When a 30 min/mile is actually a good thing

I think I have a new favorite way to get sweaty.



I went on my second hike in five days yesterday and it was absolutely glorious. I’m on a bit of a hiking bender actually — I have another one planned for Monday. It’s not like I’ve never been hiking before. My family always did outdoors-y vacations to places like Yellowstone and the Colorado Rockies. And I worked at a sleepaway camp for two years. And I liked hiking then, too. But it’s been a while since I’ve spent much time in the wilderness, or even the woods (DC isn’t exactly the world’s greenest city — the National Mall can barely maintain its grass!) and I’ve become totally, completely hooked on the thrill of clomping 3 hours at a brutally slow pace up a mountain, and then finally having what remains of my breath taken away by the view, and then scrambling back down again.

[Just a brief side note to reassure running: this is just a summer fling that will be soon cut short when I return to DC, where a lack of extensive public-transportation means that what green areas ARE nearby are totally inaccessible to drivers license-less me. Soon it’ll be back to pavement and Brooks Adrenalines, my friend.]

Wednesday’s hike was up Mount Taurus, a 1,400 foot mountain that N-, my ultra-outdoorsy, certified wilderness guide, going-to-spend-the-summer-leading-eight-day-canoeing-trips-in-Maine hiking buddy, scoffed at as a mere hill. (Fun fact: A mountain is a mountain if its summit is 1000 feet taller than its base. So Mount Taurus IS a mountain, even if it doesn’t meet N’s standards.) We took the Metro North to Cold Spring, NY, about an hour and 15 minutes outside the city. After a brief bit of wandering around the town trying to find the trailhead, we made it to the base of the hill/mountain and started to climb.

The path up the mountain was steep enough to keep our talking to a minimum, but it was well-marked and had several amazing views along the way. I only wish that it had been a less cloudy day — apparently on clear days, you can see the Hudson stretch on for miles in either direction.


Once we were near the top, the trail guide that I had printed out that morning said that there was an easily-missed viewpoint that offered a great panorama of the Hudson valley to the right of the trail. According to the guide, lots of people don’t even know that the viewpoint is even there, and it’s the real “money view” of the hike.

Well, we clomped around (clomp is the only appropriate verb to describe the forward movement of someone wearing hiking boots)  looking for the viewpoint for about 10 minutes. We never got the promised “money view” but we did encounter two GINORMOUS snakes. They were thick and black and at least two feet long, maybe three. At the time, we had no idea if they were poisonous, but we scurried away as quickly and quietly as we could. In N’s words: “We can’t get bitten by snakes today. I only brought one benadryl pill!”

After some careful study of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry webpage on the snakes that reside in the area, I believe that we saw a Northern Black Racer. Not venamous, but still totally terrifying.


We ate lunch close to the summit of the mountain, after walking a good 10 minutes away from the snake site. I had a peanut butter and banana sandwich that tasted 10 times better than any sandwich ever has when it was eaten at a table at sea level. Then we continued on. The way down had fewer views than the trail up, but there was lots to see at ground level. First we passed a fallen tree that hikers had covered with rock cairns (little piles of rocks that you leave as an environmentally-friendly marker that you were once here). We stopped to take pictures and built a cairn ourselves before continuing on.


The rock cairn tree. 


Our cairn!

Further along the trail, we came across an old abandoned mansion. The trail guide said the home had belonged to the Cornish family, but didn’t really say much about who they were. So we were left to wander around the dilapidated stone building, trying to imagine what it once looked like and the kinds of people who lived there.



I later found out that the Cornishes were a well-to-do but not particularly interesting NY family. Edward, the patriarch, was president of the National Lead Company.

So that was the hike! Garmin stats, because I’m obsessed with that gadget: 8.33 miles in 4 hours, 1,421 miles of elevation gained (then lost). Afterward, we headed to the local ice cream parlor and got big scoops of what their storefront claims is the best ice cream in the world. I’m not sure I can agree, but it was pretty darn good.

For those who are interested, here is the hike we did: http://www.nynjtc.org/hike/east-hudson-highlands. You should try it! Just bring your snake repellent!


