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KP's Ironman South Africa race report
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KP




Joined: 07 Aug 2006
Posts: 257
Location: London

PostPosted: Fri Apr 30, 2010 11:29 am    Post subject: KP's Ironman South Africa race report Reply with quote

Ironman South Africa 2010 - apologies for the length of the report… but then again it was a long trip!

My Ironman journey really started in July 2006 in Klagenfurt when I had my first IM experience supporting my now husband smallangry-Andrew through an epic debut at IM Austria. I think it may have been Whisk or his wife who I said to at the briefing that I certainly wouldn’t be doing one of these mad events… “I don’t do swimming”, “maybe I’ll do a duathlon”, no chance I thought!

So fast forwarding a few years, including lots of swimming, several half-IMs and the guidance of a proper coach (the excellent Mark Tickner) to get me into something approximating Ironman readiness, I found myself on the way to Port Elizabeth to take part in my first Ironman in the 6th edition of Ironman South Africa. Or did I…

The build-up

As many people know the build-up to my race was less than conventional. The plan started to go wrong 10 days before the race with the eruption of the unpronounceable Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland and the cancellation of all flights in and out of the UK. With one week to go my flight to South Africa was cancelled, and with no guarantee there would be flights before the end of the week it was time for a different approach!

After a frantic few hours of trying to line up alternatives we were off to the Portsmouth ferry terminal to join the thousands of people trying to get to northern Spain, which had escaped the ash cloud and still had flights available. By the time I left the UK on Monday evening I had managed to secure a ticket to PE for the Thursday after the race (thanks Iberia, very helpful), plus a ticket to Johannesburg for the Thursday before the race, the only drawback being that I would have to change in Cairo, I had no onward connection to PE, and I was massively over the baggage limit of 20kg. Minor problems thought I, or at least better than no flights at all, and off I went. Andrew decided to hold out for his flight which was due to leave the UK on Thursday night, I wasn’t at all sure he was going to make it.

The advantage of a 36hr ferry to Bilbao was that at least there was plenty of time to rest, if not to actually ride my bike, acclimatise to the South African heat or do all the things I had planned to be doing. I did visit the gym and pool but as their combined size was a few square metres and they were well below sea level I decided the complimentary champagne was a better option! The most eventful stage of the trip was on arrival in Spain where I had to carry the bike box down several flights of stairs off the ferry, across Bilbao on the metro, negotiate the metro escalators in central Bilbao in the middle of rush hour and eventually get my now slightly battered box and I onto a coach to Madrid with a plan to try and get one of the flights to South Africa out of Madrid later on the Wednesday.

The 5 hour coach trip did at least allow time for sorting out the flights mess, which eventually meant I was able to transfer my Iberia tickets to an early morning flight on the Thursday which got me to PE on Thursday evening. This was probably the first time since my flight was cancelled the previous weekend that I was actually reasonably sure I was going to make it!

Sure enough by 1am Thursday after 9 hours at the airport I was finally on a plane from Madrid, landing in PE on Thursday evening in darkness, rain and gale force winds. I was aching all over from 3 days of carrying the bike box through various means of public transport but I was in town and ready to race. I hadn’t trained since leaving the UK 75 hours earlier, the taper had pretty much gone to pieces but at least the race was on!

Before the race

Despite a few concerns about travelling alone to SA, I found PE completely welcoming from the moment I arrived. Our accommodation was on the run course and within 2-3k of the start, and by Friday morning the Ironman circus was in full swing. A quick swim on Friday morning showed there was already quite a swell, although I was hopeful that my most recent open water swim experience of rough and choppy conditions in the ITU Long Course in ‘09 in Perth would stand me in good stead, it couldn’t be as bad as that, surely…

To my surprise BA and the volcano had got their act together and Andrew arrived on Friday lunchtime after a far less eventful trip. We attended the race briefing and pasta party on the Friday night which was only notable for the fact they were in a large out of town warehouse which looked like something you might see in Dr Who, not the best choice of venue but I know it was necessary to move the venue this year due to the ever increasing number of athletes. One slight surprise was that the bike course has been diverted slightly due to one of the roads being dug up; the race director regretfully informed us that the diversion would take us through an area with a few speed bumps. He neglected to tell us that in addition to these there were around 15 speed bumps in various different areas to be negotiated on each lap of the 3 lap course!!

Another swim on Saturday to convince myself that the conditions were nothing to worry about, short bike and run fitted in, bike and bags checked in, first layers of the factor 50 suncream applied and it was time for an early night.

