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Inspiration For A Monday Episode 5 – Be Who You Are

It’s time to stop worrying about who you were, or what you’re not, or who you might become in the future. Just look inside yourself. Right here, right now. This is who you are. And it’s ok to think you’re amazing.

Inspiration For A Monday, Episode 5 – Be Who You Are

Previous Episodes

Inspiration For A Monday Episode 5 – Be Who You Are Inspiration For A Monday

This is a podcast about self. Self awareness, self acceptance and self love.
  1. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 5 – Be Who You Are
  2. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 4 – The Words Of Life’s Journey
  3. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 3 – High On Mera Peak
  4. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 2 – Summit Night Kilimanjaro
  5. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 1 – The Dream Of Everest Base Camp
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The Dream Of Everest Base Camp

When you’ve seen a place in your dreams, and 100 times on YouTube, it’s truly special to then see it in front of you. Indeed few things compare to the realization of a dream.

Kumar, my guide, was concerned so he stopped me and reminded me to be careful, that we were walking on ice. In fact we were walking on 1000s of tonnes of ice that formed the spectacular Khumbu Ice Flow spilling down from the foot of Everest. I’d just seen Everest Base Camp in front of me. I was walking on air.

If you want to listen to the rest of this story as a Podcast then listen to Inspiration For A Monday Episode 1 below. If you prefer to keep reading just scroll down and enjoy the Blog Post.

Inspiration For A Monday Episode 5 – Be Who You Are Inspiration For A Monday

This is a podcast about self. Self awareness, self acceptance and self love.
  1. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 5 – Be Who You Are
  2. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 4 – The Words Of Life’s Journey
  3. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 3 – High On Mera Peak
  4. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 2 – Summit Night Kilimanjaro
  5. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 1 – The Dream Of Everest Base Camp

I finally caught up with the main group who’d been out of sight ahead of me all day and stood beside a stone with the words ‘Everest Base Camp, 2016’ painted on it. One of the guys, I think his name was David, took the picture I’d been dreaming of for the past 2 years. Despite the fact I couldn’t keep pace with the group, I’d earned their respect. I may have reached the Base Camp after they did but the magic of reaching it was just as special. You see when you’re overweight and don’t look the part, you have to find the mindset to compensate, that knows you can still do it.

Dare To Dream

Take the risks, experience the pain and disappointment along the way and, for sure, you will find moments of true joy.

Summit of Everest taken from the Everest View Hotel. Everest Base Camp Trek Oct 2016

It may be the case that you feel your dreams are just that. Fantasies that entice you when you’re sleeping or just not paying attention to anything in particular. The realist in you tells you that reality is something less. More within your grasp. Safer. If that is the case then I’d like you to try something just for one minute. Picture that realist as an over protective friend. Someone who loves you and wants to protect you but doesn’t really know you. Imagine the things you might consider doing if they weren’t trying to keep you safe. Who would you be? Where would you go? What would you achieve? Welcome to a dream you just might realize!

I believe that life is something so much richer when our dreams are chased. Take the risks, experience the pain and disappointment along the way and, for sure, you will find moments of true joy.

Yes You Can

Those words became a mantra which answered every moment of doubt.

A few years after I’d gone to Everest Base Camp, I came across a mantra that helped me keep believing in myself. High up on Kilimanjaro as we approached the summit, our lead guide, Abraham, kept repeating the words, “Yes you can!” Those words became a mantra which answered every moment of doubt. Though I found myself again behind the main group on Summit Night, those words sung out in my heart and mind every time I wanted to stop. A few years previous I’d have never have thought like this.

I’ve not always believed that I could climb in the high mountains, run marathons or swim in open water. That fact alone held me back for years. Having had the many dreams of adventure, I had to gather the resources that I did have. Book the holidays, raise the money, tell people what I was planning. Slowly but surely I started to realize that I might just do this.

Then I’d start to train and the doubts would rise all over again. Every bad training session, every injury would drive me back to the embrace of my overprotective self. That side of my thinking that was ever present, waiting for me to see the error of my new found ways. Time and again I had to recover and rebel and go back out until I started to feel fit enough to do this.

Training For Everest Base Camp. Ben Vorlich Summit. Oct 2016

I always remember the excitement of sitting with my fried breakfast at Edinburgh Airport ready to board a flight to Abu Dhabi and on to Kathmandu. I’d trained with my brother for months in the Scottish Mountains. He’d seen me exhausted and down hearted. Stuck with me as I moved at a snails pace wondering if we’d ever get safe back to the car. I’d lost count of the number of times the whole idea of heading to Everest Base Camp seemed like a bad joke. But somehow, helped by my brother and our training, I’d held onto a belief that I could do this. And then, at last, I did.

Abel, My Long Suffering Coach On The Mountains Ben More Summit, Oct 2016

Making It Real

I had earned the right to be here.

When I first met the group of my fellow trekkers at our hotel in Kathmandu my doubts started to return. They were friendly and polite and they tried their best but I could see the surprise on their faces. I could see that I was by far the most overweight person in the group. They were all young and mostly looked fit. Their very appearance suggested that this trip to the mountains was their domain. Not mine. I had to quietly remind myself that I had climbed a lot of mountains. That I had earned the right to be here.

After a spectacular flight into the mountains, we soon set out from the small town of Lukla along the trail to Everest. On that first day the pace of the group was fast in the mix of excitement and the perhaps a subconscious need to establish a pecking order of fitness. I was soon well established at the back of the group. Fortunately on that trek there were two others who walked close to my pace so we were never alone.

Runway at Lukla, gateway to Everest. Everest Base Camp Trek, Oct 2016

As our altitude increased and the air grew thinner over the next few days, I learnt the hard way that maintaining a slow and steady pace was vital for survival as much as enjoyment. I’d put in a burst of pace just over 4,000m to catch up with the main group. Suddenly the mountain began to spin and I almost passed out. By the time we reached our Teahouse in Dingboche that afternoon, I was shuffling along way behind everyone.

It was during the acclimatisation climb out of Dingboche next day that I realized, despite my slow pace, that I’d earned the respect of the group. On one of the many stops, I wearily plodded up to where the group were resting. One of the fitter guys who was always at the front commented that every time he stopped for a rest I always managed to walk in before they set off again. He said I just kept coming, like the Terminator. The nickname stuck with me for the rest of that trip and the one the following year to Mera Peak.

