Podium Finishes

Last week was not the best one for me.  One of our dogs got ill and a visit to the vet revealed he had a very nasty form of cancer, hemangiosarcoma.  I spent the week taking him to vet appointments and keeping a close eye on him at home, never leaving him alone.  I didn’t get much sleep and didn’t have time to exercise since I was completely focused on him.  I was so stunned by how quickly things unraveled that I couldn’t eat. The story did not have a happy ending.  We ended up losing him.  He was only 6 1/2 years old – way too early to leave us.  It may seem swift but that is how hemangiosarcoma goes.  I hate that disease.

Dillon - a Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier doing what came naturally, agility

Dillon – a Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier doing what came naturally, agility

I needed to find a way to cheer up.  Running has always been a good way for me to deal with stress and depression.  Exercise releases endorphins, which create feelings of happiness.  I was very depressed about losing a much-loved part of our family.  I needed a shot of endorphins.  I knew that running would be the best anti-depressant that I could take.  I found a 5k and entered it.

On Sunday I headed to the race knowing that it would be a small one.  Only 95 people had registered for the event.  That made me a bit sad because, like all the other races I run, this one was to benefit a charity.  Fewer runners meant fewer proceeds for the charity.

As I drove there, it occurred to me with a field that small, I might have a shot at a placement.  Let’s be honest.  I may not be among the last finishers of a race but I certainly am not out in the front.  Small races are my only opportunity to be on the podium.

The Wall Street Journal had an article back in June 2007 about “How to Win a Marathon.”  Apparently there are people who are so focused on winning that they will search for obscure races and triathlons, analyze the results, and enter the ones that give them the best chances at winning.  The race results are usually good indicators of what to expect the next time since some athletes come back the following year to do the same event.  Coolrunning.com and Athlinks.com are two web sites that list race results.  Athlinks also has the ability to search other athletes in a particular age group and geographic area to find out who the competition is and compare/analyze race performances.  It all sounds like a lot of work to me and I am not really that competitive.  But for anyone who is, the resources are there to pick races with winning in mind.

The race I ran on Sunday was so small that the timing was done by a stop watch.  The real serious runners headed up front for the start.  There were a bunch of little kids in a pack behind them.  When the horn sounded, they all took off.  The kids were running as fast as they could.  The winner in each category got a pie and these kids had pie on their minds.

The odds were stacked against me.  In addition to barely sleeping or eating and having no exercise for a week, I showed up to the race without my Garmin.  Coach Jenny Hadfield recommends ditching the technology and running by how you feel.  On Sunday I had no choice.

I took off a bit too fast and had to rein myself in by the time we hit the first mile. The lack of sleep and poor diet came back to haunt me.  I tried focusing on a runner in front of me that seemed to be keeping a good pace.  Since the race was a butterfly course (out and back one direction and then out and back the other), I was able to see the other runners and gauge where I was in relation to the leaders.  I didn’t see anyone I thought was as old as me.  I pushed myself as hard as I could.  I had hope.

When I finished the race, I decided to wait for the awards, just in case I won something (they wouldn’t be mailing pies out to the winners).  As expected, the hotly contested 19-and under category was won by an 11-year old with a time of 21:29, only 3 minutes behind the 53-year old guy who won the race.  Apparently, pie is one heck of a motivator!  But much to his mother’s disappointment, he traded his pie in for a Dunkin Donuts hat (the second place prize).

When they got to my category, I held my breath.  I had my eyes on a Scottish Apple with Whiskey Plumped Raisins pie.  Alas, I came in second.  It was a Dunkin Donuts hat for me.

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Second Place – America runs on Dunkin 😉

As I headed back to the car, I noticed my heart did not feel so heavy.  My steps had a bit more bounce in them.  The endorphins had kicked in.   My beloved dog was still gone but I had a clearer head to come to terms with his passing.  Time will heal the rest of my sadness.