Having felt reasonably relaxed on Saturday night I was surprised to find it very difficult to sleep and I certainly had a few nerves about the day to come. As this was my first Ironman my biggest priority was to pace the swim and bike sensibly in order to be able to run well. Having said that, the bike is my biggest strength and I was keen to make up as much time here as I could so I was intending to push pretty hard.

Race day

Alarm at 3.30am, peanut butter sandwiches in, timing chip and Fusion kit on and we were off. A few difficulties finding parking with some unexpected road closures were resolved and we were at the start in plenty of time to get a swim warm-up in before making our way on to the beach for the start. As the sun came up it was clear that the waves crashing on to the beach were larger than we had seen in the previous few days, possibly not helped by the several helicopters now circling the race start!

It was a beautiful morning and the drummers and dancers really added to the atmosphere. I followed the advice at the race briefing and seeded myself with the slower swimmers on the left, found myself some clear space on the beach, tried to collect my thoughts and waited for the cannon to go off.

Swim

I have always found mass starts quite difficult and I have never been a great fan of the biff associated with them. This start was much better than most and as we ran into the ocean I quickly found some space. I knew the first 200m towards the first buoy had the biggest waves and I was looking forward to getting past this area and into some clear water to get a good rhythm. I’ve worked really hard on my swimming this year and was confident that the technical improvements and fitness gains I had made would bring me in close to my 1.08-1.10 target.

Unfortunately as I neared the first buoy it was clear that if anything the waves and choppy seas were getting worse. It was almost impossible to see the buoys over the waves and I found myself cursing the helicopters that I was sure were to blame for the change in conditions since the previous day (in reality I’m sure they were too far away to have much if any impact, but at the time I was sure they were responsible!)

It was impossible to avoid taking in some salt water but I tried to keep breathing away from the biggest waves which seemed to help. I tried a few times to get on some feet but I gave up after a while as most people around me were stopping every 20 seconds or so to get their bearings and I got tired of swimming into people and being swum into by others. I managed to get some rhythm on the second half of the first lap and hit the beach as they were announcing the leading men were about 6 mins away – I wasn’t wearing a watch but figured this meant the time was around 40mins and I was looking at a 1.20 time, I wasn’t too unhappy with this given the conditions. As I ran on to the beach for the turnaround I and several others were knocked down by a huge wave, this wasn’t a massive problem in itself but led to shooting cramp in my left calf which I hoped wouldn’t become a feature of the day.

The second lap was uneventful other than being caught by another big wave early on, swallowing another large mouthful of salt water which brought me almost to the edge of seasickness. I managed to shake this off and continue but I was a little shaken and looking forward to getting out of the water and onto the bike. Through the beach showers and up the steps to transition added another minute or so to the time and I was into transition in 1.22.

I was told later that conditions were so rough they considered shortening the swim, with hindsight I’m glad they didn’t as I wanted to do the full distance, but I probably wouldn’t have minded at the time!

Target time: 1.10
Actual time: 1.22

T1

I can’t remember a massive amount of this other than a sense of relief that the swim was done, as always my legs were very wobbly and I had to sit down to get my wetsuit off with the help of one of the many volunteers. I’m not sure quite how I filled 8 minutes as it seemed to pass very quickly and pretty soon I was off on the bike.

Target time: 5 mins
Actual time: 8 mins

Bike

This was the part of the race I was really looking forward to. After a winter of long rides in 2008-09 I discovered somewhat to my surprise that I am a reasonably competitive cyclist. 8 years of rowing training must have been useful for something! I have worked hard on my endurance and speed since then and was full of confidence coming up to the race that I would make some ground on my competition in this area. As this race was reasonably early in the season I hadn’t yet done any rides over 100 miles, but I had ridden 85 miles a few weeks earlier and I felt ready for the task ahead.

Contrary to my expectations before the race, the bike course is neither particularly fast nor particularly flat. The first 10km are essentially uphill, including the diversion and the first set of speed bumps. The road surface is also quite rough and I saw a succession of people changing punctures throughout each lap. I was praying that I wouldn’t get a puncture - although I had the knowledge and tools to change one (and had changed 3 in the UK over the last few weeks) the addition of deep section wheels and a wheel cover for the rear had left my bike looking superb but was likely to cause me a few technical difficulties if a repair was needed.

My plan for the first lap was to ride in Z2 HR which for me is a maximum of 156. Inevitably I saw Z3 a few times on the hill but I followed this plan pretty rigidly as I had no intention of blowing up early in the bike course. After the 10km climb the descent over the next 10km is sweeping and fast, exactly my kind of roads where you can get up to speed without the technical difficulty that some twisty descents require. I was passing people all the time and passed a few girls in my age group which was encouraging as I suspected after the swim that I was fairly low down. Andrew told me later that I was 23rd in my AG after the swim and up to 10th after the first 60km of the bike!