Dingboche. Everest Base Camp Trek, Oct 2016

A few days later, past the settlement of Gorac Shep with only a few miles of barren rock between me and Everest Base Camp, I finally thought I would have to stop. I was completely exhausted, the main group were out of sight and there was no one around me. Every single step was followed by a stop and several deep breaths. Suddenly a voice piped up at my shoulder, “Geez! Sean, are you alright?” It was Mel, an Ozzie who lived in London, and Kumar, our main guide. Mel was fine walking at my pace and Kumar re-assured us we could make it. That was all the encouragement I needed and we were soon looking down on Everest Base Camp from the rocks at the side of the Khumbu Ice Flow.

Khumbu Icefall flowing down from the foot of Everest to Everest Base Camp, Everest Base Camp Trek, Oct 2016

Dream It, Believe It, Achieve It

When we put that dream in front of us and push ourselves towards it we can experience exhilaration and joy.

You may have heard the phrase, “Dream it, believe it, achieve it.” accredited to author and Life Coach Tony Robbins. I first came across this phrase at a Slimming World Meeting when I booked a few weeks membership. To me, it serves as a framework for an amazing life.

If you dream it, it’s a part of you, however deep or achievable and whether you like it or not. You just have to believe you can achieve your dreams no matter what anyone else thinks or tells you. Then, sometimes despite the people around you, sometimes with their full support, you need to be determined and humble and do whatever it takes.

Our world has a perception of overweight people. They think we are lazy, irresponsible and impulsive. That exercise and hard work are beyond us. Yet I know we dream like everyone else. When we put that dream in front of us and push ourselves towards it we can experience exhilaration and joy. Such is the joy of walking in the mountains free from the box they put us in.

Everest in the distance on the trail from Namche Bazaar. Everest Base Camp Trek Oct 2016

Learning to carry your weight can be just as amazing as managing to lose it. Learn how by reading this series, Worth Your Weight In Gold, from the start here.

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Inspiration For A Monday Episode 4 – The Words Of Life’s Journey

Lonely Vulnerable Silence Shadows Tearful Tender Sad Afraid Invisible Cold Sleepless Love Prayer Sunrise Courage Fight First Light New Day Hope Energy Smile Movement Success Belief Dreams Me You Here Now True

Inspiration For A Monday, Episode 4 – The Words Of Life’s Journey
Watch Words Of Love on Amazon

Previous Episodes

Inspiration For A Monday Episode 5 – Be Who You Are Inspiration For A Monday

This is a podcast about self. Self awareness, self acceptance and self love.
  1. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 5 – Be Who You Are
  2. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 4 – The Words Of Life’s Journey
  3. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 3 – High On Mera Peak
  4. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 2 – Summit Night Kilimanjaro
  5. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 1 – The Dream Of Everest Base Camp
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First Light

First Light – Worth watching to the end

The words in this video describe a journey through life which we are all on. Which word describes where you are now? Watch to the end and hopefully the words will give you hope.

The words we say about the emotions we feel

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How The Tortoise Won ‘That Race’

It’s more about taking part than looking the part.

Capturing the pain of climbing in the Campsie’s, Mar 2014

If I asked you which is faster, a hare or a tortoise, you’d probably laugh and think it was a trick question right? For sure, you’d know the answer. But did you know that, on average, Tortoises outlive hares by a factor of about 20 times the lifespan? Perhaps there’s a lot to be said for taking your time and moving at your own pace.

We all know the story of The Hare And The Tortoise. The slowest of the animals takes on the fastest in a race. As the arrogant hare takes a nap close to the finish line, the lowly tortoise plods past and wins the race.

Slow and steady wins the day. Credit – Bedtime Stories Collection

Very often in my experience the proverbial hare is all you can see or hear from when looking into a mountain climb, a run or a swim. All too often, I feel very like the tortoise. The fact is however, you can be the tortoise and still reach the summit or cross the finish line. All it takes is a sense of adventure and some humility to accept your physical limits and work within them.

Perceived Marathon

“People who were nothing like me doing something which would be impossible to me.”

Lets look at the London Marathon as an example. I was ecstatic when I got the letter last year telling me that I had got through the ballot to run in this year’s London Marathon. I eagerly started watching videos on YouTube to see everybody’s stories of the previous runs. My screen was full of pictures of Athletes and advice on how to run a sub 3 hour marathon. The London Marathon, as depicted in those videos, was for people who were nothing like me doing something which would be impossible to me.

Even searching ‘London Marathon in 7 hours’ you still see nothing but athletes and even a video of someone completing a sub 3 hour marathon. Credit YouTube

Real Marathon

“You could finish that marathon within your own capabilities and with time to spare.”

If you search beyond the videos however, the fact is that those who complete the London Marathon before 7pm on race day qualify for a medal. With a start close to 10am that’s almost 9 hours to complete the course. My training runs often have as much, or more, walking than running in them. Certainly one of the paces I will describe and demonstrate in a future post covers a 7 hour marathon. You may feel like the proverbial tortoise watching the videos online but you could finish that marathon within your own capabilities and with time to spare.

Find Your Own Pace

“Having the humility to accept your physical limits and work within them … can bring you to some of the most amazing moments of your life.”

Walking at the back, Kilimanjaro Sep 2018

It was on the second day of the Kilimanjaro Trek, as we climbed out of the jungle into the long grass towards the Shira Plateau, that I started to fall behind. I knew that a 30 second burst of pace would take me back to the main group. Previous experience of endurance events helped me to stay where I was, walking within myself, at a pace I knew I could manage. Had I pushed to catch the group and struggled to stay with them, my trek would have been over as soon as we reached altitude.

Experiencing the breath-taking views from Stella Point a few days later, on one of the most incredible mornings of my life, cost little more than swallowing a wee bit of pride and finishing 3 to 5 minutes behind the main group each day of the trek.

Having the humility to accept your physical limits and work within them, even if other people seem more physically capable than you, can bring you to some of the most amazing moments of your life. More to the point, high up in the mountains, it can actually save your life.

