E65 - Gill Bland, The Marathon Runner
E65 - Gill Bland, The Marathon Runner

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Gill's story as a Christian, mother and marathon runner is inspiring. Taking up marathon running in 2011, Gill progressed to a personal best of 2:53:22 in 2016, all while working and more recently becoming a mum.

Listen for how Gill's identity in Christ is game-changing for her sport, church, to family life.

0:00 Intro and Jill's bio
1:30 What does it mean to have your sport and faith connected?
3:16 How Gill got into running marathons
5:52 Running highlights, and challenges so far
9:35 How does Gill balance running, work, church and family life?
13:53 What's it like to share faith with other runners?
17:21 Is it hard for people in church to understand your commitment to running?
20:21 Positive changes and possible pitfalls for women's running as the sport evolves.
26:33 Coming back to running after pregnancy
30:51 Has running shaped your faith?
33:57 Outro


Transcript generated by AI - A more accurate version will be available soon

Brian Glynn: Great. Well, thanks for joining us on the Christian Sport podcast today. We've got a fantastic guest. Gill is a top amateur marathon runner and she went straight in the deep end. She I think her first ever road race was Mablethorpe Marathon back in 2011, and she's been running marathons ever since, including winning the Bournemouth Marathon in 2019 and setting a personal best of 2:53:22 which is pretty rapid at the Florence Marathon in 2016.

She's currently running at Huncote Harriers up in Leicestershire and she works in media, including having worked for a long time at the BBC and she regularly contributes as a freelance. It's a fast running dot com and the run test is on YouTube. Gill’s married and has a six year old son, Monty, and another baby on the way. In fact, she won the Oulton Park Marathon back in November, was 20 weeks pregnant.

And Gill often speaks about what it's like to train and compete as a top amateur runner whilst balancing family and work and is deeply passionate about women's running from grassroots up to the top level. So, Gill thanks so much for coming on to the podcast. ,

Gill Bland: Thanks very much for inviting me on, and to be in such good good company.

Brian Glynn: Yeah, well, yeah, as I'm sure you will. You'll, you'll, you'll learn over the course of this podcast that both myself and Gill very passionate runners. So if you, if you're into running, then you'll probably find this a good lesson and this is the Play Connected podcast after all. So the first question that we always start with is what does it mean for you to able to have your sport and your faith connected?

Gill Bland: Yeah, I think the first thing with that is just very grateful and the fact that I don't have to get it right the first time in time and that like that. Obviously the kind of key thing about the Christian faith since my God forgives us when we mess up and if we if we just him saying, I don't get it right every time, if I got it right, perfectly, it would be something like am the freedom to enjoy everything that running offers me without the kind of wrong emphasis or the sort of negative connotations of competitiveness and things like that.

So it would mean, you know, the desire to do the best, do it to the best of my ability, because that comes from the fact that I believe that God has created me with that. And so, you know, Born to Want to run, basically. And so the kind of the freedom that that gives to go out and try and do my best, but knowing that actually, you know, it's not the be all and end all in the best way possible that I am valuable in exactly the same way regardless of whether I score PB or not or whether I win a race or anything.

And just I mean, you know, like when you're out running, sometimes it is a slog. But there are those moments when you look around you and you either you suddenly notice spring or something just catches your eye and and think, wow. Or you just get that feeling of slow and tend to kind of know why it and why it is so enjoyable because it's something that God has given me and kind of adds extra meaning.

So I think.

Brian Glynn: That's that's yeah really helpful picture of of of kind of how your your sport and your your faith fit together. Let's just rewind kind of to the beginning of your, your running journey to start off with. And most of it certainly for me as a youngster, I got into running on the track kind of shorter distances, 8/1500 . But you, you went straight in with the marathon. So talk us through how that how that happened, why it was that you started with the marathon and yeah, tell us a bit about that.

Gill Bland: Yeah. So I mean this may play into the fact that I'm so passionate now about women's running and, and grassroots to, to kind of top amateur. But basically I went to girls girls school growing up and we didn't do that much sport there wasn't that much emphasis on I wasn't naturally adept at sports. We did I don't think it was about school or anything like that, but it's just kind of how it panned out at the time.

