Plot Twist

“Plot Twist!” -Devon Yanko

There are only a couple of athletes that I follow and Devon Yanko is one of them.  Not only is she a badass, but she’s authentic in her struggles.  She has been honest about her autoimmune issues and their impact on her athletics.  One of the phrases that she uses frequently when things go sideways is “plot twist”.  I vaguely remember reading a blog post by her that discussed that she chose to view deviations from the plan as plot twists versus setbacks.  Well I just had a really big damn PLOT TWIST!!!!!

After we finally figured out what was wrong with me I was able to start moving forward.  Finally.  I started running again.  I was able to be active again.  I finally had energy again. Basically I started to feel like me again.  With that I began training for Antelope Canyon 50 miler.  I wanted it.  Desperately.  My manta became, “I am healthy, I am strong.” (insert record scratch here) Not so fast.

Over the past couple of weeks as my long runs per week started flipping 16 and I was logging 50+ mile weeks things just started to feel, well, off.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but something just wasn’t right.  I was waking up every morning feeling like crap instead of ready to take on the day.  We pulled my thyroid panel and it seemed fine.  Yet, something still wasn’t right.  I was wondering if I was just seeing shadows so I kept pushing forward.

When I saw the PT this week (one of the only people in my corner when I was sick) I said to her, “I want to talk to you about something but I want to wait until after you get done as I don’t want to bias your view.” As we started going through my treatment she stopped and looked at me and said, “You aren’t recovering.” Crap………

See, there are few things that you can’t hide to your PT.  Pain and muscles that are breaking down and not recovering.  We looked over the number of miles that I’ve been logging, she asked me how I was feeling, and she quickly changed course in my appointment to fixing.  We then started to discuss my 50 miler.

See, after my 50k I put myself into an autoimmune suppressed state. This happens with all people, but when your immune system is already not exactly the strongest to begin with it’s even worse. (Science article here, translated into “English” here) This suppression of my immune system is basically what allowed for the rest of the wheels to fall off and allowed for all of the other infections to move in.  We knew going into the 50 miler that I was facing and uphill battle, but we had banked on all of the rebuilding I had done it would hold up.  PLOT TWIST, nope.

What does this mean for me?  First, it means nothing more than a 30k for running. Sure I could do more miles but I would then risk shutting my immune system down.  Honestly, I like running, yoga, cycling, climbing big mountains, etc and I would like to keep doing them so I’m not going to purposefully break myself.  Second, it means that I am not doing Antelope Canyon 50 miler.  Lucky for me Vacation Races has a very generous bib transfer policy and I found someone that wanted to do it.  Third it means I’m having to shift my perspective with regards to the ultracommunity.  While I will never run another ultra again it means that I can be the best damn crew, volunteer and pacer ever.

Yes, all of this sucks.  Yes, I’m a little raw about it.  However, I so enjoy the sound of dirt under my feet so I’m going to listen to what is right for my body so that I can keep doing all of the things that I love.  I will still climb big mountains, run, cycle, and do all the things I love.  Just not quite in the way that I had intended.  Big damn plot twist, indeed.

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Fuel Matters

Lately, I’ve really been struggling on my long runs.  Mentally I’ve been melting down.  Physically I’ve been sluggish and felt like there was lead in my legs.  After my 16 mile training run on Saturday I felt like crap. I knew something had to be done.    “I just want to finish a run happy!” I cried to Sainted Mary.

We walked through how long my runs are (both time and distance) and how I should be fueling.  Then we walked through how I’m actually fueling.  OOF major differences.  Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner.

Many people believe that if they go without fuel that their body will tap into their fat stores to get fuel.  That is not the case.  The body goes after protein (muscle) not fat because it’s easier to break protein down into useable sugar than it is fat. There are long term repercussions of this.  First, when you break muscle down you are impacting long term strength.  Second, you are doing massive damage to your kidneys as kidneys do not like processing proteins (they are sharp like glass).  You are also putting yourself at risk for rhabdomyolysis.   This using of muscle over fat is one of the reasons why there are skinny/fat people.  Sure they may not weigh very much but their muscle to fat ratios are way off.  Not to mention they are also super weak.