Slowly, Slowly

“I’ve learnt to say “Slowly, slowly” in Nepali, Swahili and Arabic.”

I’ve learnt to say “Slowly, slowly” in NepaliSwahili and Arabic. These are the languages of the countries in which I have climbed over 4,000m above mean sea level. I’ve seen people race ahead only to be lifted off the mountain hours later or the next morning suffering from Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). In the meantime those of us plodding along at the back get to reach our goals.

At altitude, you may have to stop for a rest and a breath after every single step. The longest mile I have ever covered in my life was the mile from the Mera La to High Camp, a climb of 500 vertical meters on the Mera Glacier and it took 5 hours. A general rule of thumb for ascending at high altitude is that it takes around 1 hour to cover 100 vertical meters.

Head Above Water

“I was swimming ‘head up’ breaststroke.”

Open Water Swimathon Course, River Mersey, Liverpool, Sep 2017

Almost immediately after the start of the Open Water Swimathon 2017, I found myself last swimmer by a good distance. By the time I reached the first Safety Boat they were asking if I was ok. Same as I completed the first of three 500m laps of the Open Water Swimming area of the Liverpool Water Sports Centre on the banks of the River Mersey.

The fact was that, where most of the swimmers were cutting slickly through the water swimming front crawl, I was swimming ‘head up’ breaststroke. Some people told me afterwards that the reason there was concern shown for me was that the stroke I was using is generally used when swimmers either tire or get into trouble.

I had decided to swim breaststroke because I knew I could cover a distance with it. My front crawl was clumsy and no way I’d have completed 1,500m with it. In the end up, slow as I was, I finished the course, got my medal and was proud as punch.

Slow And Steady

“We can still venture into the realm of the hare and finish the race.”

Walk every time you have to on a run and you’ll complete a Marathon. Slow down high on a mountain to save vital oxygen and you can reach the summit. Swim whatever stroke you’re comfortable with on an Open Water Swim and you’ll cross the finish. We may move slow and steady like a tortoise but we can still venture into the realm of the hare and finish the race. Whether the hare falls asleep and we win or not doesn’t really matter that much. It’s the taking part, as they say, that counts after all.

Open Water Swimathon Finish, River Mersey, Liverpool, Sep 2017

Find out how to bring a healthy heart into your training in my next post. Read it here.

Learning to carry your weight can be just as amazing as managing to lose it. Learn how by reading this series, Worth Your Weight In Gold, from the start here.

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It’s A Stretch But You Can Do It

The importance of stretching and relaxing your muscles before and after exercise cannot be over emphasized.

WARNING: Advice on these pages are taken from my own personal experience and do not constitute professional advice. Everyone’s experience and ability is different. Before starting on any new physical activity it is a good idea to consult a Doctor. It may also be beneficial to work with a Coach or a Guide to develop the necessary skills to support such activity.

On a rainy, late autumn, day last year I plodded slowly up from sea level out of Dunure Harbour towards the village of Fisherton. The climb was about 300ft, relatively steep and I was going to use the lamp posts in Fisherton as markers for my first hill sprint session in 20 years. I felt freedom and exhilaration as I exploded into my first sprint of the session. A sudden sharp pain at the top of my left leg had me pulling up before the end of the third sprint. I was soon limping back to the car with a pulled hamstring. It would literally be months before I would run pain free again.

For any athlete who takes part in any sport, it is vital to work through the ritual of stretches and warm up before any training session or events. For those of us carrying weight it is even more important to work through those routines. For work on your feet such as running or hiking, the more weight you carry, the more strain you put on the framework of bones and muscles supporting you. Muscles need to be kept supple and the blood needs to be easily circulating to carry the necessary oxygen to them to enable you to keep working.

Pulled muscles, weak or grinding knees or lower back pain have all become everyday obstacles for me to have to overcome through years of physical work whilst being overweight. The thing is the onset of such conditions can be delayed or removed altogether and the effects of them reduced by making stretching and warm up/down a routine part of your exercise.

Focussing on stretches, the exercises below are the ones which I tend to do as I find them most achievable and comfortable for me. It’s worth noting however that there are loads of different stretches that can be done for the different muscles in your body. You should explore these widely and find the best exercises for you. To assist I have added lots of links in the exercises mentioned which open up the wide and varied world of stretching and warm up.

Stretch Exercises

Warning: Care must be taken not to overwork or overstretch muscles during these exercises. Move slowly and gently into all positions described never jerk or swing yourself suddenly into a change of position. If you feel pain at any time, stop immediately and seek qualified medical advice before continuing. It is best to work with a qualified Gym or Sports Coach when first doing stretches.

The video below shows a demonstration of the full exercise routine encompassing all stretches described in this post.

All stretches are shown in this video and described below

Lunging Calf Stretch

This exercise stretches the calf muscles. This is the large muscle that runs along the back of your leg from your heel to the back of the knee.

Lunging Calf Stretch
  • Find a wall and place your hands on the wall
  • Extend one leg behind you
  • To achieve the stretch on the calf muscle on the extended leg, place that entire foot on the floor with the toes pointing forward and bend the non extended knee
  • You should feel the area behind your extended leg, between the heel and the knee, tightening
  • Hold for a count of approx 10 sec
  • Switch legs and repeat.

Hamstring And Calf Stretch

Here, we stretch both sets of muscles running up the back of the leg. Calf, as previous exercise and hamstring. Your hamstring runs up the back of your leg from your knee to just below your bottom.

Calf and Hamstring stretch
  • Stand, hands on hips, both legs together, toes facing forward.
  • Place one foot in front of the other to prepare for the stretch
  • Keeping your rear foot flat on the ground, raise the toe of your front foot off the ground
  • The stretch is achieved by raising your front foot off the ground and then slowly pushing your bottom back
  • You should feel a general tightness along the back of your extended leg and may be particularly tight behind the knee
  • Hold the stretch for approx 10 sec
  • Extend the other foot forward and repeat

Hamstring Stretch

Another stretch for the hamstring. This one is slightly deeper than the previous stretch and focuses on the hamstring. The stretch is developed over 2 parts.