So it wasn't until my degree started living and working in London and I went to catch a train and I ran down the platform and I realized I was really out of breath and I thought, gosh, but I'm, you know, I've barely started my working life and I'm already in that state. I don't have enough money to do on the gym.

And I'm just going to go out and run around the block and kind of started off doing that. And then over time, I ended up in a job that had shift work. And so I was off at times when all the people were busy. So we just used to go out and Forrest Gump basically along the canal in London and in London and things like that, and kind of kept getting further and further with no real structure.

And then then my now husband and I decided that we wanted to end the London Marathon because we lived in London and that sort of thing that you do on your bucket list. And he's very good at kind of research. And he found out that Mablethorpe Marathon was really fall flat fast and cheap marathon to enter. And we thought, well, we can't fast with the pilot, so we'll we'll try that.

Let's see if we can get to a strange place which looking back must have been overoptimistic carousels. But somehow I managed to pull it off and that's kind of where that came from. So it was just that thing of like marathon running is a lot about stubbornness, to be honest. And, you know, I didn't have the speed because I hadn't developed speed when I was younger and and it was something I could just go out and do with with minimal kit.

And so that's kind of how I got into it. And yeah, and, and it never stopped. But if you.

Brian Glynn: Yeah, so you say it never stops. So why don't you, why don't you just take us through what it's been like since running that first marathon in Mablethorpe up to, up to today. Maybe some of some of the real highlights of your journey, Some a couple of things maybe you've learned. And what were the what been the challenges so far?

Gill Bland: Yes, I mean, I did a couple of other Parsons after that, so I did Bournemouth Marathon and then London again and I ended up entering a kind of more than a competition, but I think so they wanted a group of athletes for athletics. Please want Essex to run Manchester Marathon with a particular target and they wanted to follow them through and they would coach you.

And so I signed up for that and I got accepted. So that was my first sort of target on sub three and my first kind of experience of working with a coach who took one look at what I've been doing and said, Well, yeah, you basically battled your way to your marathon finds the moment, let's put some finesse in there.

And again I think that probably fed into the fact I've just qualified as a coach now and I love that whole jigsaw of trying to work out and so I went and did Manchester Marathon and I ran it in 3 hours and one second and yeah, how it turns out, I mean, like I got all the plot and everything and this is one of his more entertaining ones I found in that I spent a year thinking all I needed to do was shake one second of that sign.

Actually, it transpired the course for sure, and I was probably about one minute, 15 seconds. But because I had that belief that it was only one second, I went back and ran on time. The next June. And I got involved later on in some of the kind of running crucible I running through in London. Absent running, it had its challenges in that obviously, like different people who are approaching running from a different point of view to me.

So they would put like on a on a different level of pedestal or you know, might put different financial or time priorities on it to what I would be doing. But it was amazing. They you know, I ended up doing track sessions and they lots of the people that would travel abroad to marathon so that's all going out to Lake Garda to the marathon boat and and that kind of really built things up And then I joined Power West Mystics Club and again that kind of that running career was like a gateway into an athletics club that can be quite overwhelming and I was lucky enough to be part of Euston Church, which has strong

links with Christians in sport. And so, you know, it was quite supportive as well. And I know that like one of the challenges is particularly like Sunday races and how does that church and and you know, prioritize and things like that. I was listening to one of the other podcast guys saying, you know, if you're a musician, you play in church, what do you do if you're a spokesperson?

And that really rang true. It's hard to know how that fits, but Euston did a pretty good job of kind of engaging with that, and I think that really helps. So yeah, and I managed to set my PB at, as you say, in Florence and then went through facility treatment to have multi, which obviously has an impact on you running.

So my time was kind of dipped then but there were different priorities in my life. And then since then it's kind of been back from pregnancy the first time round and building up again. And I've had only about two injuries in my time running career, which I'm very grateful for. And despite being incredibly frustrating and and now I'm kind of at that stage again, running through pregnancy, which is it's an interesting situation to navigate.

Brian Glynn: Yeah, I'm sure. And I think we'll dig into that and in just a bit. And before before we do, why don't you you spoke a lot about athletics club, about church, a bit about family life. How how do you fit that all in and and how do you balance those different priorities?

Gill Bland: I am quite frequently badly. And so, yeah, I mean, I, I would say and I always I make an effort on my Instagram and things like that to say unchristian first and then mother and then run to those and weigh my orders. But, you know, I'm not always the greatest working out in practice, but in, you know, in reality, what happens is normally I try and get my runs done in ways that don't and or impact as little as possible on family and church life.