1411638441200One of the few things Sainted Mary has put her foot down with me is the fact that I need all the muscle I can get.  “The scale is just a number.  It doesn’t differentiate between muscle and fat.  In order to do the things that you want to do you need every single ounce of muscle you can get.”  When she found out that I was struggling to fuel during my long runs with the construct we had established she immediately set out to make the adjustments.

The thing with working with a nutritionist versus trying to figure this stuff out for yourself, is that they are actually trained in how to ensure the body gets what it needs. I’m incredibly lucky that she knows athletes and knows how to work with athletes.   I would highly recommend if you are thinking about working with a nutritionist ask the the following questions first.  Have you worked with athletes before?  If so, to what level?

Amateurs like myself are even more tricky to work with.  Why?  We take SO MUCH LONGER to complete distances.  It gets even more complicated to ensure that we are fueling properly.  The folks who can complete a 50k in 4-6 hours don’t have nearly the number of stresses on their bodies that those that take 8-10 hours.  Time makes a difference.

We walked through the types of fuel I am intaking, what is working, and more importantly what isn’t working.  I’m still learning, this is still a work in progress, but I think with the changes we made I will be much happier.  “I don’t want you to ever be afraid to intake fuel.” she said.  Noted, Sainted Mary, noted.

Mount Whitney: A win I needed

Over the course of the past year I wasn’t just hit by the struggle bus, I was being dragging along by it.  I desperately needed something to make me feel like me again.  Last year MountainGoat and her sister climbed Mount Whitney.  When she posted her pictures I was taken back.

In the depths of my wallowing I was really wondering if I was ever going to do anything that big again.  I started researching Whitney and made the decision to enter the lottery for a permit.  I decided I’d let the universe decide my fate.  Magically, somehow, I got a permit on my first year of applying.  Alright, universe, let’s do this.

As soon as I got my permit, I immediately booked a tent site at Whitney Portal.  I’m really glad I did as the day of our permit coincided with Badwater, an ultrarunning race that starts at Badwater Basin and ends at the trailhead for Whitney.

The day of the hike we got up at 0200 in order to be starting up the mountain at 0300.  Windchime, Shootergirl and I started up the mountain at 0300 on the dot.  Climbing up around 3/4 of a mile we heard echos of whoops and hollers.  It was someone finishing Badwater.  Come to find out later, it was actually the runner that a friend of mine was pacing.

A couple of miles into our hike we came across a hiker coming down the mountain.  We asked him if he had already summited.  He said he had two weeks ago and that he was trying another attempt today, but was getting massively altitude sick this time.  He gratefully accepted some of our ginger heading back down the mountain.  The sunEBWlqVx8SNiwtvsTQvBCGw started to crest over the horizon and we were treated with one of the most amazing sunrises I’ve seen in a long time.  I started to sing “Here comes the sun” a song that my Dad sang almost at nauseum when I was a kid.

Climbing up and up we stopped around the 5 mile marker to filter water.  We were incredibly lucky that while there was no snow on the trail there was plenty of water to filter.

*Tip: BRING YOUR FILTER.  I cannot begin to tell you the number of people we met on the mountain who did not have a way of filtering water to refill their hydration bags.

The going was slow, but we were making good time on the way up.  We needed to summit by noon.  You’d think 9 hours is plenty of time to summit, but every time that you need to get water, pee, take pictures, or grab something out of your pack it eats time.  Not to mention just the sheer volume of the elevation gain.  Wind

As you step across from National Forest land to National Park land (technically Mount Whitney is in Sequoia National Park) the views are absolutely breathtaking.  We saw some folks who had left their packs here.  DO NOT DO THAT.  The marmots were destroying the packs looking for food.  The last two miles of the trail is all rock. By the time you get here it’s already been a very long day.  Do not lose hope, some of the best views are about to come.  The last 1/4 mile you can see the house on the summit giving you an extra pep in your step.

On the trip down the thunder and lightening started.  We found out later that it had POURED and hailed at our campsite. We hauled as fast as we could.  We managed to make it back down to the trailhead with only minor rain hitting us.

By the time we got to camp all of us were exhausted, but we absolutely needed to get food into ShooterGirl.  Truthfully, all of us, but she more than us.  An hour or so later we all went to sleep.  Long day, but totally worth it.

