Ironman Triathlon, Kona Hawaii October 2018:  Confessions of a Retired Triathlete

Part One

By George Miller, MD

This three-part series will first discuss triathlon and the author’s personal involvement with the sport. The second section will deal briefly with the October 2018 40th anniversary of the event with my personal observations on how the race has changed from a management perspective. The third section will be titled “Has the Ironman Become Musclebound?”

I grew up in a small community where there were few opportunities for varied sports, e.g. Little League in the summer and swimming in the lake followed by football, basketball, and track in the school system. Due to the fact that I was a heavy child, no one wanted me to be on their team as I could not run nor was I very proficient in any one sport. My answer to that was to do well in school which led to my professional career. My father was a collegiate athlete as was my mother and I felt I disappointed them from my weight and ability perspective. While in the Army I began to “jog” with friends. It was around that time that Frank Shorter put running on the map. It also allowed time away from the on-call beeper and the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors. Moving to Lewisburg, PA, the neighborhood men and women had a social run in the mornings and I enjoyed that. Later that summer we decided to attend the local 10k race for fun. Little did I know that day would lead to much more. My time as couch potato correlates with some of the youth of today…exercising only their thumbs on the cell device; the Army turning away recruits due to their weight; and the “what can you do for me now” mentality reaching up even to Washington DC.

As I was privileged to be able to grow up on a lake, I was able to enjoy swimming but never competitively. My then best friend and I biked through the streets of town often but he always had to go slower so I could catch up. Running for running’s sake was never a consideration at that time. The social running in Lewisburg and my interest in history led me to read/learn about running history. I spent more time running and improved myself at the same time. I began to participate in local events with the goal on merely finishing safely.

The history of marathon starts in the Greek village of Marathon on the coast where in 450 BC the Greek soldiers awaited the enemy coming by boat. Meanwhile the families in Athens were destroying their possessions as they anticipated defeat and chose not to be looted. Greek soldiers prevailed and a Greek soldier, Pheidippides, ran to Athens (40K) to tell the citizens. He ran through the city gate, shouted,  “Rejoice, we conquer” and fell dead. Fast forward to 1896 at the renewal of the Olympics in Athens, where a Greek sheepherder won the first “marathon” much to the pleasure of the Greek community. The distance of 40K to 26/385 resulted from the 1908 Olympics in London where the race started in front of Buckingham palace so the queen could watch from her window.

My first marathon was Life and Health in Frederick, MD and when asked about marathon many asked, Boston? and I said no, as if the distance was different. Boston is considered by many to be THE MARATHON. I was able to participate there as well under the auspices of the American Medical Athletic Association. I ventured to Greece for the original run and also have done two 50 milers and the Western States 100 in California.

Triathlon in this country had its early beginnings in San Diego in 1974 where athletes of all types were looking for something new and found a location on Fiesta Island where a few forward thinkers held multi- sporting events that led to swim/bike/run events. John Collins, a life Navy veteran, was stationed in San Diego at that time and actually participated in those events. He was transferred to Pearl Harbor. One day some athletes were discussing a recent bike article naming Eddy Merckx  as the best athlete. There are three separate events on Oahu: Waikiki Open Water Swim, the two-day staged bike race around its perimeter, and the Honolulu marathon. Collins suggested that one who could do all three the same day would be the best and  be called Ironman.

Captain Collins proceeded to follow through, with the help of a local Nautilus fitness store. Valerie Silk and her now ex-husband owned the store and Valerie was one of the forces that led the race to today’s stature. She remained a capable race director for many years and along the way trademarked the logo. Collins set the open-water swim as the first event (2.4 miles is that distance), followed by the Oahu perimeter bike of 115 miles reduced by three to 112 which ends then at the start of the Honolulu marathon. There were 15 entrants and 12 finished. The entry fee was $5.00 and a refund of three  made it very affordable compared to today! Collins allowed each athlete to have their own support crew and set up the race so  that each participant was apparently part owner of the race to avoid complications. (Some time later, as Valerie Silk divested of the Ironman, there was discussion of who owned it. This story is a black mark on the history of the event and is rarely mentioned). The original winner was Gordon Haller who incidentally participated in the 40th anniversary event. There was no prize money only the satisfaction of doing something difficult.