First part of the Hamstring Stretch
  • Stand with your legs shoulder width apart
  • Clasp your hands behind you
  • Slowly lean forward extending your clasped hands above your back
  • You will start to feel the tightness in both hamstrings at the back of your legs above the knee
  • Hold this position for a slow count of five before extending into the second part of the stretch
Second part of the Hamstring Stretch
  • Maintaining the forward leaning posture unclasp your hands and stretch your arms down towards the ground
  • Keeping your knees straight, gently push down towards your toes as far as you can go
  • Do not worry if you cannot reach your toes (I can’t) you can still benefit from the stretch by extending as low as you can
  • If you are able to easily reach your toes, you can extend the stretch further by touching the ground out in front of your toes
  • Hold the lowest point of the stretch for a further count of 5 before slowly returning to a standing position

Quad Stretch

This is the final exercise I do for the legs and it covers the Quads. These are the large muscles at the front of your legs above the knee and they work especially hard supporting your hips and your knees during hill descents.

Quad Stretch
  • Lower yourself onto one knee with one knee on the ground, leg extended behind you and one knee out in front with the knee bent and foot flat on the floor.
  • Hands on hips
  • Gently shift your weight forward onto the leg extended in front of you.
  • You should feel the muscles at the top of the leg in front of you tighten.
  • Hold the stretch for about 10 sec
  • Switch legs and repeat

Lower Back Stretch

This exercise is especially good for opening up the joints at the base of the spine and releasing tension. Hence this exercise can help to relieve lower back pain.

Lower Back Stretch
  • Lie face down on the floor with your hands close to your shoulders, hands flat on the floor
  • Straighten your arms and lift the top half of your body up off the floor whilst leaving your legs flat on the floor
  • Once your arms are straight and your upper body is arched, move fully into the stretch by clenching your buttocks and gently pushing your hips into the floor
  • You should feel the stretch across your lower back
  • Hold for approx 3 sec, lower upper body back down and repeat
  • Repeat for 10 reps

Figure 4 Stretch

The Sacroiliac (SI) Joint is where your hip bones (Ilium) join to the centre of your back below the spine (Sacrum). Inflammation in these joints can cause ongoing and debilitating pain in the lower back which can radiate down through the Sciatic Nerve to the buttocks and the top of your legs. The pain is called Sciatica and you can find out much more about it and the SI Joint here.

This exercise stretches the Piriformis Muscle which, when tight, can aggravate the SI Joint. I was introduced to this stretch when I visited my Physio with Sciatica and I have found it was great for relieving the pain. Note this stretch can also be done sitting.

Figure 4 Stretch (Lying)
  • Lie on your back, hands by your side and legs flat on the floor
  • Lift one foot and bend your knee to place that foot on the top of the opposite knee and relax
  • The weight of your bent knee hanging down should initiate the stretch of the Piriformis Muscle on that side
  • You can deepen the stretch by gently pushing down on the bent knee
  • Hold the stretch for approx 10 sec
  • Change over and repeat with the other leg

Bridges

This is more of a very gentle stretching exercise to strengthen your core rather than a stretch.

Bridge
  • Lie on your back, hands by your side with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor
  • Gently and slowly raise your bottom off the floor until you have created a straight line from your knees down to your shoulders
  • Relax
  • Repeat for 10 reps

Deltoid Stretch

Deltoids are muscles behind your shoulders which get extensively used during lots of activities. They are extensively used in any swimming stroke, when carrying a pack or using walking poles on a trek and scrambling. Even holding your arms up during a long run requires use of the deltoids. This stretch keeps them supple.

Deltoid Stretch
  • Stand facing front, hands by your sides.
  • Raise one arm and extend it across the front of your body
  • Bring the other arm up to touch the elbow of the extended arm
  • Gently push the elbow of the extending arm in towards your body achieving the stretch
  • You should feel tightness at the back of the shoulder of the extended arm
  • Hold the stretch for approx 10 sec
  • Change arms and repeat the stretch

Hula Hoop

Now we are getting into a little fun and flexibility to finish off. The idea of this and the next exercise is just to loosen off a bit and increase flexibility around the hips. You can use a Hoola Hoop to get the most out of this. I just do the hip movements.

Rotating hips Hoola Hoop style
  • Stand hands on hips.
  • Gently rotate your hips as if you were rotating a Hoola Hoop
  • Do 3 rotations in one direction and then change direction
  • Repeat until you have done five rotations in each direction

Twists

Another exercise to move the hips and shoulders.

Twist Starting Position
  • Stand facing front with your hands flat in front of your chin
Twist extended
  • Extend one arm
  • Keeping your legs facing forward, swivel round on your hips to bring the extended arm behind you
  • Gently increase the stretch to bring the extended arm towards the other side of your body
  • Relax until your extended arm is pointing straight back
  • Repeat the extension for another 2 reps
  • Bring your arm round to the front and repeat by extending the other arm
  • Continue switching arms until you have extended 5 times on each side

Loosening Off and Warming Down

After any exercise session it is always good to just gently relax and shake off all of your muscles. This can be done by gently bouncing on your feet whilst shaking off your arms, rotating your head and anything which instinctively feels like you are relaxing and shaking off your muscles.

If it makes it any easier or fun, just picture yourself as a boxer dancing around the ring ahead of the fight.

Jab n move

Read about the muscles I’ve pulled during training and how I’ve managed to keep moving and recover from them in my next post here.

Learning to carry your weight can be just as amazing as managing to lose it. Learn how by reading this series, Worth Your Weight In Gold, from the start here.

Like, Share and Subscribe

Please support this page by hitting the Like and re-blogging or sharing through Social Media using the buttons below. If you scroll to the bottom of the page you can also leave a comment and subscribe to the blog to receive automatic updates whenever I post.

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Putting Your Heart Into Your Dreams

Understanding and monitoring your Heart Rate during exercise can give you amazing insights into your general health and performance

Advice on these pages are taken from my own personal experience and do not constitute professional advice. Everyone’s experience and ability is different. Before starting on any new physical activity it is a good idea to consult a Doctor. It may also be beneficial to work with a Coach or a Guide to develop the necessary skills to support such activity.