 

Age is a State of Mind

I just finished my March running “hat trick” – three half marathons in three weeks.  I probably should still be recovering from February’s marathon but I could not pass up these races.  I have another “hat trick” in April/May.  After that, I will be back to training for the Berlin Marathon, again.  Hopefully, this time my training will be uneventful and I will be able to run through the Brandenburg Gates on September 27 as planned.  I know I will be doing everything to ensure that I can.

This weekend I ran the 52nd Caesar Rodney Half Marathon in Wilmington, Delaware.  The race benefits the American Lung Association.  I wondered who Caesar Rodney was because it seemed like everything in the area was named for Caesar Rodney – schools, public buildings, and the square in Wilmington where the race started and finished.  There is even a Caesar Rodney Institute.  I thought maybe he was a famous politician or philantrophist who died from some lung disease, maybe from years of smoking.  Turns out Mr. Rodney was an officer in the American Revolutionary War, signed the Declaration of Independence, and held a number of political offices between 1755 and 1784.  Mr. Rodney appears on the 1999 Delaware State Quarter on horseback, commemorating his historic 70-mile ride on July 1, 1776, through a thunderstorm, to Philadelphia to vote for the resolution of independence.  He arrived on July 2nd, just as the historic vote began.  I guess having people run a half marathon is an appropriate way to remember Mr. Rodney’s ride.  The race medal even depicts him on horseback.

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The Caesar Rodney Half Marathon was a small race – only 830 runners.  (I saw one woman running the race wearing a strand of pearls with matching pearl earrings.  That was a first!) The race course was not an easy one.  The course started off down hill and then along a river where it was flat.  Then around Mile 5.5 we started a steady uphill climb to Mile 9.  At the top, spectators and volunteers kept yelling that it was downhill from there.  Yes, it was – until you turned the last corner and saw that it was straight up hill to the finish.  I couldn’t even see the finish line from the bottom of the hill.  Despite a course that was much more challenging than last weekend’s New York City Half Marathon, my time was better and I even had negative splits (meaning my per mile pace at the end of the race was faster than it was in the first half).  I was happy.  I can see why people come back every year to run this one.

The organizers of this race claim that it is the oldest continuously running half marathon in the United States.  During the race, I passed two older gentlemen runners; they looked like they were in their early 70s.  They obviously were close friends and warned me that it was against the rules to run between them.  We had a good laugh over that.  One of them told me that this was his 30th time running this race.  When you think about it, that is a pretty incredible accomplishment.  These two gentlemen prove that age should not stop you from getting out there and doing what you can.

I recently read about British sprinter Charles Eugstar.  Charles wants to change people’s thinking about old age.  He wants to make old age the best part of life and show that you can learn something new no matter what age you are.  Charles leads by example.  He started body building at age 87.  He admits part of it was vanity – he wanted to improve his appearance.  Charles even used a previous Mr. Universe as his personal trainer.  Then he decided that he wanted to take up running, or more specifically sprinting (running short distances as fast as possible).  Eight years later, Charles set the world record for runners over 95 years old in the 200-meter dash.  He completed it in 55.48 seconds, more than two seconds faster than the previous record.

Reading about Charles made me think about a British study that was recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine.  The study by Isla Rippon and Andrew Steptoe at University College London of 6,500 adults – average age 66 years – indicated that how old people felt was an indicator of their mortality.  At the start of the study, the researchers asked the participants how old they felt.  Many felt younger than their actual chronological age.  The researchers then followed the participants over the next eight years.  The people who felt younger than their chronological age at the start of the study fared better and had the lowest chance of dying (14% had died).  The people who felt their actual age or older than their actual age at the start of the study had the greatest chance of dying (19% and 25% respectively died during the study).  The researchers made adjustments to the data to exclude people who died in the first year (i.e., people who were already dying).  They also took into account things like illnesses, smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity, education and wealth.  With all these adjustments, the link between how old the study participant felt and mortality remained.  Although more study is needed to explain why feeling old may predict death, it is interesting to think about.

Obviously Charles doesn’t feel his 95 years and I doubt that the two gentlemen running the Caesar Rodney Half Marathon feel their age either.  They were motoring up those hills with much younger runners behind them.  Watching people like them and Charles is inspiring.  Maybe old age really is a state of mind!

