Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing at all

I signed up for the Brixton 10k using a discount in the Black Friday sale – one of the few things I bought in the sale. With a cheap entry fee and a nice easy walk to the start line, I thought it would be a good way to kick off the year.

Last month I did a 10k in Regent’s Park and felt really crap afterwards as I didn’t do very well. And then I got sick, for what felt like forever. I’m still snotty. It’s really frustrating.

The race start was at 9.30, so I planned to leave at 8.45 and stroll over. At 8.30 I told myself I’d jog over at 9am.

But by 8.45, I wasn’t dressed and I wasn’t feeling sure.

I decided I didn’t want to do it.

I didn’t want to go, be slow because I’m still ill and then feel annoyed with myself.

I didn’t want to go, be slow and then feel anxious about the next race I did.

I didn’t want to go and then have a bad stomach.

So even though it felt weird, and wrong, and wasteful, I didn’t go.

There will be lots more races, when I feel ready and fitter and healthier. I don’t like to quit things just because I won’t do well… but what’s the point of putting yourself through something that has absolutely no positive effect? The only reason I wanted to still do it was so that I wouldn’t be able to call myself a quitter. But not doing one 10k doesn’t make you a quitter – perhaps I’m a strategic decision maker instead?

I went for a run later in the day and my stomach was really bad and I had to lie on the floor for a bit when I got home. Definitely the right call.

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August running

Another month is over and I’m finally getting back into running.

2016 got off to a good start, with monthly km’s of 130, 134, 151 and 142 – the final, April, would have been higher if I hadn’t sprained my ankle on the 21st. In May I ran 70km, including an attempt at a marathon and another ankle sprain. June was a halfhearted 73km and July covered 87km.

I started August keen to turn things around. Matt decided he wants to take up running, with a 10k planned for the 1st October. He wanted to run every day, so I decided I’d do the same. I managed 12 days before I got home from work and fell asleep and didn’t wake up until the next morning.

I signed Matt up for parkrun and printed out his barcode, then forced him out of bed early on a Saturday morning, his 13th day of running. He didn’t seem convinced by the prospect (maybe a little nervous) but the lovely atmosphere at Southwark parkrun, and brunch afterwards, won him round. I paced him around to 29:04, a fantastic four minute PB.

Then Matt hurt his ankle and took a break from running.

I did a half ironman triathlon, and found the first ¾ of the run to not actually be that bad.wp-image-999633084jpg.jpg

Despite living really close to several parkruns, I’ve been quite lax about attending them, but decided to change this. On the 27th August it was the nation’s biggest sports day, and Dulwich parkrun were hoping for their largest ever attendance. I cycled over and ran, pacing really badly and running nearly 40 seconds slower than last time I went to Dulwich.


I finished the month on 123km – nowhere near where I’d like to be but an improvement on May/June/July.

Aims for next month:

Monster Middle triathlon: race report

I’d had my eye on the Monster series of races for a while. They’re based in Ely so when I was living in Cambridge it seemed ideal, and even now I live in London, it’s nice to race somewhere that is familiar, and I can combine it with visiting my parents.

Last year I did sprint, olympic and middle distance triathlons. So far this year I’ve done a few running races (including 5 half marathons) but no triathlons, so I jumped straight into a middle distance. Was this to be a big mistake?!

Pre-race

At 04:45 my mum very kindly drove me to Ely, where it was dark and rainy. I registered and stuck the requisite stickers on my bike and helmet, then said goodbye to mum and went into transition. Once I’d laid out my stuff I wriggled half into my wetsuit and queued for the loos, feeling nervous, then walked to the swim start, about a mile downstream.

On the walk I got chatting to a man doing his 59th race. He was super inspirational and good conversation, which helped take my mind off my nerves. We chatted to his club mates and another random they’d picked up along the way, a young guy who’d signed up the night before.

Briefing done, the first wave (inc. me!) were told to get into the water, which wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be.

pre swim2

Swim

Although I’m not a terrible swimmer, I’m not confident in open water swims, and I’m also not at all well-trained. This year I have swum five times: 1) with a sprained ankle, just before the marathon, 2) the day after that, 3) one 1km swim a few weeks ago, 4) at a spa with my mum, where I mainly did handstands, and 5) at the lido last week but I decided it was a bit chilly and didn’t stay in long.