 

Digging my way back to me: Antelope Canyon 50 Miler

Now that we have finally figured out what is wrong with me and I’ve started the right regime to fix all the broken things I’ve actually begun to feel normal again.  I’m not quite back to 100% but I am well on my way there.  That is a HUGE accomplishment.

Ironically enough, it was time for me to do another Dexa scan.  During this scan we discovered I had lost nearly 2% of my bone density.  Say what??? How is that possible? See, when your body doesn’t have enough vitamin C (as mine didn’t normal is 10-200 and I am at a 2) to combat an infection and sustain yourself your body goes chomping on calcium.  Where is the largest form of calcium in your body?  Your bones!!  So my body in an effort to combat the infection an sustain itself started breaking me down.  Quite literally.  The good news is that we caught it early, I’ve increased my vitamin C and calcium, and I’m young enough that (fingers crossed) we can put that bone density back on.

What does all of this have to do with Antelope Canyon? See, a couple of years ago for my 40th birthday I challenged all my friends to a 50K.  WindChime was one of those people.  She turns 40 next year so of course she upped the ante.  She has decided to run the 50 miler.  At first I was just going to pace her the last 13 miles of the race.  Then, as I started to feel marginally better I figured I would at least hike the 50 miles.  Now that I know I actually AM getting better I know I will be able to complete this race.

True, I’m in a fitness hole.  True, I need to get all of my endurance back up to where it is.  What better way to force myself back onto the wagon than by registering for something really big and really scary?   The next few months are going to be interesting, but I’m up for the challenge.

You are your own best advocate

Abhyasa (practice) is a dedicated, unswerving, constant, and vigilant search into a chosen subject pursued against all odds in the face of repeated failures, for indefinitely long periods of time. -B.K.S. Iyengar

I’ve been documenting my decline in my performance and energy levels for months now. I can tell you EXACTLY when my last run was that I felt REALLY good.  I’ve regularly reached out to my primary care physician trying to figure out what is going on with me.  We’ve run test after test to no avail.  I was beginning to think that I was crazy, but I knew that something wasn’t right.  The desire to do ALL THE THINGS fueled me to continue to find answers.  I think my friends were beginning to think that I was crazy, too.  I wasn’t ready to accept that at the age of 40-something that my days of long haul activities were over, especially since I just found them.

During yoga teacher training I was introduced to  Ayurveda medicine.   I came into the lecture with a basic familiarity of pitta, vata and kaffa, but I didn’t realize that it went so much deeper than that.   Through her examination and reviewing my “western medicine” lab work she immediately noticed some issues and set me up with a new path and plan, no drugs required.  She also ordered an organic acids test.  By day three on her protocol the swelling in my hands and feet first thing in the morning was gone. To not wake up every morning with swelling that made me feel like I had run 20+ miles the day before every single morning for months made me feel elated.  By day 10, my energy levels were starting coming back. I wasn’t quite myself yet, but I was definitely heading in an upward trajectory.  A flicker of hope was starting to come back.

After MONTHS of feeling like crap. After losing, what I thought was permanently, my long distance activities, heck ANY activities.  After months of unaccounted for swelling.  After being told that I just needed to find a new hobby and that “maybe ultra running just isn’t for you”.  After watching many of my friends actually start to doubt me and begin to think that I was just making it all up. Today I got answers!  Finally!

I have a complex GI infection.  I could go into the gory scientific deals, but I will spare you.  This infection is not only stripping my immune system, but it is also screwing with my metabolites and my nutritional absorption.  Part of the reason why I have no energy when I’m running is that I quite literally running on empty.   If you want to know how the metabolic process works look here. My body quite literally does not have the capacity or capability right now to turn food into energy.

Where I am going with this whole discussion?  You are your best advocate.  I knew something was wrong.  I knew that I wasn’t ok.  I knew that there were issues.  I knew that this wasn’t all in my head.  Now I have the scientific proof and the ability to start treatment. Do you know how incredibly validating, rewarding, and happy this makes me?  I am NOT crazy.  At least not about this anyway.  I am now on the path towards healing my body.  Apparently, I was already practicing abhyasa without me even knowing it.