Training Plan

Not much has happened since my last post, which is why I haven’t posted since then. I had a really good 6.5 mile run on Tuesday, during which I alternated 9min miles with 8:30 min miles. It wasn’t revolutionary or particularly fast (even by my slow standards) but it felt good. Today’s run was … less good. The park was full of a bunch of people going to Googa Mooga, this new music/food festival. I silently resented all of the skinny hipsters walking by in their maxi dresses and gladiator sandals as I chugged along in my sweaty t-shirt. Plus there were all these bikers going the wrong way around the park and I only nearly avoided being hit by one of them. Grrr. Clearly I have the temperament and inner soul of a judgmental 80 year old man. Or at least, I do when I’m running slowly and there’s sweat in my eyes.

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In other news, I also said I’d post my marathon training plan online. I still need to actually PUT it somewhere online (I’m a pen and paper kind of gal, so right now my schedule exists solely on a set of blank calendar pages I printed from the internet) but here’s the gist:

1. I’m doing a 19 week plan based on Hal Higdon’s intermediate 1 training plan. I added the extra week (it was originally 18) because I’m running a half 6 weeks out from my marathon rather than 9. I’m hoping to PR in this half marathon (is that too ambitious? maybe?) so I added the extra week in as a buffer and a mini-taper.

2. My goal time for this race is 4:10. That would allow me to run a little bit slower than a 9:30 minute pace, which is pretty much my easy run pace now. Yes, it’s a full 35 minutes off my current (and only) marathon time of 4:45, but that race was (A) my first (B) 80 degrees and (C) more disorganized and not very well spectated (as opposed to the Marine Corps, which is known as one of the best-run marathons in the country). I also didn’t incorporate any attempts at speedwork into my training for that race — all I wanted to do is finish. This time, I’m confident that if I train well and don’t get hurt, I can run a 4:10 marathon.

3. To that end, I’m going to incorporate more tempo runs and race pace workouts into my training. My mileage will be about the same as it was last year — about 45 miles per week at the peak of training — because I’m a busy college student and I think that heavy mileage is part of what led me to burn out towards the end of my training last time. I’d rather focus on quality rather than quantity. So every week I’m going to do a tempo run (8:15 min/mile pace) and incorporate some half marathon pace (8:30 min/mile) and marathon pace (9:30 min/mile) running into my long runs.

4. CROSS TRAINING! I did NOT do this last time and I definitely regret it. Things like yoga, weight lifting and swimming are so important to training different parts of your mind and your body when you’re running so much. Luckily, I am working as a lifeguard at an outdoor pool this summer, so I’m hoping to get in the habit of swimming there whenever I can. I also want to try and commit to a weekly yoga class and a weekly strength training session. The swimming and yoga should be easy, but I’m gonna have to come up with some ways to hold myself accountable for the strength training. I hate lifting weights. Got any tips?

So, what do you all thinking? Clearly I’m no expert, but I’m pretty happy with the plan I’ve sketched out for myself.

Hope you’re all looking forward to a great weekend, especially if you’re running the Brooklyn Half tomorrow. I’ll be out there cheering!







How Long’s It Been?

Hey there! It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

A whole lot has happened in the 11 months since I last posted on this blog. There have been some serious ups and downs — in running and in life. So much was happening that running kind of went to the back burner, as did this blog.

But this morning I spontaneously decided to return to this blog for the first time in months. Waves of nostalgia and pride washed over me as I re-read my posts about the Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Marathon. It was my first 26.2, and now I’m about to start training for my second  — the Marine Corps Marathon on October 27! It occurred to me that I would want some sort of log of my training, both to hold me accountable and to give me something to read over and reflect on after the race is over. After all, the joy of a marathon is as much in the countless hours of effort put in BEFORE race day as it is about the finish line and the medal.

So anyway, now I’m back, ready to start recording my second journey to 26.2 miles. Even though the race isn’t til October, I’m following a 19 week training plan, which actually starts pretty soon (in about a month!). I’ll talk about that  in my next post, but for now, here’s a quick recap of the past 11 months:

June through August: I spent last summer studying Arabic at the University of Alexandria in Egypt! It was a totally overwhelming, exhilarating, unimaginably challenging experience involving lots of fun, lots of hard work and LOTS of sweating, but unfortunately not of the work-out variety. In many ways Egypt is a pretty modern country, but social freedom for women is not really one of those ways. Shorts and a tank top were absolute no-nos, and there wasn’t any way I was going to try running in long sleeves and yoga pants in a city with 100+ degree weather and terrible air quality. Luckily, I was able to get in a decent amount of swimming at the local athletic club (where bathing suits, thankfully, were allowed!) so my muscles didn’t turn entirely to mush. And in the end, the experience was well-worth the hiatus from running.

