A little less ranting, a little more running

running

Happy weekend.  I am still not running, don’t let the title of this post get your hopes up, but I’m starting to feel that itch again.  For a few months during my last marathon training cycle I was just not feeling it.  I think I was burned out from work, life stresses…and yes, perhaps mentally I just wasn’t in the right headspace to run a marathon. Perhaps that’s why I got injured? Maybe my body got tired of me not listening?

I have been feeling the urge to run, and to run fast, which is not really like me.  I’m a long, slow runner, perhaps by nature but perhaps more because I have never been anything close to fast.  As I noted in this post, five years ago I was most definitely slow: 9-10 minute miles on my regular runs.  At that point, I really didn’t care, I just enjoyed going out for a long jaunt.  In the last few years though I’ve gotten faster, exemplified by my weekly runs, but also by my marathon times.  Before looking forward to the next great whatever, time for a little reflection on past races.

Marine Corps Marathon:  This was my first marathon in 2004.  I registered on a whim because back then, they had a lottery system and I assumed that there was NO way I would get in. Then I got the email congratulating me for earning the right to pay to suffer through 26.2 miles of running.  I was shocked. And terrified.  Prior to that I had “trained” for a couple marathons, but hadn’t actually made it to the race.  I would get through about 4 weeks of the training plan and then just get bored and stop.  This time I was actually registered for a race so I had no choice.  (If I remember correctly, they also had a sneaky system by which you would put in your credit card number when you signed up for the lottery so when you got in, you also automatically paid. Sneaky.)  I used the Jeff Galloway run-walk method to get me to the start line and finished my first Marine Corps in 4:53:57. Not bad for a first marathon and for someone who had never had any coaching in any sport whatsoever.  I did this race again in 2006 (4:19:13) and the last time in 2010 (4:17:09).

Philadelphia Marathon:  This is another race that has a lot of meaning for me, where I have toed the line 3 times, and where I have reached some significant goals.  Working backwards, this was the first race that I DNFed, the race where I injured my back in 2013.  While it was my first “fail” technically, I would also consider it the first time I have made an adult decision with regard to my running, deciding to stop running while the pain was under control rather than being stubborn, finishing the race, and dealing with potentially longer-term consequences.  In 2012, I PRed this race, getting SO close to a BQ that I could almost touch it: 3:35:34.  Yep, that’s right, missed it by 34 seconds. And you know what? If I hadn’t missed it by 34 seconds, I might have been in Boston for the bombing.  The day of the bombing I got a number of texts and emails highlighting that fact, so perhaps it was my guardian angel looking out for me…  The first time I ran Phili, I also PRed: 3:41:19 in 2011.  That was a big one because my goal was to go under 4 hours. Well, I guess I went under four hours!

The National Marathon:  I’ve done this one twice because it’s close to home, but honestly, I hate this race. Sorry race directors, I just can’t love it.  The first time I did it in 2009 (4:14:40) the course was actually pretty good.  It involved loops around the mall and a little jaunt into Anacostia.  Interesting to run through those streets at that hour of the day.  Apparently my dad and husband-to-be at the time had to walk by some half way houses and passed-out-junkies to cheer me on.  Interesting.  Oh that was also the day I got engaged! So I suppose though I hated the race itself, I had positive feelings associated with the day, hence my reason for running it again.  I ran it in 2013, finishing in 3:46:18.  And hated every step of it.  The only reason I ran it and kept running was that I knew someone else in the race, a person I deeply dislike, and all I wanted to do was beat her. And I did. I will not be running through the industrial parts of DC again any time soon.

The Las Vegas Marathon (before it was run at night):  I did this race twice when I worked for a running store in Utah.  The race itself is actually quite lovely as far as I’m concerned–flat, perfect temps, good energy, and you get to see a lot of the city.  Most people don’t get beyond the strip, but this race definitely does that for you.  And, one of my favorite things about this race is that there was no doubling back or running where you’ve already run. I find that a little discouraging.  In 2006 I finished this one in 4:16:24, then in 2007 in 4:15:05.