Here is an interesting interview with Charles.  He is a real hoot!

 

New York, New York!

New York New York 2This past weekend was the essence of what Adventures of a Funatical Runner is all about – combining races with trips to interesting places I might not otherwise visit, seeing the sights and enjoying new experiences.  I traveled to New York City to run the New York City Half Marathon.  My husband came with me, which made the trip much more enjoyable.

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Photo op at the Expo

We got to NYC a couple of days before the race so that I had time to have some fun before race day.  I like to see obscure sights that fewer people visit.   Between visiting one of NYC’s numerous museums and seeing a play, we stopped in the Expo to pick up my bib.  Then we headed off the beaten path.   We stopped in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel to see Cole Porter’s piano on display in the lobby and then wandered over to look for 6 1/2 Avenue (one of several 1/2 Streets in the city).  I have never seen a 1/2 Street before; it looked more like a pedestrian walkway between buildings than a real street.

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6 1/2 Street

Then we headed to Strand Book Store, an independent bookstore in the East Village area that sells new, used, and rare books.  Their motto is “18 miles of books” and I don’t think that is an overstatement.  Strand even rents books for theater sets, photo shoots, and staging model apartments.  Next to running, my favorite activity is reading – interesting since reading is the antithesis of running.  One activity is about movement; the other, not so much.  I had to limit how long I shopped in Strand Book Store.  It didn’t take much time for me to end up with an arm load of books.  Good thing I stopped looking at books or we would have had to stop in Times Square to buy another suitcase to carry them home.

Love by Robert Indiana

Love by Robert Indiana

The streets of New York and even the subway stations are full of art but I don’t think most people notice.  Everyone seemed in a big hurry to get somewhere.  We found a Love sculpture by Robert Indiana (the original is in Indianapolis, IN but there are other versions all over the world including one that I photographed in Tokyo).  On another corner was a Hope sculpture by the same artist.

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Sculpture in pedestrian arcade; Artist unknown

We came across an arcade with several interesting sculptures on our way to Tiffany’s to get a new necklace for my Nike Women’s Half Marathon medal charm.  But my favorite sculptures were a series of small bronze figures that were placed throughout the 14th St. and 8th Ave. station.

Tom Otterness "Life Underground" Bronzes - 14th St & 8th Ave Subway Station

Tom Otterness “Life Underground” Bronzes – 14th St & 8th Ave Subway Station

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My favorite of the Tom Otterness “Life Underground” bronzes

 

NYC is heaven for any foodie.  They have every kind of restaurant you can want.  On Saturday I needed to carb load for the race so we popped into Patsy’s Italian Restaurant, a family-owned restaurant opened in 1944.  The restaurant is around the corner from Carnegie Hall and has been a favorite spot for many celebrities, both past and present including Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney (George’s aunt), and the entire cast of “The Sopranos”.   We heard opera singing from the upstairs dining room and learned that the Mario Lanza Society was holding their quarterly luncheon at Patsy’s.  (Mario was a famous tenor in the late 40s/early 50s, long before the Three Tenors hit the scene.)  The opera singers were the entertainment for the luncheon.

When Sunday morning arrived, I was ready to get out and run.  That was the real reason I was there.  As I made my way to my corral, I noticed a large dog statue on the other side of the fencing.  I found a gap in the fence and ran down to check it out.  The statue was of Balto, a Siberian Husky who led a sled dog team on the final leg of the 1925 run to Nome, Alaska with antitoxin needed to combat a diphtheria outbreak.  The run is commemorated each year by the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

Balto statue – The plaque reads “Dedicated to the indomitable spirit of the sled dogs that relayed antitoxin six hundred miles over rough ice, across treacherous waters, through Arctic blizzards from Nenana to the relief of stricken Nome in the Winter of 1925. Endurance · Fidelity · Intelligence”

Balto statue – The inscription at the bottom reads: “Dedicated to the indomitable spirit of the sled dogs that relayed antitoxin six hundred miles over rough ice, across treacherous waters, through Arctic blizzards from Nenana to the relief of stricken Nome in the Winter of 1925.
Endurance · Fidelity · Intelligence”

It was chilly as we waited in the corrals.  I don’t complain much about cold weather.  Cold weather is much better running weather  for me and my Transverse Myelitis.  Many of the runners were worried about being prepared for the race.  The extreme winter weather had disrupted much of their training.  I felt pretty confident about the race; I had completed both a full marathon and a half marathon within the prior 3 weeks.  I probably should have been taking more time off instead of running another half marathon.