September: A slow return to running was topped off by the chance to pace one of my good running buddies to a half marathon PR at the Abebe Bikila half marathon. It’s a gorgeous (FLAT!) race along the C&O Canal Path in D.C. I’m actually hoping to achieve my own PR there this fall — but that’s a story for another post.

October: No races on the agenda, but I did run/spectate the Marine Corps Marathon to cheer for two of my great friends (Ka- and Ke-, who ran with me during my own marathon). I wound up being able to see them at 4 different spots along the race course and ran alongside them for a total of about 16 miles, including running the last 8 miles of the course with Ka-. It’s the second time I’ve run that section of the Marine Corps course, because I helped pace a different friend to her first marathon finish the year before. It’s such a great race, and running with Ka- made me absolutely certain that I wanted to be racing myself next year. So I am!

November and December: The Marine Corps Marathon was pretty much the high point of my fall running — after that all kinds of athleticism basically took a nose dive. I got super busy with school and the newspaper and also had to deal with some life drama that left me dreading nothing more than a long run alone with my thoughts. It was probably the first time since I’ve started running that I’ve ever had such a serious case of the “I don’t want to run”s. I just didn’t have the motivation, and since I was so busy, it was easy to let working out fall by the wayside.

January through April: Luckily, things changed in a BIG way in January. I’d gotten my dream internship at a radio show and wound up deciding to take a semester off from school to work there full time. Suddenly my schedule had changed from late nights, afternoon runs and weekends in the library to having a 9 to 6 job and my weekends totally free! The change in schedule, plus a planned half marathon with my mom in May, put some mojo back into my running, though the fact that I hadn’t been running consistently since last May meant that I was a lot slower than I used to be. In March, I ran the Marine Corps 17.75K, which meant I got guaranteed entry to the Marine Corps Marathon this fall. A lucky thing, since the race wound up selling out in under 3 hours! The 17.75K (about 11 miles, for those who don’t want to do the math) was fun but INSANELY hilly. The downhills were so intense I even got shin splints, a problem I haven’t had since I first started running!

Pittsburgh Half

Mile 6 of the Pittsburgh Half. Why do I look so happy?

May: My mom and I ran the Pittsburgh Half together last weekend, and I feel like that race finally put the spark back in my running. I didn’t really train at all for this race and I wasn’t too pleased by my time (1:59:48) — though I guess I got what I deserved for not training. But the race was fun and the crowds were amazing, and that feeling of finishing was the best in the world. The race ended on a big downhill and you could see the finish line from about half a mile away. I knew that I’d have to book it the last mile in order to squeak in under 2 hours, so I summoned all my willpower to sprint towards the finish. I’d been losing energy pretty quickly  for the last four miles or so of the race, and I remember being shocked by that unexpected kick I’d had in reserve. The last half mile of that race reminded me what I’ve always loved about running: how it show that you can do so much more than you’d expected, that you’re always stronger than you think, and that your body is exactly as strong as your mind allows it to be. That finish left me loving running again, but also hungry for another shot at a half marathon — hopefully one that I could PR in.

In case future me is interested (or needs some motivation to actually train for her races), here are the splits from the race:

Pittsburgh Half Splits

“Half marathon splits,” or, “How to positive split like a pro”

I was hoping for a sub 9min/mile pace and just missed it — but look at the split for the last .23 miles! (Side note: I stink at running the tangents! I don’t think I’ve ever run less than .10 mile more than the actual race distance) 6:59 min/mile is faster than my 5K pace — I probably shouldn’t have been running that at the end of a half marathon. Either its a sign that I could have been going faster earlier in the race (maybe during some of those 9:30 miles!) or just a result of the crazy downhill that the race ended on.

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Nothing like a 100-foot elevation loss over the course of a mile to speed things up a bit!

 Alright, I think that’s enough of a recap for now. Happy Thursday!


