was happening there. At another corner up ahead, I heard a bunch of screaming girls and turned to see at least one girl I coached at Girls on the Run on the bed of a pickup truck, cheering for “Coach Meghan.” It made me smile and push on toward hill #2, on Snowden and Herrontown. I knew this hill was going to be tougher than the first because if its location on the course and the fact that it was so long and gradual. I brought a Gu for the first time in a half, and my plan was for it to kick in during the final few miles, so I had half of it before the mile 9 water stop…but I failed to actually grab a cup of water. The cups were plastic, so that was part of the problem. I attempted to grab it about three times, but ultimately ended up with the taste of plain Gu in my mouth until the next water stop. Just before that one, I finished the Gu and actually took water successfully. I also passed a pivotal competitor at that first water station, I’ll add…. Miles 9-11: 6:49, 7:25 (hill #2), 6:44. 

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Then the race really began. Or maybe it was phase three. One of our longstanding group runners, Patrick, has always given me great running and racing advice, and words of wisdom in general. He uses the expression “take him to the woodshed” frequently, referring to basically dropping the hammer when running with someone and seeing if he comes along. Since we were passing through his neighborhood, and coincidentally the hill where he tends to take people to said woodshed, I thought to myself, to the woodshed! and it gave me some extra energy.

Mile 12 had a big net downhill, and mile 13 had a net uphill but included some downhill too. I remembered my long run when I previewed the course two weeks before, and how I said, “If I feel good at this point in the race, it’s going to be so much fun.” Well, I did. And it was. I ran the twelfth mile in 6:21 still feeling strong. I saw and heard some people I knew and didn’t know calling out to me on the curb. One group told me I was the “first woman.” Then another. I was confused, because I was definitely second. That girl had been ahead of me from the start. I might have even corrected someone using two fingers and a muffled “I think I’m second,” like I couldn’t take credit. I figured they had just come out of their houses and had missed her. Mile 13 ticked off in 6:15 but I wasn’t looking at my watch then, I was just hammering toward the finish line. Paul Robeson Place, where the race started and ended, was packed with spectators, some of them friends, some Girls on the Run girls and their families, and many others I didn’t know. I knew even before I saw the clock that I was going to finish under 90 minutes, and it was the greatest feeling to have accomplished that – my ultimate half marathon goal – right here in my town with all these people who know me here supporting me. Official finish time: 1:29:36.

Finishing the job.

Finishing the job.

When I finished, people took pictures and asked me questions. At that point, I thought the other girl must have dropped out, if I really did finish first. It was soon discovered, a few minutes later, that the girl was among the dozen or so people who had continued straight at that important turn on the course. In other words, they didn’t know the course and got

I was too cold to fix my hair beyond this. We should have gotten a photo post-shower...oh well.

Mayor Lempert and me, with the cup. I was too cold to fix my hair beyond this. We should have gotten a photo post-shower…oh well.

lost, but there was also no race marshal there to direct them. Obviously, none of my races are without complications. You can read about the race’s ultimate decision on the matter here. Summary? I finished first, they gave the other girl the win, they made up a time for her (which is kind of weird, but it is what it is). I did win the Mayor’s Cup, for the fastest finisher among runners from businesses in town (it’s currently being engraved!). The mayor was cool and called me inspiring, which was really nice to hear coming from her! I had work all day after that, but we did get to escape and head over to Triumph for the race sponsors’ party, which included good food, a slideshow from the race, networking, a presentation, and growlers galore. And yes I did “clean up nicely,” but there are no photos to prove it.

Not fully engraved yet, but this is what it said when I received it.

Not fully engraved yet, but this is what it said when I received it.

The Princeton Half Marathon was the most meaningful experience I have ever had during a race or any run at all. I have never felt so much control over my own emotions and the outcome of an event. Before, I had always thought of good races being a product of x, y, and z: eating right, sleeping right, training right. And they are, but only to an extent. It was this race that taught me the power of the mind and the heart, and what they can do when they work together. This race was a fun game, a 13.1-mile reckless journey in an invincible fast car. A one hour, twenty-nine minute, thirty-six second song that has powerful lyrics but no conceivable words. What were x, y, and z? The chirping calls of “Coach Meghan” from the curbs, the feedback from the streets I’ve grown to know so well, and the feeling that this race was more than a race, it was something I needed to do, as best I could.

