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Ironman South Africa

April 11th, 2012 by jamescunnama

In gambling they say you should never throw good money after bad… I guess a similar principle applies in triathlon. Don’t throw good races away chasing races that have already gone out the window. It is with this in mind that I am withdrawing from Ironman South Africa next weekend.

This may be a surprise to all those hoping for a South African winner and who have been backing me. But for those ‘in the loop’ it won’t really be too shocking. After Abu Dhabi Triathlon, which was actually a good race until a mechanical issue sidelined me 110km into the bike, things have not gone very smoothly. I was hoping to put in a solid block of work before Ironman SA and come into the race ready to challenge all comers get that big win. However, my knee had other ideas.

Following the surgery in November my knee was all but out of my mind until shortly after Abu Dhabi. Then it started niggling. It has been a month of trying to get it sorted out and worrying about the possibility of requiring another surgery. Thankfully another surgery is not going to happen and the knee is now healthy and behaving itself and I am back on the road. But it has meant I have done none of the key training sessions needed for IMSA. Racing an Ironman in this condition would be risking my knee again (or another injury) and potentially affecting all other races this season, which as a professional I cannot do.

So I will now look further ahead and to the next races, for which I can be prepared in time – I will be heading to the US in early May for some half’s before going to Europe in June to prepare for my next major goal, Challenge Roth in July. There is always Ironman SA next year for me…

Best luck to all my friends and supporters who will line up on Hobie Beach next weekend. I’ll be watching closely and cheering you on!

Onwards and upwards…

J

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Abu Dhabi Tri

February 28th, 2012 by jamescunnama

This weekend will see my dramatic return to racing after 7 months off due to injury…

Ok, well, maybe it won’t be too dramatic… Traumatic may be a better word perhaps. After 7 months without racing I do feel a little rusty and that means apprehensive. But my training has gone really well since I recovered from my November knee surgery. I was obviously horribly unfit having not run or cycled for 5 months, and am still on the way back to full fitness. This race will serve as a bit of a test for Ironman South Africa in April, which I am sure I will be at 100% for. And with some of the best names in the sport vying for one of the biggest prize purses, it certainly will be a test!

But I am enjoying my training like never before and looking forward to simply being able to race again. And that excitement and joy at being able to race again will outweigh my nerves on race day I am sure. And of course I get to travel with Jodie, who is in far better shape than me and equally excited at being back from injury. Should be a fun trip!

Looking forward to an exciting race and being part of it …hopefully a big part …near the front …in the money. Watch this space.

Onwards and upwards…

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Who you gonna call?

February 10th, 2012 by jamescunnama

This morning I finished a hard track session. It was my best run session for over 6 months and felt good to get running again properly. It has been a long journey back to here and you forget how great it feels to push yourself and have that specific total body fatigue that only running can induce. Back on track. Back on the track.

A couple weeks ago I actually did my first track session, but I didn’t come out of it feeling quite so positive. My knee had hurt whilst running. Nothing serious, and no lingering effects afterwards, just a little discomfort whilst out there. Just enough to make me worry. Just enough to make me wonder if the knee op worked. Just enough to make me wonder if a niggling knee would be my constant companion for the rest of my career. I spoke to Doc and he said I am just letting the ghosts of a past injury haunt me. I was not impressed. I did not imagine the pain in my knee. It was very real and to say it was ‘all in my head’ was simply not true. Some caution when coming back from an injury is necessary to prevent a return or a new injury developing due to loss of conditioning.

But a few days later I ran again and sure enough the knee was better. Was it in my head? Was it my injury flaring up? Was it just a ghost? I have been thinking about it and have to the conclusion it was none. It was just a niggle. We get niggle’s all the time. They are part and parcel of being a pro athlete. You have to push the limits, and on that ragged edge between mediocrity and injury is the key to success. Backing off every time there is a niggle won’t get you anywhere. Nor will getting injured every 6 months either, and therein lies the rub…

So Doc was right. It was a ghost. The ghost of injury past. And just like all ghosts, it was not real. It was simply a manifestation of my mind. (Some may disagree here, but I don’t believe in ghosts!) A little niggle which I would usually have ignored (or at least treated and kept going) threatened to derail my return to fitness. I made it bigger than it was. Luckily I had Doc to call. Who you gonna call?