Chicago Marathon: Okay THIS was the worst experience ever.  Really and truly, there is no comparison.   I ran this race under a friend’s name when her husband registered her for the marathon and she basically said “no way, no how.” Good for me, right? Well, not so much.  This was the year that they canceled the race about 3-4 hours in because they had run out of ambulances to take people to the hospital.  It was 80F and 90% humidity at the start line in October.  By the time I got to the first water station there was no water left.  And it just went downhill from there.  I made it to about mile 20 when I heard the helicopters overhead telling people that the race had been canceled and to stop running.  Really? You’re going to tell me to stop running 6 miles from the finish?  Being a good rule follower I did walk. For a bit.  Then I found out that they were letting people finish and the clock was still running.  This was back in the day before I had a cell phone and I was meeting my friends/my ride at the finish line.  So I ran.  I finished, under my friend’s name in 4:58. Disaster. 

Deseret News: 4:10:02 in 2007.  This was a spur of the moment decision.  I was given a free entry to the race and figured that since the start line was about 2 miles from my front door, why not.  Most of the race is downhill, and though I am a quad-dominant downhill runner, I remember my legs being completely toast by the end.  Also, I think my net time was actually something like 4:08, but they didn’t do chip timing so I will live with 4:10 for this race.  I harp on this because for a while, it was my PR.

Maine Marathon:  4:18:19 in 2005.  You may notice this was my second marathon, after the disaster that was my first (see Marine Corps marathon above in 2004).  Yes, I managed to take off about 30 minutes.  I think my goal for this one was 4:20. Oh, and to beat a friend who was running the race too.  Hm, I’m noting a pattern here.

Ogden Marathon:  This was one of the more local races I did when I lived in Utah, and to this day I think it might be my favorite race.   It’s mostly downhill, through the mountains, point-to-point. Just perfect.  4:20:02 in 2008.

Top of Utah Marathon:  Another local Utah race, ran in 4:37:13 in 2006.  It was the first of three races that season so I guess I took it easy?  I think its close to the truth to say I just ran slowly.  I also remember that I was trying out some new nutrition during the race and let’s just say there may have been a few pit stops.  This was the first time I remember running a race and not wanting to die at the end, so I guess that’s something.

And I think that covers my marathon experiences.  I have done a little bit of “other” running.  I ran a couple 5Ks for charity in college, a 10miler, a half marathon, a steeplechase (this race was AWESOME), and I paced someone for the last 25 of the Wasatch 100.  That’s the running-me in a nutshell.

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I like vegetables. Don’t judge.

 

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I mentioned in my last post that in my Friday grouchiness, I may or may not have ranted to a co-worker about my frustrations at being subjected to everyone else’s food choices in the office.  Instead of re-hashing that rant again, since you’ve already been subjected to the most important part of it, I thought I would extrapolate on the meat of the matter: Why do healthy people pay the price for their good decisions and other peoples’ poor choices?

 

This question has come up a few times around the dinner table at our house–the Obama folks would be pleased, yes we have been talking about health care over family dinners.  I don’t know enough about the Affordable Care Act to really rant about it, and I’m not political enough to want to get into an argument with anyone about it, but as an uninformed bystander, what I resent is that because I am healthy, I am by default paying for someone else to be cared for and potentially the results of someone else’s bad health choices.  Let me explain.  

 

As I understand insurance, everyone pays into a pot so that when they need some sort of service, that service can be paid for out of that pot . If you pay for insurance and don’t need any services, that money is still available in the pot for other people who do need some sort of care.  Yes I know that is the bare-bones, fifth grader version of how it works, and yes I know how much more complex it is.  Bear with me.  Based on the above simplistic model, I am in theory paying in the same amount as a two-year old, grandpa Joe, and these folks:

 

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I don’t begrudge those folks who have cancers that they have no control over, or people with genetic anomalies who end up with some awful condition.  You know what?  Those peoples’ lives such enough as is.  But we know through science that there are things we can control in our lives that will make it less likely that we develop certain conditions.  I know we can’t prevent them, and I know no one is perfect, I’m just suggesting that when given the choice, why can’t we start to make some choices in support of good health.  And those of us who do choose to do things to support good health should be rewarded.  Remember the carrot and stick approach? 