Our corral started over 40 minutes after the start for the elite runners.  The cooler weather worked in their favor too; they were really moving.  I wasn’t even at the 5km point when the men’s winner finished the race!

Fred Lebow - founder of the New York City Marathon

Fred Lebow – founder of the New York City Marathon, timing runners

There was plenty to see when we finally started running.  Central Park has many ponds and statues, more than I had time to stop and photograph.  There was one, though, that grabbed my attention.  It was the statue of the late Fred Lebow, a runner, president for 20 years of the New York Road Runners Club, and founder of the New York City Marathon.  It was a real treat to see.  The statue is on East Park Drive but each year for the Marathon, they temporarily move it to a spot near the finish line on West Drive.  Fred will always be part of the race he created.

When we left the park, we were greeted by crowds of cheering spectators.  It was exciting to run down 7th Avenue towards Time Square.  As I ran, I looked at the architecture of the old buildings – the iron grill work, carved stone, and ornate glass – beautiful buildings with lots of character.

We headed out 42nd Street towards the Hudson River where we followed West Side Highway down to Battery Park.  It was windy along the river.  I could see the remnants of old piers, some of which have been converted into parks and green spaces.  The last part of the course took us through a tunnel before we emerged to make the last few turns to reach the finish line.

It was a fun weekend and I enjoyed the race.  Many people I know got PRs (personal records).  I probably could have too but I spent a good bit of time taking pictures.   There was so much to see along the course and I wanted to be able to share it with you.  I need to go back and spend more time seeing the things I ran by.  Maybe I need to run the New York City Marathon and see the rest of the sights.  Hmmm.

 

Pain and Inspiration

“One thing about racing is that it hurts.  You better accept that from the beginning or you’re not going anywhere.” – Robert (“Blazin’ Bob”) Owen Kennedy Jr, American distance runner

On Saturday I ran a half marathon at the Summit Point Motor Sports Park in West Virginia.  I expected a flat course; all the race tracks I have seen on television look flat.  It wasn’t.  There were some short but steep hills that we had to go up.  Plus it was cold.  There was nothing to block the wind blowing over the 4 inches of snow that fell two days before the race.  My hamstrings were starting to bother me.  My mind was starting to throw in the towel from the pain when I remembered the documentary “Running for Jim.”

In the film the girls on a high school cross country team talked about how painful it is to run.  I was surprised to hear them all say this.  I thought the best runners never experienced pain when they ran.  I thought there was something wrong with me because I experience pain in races.  In the Tokyo Marathon, both my hamstrings started hurting somewhere between 10km and 20km.  It wasn’t an agonizing pain – just an uncomfortable feeling that reminded me that I have hamstrings and they weren’t real happy.  But during that race, I just focused on one thing – the finish line (and snow monkeys the next day).  I was in the zone – running with pain was meaningless.  It just was.

On Saturday I was having a hard time getting into the zone so I started thinking about the main focus of the film – Jim Tracy, a  San Francisco high school running coach who was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) and his 2010 state championship girls cross country team.  ALS is a deadly disease, one that slowly robs its victim of the ability to move, a disease with no cure.  The team was devastated to hear about their coach’s diagnosis at the start of the season.  They saw how he was starting to struggle with his mobility and that inspired them to work even harder.

Jim was a tough coach.  He expected a lot from his team.  The term “tough love” comes to mind.  He didn’t lavish them with praise.  He pushed them to be the best they could be.  Jim believed that it is purely your decision to be a champion.  You just have to be committed.  The 2010 state championship showed just how committed his team was.