So that often involves getting up early in the morning, whatever. But I'm very lucky to have a supportive husband team. You know, will be there if the multi wakes up and needs something. He's he's there on a thing where that's not available to most people. But yeah, so normally I'd be getting up you know and if it's peak marathon training I might be getting up at six in the morning to get out and get a session done and, and then back in time, Steve will have started doing breakfast with Monty and then also I can in school and which is I can just up the road and then come home and work and or I

might if I've got a gap in the middle of the day, I might try and get work earlier and then do a run in the middle of the day. I've got some great friends from the running club live nearby and we would try and train together as possible, which is really nice. And I start doing double days in my last marathon block, which has its own challenge.

And so that might be like in the evening on the treadmill or something like that, just to try and stretch that on. And and then, yeah, so church wise, you know, we would try and we would prioritize and something at church where possible. We're really lucky in that our church service is at 4:00 on a Sunday afternoon, which actually fits nicely for running races.

That hasn't been the case in the past. And you know, like growing up and my parents brought me out with a real strong ethos of like Sunday services come first and not from like a kind of legalistic point of view. But I think that was really helpful because it helped me frame things the right way. So there have been times like when we've had to say, Yeah, you're good at pulling me up on this because I'll get excited about races and want to do more.

And they'll say, Well, that means you're missing like three. Sometimes in a row. I was like, yeah, that's not a great idea. That one's not essential. That's ditch that one. Yeah. So do you judge on Sundays? I help with the kids groups. I might be leader and creche or and you know, the young kids group and then we be leading a mid-week Bible study group as well, which is a real mix of people.

And again, it's just a really great bit in the middle of the week to kind of reset your mind because when you're in the depths of marathon training, particularly, you know, everything is about, have I got enough sleep in the morning? Things like what shoes? And we're going away for my next session. Did I hit my split? It's all consuming and I love that.

But having a Wednesday night where you were looking at the Bible with some people to have a whole bunch of other stuff going on in their lives and have different perspectives is really great. You know, even if that wasn't like saying, you know, if I wasn't a Christian and I wasn't doing that, I think I'd recommend to someone who is running marathons to find something else, they have to kind of reset that.

But obviously, I would say that studying the Bible is the best thing to do that because it just affects your whole world. And yeah, so and then, you know, weekends will be a long run. So that again, won't be getting up early and trying to kind of fit that in, getting 20 miles kind of first thing on the Saturday morning and then saying, Right, I'm on duty for the rest day.

You know, you take in the morning, whatever, when in reality I'm probably quite grumpy because I'm tired and hungry. And so that's what I mean about I don't always do it well. So I think it doesn't affect the rest of life, but probably does more than I realize.

Brian Glynn: Yeah, that's yeah, it's a really kind of good pictures of what it looks like, I guess to be to be kind of a top amateur marathon runner and to be involved in all those things. And I think what's really interesting and you kind of mentioned it earlier, is that that's probably quite different to how lots of people approach marathon training. For lots of people. It would be, you know, be like that one goal. Those things that you're talking about, you know what, she is my way of the next session I have is have I have I got enough space to to dry all my washing to get the next next load in like all those up problems. I think for the four amateur runners that are I guess at that level that that the training so consistent and so daily that it becomes. Yeah a real all consuming thing but then for you you've articulated family for church how you how you prioritize Sundays those kinds of things it's do you find that that that difference leads to conversation in your club or do people see that in you do you think or is that is that is that still quite a hard thing in terms of speaking of your faith at your club or with your friends when you're on a run?

Gill Bland: I think in general running is a great place just to speak openly about those things. So I think, yeah, the environment really lends itself, I have to say, I think actually enduring is the time when different mindset has been. Most has come up in conversation most and but yeah, I would say this is something about running and being a very individual sport as well.

Like, you know, those people that I run with, they'll see me out on a long run and they might not then see those challenges at home. And, and it's up to me to kind of find ways to be open with my life, not inner like whingeing, but just kind of, you know, being open enough that those conversations do come up.

