The Trail Sisters’s 2016 In Review

[Editor’s Note: This month’s Trail Sisters article is written by Gina Lucrezi.]

It’s just about year’s end and nostalgic memories of the past 365 days are front and center in our minds. What are you thankful for? What moments from this year will stick with you forever? What new relationships have you made?

As I review my own year, I ask myself these same questions. I think about my racing, my injury, my travels, my friends, and more. But most of all, I think about the trail running community.

Being a social butterfly, spending oodles of time on Instagram, and managing two trail running teams, I try to keep my finger on the pulse of the running community. I monitor what’s trending, what’s causing conflict, who is dating who, you name it. One thing that stands out to me about 2016 is the continued increasing participation in and awareness of women’s trail and ultrarunning. In that vein, I thought we’d use the Trail Sisters’s final 2016 article to recap what’s happened this year for women in our sport.

Let’s start with the Hardrock 100! This is one of the most talked-about 100-mile races out there because of its remote and rugged route, its 33,000-plus-feet of climbing, its average altitude of 11,000 feet, and its limited number of entries awarded via a lottery. Historically, Hardrock is a male-dominated race, in terms of the ratio of men versus women entering the lottery and gaining entry into the race. This year, more women jumped in the ring and put their names in the lottery ‘hat!’ There are still more men applying to the lottery than women, but to see the increase in women’s lottery entries is great. It’s encouraging to know women are seeking out and embracing more extreme events.

Another event that turned heads this year was UTMB. In years past, the top-10 male and top-five female finishers were recognized in the race’s award ceremony. This year and for the first time, the race organization recognized the top-10 females. UTMB is one of the most notable 100-mile races in the world, so it’s great to see them honoring women and men equally.

Let’s shift gears and focus on the actual participants. There have been some notable newcomers to the sport! Young gun Clare Gallagher won her debut 100 miler, the Leadville Trail 100 Mile. Clare’s finishing time was actually the second-fastest female time in race history and on all versions of the course. Though she isn’t quite new to the ultra scene, Courtney Dauwalter had a breakout year, too. Courtney won the Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile, set a women’s course record and won overall at the Javelina Jundred 100k, and ran 147.49 miles to win overall at the Desert Solstice’s 24-hour track event. Swedish superstar Ida Nilsson is another name you should know. Originally a stellar track-and-field stud turned skimo and mountain racer, 2016 was Ida’s breakout year in trail running. She won the Transvulcania Ultramarathon (interview), Mont Blanc Marathon, The Rut 50k, and The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships (interview).

These women are outstanding athletes but until their major wins this year, they were considered dark horses as compared to some of our sport’s ‘usual suspects.’ When we saw all-star names on an UltraSignup entry list in 2016, women such as Kaci Lickteig, Magda Boulet, Caroline Chaverot, Megan Kimmel, Andrea Huser, and Ruth Croft, you knew what expect. These are all incredible women and they each brought their ‘A game’ time and again to races this year. It’s so great to see a strong interest in ultrarunning with the younger generation as well as the experienced women getting continued big returns on their hard work, dedication, and longevity.

Women’s-only retreats and training programs is another topic to call out. Though there are already a few existing retreats, for example, Elinor Fish’s Run Wild Retreats, outdoor-recreation giant REI Co-Op supported the Outessa Summits, which were co-founded by Julia Stamps Mallon. These Summits are weekend-long adventures that allow women to experience a variety of sports/activities while enjoying a laid-back social atmosphere with other like-minded women. Aravaipa Running offered a Women’s Ultra Training Program that is four months long and preps ladies to race a 50k at the end of the program. Alicia Vargo put together the training program and shared her knowledge on nutrition. I expect more of these female-friendly camps and programs to pop up in 2017!

Lastly, a new ruling took place this year for the equalization of team sizes and race distances for 2017 and beyond at World Mountain Running Association (WMRA) events. That is, both men and women will have teams of four runners each (three of whom score) and will both be racing the same courses. American Trail Running Association Executive Director and WMRA Treasurer Nancy Hobbs, a long-time driving force in this sport, was among those who were instrumental in lobbying for this ruling by the WMRA’s voting countries.