Halfway through the lap you turn right towards Sardinia Bay and head towards the coast which you then follow all the way back to PE. Several more speed bumps in this section which were unwelcome, they are difficult to spot and I’m pretty sure I got airborne at one point after hitting one at speed! The section around the coast is fairly dull and requires some mental resolve to keep the pace up, but I was feeling good and sticking to the plan. It was in this section that I began to see some large packs on the bike, I overtook a few large groups of men who were clearly drafting – it didn’t seem worth the effort to make much comment so I thought a bemused look from me as a solitary female going past the lot of them was probably sufficient. I hit the town for lap 1 at around 1.55 so pretty much on target. You pass through the town at the end of every bike and run loop and the support was brilliant, loads of people had set out their gazebos and barbeques early on and gave great encouragement throughout the day. Saw Andrew along this section and gave him the thumbs up, I expected him to be concerned after the swim time and wanted to reassure him that I was doing fine.

The second lap was uneventful, this was the lap which I had planned to do almost entirely in Z3 (157-163) so an opportunity for some hammer and to make up some good time. The hardest part for me about really racing hard throughout the whole day was the constant concentration on pace, HR and nutrition required at all times. The key to this is certainly having a plan and sticking to it, and trying not to get distracted by the temptation to race everyone around you! I was pleased to see at the turnaround that there were no girls anywhere near me so I felt I had consolidated my position and was hopefully making up some ground on those ahead. I also chatted to a South African guy I think called Jamie who hit the turnaround with me and informed me that I “should win a prize for the sexiest kit he’d seen on the bike so far”…

Same issue with some drafting packs on the return leg, I was passing numerous guys with pointy helmets and disc wheels who maybe should have spent a little more time training and a little less on kit Wink A few times I would turn a corner and as the shadows moved I would notice someone stuck tight to my wheel, my reaction was generally to sit up, look around, look faintly puzzled (implication “I’m a girl, what exactly are you doing on my wheel??”) and as the day went on I became more vocal in encouraging people to back off. Midway through the second lap I suddenly noticed to my alarm that my aerobars were pointing downwards at an angle of around 30 degrees. I really didn’t want to lose a few minutes to stop and tighten them, I found I could pull them back to a level position (or indeed pointing slightly upwards, oooops), I set my weight firmly on the pads with none on the shifters and resolved to keep an eye on things from now on and cross my fingers on the descents. I was also aware at this point I was probably not drinking enough, I was well stocked with Powerbar drink and water but the bumpy roads made drinking from the aero bottle at speed very difficult. I resolved to drink more, keep the gels coming in and above all keep the pace up. I hit the town in around 3.48 still feeling good and starting to think a sub 5.40 time might be possible after all.

Two major events on the final lap meant that was unlikely to happen. First on the long climb out of town I hit another set of bumps crossing the railway line and lost my final Powerbar bottle out of my rear bottle cage. I decided not to go back for this; I had a bottle of Powerade from the aid stations plus several more aid stations remaining on the lap where I could stock up. More importantly, as I negotiated the fast descent gripping tightly to my ever so slightly loose aerobars and praying I wouldn’t hit a bump which would cause them to drop and myself to come off (think George Hincapie in Paris Roubaix), I did hit a massive bump, the bars were fine but the strap on my Garmin snapped and it hung in place only as it was trapped between my left arm and aero bottle. I managed to grab it before I lost it completely (difficult at 35mph!) but with no way of fixing it on the move it was into the pocket with the Garmin and goodbye to pacing and HR data for the day. I pressed on focusing on RPE and trying to keep my effort level high but not excessive, but in reality my legs were tired, I was concerned about pushing too hard and most of all I was looking forward to the end of the bike. My Garmin beeps every mile so I spent my time counting the beeps from my back pocket and had a mini celebration when I had completed my first ever century ride. Inevitably I got out of sync or missed a few beeps and was disappointed when I hit the 170k mark convinced I only had 3 miles left! The section around the university makes up the last few miles of the bike and run course and this part of the course is fairly lonely without much support – I passed many runners already out on the course and I was daunted to think I would soon be one of them. A brisk headwind had also got up and the last 10 miles were definitely the toughest of the day, I knew I was losing time but I didn’t feel I could push any harder and just wanted to get back. Under the Schenker special needs sign with 2k to go and I arrived in transition with the race time at about 7.20 and a bike split of 5.48. As I dismounted and left my shoes on the bike I found my legs on the verge of giving way beneath me and I knew the hard miles on the bike were going to take their toll on the run.