5 Days on the San Juan River

Several months ago I received an email from my chapter captain of Team River Runner.  He asked if I would be interested in going on a week long Women’s Disabled Veteran Leadership training program.  I hesitated.   I don’t do strangers well.   Then I sat back and thought about it and truly thought about the skills I would develop: how to read the river, white water kayaking skills, etc and said, “Sure I’ll apply.” Never thinking I had a shot in a million years of being accepted.  When I found out I was accepted for the program I was elated and then terrified.  Holy crap I’m actually going to be getting on a plane and traveling with a whole cast of folks I had no idea who they were.  By the time that Anne Marie from Adaptive Sports Association called me for any final questions I may have I had pretty much worked myself into a nervous lather.  I only had “a couple of questions” 42 minutes worth of questions later…. (face palm).

The day before I was slated to fly I almost didn’t get on the airplane.  I was beyond anxious.  I was coming up with every imaginable excuse known to man.  However, I got on the plane and boy am I glad I did.  Not only did I get to spend the week with some amazing women, but I developed skills and gained some serious headspace that I never would have gained any other way.

This is what five days on the San Juan River taught me in no particular order:

  • Putting 24 women together of varying shapes, sizes, colors, backgrounds, can be remarkable, silly, uplifting, and amazing.  No one cares what you look like, what you wear, what your limitations are.
  • When you help other people you stop worrying about your own shit.
  • Perseverance is a necessity in life and on the river. (Oh and when you are waiting for your turn for the groover.)
  • Standup paddle boarding in the middle of the Utah canyon is one of the most zen experiences you can have.

    IMG_6888

    PC: Janet J. 

I could go on and on about the trip.  There were things that I learned on this trip that far exceeded the “I want to learn to read the river.”  That, I think, is the point of this trip.  It’s to not only get you to learn about the physical environment and take away key skills, but to learn about yourself in the process.  I very much would love to volunteer to be on this trip next year to help expose the next crop of Women Veterans to this amazing world of support and love.

Tunnel Vision

When I was little my Dad would tell me to always try my hardest.  If I came home from school with a C, but I stayed after, got help and did everything I could a C was ok because he knew that I tried my hardest.  Now, if I came home with a C and I was not doing all of those things there would be hell and fury to pay in the form of wood stacking.  This “always try your hardest” has stuck with me throughout my life.  However, lately this has begun to backfire on me.  Apparently, there is such a thing as working out too much.

In the course of re-checking my thyroid, to ensure the meds are working, Doc also checked a bunch of other things too.  One of the things he checked was my CK level which showed that things are not all happy happy joy joy on my insides.  We kind of already knew that given my lackluster performances as of late.  There is no reason why my levels should be this high.  I haven’t been doing anything I deem out of the ordinary, or red lining.   As of right now Docs orders are to take it easy for a while.  Dad laughed when I told him those were Docs orders.  You’ve never done anything half-way.

With all of this in mind I scheduled an ‘exercise playdate’ with a friend for an aerial yoga class.  It is low key enough to be on the ‘allowed’ list of activities and neither of us had ever done it before which meant my brain was going to be happy.  Having never done aerial yoga before I wasn’t sure what to expect.  What I got was an amazing set of super juicy stretches.  Being super flexible sometimes it’s challenging for me to get into specific muscles. The silks enabled me to get into those really hard to reach areas.  It was totally fun, too.

I’ve been on a journey to find happy in working out again.  Maybe this is the way that the Universe is going to help me along that path.

Saddle Blazer Half

“I just want to finish happy.” I said to WindChime on our way to the race. See, my last few runs have been CRAPPY. No energy, feel like garbage, fully imploding crappy. So finishing happy was my goal. WindChime and I had flown into Texas to see my brother and run this race together. Originally it was supposed to be part of my Twisted Fork training plan but, well, we won’t talk about that. The new plan was set.

We got to the race venue knowing it was going to rain on and off the entire time. At least it was warm. We had that going for us. Oh and humid. Super. Saddle Blazer is a double loop course. The first is 7 and the second is 6.2. I told the Vulcan and WindChime to run their own races. Partially it’s because they are faster than me and partially it’s because I didn’t want to have them watch me implode. The first loop was super mud. You know the kind. It sticks to the bottoms of your shoes and makes them weigh like 47 pounds. I was chasing my “rabbit” a girl named Bree. The mud was just awful. I smiled and it reminded me of the hike on Kings Peak. Poor WindChime she always gets suckered into my muddy hair brained ideas. We got through the first loop and headed to loop 2.