There are many other amazing female-specific additions and achievements that have happened in our sport this year, and I’m sorry that I cannot list them all. But you should know that women making productive noise in the sport is creating change. I’m incredibly encouraged to witness a continued strong call from the female voice and can’t wait to see this trend continue in 2017!

Call for Comments

  • What other females had major 2016 debuts?
  • What other events made notable female-specific changes?
  • Can you note other forms of progress women made in trail and ultrarunning this year?
  • Last but certainly not least, hi again! We, the Trail Sisters, need your help. What do you want to hear about in the Trail Sisters posts in 2017? What do you want us to look into? What other women do you want to hear from? What would you like to share your thoughts about or hear other women’s thoughts about? What did you talk about on your last long run with other women? Please share your suggestions below. We’re all ears. And thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts this year!
Trail Sisters

is a group of three women, each with unique opinions, ideas, and attitudes toward all things trail and ultrarunning. Pam Smith is a mom, physician, and lover of running who lives in Oregon. Liza Howard is a mom and 100-mile specialist from Texas. Gina Lucrezi is a Colorado-based short-distance speedster exploring the realms of ultrarunning.

There are 42 comments

  1. Joel

    “UTMB is one of the most notable 100-mile races in the world, so it’s great to see them honoring women and men equally.”

    What’s the rationale for having two top ten lists? With women routinely finishing in the overall top ten, and so much overlap of the male/female populations it seems like an arbitrary distinction. The fact that the average female is slower than the average male is not a compelling reason.

    It’s interesting to look at women only results, just as it is interesting to see age-partitioned categories but I don’t think it needs to be more than that. If there is a top ten for women, then I’d hope there was also a top ten for a Masters class. Focusing only on gender is odd.

    It’s obvious historically and from a fan POV as to why female runners are treated as a special class of runner, but I think it’s hard to justify from any statistical or ‘fairness’ perspective.

    1. JacobsA

      Out of curiosity, do you have any objective, statistical reasoning for such claims as to why there should not be any distinction between listing both top 10 women and men in running events?

      And I think you’re misplacing women being treated as a “special class” rather than being treated as equals. If we’re looking at UTMB itself, it’s not treating women like a “special class” to have them also get top ten gender class recognition at the event, rather than just top five. That’s more about equality.

      Comparing age ranking inclusion (or anything outside of gender, really) to that of equal recognition for women is extraneous.

      1. Joel

        If there are twice as many male racers as female racers, then it’s statistically reasonable to have a top 5 for female finishers if you are recognizing the same top percentage of finishers for each gender.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the original reason for UTMB doing this though the participation rates by women has likely gone way up and re-adjusting makes sense– as it seems they have done.

        I’m not clear how having a single top ten list– which in many cases would include a woman if not two– would not be treating everyone equally.

    2. Maria

      I for one am sick of this debate. Should men and women compete “equally” in all track & field events? Swimming? Gymnastics? Weight lifting? Etc.?

      Your comment is deliberately sexist and should be removed by the moderators.

      1. Joel

        “I for one am sick of this debate. Should men and women compete “equally” in all track & field events? Swimming? Gymnastics? Weight lifting? Etc.?”

        Women are not competitive in weight-lifting for obvious reasons. They are however very competitive in distance running. That’s why it’s an interesting subject.

        As for suggesting that not having gender-separated finisher lists is ‘sexist’.. that suggests you don’t know what ‘sexism’ is.

        1. Maria

          Haha. Nice use of scare quotes. You are very “respectful” and “intelligent.” Next you should go try to explain to a brown person that they don’t know what “racism” is.

          Again, I urge the moderators to delete Joel’s comments.

        2. Liza

          I was struck by a thought mid-run that I’ll continue to work on. But to begin: If we agree that running ultramarathons is a good thing for both men and women — that running long in challenging conditions benefits both sexes — then the question becomes: How do we draw more women into our sport? One way is certainly extrinsic rewards. If I have the opportunity to place in an event, I might be more likely to sign up. Whether you value extrinsic rewards personally is not the point. Does it help to achieve parity in terms of participation? Thoughts?

          1. Alicia

            Yes! I’m so glad that someone made this point. Joel pointed out that many more men than women participate in these events. We should be asking ourselves why that is the case, and what other sports have done in the past to encourage more women (especially young girls) to feel like they have a place in that sport.