And On the 18th Day, She Ran

After more than two weeks of swimming, loafing and general moping, I finally got my sneakers on and my butt out the door and hit the pavement for a very slow 3.5 mile loop of Prospect Park, my first real run (at least, a run that wasn’t aborted after half a mile because it felt like someone was stabbing me in the kneecap with every step) in 18 days.

I won’t say it felt good, because it didn’t. I was slow (I don’t know how slow, because I left my Garmin at home for precisely that reason). EVERYTHING was tight. I’d been doing a lot more strength training and swimming in the past three weeks since my preferred forms of exercise — running and biking — were off limits. This meant that I was exercising muscles I don’t normally use — and NOT using muscles I normally uses — and they let me know it. But I made it around the park in one piece, and my sucky, good-for-nothing right knee only twinged during the last half mile or so, which was up a big hill. So I’ll consider that a success. I’m going to swim again tomorrow instead of running and then try again on Friday. Maybe this time I’ll even have the courage to bring the Garmin.

After my run, my mom and I headed over to the Y for our favorite strength training class and a session with my new buddy, the foam roller.

We don’t have these guys at my college’s gym, so I’ve been taking opportunity of my time at home to roll out my super tight quads and calves. It hurts a lot, in a kind of awesome, make-it-stop-but-actually-don’t kind of way. Fun times at the Prospect Park YMCA.

Other things… Mostly I’ve been getting ready for my impending trip to Egypt, which amazingly, miraculously, terrifyingly begins in exactly 3 and a half days. This time on Sunday, I’ll be about to land in Cairo. Holy guacamole.

“Getting ready” mostly means cramming all the Arabic I said I would study all summer (and then proceeded not to crack open my books til last week) and shopping for light-weight long sleeved shirts and ankle length skirts I can wear there that don’t make me look like a nun. (Oh, it’s also going to be 99 degrees in Cairo the entire time I’m there. How do Egyptian women do it?) Also downloading books onto my Grandpa’s kindle, which he leant me for the summer so I wouldn’t have to cart 8 weeks worth of reading material across the Atlantic. So far I’ve got The Marriage Plot, Death Comes to Pemberley, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Born to Run, All the Pretty Horses, and a book about cooking called The Everlasting Meal. I know I’m going to be pretty busy with school work while I’m in Alexandria, but catching up on reading has always been one of my favorite parts of the summer and I’m hoping to get through these books and more in the next eight weeks.

And now, your turn: Do you have any good book recommendations? Foam rollers? Love ’em or hate ’em? Love to hate ’em?

Tales from the Island of the Injured (And the Valley of Vegetables)

Alliteration is a wonderful thing, my friends.

Moving on. I’ll be honest: the reason I haven’t been blogging is that I haven’t been running. Not since two Saturdays ago, when I got a really bad pain in my knee, a kind of sharp pain underneath my kneecap. I actually was scheduled to get a sports massage that Thursday anyway (which is a whole other dramatic story — I still have bruises on my legs from it) and my masseuse (is that how you spell that word?) said that I have really tight calves and hamstrings that are probably what’s making my knee hurt. Which really shouldn’t come as a surprise, since I’ve hardly done any stretching or yoga since the marathon. I gotta get back on that bandwagon.

Since I can’t run or bike with my bum knee, I’ve been trying to get exercise in other ways. I’ve been walking a TON (shooting for 4 miles a day, since that’s roughly how much I’d be running if I had the option) and swimming. I’ve also started my own core/strength training regimen that I’ve been trying to do every day. This morning I did 25 crunches, 2 sets of bicycle for 1 minute each, a minute and a half plank, 20 push ups, 25 crunches, 25 vertical leg crunches, 30 seconds of alternating heel reaches, 5 sets of squatting and pulsing for 10 seconds, 20 push ups, 25 crunches, 30 seconds of boat, side plank for 45 seconds on each side, and then 20 more push ups. I also stretched for 15 minutes afterwards, to hopefully alleviate my tight-hamstring induced knee injury. The whole routine was nowhere near as good as running and not really a ton of fun — you don’t really get an endorphin high from plank and crunches — but I did work up a sweat! I hope that if I keep doing this every day, by the end of the summer I’ll be doing sets of 50 crunches instead of 25, and possibly even a 5 minute plank? We’ll see.