Loop 2 was so much better. It was way dryer and quite runnable. I was settling in and starting to find my groove. Bree, Lindsay and Lindsay’s friend (didn’t catch her name) were all hanging together and playing leap frog. It was nice. They were pulling me along in spots and I was them. When Bree and I hit the last aid station we were stoked. 2.6 miles to finish. We started really moving along. We came around a corner and there was a huge down followed by a huge up. We knew we had it. As we charged down the hill we blew past a girl who I knew was in trouble. She was not breathing well and was in a lot of pain. I made a split second decision. I ended my race right there and stopped half way up the hill and turned around.

“YOU CAN DO IT!!!” I shouted. “COME ON!!!”

As she got closer to me I saw her shaking. Bad. Oh boy. Yep. My race is done. We need to get her to the finish.

“Have you eaten?” I asked.

She cried and shook her head no.

I had Bree fish into my pack and get out the emergency honey stingers I carry. I opened it and gave it to her. “Eat this,” I told her. She took it and started to suck on the package. “Have you had anything to drink?” She nodded yes. “Of electrolytes?” She shook her head no. I gave her my bite valve. My pack had Tailwind in it.

“Ok, I’m not leaving you. You are going to finish.”

I encouraged her to put one foot in front of the other. We started plodding along. She had stopped crying. “Is this your first trail race?” She smile. “You a road runner?” She nodded.

“I’m normally a 5k road runner. This is my first trail run and my first half marathon.”

“THAT’S AMAZING!”

I quickly snapped a picture of her. “See now photographic evidence that you were out here.”

We exchanged names (hers was Dusty) and pleasantries. I told her about my first half and all the mistakes I made. (Rule #1 eat if you can but you must drink.) I told her about how amazing the trail running community is. I was telling her anything to keep her moving. Then Matt caught up to us. He saw she was in trouble and he stayed to help keep her moving, too. We both kept offering her Tailwind and encouraging her along. I took her hand on the uphills and pulled her along to help her reduce her pain.

Then, there it was, the finish. Her kids were there shouting for her. They were so proud. Luckily, Bree had run ahead and had already alerted the medical crew. They were waiting for her. I turned her over to them.

I finished. I finished happy. It wasn’t the race I had hoped to have. Or the race that it was supposed to be, but I finished happy.

WindChime and the Vulcan had finished long before me. While yes, I am slow and yes I’m disappointed I didn’t keep up with them at the end of the day Dusty finished her race. I finished happy. That was the point all along.

The good news is that while I may not be able to be a true ultra girl I know I can make one hell of a pacer. Maybe that’s what the universe is trying to tell me.

Science!

This past summer I experienced my first Dexa Scan. It was a really good way for me to wrap my brain around my body composition. I decided it was time to have another one done as it’s been 7 months , a 50k, and several injuries since my last scan. As my CrossFit gym has an InBody we thought we’d take the opportunity to do an apples to apples comparison (same day, nearly same time, same clothes, etc) just to see the differences. The overall results are rather fascinating.

**Disclaimer: As this was not the same Dexa that did my 2017 scan therefore there is a possible margin of error . When I get my next Dexa scan with the same machine as this most recently one we will fix the possible margin of error.**

Let’s start with the good news:

  • My android/gynoid ratio dropped from 0.99 to 0.98. This is important as the higher your ratio is the more risk you have of cardiovascular disease.   There have been several nutritional studies in both children and adults on the impact of a high A/G ratio. Granted this seems like a small drop, but every little bit has a major impact.
    • The trunk region is from your shoulder to mid thigh
    • The android region is the rectangle section, basically your stomach region
    • The gynoid region is the triangle section, runs from your top of your pelvis to mid-thigh.
  • My lean tissue has increased in both my arms (0.4lbs) and my trunk (0.5lbs).
  • My body balance is way better.  As you can see from the chart below my ratios across the board are more in balance.  You can even see in the pictures above how my regions are much more in balance.  For any athlete balance is absolutely critical.  For me, it was this imbalance which was leading to major functional issues.  I’ve really been working hard since August to fix the issues that need to be fixed so that I can start to perform at 100%. This is proof that the work that I am putting in is paying off.  While I am a long way from being where I want to be this is a huge step in the right direction.
Right Arm Left Arm Arms Total Right Leg Left Leg Legs Total
Dexa (6/2017)
Fat Mass (lbs) 3.1 2.7 5.9 9.3 9 18.3
Lean Mass (lbs) 4.7 3.8 8.5 16.4 16.5 32.9
Dexa (2/2018)
Fat Mass (lbs) 2.9 3.2 6.1 9.9 10.2 20.1
Lean Mass (lbs) 4.7 4.2 8.9 16.4 16.1 32.5
  • My bone density numbers are off the charts.  I am 3.3 standard deviations HIGHER than most women my age for bone density.  Wahoo!