Target time: 5.45
Actual time: 5.48

T2

Staggered into the change tent thinking I am struggling to walk and with no real idea how I would be able to run. My plan was to be very conservative and take the first 3 miles very easy to give the legs time to recover, and then hopefully move towards 8.5-9min mile pace as I felt better. I remember feeling very nervous about the prospect of running a marathon having never covered more than 16 miles in one go. A quick loo stop and it was time to hit the road.

Target time: 3 mins
Actual time: 5 mins

Run

As I set out on the first lap I was not feeling great, legs heavy, hamstrings quite tight and most of all I felt dehydrated and desperately in need of water. The sun was still out and the wind had dropped so I knew the first lap would be pretty hot before the air cooled later in the day. The run course is 3 laps, each of which consists of a 4km out and back section followed by a 10km loop around the university. I felt like I plodded the first couple of km, got some water at 1km and my first wrist band at the 2km turnaround which cheered me up and helped me get my focus back on the task ahead. I am very accustomed to running to HR and pace and was a little lost without any data to rely on – my race plan had been to try and run steady for laps 1 and 2 and think about stepping it up if I was feeling good at lap 3, so this was going to be all about feel.

Another compliment from a spectator on the race kit which was apparently “the best we’ve seen so far today,” a little unlikely I thought as there was at least one pro in a swimsuit who had flown past long ago and who Andrew had felt obliged to take photos of (step forward Bree Wee).

I got straight into the habit of walking each aid station which worked well and I made a real effort to get some coke down at every opportunity. They give the water out in cold plastic packets which you have to tear open with your teeth – in my slightly out of it state at the first aid station I didn’t understand what you were meant to do and how to get at the water, but once this had been clarified to me I got into a good routine of holding the cold packet against my neck, wrists, head etc on and off for a km or so, then breaking into it (usually showering myself in the process), wetting my arm coolers and sipping water gradually for a km or so until the next aid station came around.

To my surprise and great relief I realised as I approached the mid point of the first lap that I was feeling fine and able to focus on running well. It was difficult to determine my pace in the heat and without precise knowledge of my HR but I felt like I was being conservative and estimated it to be around or slightly over the 9 minute per mile mark which was a little slower than my planned pace but fine for now. Each km marker has the distance for each of the 3 laps (e.g. 7km, 21km, 35km) so as I passed the 7km mark I thought about focusing on getting to halfway at that stage of the next lap and then only having a half marathon to go. As I came around the University for the few km back into town I passed Bella Bayliss who was walking by the side of the road, I assumed to withdraw from her second lap. As I passed she looked round and said well done which I was quite touched by as she was presumably having a disappointing time in her own race and it was nice of her to take the time to speak to me. I said the same to her and pressed on, hoping she still might have time to get back on track later in the race. It was nice to see Andrew in town again who I think said I was looking good and that my pace was spot on. I’d got used to the lack of HR data by this stage and was just trying to run as even paced as possible without pushing too hard and cramping or damaging something.

I expected the second lap to be the toughest and in a way it was, although it being autumn the sun was sinking and the heat not so bad. I had realised by this point that a daylight finish (and sub 11hr time) was not going to happen but I thought I could be close to 11.30 if I kept running well and had no disasters on the last lap. I kept thinking of the various quotes from IM athletes about the race only starting at the 30km point on the run and resolved to keep things steady until 32km and start to push harder once I was into the last 10km. By this time I was already into unchartered territory in terms of how far I had run, let alone with the swimming/cycling beforehand - I had no idea how my body would react if I pushed harder and I certainly didn’t want to ruin a good day by pushing too hard too soon.

Third lap turnaround and I get my third and final wrist band, by this stage I know I’m going to finish and remind myself to keep it calm and that I still have 12km to go. I have no idea of my time or place in AG although I think I’m in around 4th or 5th, turns out there were 2 seriously fast girls even further up the road who I missed. But there is no-one close in front or behind so I relax that I’m going to hold my position which had seemed unlikely when I first set out on the run. By this time many people on the course are walking so I continue to pass people which is a good feeling, the support on the course is still great and the sun is setting so I try and enjoy the moment and consider the fact that I am less than an hour away from becoming an Ironman.