The second year, Tom Warren, who owned a local tavern in San Diego, won the race. It was this event also that made it to Sports Illustrated. It was also the first time a woman entered and completed the race. The choice of the dark blue finisher’s T-shirt is interesting. Proceeding on a limited budget, the shirt company had a bargain on dark blue as they were hard to sell…perspiration marks, etc…so the bargain price is how we come to have dark blue finisher’s shirts. I learned this story from Collins himself. I had completed a race in Cape Cod, the “Ironman distance” in September 1983 while on a Kona wait list. I made it on the list and ventured to Kona one month later. Needless to say, I ran out of gas halfway through the bike as did Collins so we rode together on the back of a truck back to the start line.

In 1981, due to traffic concerns and logistics of a growing event, Valerie Silk moved the event to Kona. I am pleased to saw she placed a finisher’s lei around my neck ,as she did for all  finishers for  several years at the finish line. I finished the 1987 Kona Ironman. I was fortunate to have met many of the well known triathletes of the past. The top athletes at that time have been and are still happy to meet and greet others unlike other pro athletes. I have lots of stories. Triathlon gave me my sport. I have given back to date by being a TriFed referee for several years, worked many years in the Kona medical tent, and traveled to New Zealand in 1994 as one of the team physicians for the USA team at the World Championship. I have many pleasant memories of my interactions with athletes, the organization, and my own participation.

From a handful of adventurous athletes to 2500 at the Kona 2018 starting line, triathlon has come a great distance. Having participated in triathlon from 1981 to 2017, I decided it was time to “retire” from entry fees and stay focused on health and watch my sport from a distance.

In the second  segment of three,  I will discuss the 2018 race, local competitors, and more.

Rambling Roads: April Days

By George A. Hancock


Father Time maintains his steady pace. We blink and April enters our door. April 1 arrives early on a dark spring morning. April 1 is day 91 in year 2019. We now have 274 days left to complete our mission.

April is our first month with 30 days. Americans love those quaint phrases. Ya know, “April showers bring May flowers.” Unfortunately, out here in Greater Johnstown we are experiencing several years with above-average precipitation rates. The preceding four years were above average. 2018 was 19 inches above our normal precipitation average.

The grounds are soggy. Numerous trees especially pine trees are uprooted due to these wet conditions. Hillsides in numerous locations collapse and slide downward pushing debris. Many homes and business locations are damaged by these landslides.

Of course, flash flooding or neighborhood flooding is a concern in this wet climate. Even a steady downpour due to the excessive wet conditions can create flooding in low-lying areas. I regularly run past the Little Paint Creek in several locations. This once bucolic creek is frequently a raging torrent. Numerous unnamed tributaries feed water into this creek. The Little Paint Creek flows into the larger Paint Creek.  The Paint Creek flows into the even larger Stonycreek River.

The Stonycreek is one of two major rivers flowing into Johnstown. The Conemaugh is the other river. Both rivers feature concrete river walls through the city aimed at keeping those fast moving waters in the channels.

The excessive water runoff from the surrounding hillsides does raise the water level to troubling heights. Running past these swift moving waterways is disturbing at times. Debris in the water often crashes into the river walls creating loud noise.

I often ponder during rain storms or water-runoff events why people drive through standing water. This is a senseless practice. The water could hide road obstructions, debris, or even subsidence. Test reveals that even a small amount of fast-moving water can flip or push a vehicle into life-threatening situations.

Turn around, don’t drown is a sensible phrase. Why take the risk? I cannot recall reading about a runner drowning after running into a flooded waterway. Although, that scenario is possible.

I ran into shin-deep water once just several hundred yards from home. Water runoff flooded Richland Avenue in my community. I never saw that water despite the nearby streetlights and flat road. Of course, it was dark on that early spring morning. My daily run is before the dawn hour.

The water was calm. Unfortunately for me the deep water was the same color as the road surface. I simply ran into that cold water. This flooded area was less than ten yards long. But, the water was cold.

Now that particular issue would not happen today. I use a powerful running light these days. My running surface is well illuminated. I would see the standing water before running into that water pool.

Runners need aware of their surroundings. We need to focus on our running environment. Our foot placement is critical. We need 100% concentration on our running efforts especially during any weather event.