We were still in the early stages of our ascent out of Glencoe when we made our first brief stop. My watch had beeped and vibrated to let me know that my heart rate was approaching Max Heart Rate. As soon as we stopped and took in the amazing scene around us my heart rate began to drop. Within a few minutes I heard another beep which told me it had dropped by 30 Beats Per Minute (BPM). That would give me ample time to work before we had to stop again. Soon we were off and ascending the steep rocky path above Glencoe.

Measuring Heart Rate

“Accurately measure your heart rate during and after training.”

Even with a healthy heart, there are still a few things it’s good to know about your heart as you start your journey into training. It is definitely worth the investment of getting a smart watch or some device with which you can accurately measure your heart rate during and after training.

Heart Rate measured on my watch

Of course it is also possible to physically measure your pulse if you do not have a device. If manually measuring your pulse rate, I would recommend measuring for a full minute while standing still. More information on how to measure your pulse can be found here.

In order to make sense of your heart rate, there are some rates that you should become familiar with. The basic two are Resting Heart Rate and Maximum Heart Rate.

Resting Heart Rate

“Your Resting Heart Rate can give you an idea of your fitness level for your age and gender.”

Resting Heart Rate (Sometimes known as Resting Pulse) is your heart rate when you are stationary and relaxed. It is best measured just after you get up in the morning as even just wandering around the house or the office may raise your heart rate somewhat.

A time and place to take your resting pulse. Bed in a tent in the Serengeti Sep, 2018

As it varies dependant on age, gender and general fitness level, it would be very difficult to say any rate is good or bad. Some indications are given here but, at this stage, it is enough just to know what it is when you are in good health.

Your Resting Heart Rate can give you an idea of your fitness level for your age and gender. In very general terms, fitter people tend to have lower resting Heart Rates. Taking your resting Heart Rate regularly can also give an indication of your health. Noticing an unexplained rise in Resting Heart Rate can be an early indication that you are becoming unwell. In my case, colds and stomach bugs have been preceded by a rise in Resting Pulse Rate.

Max Heart Rate (MHR)

“I feel breathless, anxious and my brain is generally screaming at me to stop.”

A Max Heart Rate moment at the top of Scafell Pike, Aug 2018

Max Heart Rate (MHR) or Max Pulse Rate (MPR) as it is sometimes known, is the maximum heart rate that you should work up to when exercising. The rule of thumb to calculate it is to subtract your age from 220. I am 53 years old so, in my case, my MHR is 167 (220-53) Beats Per Minute (BPM). When I am exercising I should try to avoid allowing my heart rate to exceed 167 BPM and, when it reaches this level, I should try to slow down a little in order to let it drop.

Even without measuring my heart rate, it is easy to tell when it is at or around MHR. I feel breathless, anxious and my brain is generally screaming at me to stop whatever physical activity has taken my heart rate to this level. I normally want to slow down as much as I need to slow down.

Whether exercising or not, when we are stressed or anxious, we enter into a cycle which tends to increase our heart rate. Sensing danger our brain releases adrenalin to prime our body for action. Our breathing becomes quick and shallow and our heart rate starts to rise… which triggers our brain to sense danger and so the cycle continues. If you are in good health however, it is possible to control your heart rate simply by reversing that cycle.

Slow down. Just like, when driving, the first action to slow down is take your foot off the accelerator, when exercising the first action you can take to reduce your heart rate is slow down. If you are running, walk or if you are walking stop and sit down if possible.

Stop and sit down if possible. My brother, Abel, ascending Stob Na Broige, Mar 2017

Your heart rate can be reduced further by slowing your breathing. For me, even just three slow deep breaths in and out can drop my heart rate by 10 BPM. Whether you’ve slowed to a walk, standing still or sat down, make a conscious effort to slow your breathing and, as your breathing slows and deepens, your heart rate will drop.

Another bonus of deep breathing during some form of a rest is that you have a better chance of getting more oxygen down to your legs and thus reducing muscle pain and avoiding cramps. This shall be discussed in more detail in the next post in this series.

To fine tune your heart rate, it’s all about your state of mind. As anyone who practices mindfulness or meditation can tell you, picturing positive images helps release serotonin in the brain which has the effect of reducing your heart rate… which tells your brain the world is good and so the cycle repeats.

In summary, whenever you become breathless, anxious and in need of a rest during exercise, this is a good indication that your heart rate may be approaching or at MHR. In order to reduce it;

  • Slow Down
  • Take slow deep breaths
  • Think positive

Taking frequent rests during exercise and applying the techniques above will help you to maintain a healthy margin between your current heart rate and MHR. Maintaining this margin will enable you to work safely and enjoy the activity more.

Click on the image below if you would like to read my previously published article – Relax And Count To Five – which explores how to control your heart rate during a 10K Race.

Relax And Count To Five, Stride Magazine, 2009

Performance Measured Through Heart Rate

“It’s worth looking at some aspects of your heart rate which can tell you about your performance during a physical activity.”

Now you know how to control your heart rate, it’s worth looking at some aspects of your heart rate which can tell you about your performance during a physical activity. This can be looked at in more detail referring to the image below from a recent Training Session.

Training Session involving a series of walks and short jogs

What the image is showing is my heart rate measured during a short training session which involved a series of walks and jogs. The data is taken from my Smart Watch which is a Suunto Trainer. However this is just one of many watches and Apps available to measure performance during sports.

Looking at the coloured Heart Rate zones between the graphs shows that there was no time during the session when my heart rate registered in the red zone which represents the highest heart rates. This means that I was training well within my capabilities. Of course, had I been covering a more intensive session such as sprint training, there would be no problem with seeing some of the session at the higher heart rates.

Heart Rate follows Pace

What can also be seen from the image is what I would call a healthy correlation between the charts measuring heart rate and pace. Every time my pace dropped from a jog to a walk, my heart rate dropped by about 20 to 30 BPM. This is a good indication of recovery from an activity.

Steady Heart Rate over Varying Terrain

Whether running or hiking over varying terrain, a good practice to remain comfortable and cover long distances is to vary your pace according to the terrain such that your heart rate remains relatively constant. Hence you can maintain a healthy margin between your current heart rate and MHR. This is illustrated below.

Measurements from my trek to the Sloy Dam from Inveruglas on Loch Lomond side. Mar, 2020

As can be seen, despite a climb and descent of 300m each way, my heart rate sat relatively steady and never came close to MHR. This an ideal margin for endurance activities.