 

How would I propose to implement something like this?  I have no idea, that’s for folks with policy background and who know anything about implementation.  I’m just the annoying person in the background waving my hands and making lots of noise.  I do think that regular physicals, dental checks, exercise, not-smoking, and generally avoiding a shitty diet should all be rewarded somehow.   And people who smoke, eat crappy food, choose to sit on their butts all the time, or make other poor choices should have to pay their fair share for whatever consequences come from those decisions. (My dad always brings up the example of my knee surgery.  I tore my ACL about ten years ago and had a complete reconstruction.  Insurance paid for a huge portion of it, but he suggests that the tear was the result of my poor decisions therefore in my perfect little world, I would have to pay for that surgery.  My response? Yes, I should have had to pay for it.)

 

Because it’s all about me, I will note that I often feel like a pariah because I choose to eat lots of kale and sardines.  I am probably one of the five people in the world who actually LOVES vegetables.  All of them.  I go through phases of not wanting to eat certain ones, but I still consider them in my food repertoire.  I drink tons of water, moderate my caffeine, and I shun soda.  I love to exercise.  Even when I don’t want to, I know it will make me feel better and it’s good for me.  I do on occasion eat things that are not good for me, I drink the occasional glass of wine, but on the whole I would be considered a “healthy” person.  So why do I always feel like the crazy-out-there one?  When I talk about my lifestyle, people look at me like I’m nuts, some sort of loony extremist who will try to convert them to the dark side.  I will note that I don’t preach that my way is better, though if people ask I will tell them that I do think my way is better.  I’m not a fanatic, I’d just like people to acknowledge that living healthfully is not crazy, and dang it, just because you like crappy food doesn’t mean I have any obligation to do so.  I like brussels sprouts. Don’t judge. 

A week without running ….

 …makes for a very grumpy runner. You’ve been warned…

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from thoughtcatalog.com

The quote above is from a list of 37 things only runners know.  There are some other good ones on the list, but today this one spoke to me most.  As I’ve alluded to elsewhere (okay blatantly stating is not alluding), I have a back injury that has been nagging me since mid-November when I had to drop out of the Philadelphia marathon at mile 18.  I spent the first month after that race “taking it easy,” which for me meant cutting back from 50 miles a week to 40.  But I continued to run because, well, I could.  After a month though I finally took the hint and went to the doctor because it was most obviously not getting better.

The doctor gave a prescription for a steroid pack, which anyone with back pain is well acquainted with.  He also gave me a prescription for physical therapy.  And he told me not to run for 3 weeks.

Let me repeat that, he told me not to run.

The last time I “didn’t run” was two years ago when we went on 5 day vacation to the Dominican Republic.  The only reason I was tolerable was the combination of mass volume of pina coladas that we consumed and the fact that, well, we were on a gorgeous caribbean beach for a week.  Can’t really be angry and stressed when this is your view…

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Otherwise, not running in the last five years has meant taking a day or two off after a marathon, or a mid-week day off during marathon training.  In the off-season I’ll do some sort of cross training a couple days a week, but really, I just run. Mostly because I like it and I’m pretty lazy about motivating myself to do anything else.  The doctor, in a little game of trying to make me feel better I think, told me that he too had a similar injury years ago and he took some time off of running and he got better and was back to running marathons.  Thanks dude, but you’re not me.  I don’t buy into those sales pitches, sorry. 

When the doctor said don’t run, I sort of heard him.  Then the physical therapist said as long as it wasn’t hurting more while I was running, then I could run.  Technically it doesn’t hurt while I’m running, so I took that as a thumbs up to continue running.  We were going to my in-laws for the holidays and I wasn’t sure there was a gym so I just opted to run while I was there, it’s just easier, right?  Right….

Well here I am two months after the fact and my back is worse than ever:  muscle spasms along my spine, hip/soas pain, numbness and tingling is back.  But I’ve been taking it easy, right?  Right…. I have still been logging some reasonable mileage, interspersed with more than usual cross training in the form of the spin bike, elliptical, and swimming once a week.  The PT I have been seeing doesn’t seem to remember from one session to the next what my issue is, much less what exercises she gave me for homework or what she was having me do during the session. Seriously? Isn’t that her job??  