I ain’t ‘fraid of no ghost…

(This movie came out when I was 1 year old! Wow.)

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2012

January 27th, 2012 by jamescunnama

So 2012 has begun.

Somewhat coincidentally, as the new year began my injury trouble from 2011 was finally resolved. As you will know by now, a small knee niggle which began in July became a season-ending, surgery-requiring, major pain-in-the-ass injury and was only resolved towards the end of December. I am pleased to report that I am now training again properly and on the road to fitness. Unfortunately it didn’t quite resolve in time to blast back onto the racing scene at Ironman 70.3 South Africa. When the injury began the thought that it would keep me out of races in October seemed far-fetched – but as it turns out it is still keeping me from racing in January.

But enough about that and more about looking ahead to 2012. Everyone says that after a long injury athletes always come out stronger and fired up. I feel like that is already manifesting itself as I am loving training and motivated like I haven’t been before, which can only lead to better performance. Currently Jodie and I are training in Stellenbosch. I had only heard good things about the place for training, so when my parents (and whole family) ended up in the Western Cape, I thought I’d give it a try.  It has not disappointed. I can honestly say it is one of the best places in the world that I have trained. …Just gotta convince the coach now so we can have camp here! Or win World Champs cos then I get to choose a camp location. Not sure which will be easier…

One of the concerns my injury has raised now is that, 5 months into the qualification year, I don’t have a single point. By this time last year I had won IM Florida, IM70.3 Austin and got 2nd at IM70.3 SA. I was in the top 10 on the points scale and qualification was all but assured. It is not like I can go and win an Ironman and punch my ticket. Last year Mary-Beth had to win 3 Ironmans in the last few months to get her slot (indicating a serious flaw in the system – I think the points system is good, but IM winners should still be automatic qualifiers – Kona is supposed to be a Champions race, isn’t it?).  I don’t want to be in that position, so it is going to require some planning and careful race choices to get into Kona this year.

But going to Kona is the goal for 2012 so we’ll have to do what it takes and jump through WTC’s hoops to get there. After all, if the Mayans are right, this just might be my last chance!

And, as Johan Bruyneel said to Lance before he embarked on his epic 7-year winning streak, ’If we’re going to start (the Tour), we might as well win.’

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Arggghhh!!!

October 14th, 2011 by jamescunnama

So I woke up this morning motivated. I was ready to get going and get back to fitness. I was going to do all that I could regardless of the circumstances… But within 20mins my motivation had, yet again, been replaced by frustration and I found myself wondering what to do with myself…

You see, I’m injured. And have been injured for almost 3 months now. Having been to multiple doctors and specialists I find myself still at square one, give or take some knowledge. After trying all other conservative methods, rest was prescribed, with as much walking as possible to keep me sane… but even walking hurts my knee. Enough about that though – I am getting what I need and progress is being made, albeit frustratingly slowly. The point is that after 3 months of keeping my frustrations at bay they are threatening to overtake me. I want nothing more right now that to run. Or ride. Or even a long walk would help. But all I can do is swim (and the pool only opens at 12 today).

Then there is the other side of being a pro – the blogging, social networking and such. Brandon wrote about this a while ago – the directly proportional relationship between an athletes web presence and their current fitness/performance level. And of course this is natural – the worse you are doing, the less you want to shout it out on the web! And the lack of content doesn’t help either – you can’t blog or tweet about epic sessions, recent races, upcoming races, or even how great your sponsored equipment is – my Cervelo P4 is gathering dust, my new Computrainer hasn’t been used yet and my Avia’s and 2XU kit only serve to make me look good on the way to the pool! I have tried to blog about Vegas and Kona – be an armchair expert if you will, but seeing all the best in the world having great races only serves to amplify my frustrations – and getting myself all fired up and motivated is probably not the best idea right now.

Hopefully it will only be a couple more weeks of this and I’ll be back into training and my world will be back in balance. In the meantime, if you have any topics or questions you would like me to blog about, send me a message and help me get the blogging back on track at least!