Things in life still don’t make sense. There’s still no tangible control. But whenever I get sucked inside to that place where the sad songs actually have words, and the scenery on the train does make you think about the who and what and why, I have this 1:29:36-long moment of my life to remember, and the memory gives me the energy to feel okay.

The most fitting quote for the back of this medal, if I may say so.

The most fitting quote for the back of this medal, if I may say so.

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the big 2-0

Sunday, I ran my first ever twenty miler! It was awesome. As you read on, keep the following warning in mind:

Do not do anything I did to have a great twenty miler. Or run of any length, for that matter. 

Did it work out for me alright? Yes. But, I have no idea how. So, just do the opposite of what I did and you should be fine on your own twenty miler. Sound good? 

The one thing I did right? I wore my new Garmin 210! It was so cool to have feedback on pace at any given instant, and to know that i really, truly did run twenty miles on the dot!

Isn’t it pretty??? My outfit actually matched all these colors exactly, which made me feel…I don’t know, organized. I’m not sure what the 20:41 means, maybe my walking pace in the parking lot as I sipped, I mean chugged, Nuun after I stopped the watch?

Just seeing 20.00 miles is pretty awesome. So now let me talk write your ears off with an unabridged tale of what actually happened before and during those twenty miles. Well okay, I won’t make it totally unabridged….

The plan: meet Kate and others at 8:00am for 13 miles and then continue, picking others up at two intervals along the way. This plan was ideal because it also meant I wouldn’t have to carry water or Gu, I could leave it on my car windshield. I let Kate do the planning since she always maps and times everything out so perfectly. Great plan, right?

Insert plan two: I was invited (like, at midnight Friday) to the grad college formal. I wanted to go, I wasn’t going to say no because of a twenty miler in the morning. I just thought I would wear relatively comfortable shoes, hydrate…with water, and not go to sleep super late. I could do it all, no big deal. 

What not to do to prepare for twenty miles, #1: Don’t have dinner. Decide to instead spend your time after a crazy busy eight hour work shift on your feet running around buying a nice black dress to wear since you basically have broken every other black dress you own (true story). Text your date and tell him to find you some food – anything! Because “anything” is fine before running twenty miles. Even a Clif bar and half of a small bag of Doritos (wait why did I not finish the bag?). 

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Fish face. It was “Under the Sea” – themed….If you were wondering, I did actually find Nemo that night.

#2. Have a girl stab you in the foot with her high heel before 11:30pm. Seriously, no one was even on the dance floor yet, how did this happen?! I freaked out because it hurt so badly, and almost cried. I assessed the situation in the light and saw that she had indeed broken through the skin. My foot hurt when I flexed my toes, and I really thought I should get ice on it. What if everything is ruined now? I was freaking out inside. The twenty miler, the marathon, everything….After the initial shock, and maybe a couple beverages, the pain subsided, and I only felt it if I pushed on it. I was still rather concerned but remained calm and enjoyed the night. (I have a picture of this wound but again, my phone decided to die, so…photo evidence to come. In the meantime, I’ll share my fish face with you all. You’re welcome.  

#3. Not have water like I planned. Enough said. 

#4. Still be awake at 3:30am.

I woke up at 7:10 and assessed the foot situation. It was a bit swollen. I jumped and ran around. Had ibuprofen, wrapped some KT Tape around it. Tied my shoe not as tight as normal. Wore my usual compression socks. Ate a chocolate Gu. Time to rock.

I promise I won’t do my “OMG, Garmins are so cool” thing again, since most of you have been running with Garmins for years and are over it. I am a kid with a new toy; I am not.

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Our route looks convoluted, but it was basically an eight-mile loop with Kate, Nick, Sarah, and Phil that was Pretty Brooks with a bathroom stop/nick drop-off. At around 9:10 we were back where we started. We dropped off Sara and Phil and picked up Jack (my 17-mile running buddy from two weeks ago!) and Daniel. We ran a five-mile loop and then returned, where Kate and Daniel stopped and Jack and I kept going. I hadn’t mapped a seven-miler…and maybe I should have, but we decided to run up to Herrontown Woods. After a tiny loop in the woods (visible by the tiny little circle) I decided screw it, I wanted to stay on roads to mimic what the marathon will be like. I was also mad I dropped an 8:54 mile on those trails, since we had dropped to 7:45s after dropping off people at 13 miles. At around 18 miles, things started to feel tough. If I had water, I think I would have felt fine, but I was just really thirsty (understandably so…). Thinking back, I think that was the only issue. My legs felt fine. We needed to add on some more for twenty (which is the worst, adding on at the end when you can see where you parked…), and I am so grateful I had someone there for finish up with! I would have done it, but it was much more enjoyable to have someone right next to me. I was excited to plug in the watch and look at how the run went after:

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The first loop was kind of all over the place; I didn’t know how to stop the watch at one point (I forget why I needed to), so that mile was kind of off. Mile 5 was a big hill, so that’s strange it was faster. Mile 8 was slow because it was the start of the second group’s run, most likely, and we were settling into our pace again. The next 8 miles were all around or significantly under 8:00, which is nice. If you take out the trail portion (all of mile 17), the last 12 miles of the run were at 8:08 or faster except for mile 19, which is when I struggled a bit. But hey, if my “bonk” was me running 8:14 + 8:03…I can deal with that. At the actual race I will take more water and another gel, so that eliminates the thirst I had at the end, which is mainly why I struggled. If I can call it that. It really wasn’t so bad. At any point in the run I could have easily picked up the pace to 7:30-40 if I wanted to or needed to.

 

Overall, this was such a great learning experience for me as a runner. I am much more confident that I can run this marathon and be fine. Of course, part of me is saying, if you did all those things wrong and still managed to feel great and even pick up the pace the second half…this is good. Hey, if that’s what gives me confidence….In all seriousness though, I will not be preparing the same way when I do an eighteen miler in two weeks. 

More Garmin awesomeness:

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If I told you I didn’t satisfy my runger (and make up for earlier bad choices?) the rest of the day by consuming a 10″ pineapple-spinach-jalapeno pizza from Naked Pizza, buying lots of healthy food from Trader Joe’s, and going out to dinner for some fish tacos (accompanied by three large glasses of water), I would be lying. 🙂

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Yum.

I’m in the 20 mile club, woo!!! It’s a thing, I swear.

Now, back to attempting to figure out how my weekend is going to pan out given that I have 1.) a ride to Boston, 2. A ride from Boston, and 3.) No place to sleep? Should be interesting, especially without a mobile device.

Week catchup: NYC, Admission, & crazy runner thoughts…

It’s been over a week since I wrote my half marathon recap, and with good reason! Lots of time to spend living life, not so much time to write about it. After the race I was understandably tired, but nothing was overly sore and I didn’t have pain anywhere. I took a day off and a day of swimming, and was already itching to run again come Wednesday! Our rep from The North Face, Helen, visited on Tuesday night to tell us all about Flashdry technology – really cool stuff, you should try Better Than Naked if you haven’t yet! Helen mentioned that she was heading up to our two New York stores the next morning, and I casually asked, “Can I come?” I was only half serious, but this query somehow landed me on the 9:04 train to NY Penn Station. Works for me.

NYC for the day

So, we went Running Company hopping. It is significantly less fun than bar hopping, but still mildly entertaining. It is always fun (for me…) to visit other stores and see what they are doing differently, or similarly, to us. Also, the New York stores always have wider clothing selections than us, so I tried on some apparel pieces we don’t carry just for fun…like the Oiselle Diamond Roga Short and The North Face Better Than Naked Jacket (love this). I also helped merchandise, because why not. One of our stores is in the Time Warner Center, the other on the Upper East Side, so we cut through Central Park on our walk over there. Note: this was not very efficient, but it was pretty. Especially if you pretend it was twenty degrees warmer than it actually was.

Central Park on the first day of spring! 48 degrees, nice and balmy....

Central Park on the first day of spring! 48 degrees, nice and balmy….

We ran into a strange sight on the way into the park, though…not totally unusual for NYC, but this was probably the creepiest thing I have witnessed. At first it was cute and confusing…and then it was creepy and confusing….

SO MANY BUNNIES! I think one of them is doing Gangnam Style?

One of them walked right up to me; his name tag said Uncle Bob. I was eating a banana and he seemed to want to make a comment about it. Helen almost gave him my other banana, but I’m glad she didn’t because it was quite literally all the food I had for the day.

IMG-20130320-01820One final shot before we ran away from the bunnies:

I fear for the life of that girl trying to weave through them.

I fear for the life of that girl trying to weave through them.

So, what was all this madness? I looked it up on the train ride home, and apparently it;s the Easter Bunny saying “sorry” for giving kids junky candy for all these years. When you don’t know about this campaign ahead of time…well, this bunny congregation is mad creepy.