The championship meet took place on a rainy, unseasonably cold day in November.  Holland Reynolds was the team captain.  Before the 3.1 mile race started, Holland gathered her teammates together for a group cheer.  They were going for the record 8th state championship under Jim.  She looked at each of them and said they had to win it for Jim.  This might be the last time he coached a team to a state championship.  They had to do it for Jim.

The race of 169 runners was full of excitement from the starting gun.  To say that Holland and her team were inspired would be an understatement.  One of Holland’s teammates fell in the first 100 yards and was in last place.  She got up, kept running, and finished in 16th place.  Another teammate – who had never led a pack before – led the pack for more than half the course and ended up finishing in 3rd place.  Another was really a soccer player and was running in her first state championship; she finished  25th. Yet another teammate ran the fastest race of her life and finished 36th.

Holland, the best runner on the team, was in second place for the first 2.5 miles of the race when she started to slow down.  She was being passed by other runners.  As hard as she tried, she couldn’t run any faster.  She just kept pushing towards the finish line.  With just 3 yards to go to the finish line, the unthinkable happened.  Holland fell, overcome by dehydration and hypothermia.  Holland was disoriented but was determined to finish.  She did the only thing that she could do.  She crawled.  After she crossed the finish line, she was immediately swept up and taken to an ambulance.  She had finished in 37th place.  The team had won the championship.

Video from the race ended up on the Internet and soon every news organization was reporting on Holland’s stunning finish.  The following year Tom Coughlin, the head coach of the New York Giants football team, used the video to motivate him team.  He used Holland to show his team what finishing and commitment looked like.  Hard to imagine that an NFL player can be moved to tears over a girl high school cross country runner but it happened.  All season long, the Giants remembered Holland’s determination to finish.  That year the Giants finished in first place – they won the Super Bowl in February 2012.

Sadly, Jim succumbed to ALS in 2014, four years after his diagnosis.  But he succeeded in coaching his team to two more state championships from his wheelchair.

Through pain came inspiration.  Jim inspired and motivated Holland and her teammates to win the state championship. Holland’s fall and subsequent crawl across the finish line inspired and motivated an NFL team to go out and win the Super Bowl.  That is pretty powerful stuff.

I know that running a marathon or half-marathon might be painful.  Some days it might hurt more than others.  It is reassuring to know that I am not alone in that.  In my next race, my strategy will be to acknowledge that I may be in pain but not focus on it.  Instead, I will think about Jim and Holland, and focus on the finish line.

Check out the Running for Jim web site but I really encourage you to watch the award-winning film.  It is a tremendous story that doesn’t end at the finish line.

Best Post-Race Party Ever

Running a race is fun but the post-race party is a big part of the race experience too.  Many races I have done have post-race parties with music and lots of beer.  The Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon series is well known for having a concert after their races.  It was a real treat to see the INXS concert on the beach following the Rock ’n’ Roll Half Marathon in Virginia Beach one year.   My husband enjoyed the Cheap Trick concert at the Rock ’n’ Roll race in Las Vegas when I ran that one.  At the Yuengling Shamrock Half Marathon, I remember all runners getting 4 free beers at the finish.  It was so cold the day I ran that race, a beer was the last thing on my mind.  I wrapped up in the fleece blanket they handed out to all the finishers instead.

At the Tokyo Marathon there weren’t any bands in the finishers’ area and I didn’t see any beer.  I was more focused on getting back to my hotel and taking a hot shower.   Although I was very tired after the race, I did make it to the post-race party that Marathon Tours hosted at the Park Hyatt in Tokyo (famous for being the location where the movie “Lost in Translation” was filmed).  They served wonderful hors d’oeuvres, beer and wine.  I ate my first “meal” of the day at the party and then headed back to my hotel to sleep.

For me the appeal of a race is not just the event itself but the things you can do when you are in the area.  Shortly after I decided to run the Tokyo Marathon,  I saw a documentary about the snow monkeys.  They became the real reason for traveling all the way to Japan to run a marathon.  When I broke my arm, I became focused on one thing – getting back on my feet and able to run so I could go see the snow monkeys.  My doctor knew how important that was to me and every time I saw him, he would bring up the snow monkeys.