Heart Rate And Altitude

“Our Heart Rate and our Raspatory Rate (Breaths per minute) may start to rise in order to bring in sufficient oxygen.”

A final subject to touch on while discussing Heart Rate is to look at the effects on Heart Rate, Raspatory Rate and Oxygen Saturation (or SpO2) at Altitude.

Typically above 3,000m above Mean Sea Level, our bodies will start to react to the reduced amount of Oxygen in the air. This means that our Heart Rate and our Raspatory Rate (Breaths per minute) may start to rise in order to bring in sufficient oxygen. This means that we need to reduce our physical work rate in order to maintain a healthy margin between our current heart rate and MHR. I found that the importance of maintaining a slow enough pace not to push my heart rate up was absolutely paramount at altitude in order not to feel sick or as if I was going to pass out.

Measuring the oxygen saturation in your blood using a device called a Pulse Oximeter, is a great way to see how your body is coping with altitude. At sea level a healthy person would expect to see levels of around 97% or above. Below 95% would be a case for some concern and anywhere near 90% and you may want to seek urgent medical attention.

Pulse Oximeter showing Oxygen Saturation and Heart Rate

At altitude however, with so much less oxygen in the air, the rate will inevitably drop. On Kilimanjaro our Guides would only let us continue up the mountain as long as our SpO2 level was 80% or above. At Gorakshep, on the return from Everest Base Camp, my SpO2 briefly dropped below 70% and I was suffering a lot of the early symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). Fortunately we were on our descent which is the only cure for symptoms of AMS.

You can find out more about AMS and how to cope at High Altitude by clicking to my Blog Post here.

See a demo and read about stretches and warm up exercises in my next post. Read it here.

Learning to carry your weight can be just as amazing as managing to lose it. Learn how by reading this series, Worth Your Weight In Gold, from the start here.

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9 Ways To Get Moving Again After a Muscle Strain

As an overweight person who trains regularly, I’ve pulled a lot of muscles over the years. Here are the ones I’ve encountered and what I did to keep moving.

WARNING: Advice on these pages are taken from my own personal experience and do not constitute professional advice. Everyone’s experience and ability is different as is everyone’s treatment for, and recovery from, an injury. If you experience an injury during a sports activity, please seek professional medical advice before proceeding to treatment or commencing training. Before starting on any new physical activity it is a good idea to consult a Doctor. It may also be beneficial to work with a Coach or a Guide to develop the necessary skills to support such activity.

I was in the middle of the road, crossing it on the walk back to my work after the lunchtime Gym Session when I collapsed. A sudden sharp pain burned across my lower back and I suddenly couldn’t stand up. I lurched towards a nearby lamp post and hugged it in an attempt to stay upright until someone from a delivery van stopped to help.

On that occasion the Doctor concluded that I had overworked my upper body in the gym which had weakened my stomach muscles. This put extra strain on my back trying to keep me upright and the muscles in the lower back pulled up. With minor pain killers and rest I was up and about again in a week. Over the years I’ve had to deal with pulled calves and hamstrings, steadily weakening knees and, yes, lots of other episodes of lower back pain.

The root cause is often the same. Training whilst being overweight. I’ve learnt to accept these as a hazard of my passion. What the Doctors and Physio’s have taught me over several visits is how to overcome these and get moving again.

Know your limits and work within them

As they say, prevention is better than the cure and the best way to prevent pulled muscles and strains is as follows:

  • Stretch and warm up before exercise
  • Know your limits and train within them
  • Stretch and warm down after exercise

The occasion of my first pulling the muscles in my lower back came after a year of inactivity and a job overseas which involved lots of restaurant food and alcoholic drinks. I had gained a significant amount of weight and my fitness had almost completely disappeared. On my return to training, a sense of guilt and unease about my declining fitness had me trying to train at the fitness level I had been at 12 months previous. This was way beyond the capabilities of my new body.

My alternative to training was a job with restaurant foot and beer

I now find it’s best to cover some light exercise to gauge the level I am at any time I start a new training program. It’s ok to be less fit than you used to be. The fact that you have started training again should be enough to encourage you.

Warm Up/Down

My last post entitled It’s A Stretch But You Can Do It gives a detailed description of the daily routine I use to get my muscles ready for exercise. This is one of two aspects of the warm up. The next is to raise the heart rate a wee bit and get the circulation going. This can be done simply by a small very gentle jog for 100m or so, or doing the warm up exercises the big events tend to organize before the start of big road races.

A good Warm Up:

  • Loosens the muscles
  • Kick starts the circulation which will keep muscles supplied with oxygen during your activity
  • Helps reduce the strain associated with the rise from Resting to Working Heart Rate by initiating this before the activity begins

Warming down is normally a much gentler repeat of the warm up exercises. This helps the muscles relax from the strain of the activity. I also find a bath and some deep breathing helps a lot.

Regulate your heart and lungs during activities

During the activity try to work below your Max Heart Rate (See my post entitled Putting Your Heart Into Your Dreams). Try and regulate your breathing. Slow deep breaths are better than quick shallow breaths for feeding the muscles with oxygen.

Try to work below Max Heart Rate

In addition, slow deep breaths have a tendency to slow your heart rate giving you more of a margin to work in between your current heart rate and Max Heart Rate.

Never work through pain

Never push through the pain. Learn to recognize the normal discomfort of pushing yourself physically and stop if you feel any pain beyond that.

If you are training hard, there will be a certain amount of acceptable and manageable discomfort. Your heart may be pounding, lungs bursting as you draw in heavy, deep breaths and muscles may ache slightly as lactic acid starts to build in them as a result of your exertion. You can find out a bit more about Lactic acid here. These are all feelings you will already be, or will become, familiar with as your training progresses.

Occasionally however, muscles can suddenly pull. You will normally then feel a sharp pain which could be accompanied by a lack of free movement or even a loss of support in the affected area. This is likely an indication that a muscle group has gone beyond the rigours of physical activity and has become damaged in some way. Pushing on through the pain will only increase the damage.