Since I haven’t been exercising as much as I’d like, I’ve been trying to clean up my diet a bit. More fruits and veggies, less processed food. This was made easy by the fact that my mom signed up for a CSA this summer and we just got our first share today. OH MY LORD there are so many vegetables in my fridge right now. For dinner today I made a veggie stir fry with spinach, bok choy, broccoli and green garlic from the CSA, plus tomatoes, red bell pepper, onions and sweet potato.

My dad took one look at it and asked if there was anything else in that bowl besides vegetables. “Don’t you even want rice or noodles of something with that?” he said.

Nope. I like my veggies unadulterated, undiluted straight up. I’m a hard-core consumer of vegetables. I wouldn’t be surprised if I looked in the mirror and saw this when I woke up in the morning:

(By the way, this is a photo of a piece of art made by a guy named Carl Warner, who constructs images and landscapes entirely out of food. You should see his celery stalk forest. It’s incredible stuff.

I didn’t really follow any recipe for this, instead kind of just tossing stuff in the pot. First I covered the broccoli with a little bit of olive oil and a few pinches of cumin, curry powder, and pepper flakes and then roasted it at 400 degrees in the oven, along with the sweet potato. Then I sautéed the green garlic and a small red onion in olive oil, added a chopped red bell pepper and the stem-y part of the bok choy and continued cooking that on the stove for about a minute or two. Next I poured 1/8 cup of orange juice, a tablespoon of soy sauce and a tablespoon of red wine vinegar into the pan, along with a tablespoon of grated ginger and a few pinches of hot pepper flakes. I cooked that until the liquid has mostly cooked down, then added the leaves of the bok choy and some spinach, both roughly chopped. I sauteed everything just a little bit longer until the greens wilted, then took the broccoli and sweet potatoes out over the oven, mixed them in with the rest of the veggies, and was ready to go! It was a super yummy dinner, and colorful to boot!

Hope you all are having a delicious and active weekend!

Do you have any kind of strength training routine? Any advice to get rid of knee pain? How do you like your vegetables?


The Weekend

My weekend, in a sentence: lots of good food and biking, served with a small side of crappy running.

My weekend, in a blog post:

Despite the gross, rainy weather that has graced New York City this week, the past two days have been relatively sunny and warm, if a little sticky. Yesterday (amid humidity so thick you could cut it with a knife) I biked over to Williamsburg to meet up with my friend R- at Smorgasburg, a giant outdoor food festival that’s held in East River State Park every Saturday. My mom raved about the festival last summer, but I was working at a sleepaway camp all summer so I never got a chance to check it out. It was definitely worth the wait. Though super crowded (it seemed like every hipster within a 10 mile radius had shown up for his or her share of bite-sized, organic, locally grown ethnic food), the sheer array of foods available was amazing. I was tempted by everything from papusas to pie. Unforunately, it was so hot and sticky that I didn’t really feel like eating much, so instead I got a delicious strawberry, mango and coconut smoothie, which I sipped on as R- and I wandered around the park and up to Bedford Ave. to look in the stores and people watch.

By the time I got home the sky was gearing up for a thunderstorm, and all of a sudden I was seized by the urge to go for a run in the rain. My right knee has been feeling very sore all week and I hadn’t really been planning on running yesterday, but if there was going to be a thunderstorm, I wanted to be out frolicking in it. So I laced up my Adrenalines and headed out to Prospect Park. My knee was pretty cranky the whole time, and between the gross heat and general achey-ness it felt like I was I was inching along, but midway through I got my wish and the rain started coming down. By the time I got home I was SOAKED (and ready to stop running!) but happy. I love summer rainstorms.

Super awkward looking picture of me, post-rainy run. Sorry about the see-through white tanktop. Didn’t really think that one through before heading out… 

Unfortunately, my legs were NOT so pleased. My knee felt very sore the entire time, and on top of that, when I woke up this morning I had a horrible, cramp-y pain in my left calf. I don’t really know how to describe it. It feels like the muscle there has seized up, but no amount of massaging it has been able to make the pain go away. It kind of hurts when I walk and REALLY hurts when I run. I’m hoping it’s some kind of fluke thing and that it’ll all be better in the morning. In the meantime, I have tried icing, tiger balm, and massaging with a baseball. Here’s hoping one of them works.