Onwards and… well, just onwards for now.

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Because I’m not ready to win it… yet.

August 20th, 2011 by jamescunnama

So, since the ‘Kona Qualifiers’ list (here) has come out I have had quite a few queries about why I passed up my invitation. And the answer is pretty simple – because I’m not ready to win it.

I went to Kona in 2009. It was a dog-show. My worst Ironman performance ever. In fact the only time I have gone slower was at my first ever Ironman in 2007. Not a good experience. And it was not a cheap experience either! But it was exactly that, and the reason I went in the first place: experience. But after that experience I promised myself I wouldn’t return to the Big Island until I was ready. The definition of ‘ready’ is debatable, but it is up to me and Brett to decide on our definition. And we’re not there yet.

The reasons for my lack of readiness this year were mostly out of my control. At the start of 2010 we predicted 2012 as the earliest possible Kona return, but then 2010 went superbly, and my form came on quicker than anticipated and we entertained the remote possibility of Kona 2011. But this year has not gone as smoothly with a minor achilles injury (which thankfully has resolved), closely followed by a knee problem, which hopefully will also be resolved soon. Either way these have made the decision for me, and Kona is out, and we go back to the original plan – 2012.

Many people can’t understand how I can pass up the Kona opportunity, especially those Pro’s (and AG’ers) who are clawing tooth and nail to get into the race. But I never actually went after Kona or KPR points this year. I just happened to come into form at the end of 2010 and got some early points, and then had decent races at my home events in South Africa. And hey presto! an ‘invitation’. But once I got the invitation, why not just go and ‘see how it goes’ and have every triathlete’s dream experience? Easy answer: it’s stupidly expensive. Kona is a long way from anywhere. And it is a VERY long way from South Africa – polar opposite to be exact, as far as you can get without leaving the planet. And it is not the cheapest place to stay. And there is no ‘financial assistance’ from WTC for Pro’s. And the prize money only goes 10-deep. To sum it up: If I were to go (being, as I am, in less than peak form) the chances of finishing in the top 10 and making some money would be slim. And the cost would be high. I am passionate about Ironman, and Kona, but at the end of the day my triathlon is a business and work on profit vs loss. Some expenses are justified, for experience, to keep sponsors happy, to promote the brand ‘James Cunnama’, etc. Some are just pissing away hard-earned dollars on an Hawaiian holiday.

If my form comes good and I am racing fit in the next few months, I will go to races where I can make some money. And when the time is right, I will go to Kona. Maybe that’ll be 2012. Maybe not. But when I do rack my bike on the Kailua Pier, and jump into the warm Hawaii waters, you can be sure of one thing – I will be ready…

Onwards and upwards…

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TeamTBB Tour de France

July 31st, 2011 by jamescunnama

So its that time of year again. Tour de France time. No, not that Tour. Yeah, yeah. Well done, Cadel.

But TeamTBB holds its own Tour every year. The focus of this Tour is the Alpe D’Huez Triathlon, no mean feat in its own right, but even more so in the middle of a week of riding… but more about that later.

Day 1 dawned cold. Very cold! The clouds and rain from the day before lifted… just enough to show the fresh snowfall on the mountains around Leysin, before closing in again for much of the day. Thankfully it did not rain too much, but the cold was pretty extreme. We cruised up the valley to Martigney, before climbing the challenging Col de la Forclaz which takes you over the mountains to France. One more small climb and then it was the descent to Chamonix-Mont Blanc. A beautiful town in the shadow of the imposing Mont Blanc… although we couldn’t see more than a glimpse due to the fog, which had kept it VERY cold in Chamonix this day. We  huddled in the warmth of McDonald’s for a long lunch, before setting out for one more mountain over to Albertville. The descent to Albertville, always a good one, was this time cut short by a road closure and detour. The descent was cut short, but it was no short-cut! An extra 4km climb and another descent and with 175km in the legs we were happy to see Albertville and the Etap hotel, despite what it is…