Remember also that your heart is a muscle which gets put under strain with the rest of your muscles when you train. You would be well advised to be familiar with the symptoms of heart distress such as chest pains, excessive breathlessness or dizziness. The British Heart Foundation has some more detailed advice on symptoms of heart problems and what to do if you encounter them. You can read their advice here.

Apply Hot/Cold Treatment

Whenever I start jogging again after resting for a while, I tend to pull the muscles at the back of my legs. My calves (at the bottom of my legs) are the most common to go but I have also pulled a hamstring (at the top) especially if opening my stride or sprinting.

As with any pulled muscles, rest is essential until the pain has completely subsided. Hot and cold treatment is another method I find helpful. Apply some heat pad or cream (I use a cream called Deep Relief but most people are familiar with Deep Heat) over the inflamed muscle. A few hours later, apply an ice pack. This can be a bag of frozen veg (Remember to ask Mum first 🙂 )

Frozen Mojitos were a great Ice Pack for me when I pulled my hamstring
  • Never apply an ice pack directly to the skin. Keep either a layer of clothing or a towel between the two.
  • Apply for about 20 minutes.

Foam Roller Massage

It is also helpful to deliver some form of deep massage to the affected area. A great way to do this for calves and hamstrings is with the use of a Foam Roller. A Foam Roller is a tubular device about 4ft long normally with some form of dimples or indentations on the outer surface to help massage muscles.

Foam Roller. Great for a deep massage of calf or hamstrings
  • Place the Foam Roller on the ground and sit with your legs over it.
  • Cross your good leg over your bad leg with the bad leg resting on top of the Foam Roller.
  • Position yourself so that the Foam Roller is sitting below the bottom of the affected muscle.
  • With your hands out behind you raise your bottom off the ground so that your weight is being supported by the Foam Roller.
  • Push yourself forward over the Foam Roller.
  • Your affected muscle will now be pushed into and rolling over the Foam Roller which will deliver a deep massage to that muscle.

Use Elasticated Supports

Before leaving calves and hamstrings, it’s worth discussing support as you ease back into training. There are lots of different types of elasticated support for the different parts of the legs like the ones shown below.

Elasticated knee supports

For overall support of all the muscles in the legs, you can get a set of Support Leggings. These are tight fitting leggings with a slightly elasticated material and they provide some support over both your legs. I am wearing support leggings in the stretch video below.

As far as my knees are concerned, there has been a steady decline in the strength of them over a number of years. On the final day of the Everest Base Camp Trek in 2016 I needed one elasticated support on one of my knees. Now, if I’m going for a jog or onto the hills, I need 2 quite heavy neoprene Knee Supports like the ones shown below. I need one on each leg. It’s not so much that my knees are particularly sore, just that they are getting steadily weaker which means it is very hard to balance on rough terrain or steep descents.

Heavier Knee Supports with metal side braces as well as elasticated support

Again, if your knees become sore or swollen, hot and cold treatment as described for the calves and hamstrings can bring down the swelling and ease the pain.

Regularly stretch your back and hips

Lower Back Pain has been something of an ongoing problem for me. This is normally due to an inflammation of the muscles in the Sacro-Iliac Joints in my hips and the most effective pain relief I have come across is through stretching exercises that my Physio worked with me. They are described in the Lower Back and Figure 4 Sections of the post It’s A Stretch But You Can Do It. You can also see a demo in the video below.

Stretches to get ready for exercise

It is worth noting that back pain can radiate down into your legs and actually be the source of pulled hamstrings or calves. When my physio introduced me to the Back Stretches I have discussed, these exercises ended an ongoing spate of pulled calves and hamstrings I had been experiencing throughout the summer.

Use Trekking Poles

If you are trekking as opposed to jogging, a set of Trekking Poles will help support your back and your knees. Adjustable is better so that they can be shortened for ascents and lengthened for descents and folded away when not in use.

Trekking Poles shortened and stowed on my backpack

A couple of things I have come across when using trekking poles:

  • My personal experience with trekking poles with built in springs to absorb impacts has been dire. They just fall apart on me and I don’t find any benefit in the shock absorbing action
  • Never attempt to scramble with Trekking Poles. Always pack them away until you are able to walk on the trail again (Sounds obvious but it is an issue I have come across)
  • Always remember to still use your legs, especially on a descent. I had a tendency at one time just to lean on my poles and then step down. All this does is decrease your natural ability to balance.
  • If your lifestyle is such that you are mostly sitting down at work or rest, try and do a few short walks during the week without trekking poles. For a few years my only walking was on the hills with trekking poles. The rest of the time I was sitting down. Over time I started to find that I could not walk very far unsupported.
  • Remember trekking poles are not walking sticks. That is to say they are designed to help someone with healthy legs and upper body in rough terrain. If you find you need them just to stay upright, it’s time to take a rest if you can or, if this is a longer term problem, seek medical advice.
Walking with Trekking Poles above the Baranco Wall, Kilimanjaro, Sept 2017

So there you have the extent of my own aches, pulls and sprains and what I have done or used to keep moving. I hope you don’t suffer nearly as many as I have but also hope this has been useful if you have done.

It’s not easy taking on difficult physical activities when you’re overweight. You need to keep convincing yourself that you can do it through injury and bad training days and especially when those around you aren’t so sure. On the event you need to ignore the surprised and concerned looks from other participants and believe in yourself even when you have problems. I experienced all of this on my way to Everest Base Camp. Read about the barriers to self belief and how I overcame them in my next post here.

Learning to carry your weight can be just as amazing as managing to lose it. Learn how by reading this series, Worth Your Weight In Gold, from the start here.

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Worth Your Weight In Gold

Learning to carry your excess weight can be just as amazing as managing to lose it.

I looked across at the summit of Everest glowing in the newly risen sun and caught my breath. From my vantage point, just over 6,000m above sea level, high on the Mera Glacier, I was seeing the world as only Gods and Elite Mountaineers tend to see it. I am neither God nor Elite Mountaineer. In fact I am quite overweight. But I have long since learnt that the realms of adventure and incredible achievement are there for anyone regardless of your weight. You just have to know how to carry yourself into them.

Everest in the sunrise from the Mera Glacier, Mera Peak, Oct 2017

Body Mass Index (BMI)

My Body Mass Index (BMI) has been in the obese category for the past 20 years. I’ve tried every weigh loss plan on the planet, resolved to change my life every January 1st and obsessed over everything I’ve put in my mouth for years. The only lasting loss seemed to be my happiness.