And that is that is hard. And I think I've benefited from being in a really friendly club in that those, those friendships have formed and those conversations have started to gradually happen. And and I would like to think that they notice a difference. But then equally sometimes I think people just kind of see me not showing up on Sunday to some of the leagues, and I maybe I need to be right about why that is.

And or yeah, you know, and how, how I manage my time. I mean that I think, you know, I've got a reputation as someone who who's very much a box taker when it comes to my training schedule. And actually that's something I'm conscious of is maybe not always the best representation, because if, if I'm seen as someone who that is all I can balance hitman's targets then.

But then I haven't adequately explained my real mindset. And what really drives me. But I would say that that is something that being part of church and being part of small group, things like that, keeps me thinking about and keeps me at least trying to go again and get better at. And yeah, I'm not, not naturally great to that, but I'm conscious that it's, it's there there for the taking and it's a great opportunity.

Brian Glynn: How about if we if we kind of flip it around the other way do you think in church it's it is difficult to to help people understand how important running is to you because obviously you're not a pro and you're not you know, that's that's a maybe easier for people to understand sometimes for a professional football player or a professional tennis player or something, they might understand the commitments that come with earning your money that way.

At the top level, amateur, you're training almost like someone who's at that level and there's lots of demands on your energy and there's lots of additional demands because you have work to to go to or whatever else is. How do you find speaking about that within church does do people ask you about running all the time? Do they know you as the runner or or does that just get left to the side when you when you're in church?

Gill Bland: Yeah, Yeah, I do get known as the runner. Absolutely true. And I think you're absolutely right. I think it is it is quite hard to explain sometimes in the same way that anyone who's got a real passion about particular I mean hobby like obviously I feel like it's more important than a hobby, but yeah, I do. But and, you know, it's always hard to explain those passions to people.

That isn't that bad because God has made their brain differently and they love something different. So you've got to come at it from that kind of angle. But equally, you know, I think it is it's really nice sometimes to be able to say to people that, like, I love I love being out in nature because I see what God has created and and that kind of helps them get a handle on it.

Sometimes I'm lucky enough in my church that I have at least one other leading role. And and so she's been really helpful that kind of helping keep me accountable and vice versa, like when we've been injured or when we talk about race, whatever, we'll try and party together before race. And there's a couple of all the Christian one, as we know, Leicester running league who we probably wouldn't race sometimes and but yeah I think again it's about being open isn't it.

I think I've my small group have kind of got used to it and kind of started to understand like when I've been injured how frustrating that is and how that kind of affects my day to day wellbeing, as it were, and of have sort of started to say like, this must be really hard for you. How are you doing?

And things like that. And in the same way that, you know, if they can't get out and do what they want to do, it has impacts on them. But equally, you know, like pointing me to good parts in the Bible reminded me that God is faithful pieces and God were on injured or winning a PB, PB or whatever.

And so I think again, it's that thing of having people with different perspectives on it. But a Christian mindset is really helpful. And but there are challenges. Yes.

Brian Glynn: As we've gone to bits talking about kind of, I guess, the the culture of running, which is really exciting at the moment, I think, and certainly I guess when I was at university, running was probably more a lot less cool than it is now. I feel like more people are getting involved in Parkrun people are interested in super shoes, sub two hour marathon, wearable tech, all the stuff which was just completely not on the radar.

And I was at university, that's all. Like Strava wasn't even a thing when I was a fresh visiting. Maybe my first or second year. So yeah. How exciting is it kind of to be, I guess, to have a front row seat to that, but not at the time. CPB's, that kind of stuff going on as it's happening in the amateur scene and in particular on the women's side as well.

I'm kind of seeing more and I guess more understanding slowly starting to build up for what it's like to be a mum and be a marathon runner and to do that at the really top level like we saw kind of miler, I think coming top ten, I think in the USA Olympic trials like.

Came in the top 15 that ten months postpartum is are people talking to you about about that. How how exciting is that kind of for you knowing that that's very much not not far removed from your experience?

Gill Bland: I'd love to be fast enough to run the Olympic trials in America, but sadly not have not. And that used to be a target of mine, but they've since made it fast. That's not an option now. Yeah, no, I mean, it's a really exciting time to be part of distance running even, you know, whether it's on the periphery or just and deeply involved.