I therefore didn’t have high hopes, and when the swim got underway I felt the beginnings of panic. But amazingly, I was able to ignore it! I swam along and felt quite relaxed. I focused on breathing, although I did a lot of breaststroke (my front crawl sighting is pretty bad) swimming towards town.

I have no concept of time when swimming, but knew that the second wave were starting ten minutes behind, so tried to work out when I might get overtaken, hoping that it wouldn’t be until near-ish town. I enjoyed the cheers of people on the river bank and watched a family of swans swimming imperiously through the wetsuit-clad swimmers. People on boats were watching – it must have been surreal for them.

The course went upstream for 1.5km, past the exit, around a buoy and back 400m. By this point I was looking forward to getting out, and although I’d been kicked a few times, I was still calm and happy that I had survived the swim. At the exit, I reached up a hand and a man pulled me out. I then staggered about a bit and another man caught me, and then another, with me ricocheting around the slipway like a pinball, trying to shake the water out of my ears.

T1

There was a walk back to transition from the swim exit and I struggled to get my wetsuit off my arms. Once I had it down to my waist I jogged to transition and then struggled to get the stupid wetsuit off my legs. I chucked it on top of my bag (containing my post-race dry clothes, doh) and toweled myself down. Garmin on, jersey, hat, helmet, gloves, shoes, glug of water and off I went. Somehow this took four minutes? I definitely didn’t feel like I was rushing, maybe I should have been.

Bike

I’m more of a cyclist than a swimmer or runner, and normally, the bike is the thing I don’t worry about in a triathlon. But I was worried about this one. I’ve not ridden my bike much this year – two days in Wales (less than 100km each day), a ride from Bath to Andover, and two trips to Regent’s Park, where I was shocked to discover how slow I am. I have been finding cycling nerve wracking of late, something I’m yet to get to the bottom of.

The forecast was for strong wind – 15-18 mph – and this was correct. We cycled north with massive crosswinds, then west directly into the wind, south with crosswinds from the other side, and then finally a tailwind for the final stretch (the course wasn’t a perfect square so this bit was, of course, the shortest bit). It was really grim. I hate cycling in strong winds, I’m always convinced I’m going to get knocked off. And every time I was overtaken (which was a lot) I lost more confidence and motivation.

My legs had no power and while everyone else sped past, hardly affected by the wind, I was locked in a battle, my (slightly too big) mass against the force of the wind.

Halfway round the first lap I thought I might not do the second lap, partly because I was worried about not making the time cut off (which is incredibly depressing) and also because I was just not enjoying it. I was eventually lapped at the very end of the first lap, which added an extra layer of depression. But I went on to the second lap.

It was slightly better on the second lap but my hands were numb from gripping my handlebars too tightly and I stopped every half hour to shake them out. I managed to eat one peanut butter bar and one gel.

By the end of the bike course my legs felt tired, every pedal stroke had been an effort. The end of the course had a little uphill and a sharp turn around a mini roundabout, which I nearly toppled off at, to the disgust of a motorbike behind me. Then downhill and weaving through traffic to transition, where I could finally ditch the bike…

T2

Again I took my time. Bike racked, helmet, gloves, jersey off. Tshirt, sunglasses, hat, fuel belt on. Bike shoes off and socks and trainers on. Sitting down, because why not. And then off again.

Run

By now it was very warm, although I probably just noticed it more as it was less windy. My legs had felt tired on the bike but when I started running I felt alright; my feet had been sore while cycling but I was surprised that they didn’t really bother me. Could this last?

I set off on a meandering route through parks and woods, eventually joining up with the rest of the route, where we would run laps through the town, picking up a wristband at the end of each lap. In my head I heard “four wristbands” and thought I had to run four laps, so I was a bit put out when I finally worked out that actually there were five laps (one without a wristband, four with increasing numbers of wristbands). Gah.

I had a fuel belt with Shotbloks, two gels and a packet of jelly beans but it was bouncy and annoying, so when I saw my mum (she went home after dropping me off, but came back for the run) outside the cathedral I decided to leave it with her. She didn’t spot me running towards her and eventually I yelled out “HELLO!” so loudly that it made some tourists jump. Then I posed for some pictures and went on my way.