Col du Glandon

Day 2 and all thoughts were on the imposing Col du Glandon, 20km, 1950m alt. Brett wouldn’t let us go over the Col du Madeleine too, despite protests from the whole group… ;) The weather was better today, but gloves and arm-warmers were kept handy, for the chill still present in the air. The climb was long and painful enough, as usual. Fun! We descended to the lake where the race would start, before climbing the back route up to Alpe D’Huez through Villard-Reculas, seeing only the final few switchbacks of the famous climb. We would get better acquainted with it in a couple of days…

Pre-race day was spent making sure we were set for the race – a considerable swim at 1850m, a short run and a ride. TeamTBB day off…

Race day and we were warned to expect great weather. We all bundled up in pretty much all of our clothes for the 18km ride down to the lake and race start. It was cold, but it was manageable, and the sun was trying hard to break through as the day tried to decide what it would provide us. After racking the bikes and body marking, and somewhat futile effort as everyone would simply cover the numbers up, we took to the frigid lake. I was hoping my memory had exaggerated the cold from last year, but alas, it was as cold as I remembered. They kept us floating in the deepwater start for about 13mins more than necessary as far as I was concerned, and I am not sure they actually started the race – I think someone got fed-up with the delay and just went, so everyone else did too! They added a loop to the swim from last year, and I am not sure they halved the loop size to compensate.

The Famous climb - Alpe D'Huez. The picture makes it look easier...

We exited the water and whilst we were swimming, the weather had made up its mind – it was to be nasty! Pouring rain and a few degrees cooler than when we went in, I was instantly regretting not choosing to use my rain jacket. But it was never that cold, and I only really got cold when we got near Alpe D’Huez, at 1850m and well into the clouds today! By this point I had dropped everyone, the last few up the 21 switch-backs, and had a handy 3:30min lead, 4:40 on the guy who would win. But I had a penalty to serve. (I won’t get into it. Stoopid French.) 5mins standing in a tent at about 5C, wet with only arm-warmers on left me not only behind, but disadvantaged badly by cold. Added to that the fact that I had hardly run due to an achilles injury the last few weeks, and my race was pretty much over. I trudged in to finish 6th. Good training day. Enough said.

The next day we were back in the pool for a little loosen up, before we were back on the road for a little more loosening up… 150km of it! It was a flat day, down Alpe D’Huez and up the valley’s all the way to Albertville. Plenty of head winds, a few rain showers and a good stop where we all ate too much at the supermarket, and that was the end of what was really just a travel day. Same place as the way there, and same Buffalo Grill for dinner and same McDonald’s for dessert. Same same.

Day 6. We had a choice. Hilly or flat. Being as tough as we all are, everyone wanted to go the hilly route ;) so we re-traced our route from day 1. It turns out that little detour around the closed road was a LOT longer in reverse – our day started with a substantial ~10km climb, 4km descent, then more climbing. Good start. Everyone was feeling very chirpy and laughing a whole lot… well, almost everyone. ;) We found a new and awesome descent, but it was tempered by the promise of the ride up the ‘goat path’ as Bek named it. It was a little road, but goats would have called it a highway. And it wasn’t that long. After Bek forced us all to wait for the back-markers, we cruised up the valley back to Chamonix-Mont Blanc, where the weather was good enough to sit outside McDonald’s this time, and we could see the snow-covered mountain. A little more climbing (about 20km!) and we were in Switzerland again. A long descent and a gentle cruise down the valley with a nice tailwind and we were in Aigle, 160km done and just 14km to Leysin. I stopped to pee, and the rest of the group attacked up the climb. Nice one. Turns out everyone was in their own world of thought (read: pain) by this stage, so everyone rode their own pace, alone home to Leysin. I don’t have a photo, but the greeting in Leysin looked something like this…

The Tour ends in grand style... The other Tour does anyway.

So about 750km, 6 days, a half-IM+ distance race and a few swims and we are back in Leysin. Holiday is over and back to work for everyone…

Onwards and upwards…

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Rev3 Quassy: Ups and downs

June 7th, 2011 by jamescunnama
http://www.vimeo.com/24723325

So some are calling it the biggest win of my career (so far anyway, of course ;) ). I’m not sure if it feels as big as some of last years’ triumphs, but maybe it just hasn’t sunk in fully yet. Regardless of the scale of the win within my career, in my mind it will go down as one of the most stand-out wins thus far, and will probably remain that way until the end of my career.