The trip to NYC was very short, but before I left I got a chance to run for about an hour through Central Park from the Eastside store. I was hoping to run with my former coworker Matt, but they couldn’t spare a person to runch with me. 😦  I will spare the details of what happens when you run in shorts three days after major chafing from a race. It’s a messy subject, a lot of bandages were involved, and that’s all I’ll say about that (I am now fine, fortunately).

Admission

The movie Admission premiered on Friday, March 22. I had no idea this was the case, since I just consider going to see any movie in the theater out of my budget priorities right now. But on Thursday night, I happened to be on the street with two friends, ready to head home around 11:30pm, when I noticed a huge crowd outside the theater. We soon realized it was for Admission, the Tina Fey and Paul Rudd movie about Princeton. Students were offered free tickets to the premiere, but the one grad student who was with us at the time said he wasn’t there to pick one up, and they had “sold” out. We decided to go see what the deal was regardless. And…got on a waiting list! I was exhausted and would have never ordinarily opted to see a midnight showing of anything, but…we were here, so why not?

The line outside the theater.

The line outside the theater.

Princeton City-20130321-01830We ended up in the front row…there were freezing cold vents in front of us, and I had popcorn for dinner. I don’t even like popcorn. Other than all that, the movie was good! And free. Watching it among undergrads was an experience in itself – listening to the hoots and hollers when certain buildings were shown for the first time, or when statements were made about Princeton. I am definitely glad I did this, despite the sleep I lost! I’m not sure when I’ll see a midnight showing again, but probably not for awhile….

Crazy thoughts

So, I titled the last part of this post “crazy runner thoughts.” Let me elaborate. Have you ever accomplished something a step ahead of what you thought you might be capable of? Or even just raced a new distance and felt great? Every runner experiences a certain level of satisfaction, but it wears off, and it comes and goes in waves. Runners are ambitious people who enjoy a challenge like <insert clever pop culture analogy, I’m getting tired here>. My point is, we crave more. We also set goals, and not just write them on paper or tell a friend, but consciously or subconsciously live that wonderful future moment in our minds as we do so, and in our legs as we finish up any ordinary run. I’ve felt it before, dozens of times. Most recently: when I did the PI mile in 5:53 in December and it felt great, I immediately thought, how fast could I have ran a 3200 in if I had kept going? After a 5×1200 workout, would I be able to reach the 6k goal time I had set for myself in college right now if I ran a little slower and strung all those together? After the 30-minute tempo: How fast could I run a 5k right now if I just ran a 5k at the pace I actually raced in November? Things like that.  After the half marathon, it was only natural for me to think similar crazy thoughts. Like:

(Note the hill…now you understand.)

– What if I kept going and ran the whole thing over again for 26.2?

– How much longer could I have kept up an average pace of 7:08/09?

– What if I just doubled that whole race exactly and ran a 3:07 marathon? WHOAAAA that’s crazy to even think about (but I did).

– If I could have ran 4 more miles at that pace with some water in me (this is how I answered the second question), how much faster could I have ran the actual half marathon itself?

– Someday, could I run 1:30 on a flatter course? On this one?

– Someone (an experienced-marathoner someone, I mean) told me a good marathon prediction time is HM x 2 + 10…3:17? What if I actually could do that?

Just a snapshot of what popped into my head the few days after the race. One thing is certain: training doesn’t lie. If your training is going really well, like mine was and is, and there are no signs of nagging pain or impending injury, it is highly unlikely that you will suffer from horrible ailments during the race. The race is more likely than not going to go very similar to how your training went. This is a new concept to me, and I’m not sure why since when I think back, it was always true.

CR1So now that the race is over and I survived the week after just fine (though that NYC run was a killer – I was still so tired and had no idea until I started running), it’s time to take “what’s next” seriously. I have had a “secret plan” for a couple months now, and it is sneaking up on me really quickly. So quickly, in fact, that I’ll need to make a major decision about it within four days. I am currently 95% in favor of choosing yay over nay. An extra 5% may have come today from my friends Brennan and Selena, who registered for their first marathons today and GOT IN to the 2013 Marine Corps Marathon (despite horrible server issues, phew)!!!