Although my legs felt alright, I walked up the hills and ran everything else – which meant three walks per lap (one of the hills was probably more of a slope, but these were my rules!!). It was a relief to get my first wristband.

The course went past the cathedral twice per lap, which was cool. The people of Ely were all friendly and there were quite a few retired couples who’d stumbled across the race and were enjoying cheering. Lots of confused looking tourists.

Ely is very pretty, with the exception of the bit past Sainsbury’s, which still isn’t that bad. I went past my brother’s old school. I waved to my mum on each lap. I petted a small dog (who looked like a teddy bear!). I got in an argument with a lorry driver who nearly ran over me and the guy I was running with.

By the fourth lap I was starting to feel tired, it was so hot and there were fewer people still running to chat to. I was drinking lots of water but had only eaten a packet of Shotbloks. At one of the water points I picked up a gel but it was horrible, granular and really thick. Mum drove past me as I ran down the hill towards the start of my final lap and heckled me from the car.

Mum thought the run was 4 laps so once she’d parked, she went to the finish. When she didn’t find me there, she thought something must have happened, so got the marshals all looking for me, radioing each other to report on me. Embarrassing – but also quite funny.

I broke my rule of only walking uphill on the final lap as I was knackered, my knees and hips ached. I said thanks to all the marshals and as I jogged down the hill in the final kilometre I thought to myself: wow, you’ve gone and done it, you’ve finished a half ironman with no training and barely any food – you total moron.

I ran into the park, and turned left to the finish line. At last! My running form was totally pants by this point but I had four wristbands and I was coming for my medal!

run finish

Swim (1.9km): 00:45:55

T1: 00:06:49 (including run from swim exit)

Bike (92.8km): 04:06:46

T2: 00:04:06

Run (21km): 02:20:47

TOTAL: 07:24:23

 

A banana and some water later, I got changed in the carpark toilets and went for lunch with my mum – a massive salad with a heap of bread, followed up by a 99 with a flake.

I’m pleased that the swim went better than expected (actually faster than last year, and no panicking!) and I inexplicably ran faster than the last two half marathons I’ve done (Richmond and Ashridge) – I actually felt pretty good on the run, apart from the final 5km and when I thought I might be sick in a bin after eating that gel. But the bike… I’m shocked at how bad I was. As I struggled around, I promised myself that I would cycle more and get my cycling legs back, which I’m determined to do.

I’m glad I did the race, though it was maybe a bit silly to do without training. I would really like to improve on my time. Perhaps I should join another club…

Ashridge Trail Half Marathon

I saw that there was a trail half marathon in the forest near where my best friend and her husband live. They were home that weekend and invited Matt and I to stay, so I entered.

The night before the race we ate delicious pearl barley risotto, followed by sticky toffee pudding and icecream. Perfect race prep! Lots of great chats later, we headed to bed about midnight, after booking a cab for the morning. I laid out my running clothes and went to brush my teeth, only to return and find that drunken Matt had decided to hide all my clothes in the bed. Thanks, dear.

I felt mean making everyone get up so early on a weekend, but being the lovely people that they are, they claimed not to mind. We piled into the taxi a few minutes late, to a telling off from the driver, then drove in silence to the Ashridge Forest. It’s not far but the route by car isn’t very direct, so it feels further away than it really is. We pulled up at an inflatable arch on the grass outside Ashridge College – I love a low key race! It was quite chilly but was clearly going to be a nice day. The race was due to start a few minutes late as there were lots of people still registering so we stood about admiring dogs and I put on sunblock (although I was the only one of us to do so!).

At about 9.10, there was a countdown and we were off! I gave the others a wave – they were planning to walk to Bridgewater Monument and have brunch there, and I’d pass them about 9km in.

We headed into the woods, running on rutted paths. The glare from the sun through the leaves made it a little difficult to see, and I was running quite close to other people, which I didn’t love. A man in front tripped but caught himself.

I was feeling comfortable but decided to walk up the first hill as everyone around me did, a wise decision as it conserved some energy. I saw a lady taking photos at the top of the hill so ran again for the camera, but really shouldn’t have!

At about 5km there was a sign saying drinks ahead, but they’d run out of water! I was unimpressed but didn’t say anything, after all, it’s not the volunteers fault. But I felt grotty as I trudged across a field in the sunshine, the long grass making me pick my feet up high.