The race is held at Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury, Connecticut, and the constant passing of a roller-coaster during all interviews and talks certainly added something unique to the weekend. The ups and downs would prove to be something of a theme for the event for me too. Going into the race my confidence was certainly a down. A niggle in my achilles had meant my training and preparation had not gone quite as smoothly as I would have liked. But the race was on and I was going to do my best and just see how the achilles held up.

The next down was the temperature. I am no fan of cold water. And no fan of non-wetsuit swims either, to be honest. But both is terrible. In fairness, the water wasn’t that cold. If it was warm outside, you could have stayed comfortable in the 21C (69F) water. Problem was the air temp was about 11C(52F). So by the time I got in the water, after 10-15min standing in the cold, I was already shivering. And I wasn’t warming up in water that cold. Perhaps wetsuit rulings should take into account the air temp too…

I came out of the water a good 2mins behind the main group, and over 3mins behind the leader. My achilles was also really tight after the cold water. Work to do on the bike. My legs didn’t feel particularly good at first, and after passing a few guys I was pretty much solo for a long time, with no indication that I was even making up time on the leaders. In fact at about mile 20 I had my lowest ‘down’ of the day. Some days you win, some days you lose… and some days you wonder why you got out of bed! That  was what I was thinking. Seems silly now, knowing that I won, but such is the nature of long-distance triathlon. But I channeled the frustration and by mile 30 I could see a big group in the distance. A group that big could only mean that everyone was together, so I perked up a bit. First ‘up’. I caught the group at about 36miles and it was indeed everyone, except a flying Starkowitz off the front. Now I was where I wanted to be. More ‘up’.

Then I made my move. Due the the stagger rule, the guys were riding on the left and right, so I just went straight up the middle. Fellow-saffa Dan Hugo had just pulled away from the group so I had someone to chase. A few of the guys reacted but the damage had been done to the group. And I could tell a few of the guys were hurting courtesy of me. Big ‘up’. I kept pushing until the end of the ride, and came in 2nd, 4mins down on Starkowitz and about 30secs up on all the chasers.

My achilles hurt at the start of the run, but to be honest, $20, 000 equals a lot of pain tolerance, and the tightness went away long before the pain tolerance did. I was running well and reeling in the leader quickly, but making no gains on the chasers. With four miles to go I was in a world of hurt and was switching between miles-to-go and kilometers-to-go in my head in an effort to choose the one that sounded shorter – 4miles sounds shorter than 6.4km… but then when you run two miles and take 3km off the total, km’s sounds better… Well, it made sense while I was running anyway…

Soon enough I was in the final mile, and luckily I had seen the part of the course before, because that final hill was brutal! At the bottom of the hill someone shouted “You’ve got this! He’s still more than 40secs behind!”. At the top of the hill, with 500m to go, someone shouted, “Go! He’s only 20secs behind!”. OMG. Down the last stretch I was all arms and legs flailing, determined not to lose it on the line. I managed to grab an SA flag from a well-positioned South African ex-pat, but didn’t dare raise it above my head until about 10 meters from the line. As I raised the flag and tape, Torenzo Bozzone rounded the final corner, and a few seconds later Joe Gambles was also at the line. Too close for comfort, in my opinion. But there is  a thread on the TBB forum (here) which is quite apt, seeing as I won by 12 secs…

So, unlike most roller-coasters, it started all down and ended in a huge up! I am really happy. First win of 2011 and already it has been a great season, and it has hardly even gotten rolling yet!

Onwards and upwards!

Also a HUGE thank you to my Home-stay family, the Heller’s. It is far easier to concentrate on a race when you have a group of people rallying around your every need leading up to it! Thanks guys! See you next year.

At the same time I should congratulate team-mates Bek Keat and Caroline Steffen for their same-day wins on the other corners of the globe! Go teamTBB! That’s how you start the summer!