Generally April is a nice transition into the spring season. Sadly, for many locations in our country this month represents a feeble goodbye to the wintry season. Last year Greater Johnstown had several significant snowfalls in April. One should never have a snow shovel in hand on any April day.

 Easter arrives on April 21 this year. We hope the spring weather is finally here. Easter and shoveling snow are also words not suitable in the same sentence. Perhaps this is a reason why so many folks detest the wintry season. Winter often arrives early and states late.

Running is our only constant. The spring weather oscillates between the extremes. But, our run goes on. We have so many miles to run before that final sleep. So, out the door we go. April’s open road beckons. Run well, run smart.

A Chance Encounter at Whole Foods

(Two old friends and confidants happen to meet while out shopping)

By Sal Citarella

“Why, Jane is that you?”

Looking up, startled, “Dr. Nancy! How nice, I was lost in thought. Wondering if I had forgotten anything.”

“Forgotten anything? Your basket looks empty, to me.”

“No, not really. Remember my ‘Food Free’ diet? I don’t consume anything that had parents who engaged in sex, or things that lived in the earth or flew through the air. They were out of hydroponic kale.”

“Oh, yeah. I hadn’t so much forgotten as blocked it from my mind.

“So, how’s everything? You see much of your two running buddies, the Big Guy and the Little Guy?”

“Not in a couple of years; I live in Chicago now. But we’re still close and we commiserate long distance about our training. I haven’t run a marathon since my knee replacement.”

“Oh? I wasn’t aware. What did they replace it with?”

“Ahh, you, know, the usual metal and plastic thingy? It’s pretty common now. Everybody has one.”

“Oh, yeah. I’m not that kind of doctor.”

“And I just had bunion surgery, and….”

“TMI, please! Tell me about the guys.”

“Well, Jim, the big one, still seems committed to enjoying a balanced life, you know, eating out, sometimes with friends. He intends to get back into running. I think getting stuck in his hot tub got him serious about it. It’s only been four years, now. We don’t talk but then he never had much of any interest to say, anyway.

“Sal, the little guy, is still incredible. So talented! Did you see his latest article in Runner’s Gazette? Don’t you believe a word of it; it’s all a ploy to sucker the competition. I do miss running with him, but I could always stay in front.”

“Really? I thought he was the best of the three of you on that TNT thing. Team Not Trying? Team ‘N Training? Talking Not Training?”

“It’s Team Novato Trails. He’s still President for Life. My trick was to get ahead of him just once and then swish my butt a little bit. Worked every time! I had this little running skirt I’d wear and it drove him crazy, not that he’d ever admit it. Once I wore a race Tee and told him I had nothing else on. They never had one small enough for me anyway.

“I think he was hoping for the wet Tee shirt effect, but as you know, a lady never sweats.

“Ya’ know, Dr. Nancy, now that I’ve been living in the Heartland of America, my views on many things have changed. I realize now how superficial much of life in California was. I think that’s what led to Big Jim’s downfall. Too much self-gratification. Sal was never like that; he was always out there running whether he wanted to or not, past the point of any point. He was, after all, a decorated war hero although he never bragged about it, but I think he still has scars. If you knew him well, you would have observed that he is a chronic yawner. Not that he didn’t politely cover up, but it was obviously out of his control and for no apparent reason.

“He told me once that he had gone to Viet Nam in 1965, very early in the war. After he left the military, the war went on for years. There was unrest at home. People looked down on him, called him a child killer, and worse. He became so bored with the indecisiveness of the situation that he began to yawn. You being a psychologist can understand that this is a symptom of PTSD. I think he’s been unfairly treated and the government owes him something.

“Now that we have a strong leader in the White House, I’m going to petition on his behalf. President Trump, unfortunately, was unable to serve, but he would have and he’ll understand. Also, I’m going to start a Go Fund Me page. For Sal, I mean, not for Mr. Trump. The President is already the most successful and wealthiest man in the country, if not the world. I saw it on Twitter.”

(The two friends then parted: one to save her frozen vegetables from thawing, the other to save the world.)  

I Can Hear the Fat Lady Sing

By Sal Citarella

RG junkies will certainly remember my article Running After 60, which was followed by the highly acclaimed Running After 70. And now, the latest in the popular series, Running after 76 years, 10 months and a few odd miles NOT!