            Also, I’d like to see an argument with some sound science on the physiology of men versus women and the statistics of finishing times within a wide sample size that supports Joel’s argument that women don’t deserve our own division in ultrarunning just as we do in many other sports.

        3. Meghan Hicks

          “Women are not competitive in weight-lifting for obvious reasons. They are however very competitive in distance running.”

          Were you aiming to say that women are not competitive compared to men in weightlifting but are in distance running? Just trying to understand… If so, females are not competitive relative to men in marathoning and ultramarathoning, either. At a cursory glance:
          Marathon – The women’s marathon world record is about 10% slower than the men’s.
          50k – The women’s 50k world record is about 15% slower than the men’s.
          50 mile – The women’s 50-mile world record is about 16.5% slower than the men’s.
          100 mile – The women’s 100-mile world record is about 20% slower than the men’s.
          24 hours – The women’s 24-hour world record is about 16% slower than the men’s.

          There are many physiological explanations for the difference in female and male performances in multiple sports, including ‘distance running.’ I am hoping medical doctor and Trail Sister Pam Smith or someone else with the appropriate medical background can respond to help explain sex-based physiological diversity.

          Running races of all kinds have historically been and continue to be competed as sex-specific events because variable sex-based physiologies do not create a level inter-sex playing field. It can become easy to forget in ‘distance running,’ like marathoning and ultramarathoning, that a separate women’s race and men’s race are both occurring because they are being held contemporaneously for logistical simplicity.

          Indeed, we have plenty of fun examples in our sport where women win small races/races with little competitive depth or creep into the overall top 10 of big events with competitive men’s fields. But those instances don’t represent the overall ability of the female and male sex to compete with each other, rather they represent the ability of the specific people at that specific race on that specific day to compete with each other.

          1. alicia

            Meghan, I appreciate that you took the time to write out that excellent reply. But the fact that that same info has previously been provided again and again on these discussions suggests to me that in Joel’s case, it’s an issue of not wanting to be informed rather than not being informed.

          2. Joel

            Thanks Meghan for the only apparently serious response to my sincere question. Yes, I make a distinction for ultra running because it’s the only sport I can think of where women are ever finishing in the top 10 overall rankings of major races. In that sense women as a group are very competitive. If you look at the bell curves of woman and men finishers there is huge overlap and the top 10% of women finish well above the vast majority of male finishers. In that sense it feels arbitrary to partition that distribution by gender for purposes of a finishers listing, just as it would seem arbitrary to divide the group based on any other physical traits.

            In other sports it’s far more defensible when the performance gap due to gender is much greater.

            In ultra running, if you are one of the best female runners in the world, then you are also one of the best runners in the world, period.

            Female runners as a group are at a slight biological disadvantage relative to male runners as group, just as older runner as a group are at a physiological disadvantage relative to younger runners. Yet there is a separate top ten for women but not a separate top 10 for older runners. Of course, I would argue there is little reason for separate lists at all.

            Honestly, this question arose because it’s always hard to know what metric to use for judging a performance. If I only look at my place among male finishers, then it’s ignoring the large number of women that finished ahead of me which just highlights how odd the distinction is. The only sensible way to judge my performance is relative to all race finishers.

            To be clear I don’t think this is a terribly important matter. At first thought it’s obvious that there should be separate finishing lists for male and female. But on reflection I just thought it was an unique feature of long distance runner to have such little separation between genders and yet still break out finisher lists by gender and only by gender. I find it rather offensive to be labeled sexist in a knee-jerk fashion when I was hoping there might be more insightful commentary from readers rather than insults or calls for censorship.

            1. Liza

              Hi Joel, I’m very glad you found Meghan’s response useful. I agree. I am sorry you didn’t think any of the other responses were serious attempts at addressing the points you raised. While you might not have found them persuasive, satisfying, or thorough, I can assure you Gina, Eliot and I were serious when we wrote ours.

            2. JacobsA

              I have not once called you sexist, but I think it’s pretty important for you to back up your point there is not a statistical difference that would justify differentiating between top male and female. Yes, Meghan Hicks gave you a pretty resolute and quantitative answer and when you make assertions, burden of proof lies on you. Do you have background information pointing towards your abformentioned bell curve?

              Do you notice there are physiological differences between males and females that point to a statistical disparity between elite male and female finishers?