Now let’s talk about the bad news:

All of those imbalance injuries which caused me to have so many injuries did cause me to increase my overall body fat percentage. (33.9% to 34.4%).  However, as I say that I know that I was 10 weeks out due to injury then another 9 weeks out due to thyroid.  The fact that I “only” went up .5% body fat while being out or partially out for several months is a testament to my fitness foundation as well as the work that I put in even though I was only semi-functioning.

Rather than focus on all of the bad news and how all of my numbers did not go in the direction that I wanted them to I’ve decided to focus on the positive.  It wasn’t a step forward, but rather a course correction.  Now that I am better in balance my goal for the next scan (in ~3 months) is to have the numbers turning around to where I want them to be.  Forward.

F*(k: Science doesn’t lie

 Run Happy -Amelia Boone

Run happy AND healthy – Me

Exercise causes inflammation.  I’ve discussed this before.  The science doesn’t lie.   As a stubborn independent female who was raised to put on her big girl pants I never like to acquiesce.  Ever.  We constantly hear that “pain is weakness leaving the body.” What happens when there is no pain?  What happens when it’s not pain, but its inflammation?  You can’t take an x-ray of it.  You can’t MRI it.  It’s there slowly and silently destroying everything in its wake.

I’ve been working with my doctor, PT and nutritionist to try to keep the inflammation to a manageable level in my body.  I’ve change my training plan. I’ve been incorporating foods known for their anti-inflammatory properties.  I’ve been doing everything I can do to keep the inflammation down as my training has ramped up.

Unfortunately, the science doesn’t lie.  The science shows me what’s going on.  My brain just kept saying, “Stop being a whiner.  Put your big girl pants on.” Yet in the back of my brain was the tiny little voice that said, “Listen to the science. Don’t be a dumbass.”

I’m surrounded by people who throw down 50ks as training runs.  Or who are doing three 200s this summer.  Or four 50 milers in a month.  These are the people that I look up to.  These are the “big kids” in my life.  When I mentioned this to my pulmonary doctor she was floored.  She then looked at me with the stink eye.  I knew what that stink eye meant.  It meant I shouldn’t even THINK about it.   When I mentioned this behavior to my PT who treats nothing but athletes she said, “Every operating system is different.”

I finally grew up the courage to have a frank discussion.  “Am I just scared or is this truly what I’m seeing.”  I could have sworn I thought my pulmonary doc send out a “Thank you JEBUS!” Yet still, I wasn’t quite ready to accept it.  Yet the thought lingered.  She has treated me long enough to know to give me enough leash to hang myself because she always gets to say, “I told you so.”

For every situation there comes a point where you just have to face the truth.  For me it was after the run last weekend. It was “only” 9 miles and yet the swelling that I had after 9 miles was horrendous.  I finally had to face the truth: a 60k is out of my future.  At my PT appointment I sheepishly brought the subject up.  I told her my thoughts about the science, about reality about the thoughts in my brain.  She didn’t tell me what to do, but she asked me a couple of questions which helped me accept:

“How long did you have the inflammation for after the 50k?” she asked.

“6 weeks.”

“Just know that for most athletes it’s two weeks.” She stated.

“How many times have you been sick since then?”

I hung my head.  I knew that if I started to count that it would be way more than I’d like to admit.

I’m not giving up running.  I’m not giving up swimming or CrossFit or anything.  I’m just having to give up the idea that I am going to be like “the big kids”.  I’m going to experiment with 25ks and maybe a 30k.  See how it goes.  I’m sad.  I’m disappointed. I’m a little broken hearted.  Running happy, as Amelia Boone says, is truly important.  However, not to correct Ms. Bonne, I’d like to ammend her sentiment.  Run happy AND run healthy.