Click on the image below to learn more about Body Mass Index (BMI)

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a measure of your body weight in relation to your height. The above image is from the NHS Website where you can find out more about BMI

Amazing At Any Weight

I’d often thought about the person I’d become once that excess weight was gone. Confident, sexy, fit, healthy and jogging through life. Yet it seemed like an impossible dream because I kept trying to lose the weight but never managed. Somehow I realized that I can run that Marathon, swim across the sea or climb in the mountains. I don’t have to lose weight to be that person. I’d been that person all along and just didn’t realize it.

The power of that realization was incredible and lead me into adventures and achievements I had never thought possible. I’ve listed some of the high points in that journey below. Everything on that list was achieved whilst my BMI has been between 37 and 40 (Well within the obese range for an adult male).

Click on the links in the list to find out more about the events listed.

  • Summited 54 Munros (Scottish mountains over 3,000ft)
  • Completed 3 trips to the Himalayas reaching Everest Base Camp and a height of 6,140m on Mera Peak
  • Reached Stella Point (5,685m) on Kilimanjaro
Stella Point, Kilimanjaro Sep 2018
  • Reached the highest point in North Africa. Summit of Mt Toubkal (4,167m) in the Atlas Mountains
  • Completed the Trossachs Plod, 31 miles across country in Scotland in 14 hours.
  • Completed the Great Glencoe Challenge (26.2 miles across rough terrain from Glencoe to Fort William in Scotland) twice in under 12 hours (11:22 and 11:52)
Top of the Devil’s Staircase in Glencoe, Great Glencoe Challenge, Jul 2017
  • Completed a cumulative Channel Swim over 12 weeks in a swimming pool three times (max distance swum 1.75 miles in one swim)
  • Swum a mile in the open water in the Mersey in Liverpool, UK
Open Water Swimathon. Mersey, Liverpool UK, Sep 2017
  • Jog Scotland Jog Leader for 2 years, completed the Great Scottish Run Half Marathon twice and the Men’s Health 10k four times.
Great Scottish Run, Glasgow, Sep 2007

You don’t have to put the achievement of your dreams off until the weight comes off. My story is evidence of that and, by telling it over a series of blog posts, I am going to use it as a framework of practical tips to help anyone who wants to follow a similar path.

Breaking Down The Barriers

  • The next post How The Tortoise Won That Race discusses humility, knowing your limits and setting achievable goals. There’s no point in watching an 8 stone athlete on Youtube telling you how to run a sub 3:30:00 Marathon. You’re just watching someone you’ll never be telling you how to do something you know is impossible. It’s the guy in the mirror, not the guy on the telly who’s going to do this stuff and I assure you, you can do a Marathon!
  • Over the next three posts; Putting Your Heart Into Your Dreams, It’s A Stretch But You Can Do It and 9 Ways To Get Moving Again After A Muscle Strain, we will look at the physical aspects of carrying your weight. I suffer from High Blood Pressure, have pulled many muscles and often have lower back pain. I’ve taken it all onto the roads, into the water and the mountains. We will look at stretches, warm ups and easy physical steps to deal with these problems. It will be fun!
  • The final post in this part of the series, The Dream Of Everest Base Camp returns to the subjects of mindset and inspiration. It can be difficult turning up at the start of a run or meeting the team for a trek for the first time when you know you don’t ‘look the part’ and you think everyone is looking at you. This post will talk about finding the magic inside of you and believing in it despite the looks, comments and events going on around you.

Starting Your Adventure

Start of The Great Glencoe Challenge, Glencoe Jul 2016

After reading the preceding articles you may have discovered your inner warrior and have limbered up, stretched off and be rearing to go and do something amazing. This being the case, there are three articles you can choose from to get you started. Read them all, find the one that fires you up the most and let’s go!

  • How to get started towards your first Marathon, Half, 10K or 5K. It’s not so much as going for a run where every walk’s a fail. In the early days it’s about going for a walk where every jog’s a bonus.
  • Getting into the water. Whether completing one of the distances in Swimathon, completing a cumulative Channel Swim over a period of time or heading into the open water, there’s organizations, events and holidays which you can enjoy.
  • The call to the mountains. Many of the mountains in Scotland have terrain or stretches which compares closely to the treks and climbs on some of the highest mountains in the world. Then there’s The Lakes in England, and Snowdonia in Wales. The initial call for me was the call to Everest but there’s many Treks in Nepal, Kilimanjaro and Toubkal in Africa and many more around the world. This post will cover the main practical aspects to get you started. I have also written a series of Mountaineering articles which you can start to follow here.

It’s Still Good To Lose Weight

I will always continue to try and lose weight. Even a 5% loss of bodyweight can have tremendous benefits to health.

Click on the image below to see 15 benefits of losing 5% of your bodyweight.

15 things that losing 5% of your body weight can do for you. Taken from WebMD

The fact remains however that many of the health issues and mental challenges associated with being overweight can be managed or overcome.

Learn some of the mental hacks that can inspire you to follow your dreams. Read next post in here.

Great Glencoe Challenge 2017
Guides and Porters (and Will and Clair) dinging the Kilimanjaro Song, Kilimanjaro 2018

If you would like to discuss writing or music for any project or event, please feel free to contact me with the details here.

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You Are Amazing

Learn how to get the best from your body and become inspired to chase your dreams. Listen to the Worth Your Weight In Gold Podcast Series

Listen to the series on Youtube

Episode 6 – The Dream Of Everest Base Camp Worth Your Weight In Gold

When you’ve seen a place in your dreams and a hundred times in Youtube, it’s truly special to finally see it in front of you. Referring largely to my trip to Everest base Camp in 2016, this episode contains heaps of inspiration to help you feel what it’s like to realize a dream.
  1. Episode 6 – The Dream Of Everest Base Camp
  2. Episode 5 – 9 Ways To Get Moving Again After A Muscle Strain
  3. Episode 4 – It’s A Stretch But You Can Do It
  4. Episode 3 Putting Your Heart Into Your Dreams
  5. Episode 2 – How The Tortoise Won That Race

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