            3. Emerson Thoreau

              Joel, women are significantly inferior to men at strength and speed sports; this is a physiological reality. As such, women should not be lumped in with men in the results or awards. They rightfully deserve to compete in their own category. As for the issue of prize money and/or recognition, this is a societal and political issue upon which reasonable minds can differ, IMO.

            4. Alicia

              Meghan has provided some excellent statistics to justify the need for separate fields, but you have once again responded with vague, apparently unsupported claims of finishing times and physiological capabilities.

              I’d also like to add that if you “don’t think this is a terribly important matter,” then you are not considering this from the point of view of elite female athletes contending for sponsorship and award money. If we don’t have equal opportunities to compete for those, then talented women will have to find their way into other sports, depleting ultrarunning of inspiring female role models, and thus discouraging even more women at lower levels.

    3. SageCanaday

      IMO you have a couple false (and illogical) comparisons, Joel:

      1. “sex/gender” divisions are simply not comparable to “age/masters divisions”. There can and should be both of course (esp. masters “over 40 years old” etc), but this is not a valid comparison.

      2. “distance running” vs. “all other sports (like weight lifting).”

      Women have also been discriminated against in sport and have not been presented with equal opportunity in many, many cases. It is a shame to see and there is still much progress to be made!

  2. Liza

    Hey there Joel, JacobsA and Maria. My grumpy 3 year-old is not going to tolerate me sitting down to write a thoughtful response to your comments right now. I promise to weigh in as soon as she’s asleep tonight. I think we can have a respectful comment conversation about this. It’s a question that, while often addressed, still comes up for people. My 9 year-old was asking about it just the other day. Thanks for being patient!

    1. JacobsA

      No worries Liza, I think others have more eloquently backed up my points/ questions. I’m still waiting for Joel to make some objective points, as Meghan Hicks was able to do quite easily.

      1. Liza

        Hi JacobsA,
        Yup, the salient points have been covered well. For me, the recognition that both men and women benefit from running ultras is still important to the discussion. If ultrarunning is beneficial to both sexes, then it follows we shouldn’t want to discourage female participation. UTMB’s top-10 male/top 5 female disparity in recognition devalued women’s racing and, if it didn’t discourage greater female participation, it certainly didn’t reward it.

  3. Gina Lucrezi

    Hey All!

    First off, thanks so much for reading my post. I welcome the opinions and comments, there is not one person who has all or the answers, or is right, or is wrong.

    From my POV, I think UTMB was very correct to create equal podium spots for men and women. Yes, there are less women in the sport, but I don’t think that should suggest they don’t deserve the same rights.

    Women have always been playing “catch up” in terms of participation, interest, and equality in sports. The first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896, and it wasn’t till 1928 when women were finally allowed to compete Athletics at the Games. Thus, we will never be able to catch up if rules/regulations continue to be unbalanced.

    Men and women have different genetic make-ups, but that doesn’t mean we both don’t deserve the same opportunities and rewards.

    Again, I appreciate everyone’s thoughts and comments. I’m glad to see people discussing these issues. Thanks

    1. Amy

      Gina (and Trail Sisters) –

      While I respect your opinion, I still struggle with the equality of it. I believe there are two ways to look at it – as men and women getting equal opportunities based on number of podium spots or number of spots on a US Team, OR as men and women getting equal opportunities based on the % of men and women in the event.

      Taking UTMB as an example, in 2016 there were 281 females registered, and 2418 males registered. It means that females represented just over 10% of the participants. Recognizing the top 10 male means that the top 0.4% are on the podium, while recognizing the top 10 female means that the top 3.6% are on the podium.

      To me, that seems like women are granted more opportunities and rewards than the males – even recognizing the top 5 female (as UTMB did in the past) is still recognizing the top 1.8% which is greater than the 0.4% of men that are on the podium.

      Just one way of looking at things…

      1. SageCanaday

        “opportunity” isn’t the same as “recognition for podium/awards” though.

        As in your above example, it is quite obvious that in most ultra races there is a higher percentage of men….Usually not as uneven as UTMB, but fairly significant. If it was a road half marathon in the US, sometimes there are 55% women and only 45% men. There are probably way more women “distance runners” in the US compared to men in total.