My post-race party was the day after the race when we headed out of Tokyo on a bullet train to Nagano and the snow monkeys.  Nagano is a big ski area (and location of the 1998 Winter Olympics) so many of the passengers were carrying skis with them.  The bullet train ride was very smooth, no rocking back and forth.  It was a good time to rest our race-weary legs.

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Bullet train to Nagano

Our first stop in Nagano was the famous Zenko-ji Temple, revered for over 1400 years as Japan’s primary center of Buddhist faith. Zenko-ji is also the home of the first Buddhist statue to come to Japan.  Outside the temple is an immense incense burner.  Pilgrims wave the smoke on their bodies for health and good fortune.  I waved the smoke over my right arm; it needs all the help it can get.  Just inside the temple is the statue of Binzuru, a  faithful disciple of Buddha.  Binzuru is famous for stories about his miraculous healing powers.  Visitors have rubbed the statue smooth in hopes of curing their aches and pains.  Our tour guide told us to rub the parts of the statue that corresponded to the part of our bodies that were painful and the pain would go away.  I rubbed the statue’s legs; I needed help with my hamstrings that were still sore from the race.  (Sorry, I don’t have a picture of the statue as photography was not permitted inside the temple.)

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Lunch is served!

Lunch is served! A three-tired box of various dishes and this was just the first course.

We stopped in a little Japanese restaurant for lunch that included soba noodles, fish, rice, and pickled vegetables.  After several days of being in Japan, I had mastered the chop sticks but I still can’t slurp my noodles like a true Japanese diner.   I enjoyed every meal that I had in Japan, including this one.  After lunch, we boarded the bus for the approximately 40-minute trip to the Jigokudani Yaen-Koen Park – home of the snow monkeys (or more formally, Japanese macaques).

It was a 1.8km walk from the bus parking lot to the snow monkey park.  Walking nearly a mile on the packed snow and ice covered trail was the last thing I would have planned to do the day after a marathon.  My hamstrings and quads were burning.  I was very concerned that I would fall and re-injure my arm.  But I had been thinking about this for months.  Nothing was going to stop me now.  Most of the runners in our group were wearing running shoes and rented Yaktrax at the gift shop at the bottom of the trail for added traction.  I grabbed a ski pole that was stuck in the snow and used that to keep from falling as I hiked up to the snow monkey park.  It took almost 30 minutes for me to hike up there.

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Trail head to Snow Monkey Park – only 1.6km more to go up the mountain

The area where the snow monkeys hang out in the hot springs is similar to Yellowstone National Park – lots of bubbling, steaming sulfurous pools.  According to our tour guide, the snow monkey park was started in 1964 to distract the monkeys from eating the area farmers’ crops.  They put out food for the monkeys so they no longer disturb the crops.  The snow monkeys did not naturally hang out in the hot springs.  One monkey ended up in the water, possibly to clean their food before eating, and realized how comfortable it was in the cold weather.  Soon the other monkeys were doing it as well.  When they aren’t playing in the snow and throwing snowballs, the snow monkeys will hang out in the hot springs in the winter.

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Hanging out in the hot springs

We watched this mother carry her baby down the side of a very steep mountain to the hot spring.

We watched this mother carry her baby down the side of a very steep mountain to the hot spring.

There are warning signs posted to not stare at the monkeys, talk to them, or feed them.  This is not a zoo; the snow monkeys are really still wild animals.  They can come and go as they please.  What surprised me most of all was the number of people hanging around, taking pictures of them.  The snow monkeys were completely unfazed by all the cameras and people except when someone tried to interact with one.  Then the inner snow monkey came out – teeth bared and a nasty noise warning to stay away.

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Football players may head to DisneyWorld when they win the Super Bowl but I think snow monkeys beats that any day.  It was a long day to go there but worth every minute.  It was the best post-race party I ever had and made the Tokyo Marathon trip more fun.  They didn’t need to give me a medal at the end of the race.  The trip to see the snow monkeys would have been enough.  I am not sure how I will be able to top this adventure.  It is going to be difficult.