We went back into the woods and I perked up a little, power walking up the hills and jogging the rest of the way. Some runners ahead of me headed into the woods and I couldn’t work out if the leader just needed the loo and the others were following. I stayed on the main path and chatted to some horse riders, who asked what was going on.

As we came to Bridgewater Monument there was a killer steep hill. Everyone around me walked up this and I managed to jog the last bit, up over the crest and into the clearing, where I saw Matt, Lou and Ant up ahead. I ran over to them and asked for some water – they told me I was covered in flies and we had a brief chat. I was jealous of them sitting at the cafe, but I was really enjoying myself so headed on.

From here we followed a path I’ve walked before. The views out to the east were brilliant although I’m sure the path was steeper than before… My garmin ticked over to 11k and I still felt pretty good.

I’m not very confident running downhill but decided to relax a bit more going down a limestone path, not too rocky and not too many other people around. Sure enough I tripped over a small tree stump and went straight down, landing on my knees and my hand. I jumped up quickly and looked down at myself. My knees were skinned but there didn’t seem to be anything stuck in them, so I carried on, tentatively. It didn’t hurt too much at first but it wasn’t very comfortable.

We headed over a field and took a right, up an enormous hill called Steps Hill. It stretched up and curved round to the left into the clouds. I ran to the first little shrubbery and then walked the rest of the way up, looking at the incredible views and still, bizarrely, feeling okay (though with quite sore knees). At the top, the path went through some ferns (I love the smell of ferns) and to another water stop. Hooray for water!

There were a couple of rollers, the steepest rollers I’ve ever run, and a man being towed by his dog breezed past. Finally at the top of Ivinghoe Beacon, I stopped to admire the view. It really was lovely. There were lots of walkers and I asked someone which direction was north, so that I could get my bearings. I set off along the top of the ridge, looking at the view and becoming aware that I did quite need the loo. As we came down the ridge there were some woods on the edge of a field, so I took a detour for a loo stop – though ended up going further into the woods than expected as the man being towed by his dog inexplicably came past in the opposite direction.

A little lighter, I emerged from the woods and rejoined the path. There were a group of four runners in yellow club vests coming down the hill and I wanted to stay ahead of them for the sole reason that we’d clocked one of them before the race, a man with an incredibly hairy back, and Matt had said that I would finish just behind him, breathing in a mouth full of back hair. I did not want to do this.

Soon I was back in the woods. The route didn’t seem very well marked and I wondered if I was going the right way, but I was running with another girl, taking it in turns to struggle with gates. I finally knew we were on the right track as we came to a set of stairs. Stairs in the woods. Just over 10 miles in. Think about it.

I hauled myself up the stairs, very very slowly. There were nettles growing next to the handrail so I didn’t want to use that, and these bloody stairs just went on and on. At the top, my tired little legs battled through a farm, where someone asked if anyone knew how to ride a cow, and three enormous geese eyed us up.

I’d been running near a man and woman dressed in purple. Earlier the woman had seemed to be encouraging the man along, but now he was cajoling her. “Think of the finish!” he said. “Think of nice cold water, think of pizza, think the medal!”

“Oh do shut up, Gary” she replied.

Matt, Lou and Ant had said they might try to come to the golf course to cheer me on there, but after crossing one road (where there was a water stop, hooray!) and then another (where a man had a bowl of jelly babies) I found myself running alongside the edge of the golf course. By now I was pretty tired and even though I had less than 2km to go, I couldn’t convince myself go any faster. It didn’t help that I was on my own, having lost my friends in purple, and that there were no signs showing where to go. I stopped at a crossroads until a dog walker pointed out the way to go. I really didn’t want to get lost, I couldn’t face running a step further than I had to.

I could hear the yellow-vested running club behind me and that gave me the impetus to get going. I came out of the woods and onto a road, and a marshal told me to turn right. “Onto the path?” I asked, pointing at the path running to the left of the road. She pointed enigmatically. “Should I run on the road?” I asked. She carried on pointing. I headed for the path. “Run on the road!” she shouted. Argh. I trudged up the road, thinking that it must nearly be the end but why couldn’t I see Ashridge House?