I think, you know, things like Parkrun just sort of and the sort of more equal footing that women are having and with kind of childcare and things like that now has, has freed up people to be able to go out and train more. I all kind of also just an understanding of the mental health benefits and the physical benefits of of regular, regular exercise is starting to kind of gradually trickle down.

And now people are starting to kind of make those performances. And I think that's really exciting and again, it's something which has its challenges because whilst running that kind of pace, ten months postpartum and, you know, offering $5,000 to the top, how many women it was in the trials is a fantastic idea. We also need to remember that and pushing people to return too quickly has negative side effects and also sometimes can just, you know, put a wrong emphasis on on what makes you a worthwhile person so totally fine if you just want to stay at home with your child and you don't want to go out and be in our syndrome as well.

But like people like me quite differently and we need to have that the second time. And yeah, so things like nine, 10,000 HP Bays and the fact that they're really trying to get more women entering. And so I think actually the entries that opened today or the day of recording and will gradually and it's 35 minutes longer for women at the moment and that will gradually open up and and so keep in these times, you know, hard enough.

But there's still an excitement about hitting them. But I'm open enough that people will keep well deep in trying and not be overwhelmed by them is really tricky. And part of entry is a really difficult one to navigate. When you look at things like the London Marathon and, you know, qualification times. So for women and men, that's really so there's lots of conversations that people are having about like what's the right thing to do in those situations?

You know, like all of the different deferral policies that are coming out for the, the marathon majors, you've got like London, Berlin, Chicago, you don't have to pay in. I think you get about ten years to defer Boston yet again. And very the ones Tokyo doesn't have one yet and kind of how do we navigate that but then you know the joy that seeing that we don't just have to settle we can still train and you know, we can we can try our best and we can enjoy what that gives to us.

And but yeah, the conversation is trying to get that and it's and it's right place and there's a lot of that going on my online my Instagram at the moment. You know you've got on the one side people saying like women should be running equal distances. You know, we should we should let people were on the things they want.

And on the other side, women saying, you know, I'm exhausted. I've got a new child. Like, why is someone telling me I should be running that person kind of thing? So I think that's a really tricky one to navigate and but all that in the context of, yeah, a really exciting time, particularly in women's running, you know, we've got almost like used about six women got the marathon, the Olympic marathon qualifying time.

Yeah I here in the UK Sonia Samuels just 5 seconds off her pre childbearing and B so she ran a 28 to 29 recently she's 40 still can't you know that's just amazing and and that stuff is really inspiring and so yeah it's it's an interesting time to be part of that debate and as you say and along with all the tech like the super she's absolutely help they help you recover quickly.

There's no argument about that regardless of all the other stuff. And you know, and all the technology that comes with it and the data analysis you can do it comes it comes again with both sides. You know, it can put unnecessary pressure on people, but it can also be incredibly valuable and just kind of figuring out your training for making sure you don't overtraining or all those sorts of things.

So yeah, it's a really exciting time to be part of it because there's so much to debate and so many things that are changing and we're not going to get it right. And I think that's that's quite positive on is figuring out.

Brian Glynn: Yes, you say, yeah, that's part of the fun figuring out. So in your current current situation, you're expecting a baby and and you've been through having a baby and coming back to running once before. So, yeah, I guess what she learned last last time out is that have you made a plan again to do the same thing or does it does it not? You know, like, like you said before, you don't want to put pressure on coming back. And there is there are loads of good reasons not to. But what your what your thoughts kind of going into that and how are you are you thinking about it?

Gill Bland: And so the thing I learned last time is how much it exposes where I find my identity and pregnancy is a humbling thing. And and hanging on to running for dear life was kind of my one moment of normality. And looking back, there are some runs from last time I was pregnant that I probably shouldn't have done if I'm honest.

But I was so desperate to kind of hang on to that sense of normality. And this time around I kind of went into it thinking, I'm going to get better, I'm going to be better at that. I'm not sure. I mean, and I've been slightly more careful, but then age does that to you as well. Like you can't have it all as mothers and and but yeah, it still reminds it's a good reminder of the fact that I am not a runner.

I am someone that God created and God loves. And that is not like running is not my identity. And so whilst I can try and enjoy it and I'm grateful that I can still run, I am still running. It's not the be all and end all. And so yeah, that's, that's the thing that I know that last time.