And as always, a shout-out must go to our great sponsors making this possible: The Bike Boutique, Cervelo, Avia, 2XU, Louis Garneau, 3T, Cobb Cycling

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Columbia Triathlon

May 25th, 2011 by jamescunnama

So I raced my first ever Olympic Distance Professional triathlon this past weekend. I have raced many olympic/standard/international (the powers that be really need to decide on a name for the distance!) distance races, but almost all of them were local ‘development’ races in Port Elizabeth and they never had any prize money, or any Pro’s either, except for myself occasionally, and Raynard Tissink even more occasionally.

So the opportunity came up to race Columbia Triathlon as it was only a 3hr drive from New Jersey and I had a ride with Brian from PBN. The race is steeped in history, started in 1984 and having been graced by many of the sports biggest names over the years. The course is also particularly tough,

with non-wetsuit swim, rolling bike and hilly run. And with no drafting on the bike, it seemed a good one to test myself on.

I wasn’t particularly enthused by the idea of a non-wetsuit swim, especially when they said it was close to the 68F (20C) cut-off for wetsuits. 20C is bloody cold without a wetsuit! I get miserable when the pool is 24C! But it proved to be warmer, closer to 23C, and the cold wasn’t a factor. The lack of wetsuit still was, but I only came out the water 1 minute down on the leaders and with the main group.

I set about smashing the bike. You can go pretty hard when the bike is less than an hour long, so I tried not to hold back, knowing Andrew Yoder would be going hard on what is pretty much his home course. I was going well and leading the rest of the field together with Jordan Jones, but Yoder was out on his own in front and flying! He finished the bike in a blitzing 54:32 bike split (41km = 27.9mph/44.9km/h)! My split wasn’t too shabby (42km/h), but 5mins behind Yoder on the run, we were racing for second from the outset.

I was happy with my 33:20 run on a tough course, giving me 2nd place and it was a good hitout for me to get the body going. Looking forward to my next Olympic distance tri, hopefully in the not-to-distant future. It was fun!

Next weekend (5 June) I will be racing Rev3 Quassy before heading over to Switzerland to join the team for a summer in Europe…

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Ironman South Africa

April 15th, 2011 by jamescunnama

 

Ironman South Africa 2011

So the race has come and gone. Actually, long gone. Where’d that week go?!

The race was fast and hard. With a field like that, that was always a possibility, but often when the field is stacked everyone sits around watching at each other most of the day and the race in only decided in the final stages. Not this time! My race was actually fairly uneventful, and pretty lonely…

I came out the swim a couple minutes down on the leaders, but after one of my best swims to date – possibly due to the new 2XU Project X:2 wetsuit, awesome suit! – and set about catching the front riders. This was going well until the turn-around at 25km, where I caught a group of 7, but where the leading 4, including Tissink and van Hoenacker were still about 2mins further up the road. And they had seen me. I couldn’t bridge up to them and slowly they put time into me and the chasing group. By 110km, the gap was about 8mins. Our pace was not fast enough, so I went solo for 70km to limit the damage. I ended up with a 4h25 bike split, my best yet, – possibly due to the new Cervelo P4 evo! best bike I have ridden, no doubt – and close to a course record (or would have been if Raynard hadn’t smashed that 7mins earlier!).

Onto the run, and 8mins down in 4th I was not confident of catching the leaders. But I was hoping, as they were all very close together, that they would keep fighting each other until all three blew to pieces. That was optimistic, and I wasn’t running very well after my solo ride. Only one of the lead three blew (van Hoenacker, completely wrecked, pulled out). Tissink held on for a well-fought and well-deserved win, with the young (he’s 3 weeks older than me) Andi Bocherer in second.

I was happy with my 3rd, all things considered. It was my best race to date (a PB 8H13), and I am pretty sure that my performance would have won most Ironman’s on any other day. I broke the course record, and although times mean little, this is not a particularly fast course (although no-one told Chrissie that!) and yet it was my fastest IM so far. And some good lessons were learned too, despite the race being fairly uneventful for me. Of course to have two South Africans on the podium in a race with that kind of depth was also fantastic for the sport in SA!

So we look ahead, and take some good form and confidence with us – next stop on my never-ending worldwide adventure is California – I will be racing Avia Wildflower Triathlon on 30 April, and then Rev3 Quassy before I head to Europe for the summer.

Onwards and upwards!

 

 

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