The road headed uphill and all the cars coming down looked really pissed off about runners in the road. The road surface was terrible and I concentrated hard to make sure I didn’t trip. At the top of the hill – which probably wasn’t really that big – marshals beckoned me onto the grass, and up another hill, over which I could just about make out the top of the inflatable arch marking the finish. Matt was sitting on the grass to the left and I gave him a tired wave, before the final kick uphill sucked the life out of my legs.

With a few hundred metres to go I picked up my feet and headed for the finish, not wanting to check how close the yellow vests were. Lou and Ant were near the finish line and I got loads of claps and cheers as I ran across the grass and finally over the line (beating the yellow vests, phew).

It was nice to have people to hang out with after the race, and we sat in the sunshine for a while cheering other runners. One lady finished with her dog, and then came and stood near us. I caught the dog’s eye and she came running over for a cuddle, plonking herself down next to me and leaning in for a snuggle. Best race finish ever!

Afterwards we went home and drank tea in the sunshine, before going to the pub for dinner. A successful Saturday!

Although I was slow, this race had the biggest amount of elevation I’ve covered in one run, so I don’t mind. I had a lot of fun and it was really enjoyable. And I by no means came last, 7 out of 14 in my age group.

My knee isn’t looking very pretty though…

Richmond Park Half Marathon

“Maybe we did the third lap twice?”

It’s been a while since I did a race – the last race I entered was the disastrous Halstead Marathon, and the last race I actually finished was the Kingston Breakfast Run back at the beginning of April (where is the year going?). I’ve done one parkrun since but it was a bit pants. A friend suggested signing up for the Richmond Park Half – the race is organised by Run Through, whose Wimbledon races I have done, so I knew it would have a nice relaxed vibe. And Richmond Park is lovely.

I prepped for the race by cycling to Thorpe Park the day before, and spending the day standing in queues and going on rollercoasters. Probably not ideal. I had a late night and had to squeeze myself out of the sheets in the morning, leaving Matt asleep. I had some train disasters on the way but it worked out in the end.

It was already a nice morning when I got to the park, and after picking up my number I headed to join the portaloo queue. By the time I got out the queue was much longer than when I’d joined it, so I definitely made the right call. I’m not sure if all those people will have made it to the loo before the race started! I went back to the start line and met up with Tibbs and Ciq, and we compared Garmins. I commented that mine took a long time to find reception, and got it started searching with a few minutes to go.

We got into starting positions. My watch still hadn’t found reception. The countdown went. I looked at my watch – come on!! Nothing. We set off, and my watch struggled onwards, still no reception.

Lap 1

Tibbs surged ahead and left Ciq and I jostling in the crowds. We tried to chat but kept getting separated by people, but did have a good laugh at someone running the other direction who complained that we didn’t all move out of his way (I’m all for sharing a path, but asking 300 people to move for one person seems a bit topsy-turvy, especially as 299 of those people were following the person in front). After nearly 1km I finally got signal on my Garmin. Thanks, technology.

The course headed to the north edge of the park and along the path following it round, which had some steep ups and downs. As we rounded the corner towards the road, we saw one of Ciq’s friends off to the side and he went to check up on her, catching me up as I ran down Sawyers Hill. This part of the course was good as there were cyclists to watch, but bad because it’s long, straight and boring.

We headed up towards the start/finish line and realised there was a massive dogleg stretching into the distance. Urgh. Ciq nearly stood in a giant deer poo. We plodded on.

Lap 2

I grabbed some water and tried to drink it slowly – made easier by the bottle still being sealed and difficult to open while running. We were barely talking, and we both admitted afterwards that we were contemplating not finishing the race. I felt extremely tired and achey. We walked for a minute half way round the lap and managed to get going again.

It was very warm and although Ciq tells me that it rained at one point, I don’t remember this. I was glad I had sunblock on.

Towards the end of the lap I started to feel queasy, feeling like I might throw up and had a few danger burps. My stomach felt pretty unsettled and I decided to take a detour to the portaloos, which turned out to be a good idea as while I lost a lot of time, I felt a hell of a lot better. Ciq waited for me, at a safe distance from the loos.

Lap 3

We ploughed on, trudging a bit now. We weren’t having fun and I tripped on a stone (but caught myself), which made me worry a lot about the ground underfoot and my recent ankle problems. I don’t really remember what we talked about for most of this lap, maybe this was the one where we shouted at the cyclist? Who designs a 4 lap race, anyway?