My frustration is overwhelming, as you can imagine.  I have been injury-free for the last five years, so I can’t quite figure out why this came on all of a sudden.  But this back thing is here for now and I’m annoyed.  Husband had a little “come to jesus” talk with me on Monday and I had the epiphany I needed.  What I have been doing is not working and I have control over most of the variables in the situation.  Here are the things I have control over and have changed:

  • Actually stop running.  The doctor said to not run for 3 weeks.  That’s a loooong time in my world, so I’m focusing on one day at a time.  I’ve been doing tough spin-bike workouts, long elliptical sessions, and will make more of an effort to get to the pool.  
  • Fire the bad PT! This sounds much more dramatic than it actually was.  The useless woman was away for a week and I was turned over to another PT in the mean time.  The second woman is MUCH better, so when it came time to schedule out my sessions, I just noted that I did not want to go back to the first lady.  Voila, the most passive firing ever. 
  • More stretching.  Like LOTS more. I get up at my desk and stretch once an hour, use the foam roller as much as possible, and am…wait for it…checking out a yoga class this afternoon. Sacrilege! I’ll let you know how it goes…

All of that is what I’m doing.  What I’m not doing is running.  It’s been 4 days since my last run.  I am an evil angry person.  I may or may not have gone on a 20 minute rant at work (and then again to husband) about how annoyed I am that everyone in my office is upset by the fact that my lunch of broccoli or cabbage or sardines or salmon cakes smells funny and yet I have to put up with their nasty smelling processed crap wafting through the office, or the terrifying neon orange buffalo chicken dip that I swear I saw wink at me or the enormous chocolate cake that has been sitting out all week tempting me, along with all the other unhealthy garbage that is left otu all the time.  Why do I have to be tortured by all their bad habits while I’m the one making good decisions and yet I am somehow in the wrong?

I’ll do a full-on rant on that some other time.  Needless to say, I know I’m totally irrational and emotional.  It’s because I’m not running. And I hate it.  I know I’ll be back to running when this pain goes away, but right now it feels like forever away.  And all I want to do is walk out the door and go for a run so I can sort it all out in my head.  But that’s the one thing I can’t do. Hmph.

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What people say to me when I’m running

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As I think is apparent, I run. Quite I bit I suppose. At about 40 miles a week on average, according to an article at Running Competitor, citing a 2013 Running USA survey, I run more than the “average competitive runner, ” whatever that is.  What that means to me is that I spend more time either out and about in the world pounding the pavement or plodding on the hamster machine (aka treadmill).  

There are a lot of things that can happen over the course of a 6-10 mile run.  I’m no speed demon so I’m usually out for about an hour, and there are many things you can confront in an hour: traffic lights, obnoxious drivers, that icky McDonalds smell, mud, ice (anyone else tired of the freezing weather?), dogs. You know, the usual.  I have to say though, that I derive the most entertainment from the random things that people say to me when I’m running. Some of my favorites:

 

“How do you maintain your muscle mass when you do so much cardio?”

True story, some older gentleman at my gym came up to me as I was finishing up a speed session on the treadmill and asked me this question.  How do you answer something like that? First, I was still in the process of finishing the workout, as in, I was still running on the treadmill. Not an appropriate time to distract me. Second, I have NO idea how I maintain muscle mass. I didn’t know I had that much to maintain! He wasn’t’ hitting on me, so that wasn’t the reason for the random question. I think he honestly thought he would get an answer. I just stared at him, mouth gaping open. “Protein?” he asked. “Uh, I don’t know,” I think was my response. Sheesh.

 

“You should get a bike, it’s a whole lot easier.”

I was running in the little town in Eastern Long Island where my grandma’s house is when an old man on a bike pedaled by me with this comment.  Granted, it was the middle of winter and I may have been huffing and puffing a bit. Things have changed in the last ten years, but I still don’t see a whole lot of runners out when I run there.  I suppose he could safely make the assumption that I was running to get from point A to point B, and the logical conclusion would be that a bike would be less painful and more efficient. As I watched his bike teeter away under his rolly-poly-ness, it did occur to me that perhaps he was on to something. 

 

“Go, go, go, go, go!”

I’m not sure how I feel about this one.  I’m one of those runners who likes to fly under the radar when I’m running.  I don’t mean to attract attention, just want to go out there, get my miles in and be left alone.  But sometimes people will cheer me on. I suppose it’s a nice thing. Generally I just get annoyed that they are paying me any attention whatsoever. I should probably be less grouchy about this one. 

 

“Wow, you’re really sweaty.”