My own announcement to come soon! As well as a post about my long run, which should go hand-in hand nicely…. 🙂

My best run ever

Running-related Facebook pages and magazines will prompt you: “what was your best run ever?” What a question! How can you sift through years and years of runs and choose the very “best” one? What does “best” mean, anyway? Can we choose a best race, a best distance run, and a best workout? A best run in fall, winter, spring, and summer? Alone and with a group? Before and after an injury? So many different, relative “best” runs! While a few runs have stood out to me as contenders for my “best” run of all time, I did not have one true “best” run until June 3, 2012. Since I did not have a blog back then, I will share the run with you now. 🙂

SPOILER ALERT! A DOUBLE RAINBOW IS INVOLVED!!!!! (Does that make you want to keep reading? Good.)

Fireworks on the last night of Reunions: view from the baseball field.

To preface the run recap, let me set the scene. I had just moved from Ewing to Princeton three days prior. It is important to note that these three days were spent a.) working, and b.) at Reunions. If you are unfamiliar with Reunions…just Google it. It is runner-up to the Indy 500 as the country’s largest beer order. I got my ticket’s worth, and spent three late nights having a great time with new friends.

Reunions: party tent city.

It was a whirlwind of a weekend. I ran Thursday and Friday and took Saturday off…I anticipated a nice long run on Sunday after the craziness. A sort of cleanse, if you will. I got back home on Sunday morning at…around 5:30am, which was the first time I have ever stayed up that late besides all-nighters writing papers! It was quite eerie. I slept until noon and started the day. Ominous clouds and an impromptu thunderstorm cut some of my plans short. It promptly got sunny again. Confusing. I went to a yoga class at 3:00, because it was now too hot and humid to start my long run. I would do it after, risking some fatigue but oh well. Right after yoga, the storm started again. What. 

I checked the current sunset time and realized around 6:45 that I did not have much time to spare if I wanted to get in eight miles (that was my longest post-ITB injury at the time). So, with thunder rumbling in the distance and the temperature having dropped to around 65, I set off. With every crack of thunder and swaying tree branch overhead, I picked up the pace. I went all the way down to the towpath until I questioned whether or not running beside still water in a thunderstorm was a good idea. Because I couldn’t remember storm safety rules at the moment, I veered toward campus after a short (scared) stint on a nearby trail. The tents from Reunions were mostly still up, some were in the process of being deconstructed. I passed by the 5th year tent, where just two nights before we had tried to seek shelter from the growing sinkhole (exaggeration, but not by much) on the “grass” caused by the downpour. We had done quite some damage to the ground!

I looped around to Jadwin Gym and the track. The rain had subsided, but the air was still damp and chilly. The storm clearly could return any second. As I rounded the bush and brick-lined corner of the far side of the track, what awaited me was pure amazement. Right in front of me was the thickest, boldest rainbow I had ever seen. It seemed to come right from the ground, as if it were planted on the adjacent street. To the left was an identical beam, following the first all the way past its curve. (Double rainbows: not just on Youtube, friends.) I picked up the pace as I ran to it. I was smiling and I was all alone. I looked around frantically for someone in the parking lot to beg for a picture, but there was no one. I was practically in a trance, chasing this rainbow, probably going at it at 7:20 pace at this point. I didn’t even feel my body, running just felt like being, right then. I ran down a road away from the rainbow, and kept turning around to smile at it. I passed a guy when running up a hill shortly after, and I wanted to shout, “Did you see the rainbow? Isn’t it amazing?!” I was definitely still smiling, because I think he smiled back. The rainbow was contagious. When I saw it, the words: “Princeton after the storm” popped into my head. It made so much sense. I had never seen anything that meant so much symbolically to me as that double rainbow.

You see, for the past six months, I did not have the best feelings about Princeton. This place was haunted with memories and I could hardly handle them. I had wanted to get out, go anywhere but here or home – I thought about moving to Boston, or to Colorado, or to Pennsylvania. Because this was Princeton, and I didn’t think I could stand it another year. I had serious doubts about if it was possible for me to stay here and start fresh. That weekend, however, I had taken the first steps to doing exactly that: I met a whole new group of friends, and I had spent that weekend, a particular weekend I had been worried about for the aforementioned reasons, with them, being myself and having a great time. I had moved and left behind the memories of senior year and my old house (and my mother’s steam carpet cleaner…but that’s another part of the weekend I won’t get into…). This run turned out to be more than just a detox after the crazy weekend of partying, working, and little sleep. This was Princeton After the Storm. It really was the start of something new, and for the first time in months, I was happy to be here and excited to see what was next.

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I have been on a mission since that day to find photographs others took of the rainbow(s) while I was running…photo credit: friend of a friend.

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Another one.