Yes, after 60 years as a runner, it’s come to this. And it ain’t pretty. At 75 I was still a highly competitive age-grouper, albeit in a diminishing group.

I haven’t raced since Labor Day 2018. Was supposed to race early March of this year but two things intervened: flooding of the course and wrenching of the knee. All it takes for these high- mileage joints is the slightest slip on a rain-slicked surface and the spontaneous recovery attempt activates the pain meter all over again.

It was not any lack of balance on my part, mind you; it was the road.

I’m not afraid of falling, per se. A good face plant never hurt more than one’s ego. It’s falling and instinctively extending my arms to catch myself that frightens me. Both my shoulders have had multiple surgeries. Last time I saw a Sports Med specialist for an X-ray and cortisone shot, she said I had a high humerus. I didn’t find that amusing. She calls herself an orthopedist and doesn’t know that my funny bone is in my elbow, not in my shoulder?

This is the same doctor that said I had a Use By date on my ass and that I had expired.

Today, I went for a run up a trail visible only to me. Did I inadvertently say “run”? I like back trails where no one can see that I’m actually hiking. Funny thing about this one was that I could only see the trail when I turned around and looked behind me. I also hiked down and that’s the dispiriting part. For the first time in my life, I’m carrying a Salphone when I go off on a trail. It’s not a smartphone, just a rebuilt clamshell that’ll reach 911 if it needs to. When I last needed a trail rescue, about five years ago, some hiker called for me.

I wanted so much to write something with a message, meaningful to other older runners who might also be wrestling with the question of, “When is it no longer worth pursuing?” I envy the old guys I see moving slowly and deliberately down a road or a trail and smiling while doing so. Do I look that way? Doubt it. Maybe I’m still so hung up on not being what I used to be that the relaxation that might come with acceptance eludes me.

In the philosophical words of some famous runners:

“Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”

George Sheehan

“This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.”

T. S. Eliott (OK, so maybe he wasn’t a runner)

“Lord if I stand here clutching a tree

I’ll never get to the finish nor Thee.

Fix in my mind the one simple notion of

Relentless Forward Motion.”


“..not worth a bucket of warm piss.”

John Nance Garner (Maybe he wasn’t a runner either but he was Vice President.)

“Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”

Satchel Paige (He ran when he had to.)

So, what happens next? Spring is coming and an old man’s fancy turns to, what else…

getting out there and moving!

Rambling Roads: A DST Review

By George A. Hancock


March 1 begins Meteorological Spring. This official weather-keeping season runs through May 31, 2019. Weather scientists, forecasters and analysts use this time span for official seasonal weather-keeping purposes. These weather analysts appreciate a uniform weather-keeping system.

Traditionalists believe spring’s first day is the Vernal Equinox which falls this year on March 20, 2019. One point is clear for this daily runner; March is spring.

March is also a darker time for this daily runner. We begin DST or Daylight Saving Time on March 10. This means all the wonderful morning daylight gained during the waning winter months is lost to the time shift. Decent daylight for this runner is missing again for the next seven weeks. Morning darkness is again a running companion.

All DST does is shift daylight from the morning to the evening. There are no energy savings or benefits. There are health risks associated with this practice. This time shift creates lifestyle disruptions. Many individuals experience heart issues, panic attacks and sleep deprivation due to this practice.

Yet, DST is welcomed by many folks and is enhanced in law by our federal legislators. However, the current issues associated with this twice a year time shift need serious study. Many motorists are distracted now due to modern communication technology. Restless or sleep-deprived individuals operating motor vehicles is deadly.

One advantage of being a veteran 46-year road runner is the ability to look back on past running decades. I started road running back in 1973. The time shift was different in those days. DST began on the last Sunday in April and continued until October’s last Sunday.

Congress amended that practice in 1986. DST would begin on April’s first Sunday and continue until October’s last Sunday.

Congress again amended this time shift practice with the 2005 Energy Policy Act. This law stipulated that beginning in 2007 DST would begin on the second March Sunday and run through the first November Sunday.