This falls into the category of not helpful. I happen to be one of those runners who does produce more than the average amount of perspiration, particularly when it is 90F out and the humidity tells us it should be raining. Even so, what exactly does the person on the street think I am getting out of this comment? Do you think I don’t know I’m sweaty? “Oh, is that what that water all over my body is? Gee thanks for telling me, I was a little confused.” If you’re grossed out by my sweaty, fine. Just take a step back. It’s not helpful to point it out unless you have some genius solution for resolving my over-sweating that doesn’t involve moving to the desert.

 

“You must be a sprinter, your quads are HUGE.”

Just, no. 

 

“You always look so serious, you should smile more. Don’t you like running?”

A bus driver on one of my regular routes said this to me as I ran past the open door of his bus one day.  At first it made me frown and I could feel the angry bubbling up. But then I thought about what he said and I realized that I was in fact frowning, brow furrowed, jaw set.  Why? No reason. I was just focused. But can’t you be focused and smile at the same time? They say if you smile, it does actually lift your mood. So I tried smiling and relaxing, and lo and behold it felt pretty good. So thanks Mr. Bus driver.  That does not mean I want more advice from others. But this comment was nice. 

 

Anyone else have this issue? What random things have people said to you while running? 

Where have YOU run

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I read this article this morning while waiting for the coffee to starting coursing through my veins before my run:

Meet Becky Wade, America’s Best Young Marathoner

What a fantastic story! I had friends in college and after who had used their Watson fellowships to learn about beer brewing in Africa, or to teach english in Laos, but this story was by far the most appealing.  Becky traveled on a Watson Fellowship for a year and used her time to run with people around the world. I will fully admit that I’m not a big fan of staying with other people–I hate feeling like I’m in someone else’s space.  But right out of college, I think it’s the best way to see the world, and so much better than the icky hostels I stayed in.  I love that not only did she get to run everywhere she traveled, she got to see the world through her fellow runners’ eyes.  Can you imagine begin taken on a trail run in Ethiopia by people who know where the best running is? Fantastic. (Side note: I actually hate running with other people…but I like the idea of it!)

Oh, and don’t forget, after all that, she came home and ran one of the fastest marathons of the year and won her race.  Definitely one to watch I think.

What does faster look like?

I’ve been running for more than half my life now (I’m 33, started running when I was 16ish) and I’m still not entirely sure what makes me better and faster than I was when I started.  Until about 2004 I didn’t really track my running, and even when I started doing so, it was only to keep track of where I was on my marathon training plan.  Otherwise, I didn’t keep a running log of my distance, time, heart rate, or anything else related to my running.  I was more than happy to strap on a watch (or not), a pair of shoes, and some headphones (or not) and just run.

That's not me, just FYI.

That’s not me, just FYI.

Then in 2008 husband was thoughtful enough to invest in a Garmin watch for me with GPS and a heart rate monitor. And oh how my OCD came to shine.  (I don’t actually have OCD, I just really enjoy the process of tracking and nitpicking.)  I love looking down to see how far I’ve run and at what pace, and when I get home, uploading that information to the Garmin website where I can track my progress over the past days, weeks, months, and now years.  I remember the first time I ran over 40 miles in a non-marathon training week–it was my trusty Garmin that told me so.  And then the week I accidentally ran over 60 miles–Garmin was there for that too. I can look back and compare how much my time improves, or doesn’t, on the same route.  Amazing.

Again, not my actual watch. But this is the one I have.

Again, not my actual watch. But this is the one I have.

I know this isn’t rocket science, and I am gravely behind the times when it comes to technology.  Husband also introduced me to the world of smart phones, and just this past year he finally convinced me that getting an iPad did not mean that I couldn’t read paper books anymore.  I know. I need help.  But my point here is that the Garmin and all of the amazing capabilities that came with it truly did change my running.  And I now have evidence!

New Years runs

What exactly is this?  This is an extract from my training log from the last 6 years.  Specifically, these are my new years day runs since I started using the Garmin watch.  I figured out how to pull this information this year while I was doing my annual “how did I do this year” assessment of my running.  You know, total miles, total number of runs, etc.  Come on, you know what I’m talking about…okay maybe I’m nuts. Anyway, I got really excited when I looked at the average speed column–in the last 6 years, I managed to lop 2:30 minutes per mile off of my mile time AND increase the distance covered.  Not only that, what this chart doesn’t show is that the second half of my 2014 run was a negative split.  That means that the second half was faster than the first half.  The second half was actually at a 7:1o pace, which my trusty Garmin spreadsheet tells me is the fastest that I have run. Ever.