        However, if looking at the competitive nature of an ultra race (and who is getting top 10 in the men’s race and the women’s race), it can be observed at times that the women’s top end field is actually more competitive than the men’s field despite there being less total women in the whole race. This may not have happened at UTMB (yet), but it for sure happens in a lot of other ultra races. There can be 10 super fast women in the “elite field”, and while there may only be several hundred women in the race. Likewise there can be thousands of “mid packer” men that will finish behind them.

  4. Eliot

    I was thinking along the lines of Gina’s additional comment, that it has been just within in our lifetimes that title IV has brought some degree of attention and resources to women’s sport.

    Sexist cultural messages and expectations that women shouldn’t engage seriously in physical performance are still pervasive – wonderful exceptions notwithstanding.

    Why not build out a bigger platform to celebrate women’s ultra running?

  5. Liza

    Now that the kids are asleep and the dust has settled, I wanted to weigh in with one more thought. One of the goals of the Trail Sisters monthly installment is to draw out some more comments from women. Fewer women typically comment on irunfar articles than men do. And I don’t think disinterest is the reason. Whatever it is, Gina, Pam and I want you to know that you don’t need to be an expert and you don’t need to be eloquent to participate in the discussions here. You certainly don’t need to be quick to respond. It’s just fine to express an imperfect idea. Shoot, those are the only kind of ideas I have most days. We can agree to disagree sometimes. Vigorously. But, you know, respectfully.
    Wade into the discussion. The water’s just fine.

    1. Maria

      The water is not fine when the first comment on an article about women’s running is by a man who is arguing for the elimination of women’s running.*

      I think you underestimate how chilling this is on the discussion.

      *From your post below: “We have a separate category for women because without it, no women would even make the Olympic Games . . . Without a women’s category, elite sport would be exclusively male.” (Ross Tucker)

      1. Liza

        Fair point, Maria. When you look at like that, my response does have a “why can’t we all just get along and chat about whether women really should be allowed to vote/drive/get equal pay” ring to it. Still, if someone’s not trolling, and genuinely doesn’t understand something and has questions, do you this comment section can be a place for them to ask and get input from other people?

        1. alicia

          Liza, I think “genuinely doesn’t understand” is hard to argue here. This question, and detailed explanations in response, have come up how many times on this website already?? Plus, his statements about how competitive women are in ultrarunning are easily shown to be false by looking at even just a few race results. In order for the question to be coming from a place of genuinely not understanding, he would need to (a) almost never read articles on this website that are about women’s running, (b) have never been to an ultra, (c) never looked through more than one or two ultra race results, and (d) have zero understanding of basic human physiology.

          1. Liza

            Your points are excellent.
            Still (!), my opinion is colored by my experiences running in South Texas for the last 10 years with people who would give me the shirt off their back — who have shared similar thoughts or questions — recently. And, I guess, I’ve taken the approach of “Well, you’re late pulling a chair up to this table, but let’s start talking.” For me, it’s been a challenge of persuasion. Certainly that tact might not be the best. I’m open to suggestions.

  6. Luke

    From my perspective it seemed like a great year for women’s ultrarunning, capped off with a flurry of great performances and new records (and fastest recorded times or whatever we’re calling non-record records).

    For me women provide equal inspiration and motivation as their male counterparts so I’m happy to see movement towards parity. I can’t read any discussion male/female sport, especially what is considered fair on the basis of genetic differences without thinking of some of the gender controversy in the Olympics (or really track in general, for for the casual fan that basically means Olympics). Any thoughts from the trail sisters or others on the place of transgender and intersex athletes in our sport? Is the male/female distinction in rankings/rewards really the only inevitable and immutable parsing of the field in a world where there is not even wide agreement on what qualifies one to compete as a female?

    Local So Cal RD Keira Henninger (Leona Divide, Ray Miller, Sean O’Brien and others) runs some women-focused events, and I just today got an invitation to a training retreat/camp for women in Boulder this coming June:

    1. Liza

      Ross Tucker, PhD has an excellent article on the complexities of the topic of intersex athletes from back in July. “The Caster Semenya debate” This part applies to the Joel’s discussion too:
      “We have a separate category for women because without it, no women would even make the Olympic Games (with the exception of equestrian). Most of the women’s world records, even doped, lie outside the top 5000 times run by men. Radcliffe’s marathon WR, for instance, is beaten by between 250 and 300 men per year. Without a women’s category, elite sport would be exclusively male.