We are now twelve years into this revised law. This legislation really impacted my daylight running hours. During my work days before my 2016 retirement, morning daylight running totaled about three months during any year. I was running at 5am during my weekday runs and at 6am on the weekends. Now thanks to work retirement every run begins at 6am. I gained some more daylight running time. It’s very nice on a clear late winter morning.

Older runners may recall the time shift that was mandated by Congress from January 1974 through April of 1975. I was a graduating Pitt-Johnstown student runner. Congress decided to have year round DST. Our nation was caught in the throes of a terrible oil energy crisis. This oil issue fueled the year round DST debate.

Crude oil was climbing in price and subject to the volatile world markets. Many U. S. service stations were running out of gasoline or operating on severely reduced hours. Locating an open gas station was a chore. I ran past and along huge lines of vehicles waiting for any gasoline. I also worked that previous summer and fall in a neighborhood gas station. That was an incredible experience. Once the gasoline shortfall began I routinely had gas lines one half-mile in length. The gas pumps frequently ran dry.

The end result was a year-round DST mandate. Year-round DST made for some peculiar evening runs. I was an evening runner in the ’70s. Thankfully, Congress rescinded this failed experiment in 1975.

I adapted well to dark running as a maturing runner. Our running clothing, shoes, and reflective items developed as the demand for these items increased. My run continued on despite the short daylight segments.

Two years ago I began using the Nathan Zephyr Fire 100 rechargeable hand-held light. I purchased this fantastic light from the National Running Center. This light has drastically changed my morning runs. I literally light up a huge road segment. I illuminate potholes, road cracks, black ice, dead and also alive scurrying critters. I routinely wave the light to slow traffic while alerting motorists to my presence. This light works.

There are two great books available concerning Daylight Saving Time. These books are a great place to begin if you are interested in exploring this topic. Both books remove the myths behind this time-shifting practice.

The first book is titled Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time written by David Perau. This book was published by Thunder Mountain Press in April of 2005.

The second book is Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time written by Michael Downing. Downing’s book was published by Shoemaker & Hoard also in 2005.

Both books are well written in-depth accounts of the history behind DST. Their conclusions may surprise everyone. Both writers reached the same conclusion too.

Daylight Saving Time exists today due to the work and effort of the recreation industry influencing congressional legislation.  DST has never had energy-saving benefits. Noted American Benjamin Franklin is not the father of DST. That honor belongs to Englishman William Willett. A man perhaps now lost in history. Yet, Willett was a tireless proponent of the DST benefits.

DST is a fascinating subject. I and many other runners have learned through trial and error what works best on a run. DST does not work well for my morning run. So, I adapted to the DST time shift. I found a solution. My run continues. Run smart, run well!

To Old Friends 

Including those I’ve never met

 by Sal Citarella

It’s great to see RG rising like a Phoenix from the ashes! If we all keep good thoughts in our hearts, it will succeed for another 20 years and then Freddi will be able to retire with honor, at age sixty-five. No one remembers Running Times or Marathon and Beyond, but we remember our last race and RG, too.

Sure, RW is still pushing diet and shoes. I’ve told Freddi time and again, if she wanted to boost circulation, she should have put Laurie Gordon on the front page. She’s probably a better poet than Alen, too.

One of the privileges of age is the ability to remember things, whether they ever happened or not. I clearly recall when Bernie Greene was an honored contributor to RG. Why, Bernie could overcome good taste and good sense month after month. Unfortunately, he started wearing spandex and took up indoor cycling. He and I met only once, but that did not prevent us from collaboration. Ask us about running The Sunbaked Trail 100.

And Mike Strzelecki (you try spelling it) met me maybe once or twice on the JFK 50 trail, when I linked up with the VHTC. His story, Running Because of My Father, sits on my bookshelf, too.

I’d mention that George Hancock has never had the pleasure of meeting me, but he’s still at RG and still has time, because he is a stayer. He has a cot right by the side of the copy machine. Think he also has pictures.

For years, whenever I’ve said to my doctor that my running was going bad, he’d just refer me to a specialist.  So, I met a Sports Med doctor recently and noticed her certificate from the University of Huntsville, AL. I told her I had run the Rocket City Marathon and we bonded instantly. Then she told me to drop my shorts and bend over. Huh?

“Ahah!” she said. “You have a Use by date stamped on your ass and you’ve expired. But since your mind has deteriorated even more than your body, you can just keep on running.”