Woo hoo, says Pug. (Also, not my pug...I apparently need to take my own pictures.)

Woo hoo, says Pug. (Also, not my pug…I apparently need to take my own pictures.)

Yes I had a shit-eating-grin on my face when I walked in the door, and yes I have told everyone I know, even those who don’t care.  The part that’s amazing to me is I have no idea how I got here.  My life is probably more stressful now than it was in 2009, my days are more full, I eat a shit-ton more, and I spend more time sitting on my butt.  But apparently something worked.  A couple of theories, because when have I not had an opinion about something:

    • A lifetime of running has allowed my body to get used to the pain and stress and has allowed me to get faster.
    • A sedentary job (I used to work retail on my feet for 12 hours a day) has allowed my body to rest and therefore run faster when I do
    • Eating a “Paleo” diet the last year or so and increasing my protein intake (good husband influence again) makes me a stronger runner
    • Husband and Pug have made me a happier person, so I can run better.
    • It has nothing to do with me at all.  The watch has magical powers and simply running with the watch has made me faster.

I like the last theory best. Means I can continue to do whatever the heck I want and continue to get faster. Oh the joys of abdicating responsibility.

New Years

 

 

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Happy New Year!

My husband doesn’t believe in New Years resolutions.  His take on it is that if you have a goal, why wait until the New Year to start working towards that goal.  He has the same philosophy towards presents.  If you want something now, why wait to ask for it for a birthday or Christmas; just buy it now.  As you might guess, there are positives and negatives to this philosophy.  As a plus, he is a highly driven person with new goals constantly on the horizon.  When he has met a goal, he then sets a new on and off he goes. On the flip side, it is nearly impossible to buy him gifts for special occasions because the things he really wants, well he already has them.  I guess that’s more a problem for me than him. So maybe he’s on to something…

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I don’t know that I believe in New Years resolutions per se.  The impression I get is that they generally result in hard work for the first few weeks in January, after which people fall off the wagon.  Exhibit A: the fact that you probably will have to wait for a treadmill at the gym for the next few weeks.  By March, the cardio section will once again be dominated by the hum of the machines and life can go back to normal.  While not all resolutions involve using the gym, it does seem to be a great example of how quickly we give up when we’re not really committed to something, but feel that we have to make a resolution because its New Years.  The statistics apparently bear out on this.

 

When we talked about resolutions on New Years eve, however, I had a few thoughts floating through my mind on some goals, expectations, things I’d like to see happen in 2014.  You see, while I may be great at getting done the day to day chores and errands, I am also a consummate procrastinator when it comes to my bigger goals in life.  I’m sure a psychiatrist would have a field day with me.  “You’re afraid of failure;” “You are already over committed, why add more to your plate;” “You’re worried that you’ll disappoint your loved ones.” Yes all of those things are true.  And I have a tendency to start projects and not finish them.  Don’t get me wrong, we don’t have half built bookshelves or anything hanging around the house.  I just tend to start quilts or sweaters or other little projects, then squirrel them away for a year or so without finishing them.  Again, a psychiatrist would have plenty to say about this kind of habit.  

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The funny thing is, on occasion I’ll take on a big project, or some big change, and it always makes life better.  Exhibit B: Running marathons.  I was terrified of the training commitment, much less the actual commitment to running that far.  I had a few false starts on training for races, but then I actually got through a whole training cycle and ran a marathon.  And guess what? I ran 13 more after that.  Worked pretty well right?

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(That’s not me by the way. That’s Deena Kastor winning the London Marathon. That’s about the time I’m usually passing the half marathon marker…)

I will not be listing my new years resolutions this year, but I do have one goal for myself: to follow through.  Instead of thinking, “Oh I would love to learn how to brew Kombucha,” research it for a whole day, plan the process, then forget about it, my goal is to follow through.  In this scenario, actually buy the tools to brew and DO IT.  They say if you want to make changes, do one small thing at a time; following through is one thing.  Seems pretty simple, right?  Simple is not always easy though.  In fact, I have a whole other rant I can do on that.  And I will.  But maybe later…

 

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