With 8km to go I pass two people walking and talking about the fact it is 5.45pm and they are hoping to beat 12 hours, I realise I am not going to make 11.20 but that if I push hard the 11.30 may still be on. By this time I’m pushing harder every km but I can feel my legs are fading and I’m not sure if I’m even going any quicker. The last 5km seem to take an age until I finally reach the 40km marker, grab my last water and run the last 2km as fast as I am able. I hit the crossover towards the finish line at 42km with the beginnings of major cramp in both legs but this is not going to stop me, I pass a few more people as I round transition and turn into the finish chute, slowing up to enjoy the moment and give the athlete in front space to finish. I see the clock says 11.31 but I don’t care, I remind myself to take time to enjoy this moment, I vaguely hear my name being called and the famous “you are an Ironman” (I am unaware at this stage of my parents, Mark and various others also watching live online!!) as I run through the cheerleaders and cross the finish line.

Target time: 4.00
Actual time: 4.07

Overall race time: 11.31.55

7th in W25-29, 30th female and 336th overall.


The aftermath

In the few days since the race I’ve tried to reflect on the achievement of completing a race like this, and why we choose to put ourselves out there in the first place. For me, I am driven most of all by the desire to see what I am capable of, to train my body and push my limits to the very edge of what I am able to achieve. I was not in any doubt that I could complete an Ironman, but overcoming the challenges of the day (some planned for, some unexpected) and having the mental toughness to keep going in the more difficult moments is something any Ironman competitor should be proud of.

Port Elizabeth is a great location for this race and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone considering it – the course is not the easiest, and it is often hot and/or windy, but it is a spectacular location and a huge event for the town who really get behind the event and the athletes.

Finally (and I know this is long…) a few thanks, to Andrew who is most responsible for setting me out on this journey and who has put up manfully with me training all hours the last 6 months while being frustrated with injuries himself and not always able to train to the level he would like, to my coach Mark who has over 18 months transformed me from quite a good all-rounder to someone who might just be competitive if they string it all together, and of course to the TT massive who help make the journey fun and always provide advice and inspiration where needed.

Next for me is IM Austria in July, where I’ll be chasing down the sub-11…


Last edited by KP on Sun May 02, 2010 10:28 am; edited 1 time in total
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2 scheds




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PostPosted: Fri Apr 30, 2010 11:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

6th in AG in your first race - Wow!

Well done and great report.

Clap
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la marquise




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PostPosted: Fri Apr 30, 2010 12:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great report KP.
Strange how the office gets really dusty just whenever I'm reading about the pain near the end of the race and the elation of running down the finishing chute.
Best get this straight on the top race reports sticky...
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Whisk




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PostPosted: Fri Apr 30, 2010 12:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great race and great report! You should fly in Austria Cool

It sounds like a really good event. I can feel a business trip to South Africa in late April next year coming on Wink
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The Iain




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PostPosted: Fri Apr 30, 2010 12:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great work on the race and overcoming things going OTW.

And great report!
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 30, 2010 12:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Not bad, for a girl Wink

ok, it was absolutely brilliant Laura, was cheering at the laptop/athlete tracker Very Happy Cool
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WhittleFit




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PostPosted: Fri Apr 30, 2010 1:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great report! Which Fusion kit did you use, power top, suit, etc?

Sub 11 at Austria here we come!!!
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 30, 2010 3:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

brilliant. well done. Cool
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neillm




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PostPosted: Fri Apr 30, 2010 4:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Awesome effort .... especially after the adventure just getting there!!!

My self-imposed Ironman exile is getting harder to bare reading reports like that!!
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 30, 2010 7:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great report, Laura, and what a fantastic achievement. I'm sure the stress of the travel disruptions and the extra (physical) effort you had to make to get there must have taken their toll on your energy reserves....so what a terrific result! Clap

Funny how Austria 2006 was the start of your IM journey...it was mine, too, when I went to support a friend who was racing. Good luck there this year!
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 30, 2010 9:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Cleo wrote:
Great report, Laura, and what a fantastic achievement. I'm sure the stress of the travel disruptions and the extra (physical) effort you had to make to get there must have taken their toll on your energy reserves....so what a terrific result! Clap


+1 I was thinking the same. It wasn't a walk in the park to get there. So double congrats!!!

Austria is going to feel like a breeze
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 30, 2010 9:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great reading Laura. Was so relieved that you arrived in SA in time and was tracking you online that day and was really thrilled to see you finish.

Lucky I wasn't racing SA as I would have given you a run for your money and challenged your female placing Wink PMSL!
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 30, 2010 10:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

KP-tastic Cool
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PostPosted: Sat May 01, 2010 12:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great report and performance KP. Well done and full throttle for Austria Smile
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PostPosted: Sat May 01, 2010 4:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

excellent result
very well done
now abit of rest before keeping up there for nxt IM
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