Running with Elwood Blues.

Well, Freddi, as I’ve said before, come on out and we’ll run the Dipsea Trail. Or, we can just tell people we have. I’ll hold a sign up at the arrivals gate. Because you and I have never met. Yet.

Rambling Roads: Looking Back

By George A. Hancock


February at 28 days is our shortest month. Every four years we add an extra day, February 29. This event is known as Leap Year. Leap Year coincides with the presidential election and the summer Olympic Games. But that anomaly is a mere coincidence.

February is also our last winter month. March 1 begins Meteorological Spring. This date is observed for weather-keeping purposes. Weather scientists and forecasters use this date for uniform weather records.

Of course, many runners see winter-like weather throughout March and April. Yes, it is cold. Snow does cover the ground. But, for official weather standards those March and April snowy events are recorded as spring snowfalls.

Despite February’s short run, there are several memorable events associated with our second month during my lengthy running odyssey. Late winter is a great time to look back and reflect on our intriguing running past.

February 2018 found me running in shorts on many mornings. My very first February run was on a nice 42-degree morning. Of course, it’s still winter. The next morning was 16 F.

Nonetheless, I had 13 February 2018 mornings with temperatures at 32 F. or better. There were also eight mornings with outside running temperatures at 40 F. or warmer. Those were superb running mornings. Clearly, winter was ending. We would see an early spring.

However, this was not the case. March and April were snowy cold. Winter-like weather would not end. Thank goodness for my ice and snow spikes.

I actually raked the debris out of my yard during February’s final 2018 days. I also swept the lose anti-skid material from the street. Many neighbors were out working on this same task.

Those final February days were warm and sunny. I raked all the thatch and debris from my yard. I also applied lime to neutralize all the winter road salt.

I had no idea shoveling snow would resume in a week. I thought an early spring was graciously enveloping our region. Nah! It was not to be.

My winter months were a time for base building. Base building is where the runner concentrates on weekly mileage foregoing any road racing. Basically it was a time for healing injuries while getting stronger and faster. I skip racing in December, January, and February.

My road-racing legs were ready once we reached March. Now, over the years I did occasionally race in December and January. These winter races numbered only a handful.

I checked my race book. I ran just one February road race. The race occurred on February 28, 1982. This race was the 6th Annual Spring Thaw Marathon. The marathon was held in Pittsburgh’s North Park.

It was a unique race. We ran a mile segment than circled the park lake five times. Various spotters were on the course tracking the runners. I wore my Windber Striders singlet over my running shirt. Of course, I heard continually,  “Nice run Windber!”

I remember that race day as cool but not cold. I did run in shorts with gloves and a tossel cap. I ran a comfortable pace. I placed 29th in 2:51:58. Now think about that time for a minute. I was 29th. All 29 of us finished under three hours. Plus, there were several other runners finishing behind me also under three hours. That’s not bad for a smaller regional marathon.

I had two notable February runs. The first was February 26, 1978. This date is important because it began a 24-year running streak. That’s 8,854 straight running days. I was weeks away from my 25th birthday. I was 49 when this streak ended in 2002. Of course, I began a new running streak once those physical issues were addressed and corrected.

I remain very proud of that running achievement. There never was any monetary value or a trophy attached to that long consecutive run. This run streak was personal. I ran for me.

The other notable February date was February 24, 2015. That February date became my all-time cold weather run. The morning temperature was -18 F. My previous coldest run was a year earlier on January 7, 2014 at -16 F. Now, before those dates the previous cold record was set on Christmas Day December 25, 1983. That run was at -13 F. It took 21 years to break that record- cold run.

I have no great wish to break my current cold weather record run. I was nearly 62 years old in 2015. There were no issues on that run. I was surprised how easy the run was in those conditions. However, when I left for work that morning the temperature dropped to -22 F.

So, what late winter weather condition will 2019 offer? Weather projections, at this writing, are bleak. The National Weather Service and the Weather Channel are projecting colder than normal temperatures for our region. But, some unusual sun spots could weaken or strengthen this projection. Mother Nature has the final word here.

My advice is prepare for the worst scenario. Also, become a weather-aware person. A smart runner is weather aware. February is a short run. Enjoy the roadside view. Run smart, run well!

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