Time will tell whether I've put that into practice. Best time. I did go into it with a rough plan of saying I would get to kind of my third trimester, see how I felt, and then kind of no pressure, etc. I did. I wanted to try and run a marathon 20 weeks if everything was going okay and if I was fit and healthy.

And partly because, as I've already explained, I love all that data and kind of comparison stuff. And I did exactly the same point in my last pregnancy. So I was just kind of intrigued, to be honest. And also having been injured earlier in the year, just desperate to run a marathon because I love them. And I was like, this is my how I'm not going to be able to do this.

So I found out because it's lapsed and lapsed. So the idea was was it's a safe space. I can step off at any point. And you know, that went well. But that was all, you know, clearing it with family and husband and stuff as well. Because the thing about running pregnant is it's not just you anymore. So running is by nature quite a selfish sport.

And, you know, you go out, you turn out the miles, you come back and everyone else has to cope with the fact that you know that a sugar crash or whatever. But when you're running pregnant, you're not only thinking about the life of the child inside you, but also the worry of people that are watching on and things like that.

So there's that to bear in mind, coming back and last time I set myself as a no no running for six weeks and they'll get a physio check and I think that will be insane this time around and, and we'll see what we get from that. I might have books or racing or reading and all exciting thoughts. I, I am holding lightning to that and reports it happens and I think just having people around you who you kind of know well enough to understand why you feel the need to keep going, but also to be gentle and supportive enough to remind you that it's okay if you don't and and maybe to just gently kind

of find a way to help you take the pressure off yourself. Sometimes it's really helpful. And and I know that's something that, you know, Miles, one has to navigate quite a lot. And if he says you're written to on today, you probably shouldn't drive around. I will leave the guy. Yeah, you're right. And go back to bed or I'll be like, Don't be ridiculous.

I'm going to run an extra mile. Yeah, Yeah. Tricky though.

Brian Glynn: So I guess having found I found running and, and taking it to the level that you've taken to. Do you think that that shape shapes your shape, your faith, having been a Christian when you even already, when you started, do you think that that's shed light on on some things that maybe you would never have thought about without running?

Gill Bland: Yeah, I think so. I think it's supporters and negatives. So it's highlighted areas where, you know, good things can become and used wrongly. And so, you know, running is a good thing. I compressed all through my running, but when I get in the zone in the middle of training, it is very easy for it to go off and become something that, you know, all consuming.

And I will prioritize my early morning run before I read my Bible and those sorts of situations. So I think it is but that for me I find that easier to look at about, that's, that's not a great place to be than maybe in other areas of life. Exactly the same things happen, you know, like it might be that, you know, family life becomes, you know, all consuming and prioritizing that up and too much over like caring for someone in our church or whatever.

But it's I find it's much easier to see in that kind of running situation. And it brings out characteristics in me so that I can kind of pick up on them and help it. And also, like for other people looking from the outside, it's much easier to pick up when it's a specific kind of subject, as it were.

And but I also think it's giving me that benefit of of really kind of experi, answering how and God is consistent through all things. And so actually when I got injured, I thought I would be a lot more devastated by it than I was and actually having to kind of voice to people. But I knew that I needed to be saying, I've got to trust God in this because I knew that's what I needed to be, needed other people to hear me saying if I was going to be consistent with my faith, even if I didn't feel it.

But actually by doing that, it really helped. So it's it's given me that and, you know, it's given me those chances to like we've talked about, you know, experienced those moments of joy that you just get when when everything's going right and you have a great run. So you experience that in a way that I don't think I would have, you know, other areas of working life or whatever.

And, you know, like like a baby like that is amazing. Obviously, like you see God's creation. But there's something about like that pure relation when you cross a finish line or something and and it's all going well. And if you've got, you know, particularly she's got Christian runners around you who at that moment can be like, yes, praise God as you hit that moment of elation.

But that is that is just a really lovely extra way to experience God's goodness that I don't think I would have gotten all the rooms involved.

Brian Glynn: Well, Gill Bland it has been. Absolutely. Yeah. Lovely. Just to talk to you to to hear to hear your reflections. And from the vast amount of experience of running, of motherhood, of all those different things. And I'm sure it'll be really helpful for people listening. And so thanks so much for coming on the Christians in Sport podcast.

Gill Bland: You're welcome. And if anyone wants to ask me any questions and get in touch, I'm more than happy to chat to people.

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