Since I clearly wasn’t going to be able to go on my planned long run today, I decided to head out for a long bike ride instead (biking, along with vegging out on the couch and watching TV, does not appear to be something that aggravates whatever it is that’s going on in my calf). I have a 6-year old commuter bike that I used to use to bike to school in high school, which is not really ideal if you’re trying to bike for exercise, but it’s a trusty old clunker and I love it nonetheless. Today, I trekked across the Brooklyn Bridge and up the West SideHighway through Riverside Park to the GW Bridge (where I made a hour-long pit stop to read and enjoy the nice weather).

Then I headed back down to Central Park (I made another pit stop here to meet up with my friend V- and get a waffle with cookie butter from the truck in Columbus Circle – YUM!), and then back down along the Hudson River, over the Brooklyn Bridge and home again. All told, it was 31 miles. Not bad for a clunky commuter bike and a girl who hasn’t ridden in the city in almost a year!

To top it all off, when I got home one of my best friends from high school came over and helped me bake for a picnic my mom and I are going to tomorrow. We made lemon ginger cookies and chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. Because I’m lazy, there are no photos.

How have you been enjoying your Memorial Day weekend? Any idea what that cramp in my calf might be? Do you like to bike when you can’t run? 

Never Say Die

It was just one of those mornings when circumstances seem to be screaming at me, “Don’t get out of bed!” Loudly. In flashing, neon colors. It was rainy and humid and gray, the sidewalks were slick with pollen-infused rain puddles (not good for allergies either  — aaaaachoo!) and to top it all off, I’d only gotten 5 hours of sleep last night because it’s so hot and sticky in my un-air conditioned house.

Nevertheless, I’d promised my mom I would go to a strength training class with her at the Y at 7, which meant that if I was ever going to do the half mile repeats I said I’d do today, I needed to be out the door by 6 a.m. Which I did, mostly successfully (I started my watch at 6:08), though not without a little moaning and groaning and cursing the cloudy sky.

I really hate raining mornings.

The goal for this workout was six (revised down to five after I got caught in a 3 minute rain storm and realized I’d have to go home first and change clothes before heading to the Y — again, stupid rain) half mile repeats at goal 5K pace — roughly a 7:45 min/mile, or 3:52 per half mile — with a 1 minute easy jog in between. At the outset, my prospects for meeting this goal did not look good. I felt pretty heavy and slow (maybe because the air was as thick as molasses) during my warmup mile, and I finished the first repeat in 4:06, way above what I was shooting for. During the second repeat I managed to bring down the pace a little bit, but I still wasn’t hitting my goal of 3:52.

Splits from my Garmin: the first column is time, second is distance, and third is pace

Going into the the third repeat, I entertained thoughts of just bagging the workout altogether and going easy the rest of the way home. My legs felt like lead and I really just wasn’t in the mood to run, let alone run fast. Plus, I was approaching the infamous big hill in Prospect Park (it’s not actually that big, but it’s looming enough to be offputting if you’re trying to run a sub-8 min/mile pace up it). If I couldn’t run at 7:45 min/mile pace on the easy, flat part of the park, how was I going to do it going up this hill? But I knew that I’d feel terrible if I quit, not to mention the fact that I’d already committed to this workout in my last post. So I told myself, “You want to do this,” and I kept at it.

Good thing, too, because things started getting better, even with the hill. Still repeating the words “you want to do this” over and over again (out loud!), I ticked off my third repeat in 3:55, and by the fourth one I was finally at the pace I needed to be. For the last half mile I really booked it (I was late to meet my mom, and it was downhill also, which made being speedy a lot easier) and came in at 3:40.

This was by no means the perfect run — I’m kind of mad at myself for not doing the full 6 repeats, and the fact that I was able to bring the pace down to a 7:24 min/mile for the last repeat makes me question whether I was really pushing myself on the first few or just being mentally lazy — but I’m happy with how I did in the end. I kept going even though the going was tough, and funnily enough, as I kept running the run got easier. This run reminded me to never give up just because a run isn’t going the way I’d planned. Things will get easier, and even if they don’t, at least I’ll feel good when I’m done.

How do you power though a tough run? Do you ever talk to yourself out loud? (I did!)