      That premise hopefully agreed, we then see that the presence of the Y-chromosome is THE single greatest genetic “advantage” a person can have. That doesn’t mean that all men outperform all women, but it means that for elite sport discussion, that Y-chromosome, and specifically the SRY gene on it, which directs the formation of testes and the production of Testosterone, is a key criteria on which to separate people into categories.”

      1. Liza

        That was the first article I was going to link to. :) I don’t think this is a rabbit hole at all, but maybe a topic for a post of its own — something we were asking for for 2017. Thanks!

  7. Cinda

    There have been some great accomplishments and achievements this year! I would be interested to see some discussion about balance and how to do it all just good enough. Parenting, working, running…how to fit it all in in a satisfying way. Is it possible? It’s something that’s been on my mind a lot in the past few years. I’d love to see more on how others have made it work out.

    I find the discussion about gender equality really interesting. I work in a predominantly male career, and while there’s been lots of training to try to get folks to understand differences and break down barriers, they most certainly still are alive and well. Sometimes I will speak up and other times I won’t. It will take time for society to really grasp what equality looks like as I feel like it’s still being defined, tried on, felt out. Lots of new language and ways of showing inclusivity are emerging. I feel the increase in recognition to 10 females in UTMB to equal the males recognized seems to be just that – more equal. Regardless of the percentage of runners that it represents, overall it’s showing that women matter as much as men. Many find incentive in reward, and if we can recognize both genders equally it gives that perception and image that everyone counts. If you see 10 men and 5 ladies up on a podium, that gives an image, makes a statement. If we want more women to get into the sport, having women to look up to can be a driving force for that change. Yes, there are truly people out there that are glass ceiling shatterers, but for the majority of us that doesn’t define who we are. It helps to have others pave the way then be recognized for their accomplishments.

    In general, I feel that in our society girls are brought up with cultural norms that become rules for life. Be a good girl: be agreeable, don’t push the boundaries, be quiet, amongst others…or you won’t be good enough, loved enough, etc. Our society is inherently patriarchal and this bleeds into many aspects of our everyday lives. You can see this in the discussion above. I understand the intimidation of not wanting to speak up when being challenged because it goes against that voice inside telling me that I will be wrong to do so. Having this place as a venue for education is fantastic and I hope that the conversation can continue in a respectful yet questioning way. That’s how we are going to move toward change. I hope that further opportunities for discussion can help to open the aperture and break barriers in conditioned thinking about the place of women in running and in our culture as a whole.

    1. Gina Lucrezi

      Heck yeah Cinda! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! You make great points about our society, and like you, I agree that we need more people and places to share/discuss our thoughts in hopes of creating a better understanding for all. Thanks so much for your support!

    2. Alice

      Cinda, I very much relate. Work in male dominated field – and it’s actually a good point you make – if there are only 2 women on a team but 25 men, yet the women do a better job, should they not both get recognized because they would be a higher % of their gender? I know it’s a different concept, than running, but for me too, it seems closely related. Running of course is much more gender respectful. Thank you for your comment!

  8. Ronan

    Following women’s ultra running this season has been intense with fantastic races in every continent! I have only been into the sport for 1 year but I’m already very passionate! One of the best aspects is that we get double treat on each race: both women and men races are competitive and really entertaining. I love how inclusive and welcoming the ultra trail spirit is: not only do you get male and female podiums, but plenty more! Most races have several age category podiums and the crowd will cheer on until the last runner arrives and even gets interviewed. When I go to a race I love watching all the different podiums, kids, men, women, and people double my age crushing it, and sharing their joy. I am very grateful to the people from iRunfar for all the race coverage and eagerly follow all the Stravas, Instagrams, Twitters and Facebooks I can get hold of. Lots of ladies share their great experiences on social media and I find them very inspiring. I look forward to reading plenty more from Trail Sisters in 2017! All I can ask for next year is more coverage and women participation!

  9. Markus

    I think the problem is, that female runners are well established in ultrarunning. They are seen as equal competitors by most men. And yet female runners are not only disadvantaged by biology layout but also on a sociological level.

    It’s probably time to start separate finisher lists.

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