By the second half of the lap I was feeling in better spirits, and a short walk energised me enough to spend at least a mile talking about dogs. Sorry Ciq. We told ourselves that we just had to get onto the final lap before Tibbs lapped us, which we managed.

Lap 4

Ciq’s friend with the sore back was at the water stop, so we had a little chat and invited her to run with us (she declined as she wanted to zone out to music). I managed some water and also a couple of shot bloks as my stomach was feeling better, and this perked me up a little. Seeing all the people finishing the race was a little demoralising though.

We continued on, but I can’t say we were really trying by this point. It was mainly chatting and arguing about where the flags were. Ciq had spent at least 2.5 laps working out how many downhill sections we had before the finish, and I finally realised that he thought that we were on an entirely downhill course, like an Escher painting of Richmond Park.

Ciq suggested walking up the final uphill, “so we can finish strong… well, not strong, but y’know”. Yes, I know. We set off, past a horse, dodged the deer poo, rounded ridiculous doglegs towards the finish. Finally it looked like we were close enough that a sprint finish wouldn’t end up with me puking 100m from the end, so I told Ciq to RUN and we legged it over the line.

My slowest ever half marathon, but you know what, I don’t care. I haven’t run properly in so long, and it was hot (and I am too pale for this shit), and I spent the day before cycling/rollercoastering. We got ourselves a sweet deer medal and a tshirt (Matt will pleased to have more pyjama tops!) and a flapjack. And then another flapjack because they were going to waste. And then another. Tibbs had nailed a brand new PB, his first sub-2. Impressive!

After lounging in the sunshine in the park for a while, I went for a post-race snack: burrito and cheesecake. The diet can wait…

Writing about running

As if shouting into the ether here wasn’t enough, I’ve started blogging on the Running Stories website.

This is my latest piece, as usual I’m really working that positive mental attitude: http://www.therunningstories.com/pains-and-sprains/

I had lots of high hopes about things I was going to write about but it’s all fallen by the wayside a little.

Running Stories is an interesting website, though, and they have a podcast too, so that’s quite exciting.

Post-DNF

After spending the last 13 weeks training for a marathon that I didn’t complete, I feel a bit empty.

Apparently it’s quite normal to feel a bit flat after a marathon. But I’m pretty sure this is when you’ve actually finished it, and all your hard work has paid off and you don’t have a goal to aim for any more.

So, what happens if you DNF? I ran 18.4km on Sunday (which is 43% of a full marathon, stats fans). As a result, my legs haven’t really felt tired all week, and although my ankle has been sore, I – for obvious reasons – don’t feel like I ran a marathon. I don’t feel like I trained enough (partly due to injury, but also because I didn’t quite make the long runs) but I still feel like I trained and that the training has somewhat gone to waste.

The first day or so after Halstead, I looked up upcoming marathons and wanted to book something as soon as possible. I thought about doing a half marathon this coming weekend but I think I realised (deep down, at least) that this was a silly idea.

By Tuesday or Wednesday I’d decided that while I do want to have something to train for, it might be sensible to recover fully first and try and enjoy myself a bit before launching straight into another marathon.

I’ve decided that my plans for the next few months are as follows:

  • Let my ankle get better
  • Start eating better instead of snacking so much
  • Ride my bike more – I’ve barely ridden this year and I miss it
  • Focus on shorter distances until the end of summer, like:
    • Parkruns
    • Some 10k races
    • Maybe a half marathon, depending on dates
  • Triathlon! An olympic in June/July and a middle in August
  • An autumn marathon

It seems silly to say that I put a lot of pressure on myself as my times don’t really back that up. But I’m not very kind to myself for not being fast enough. I would love to find a balance where I’m training enough that I’m okay with my times in races, rather than always feeling that I could have pushed harder and not been defeated so easily – if I just felt that I had done my best I think I’d be happier with my times, whatever they were. I’m not sure when this was last the case… The Kevin Henry 5k last summer, maybe, as I kept pushing the whole way round. Maybe the Regents Park 10k last winter, as although I was slow and plodded around, I kept going instead of thinking about stopping or slowing down. I took a random day off work early last year and ran around in Regents Park and surprised myself by not doing any of my normal silly mind games. I need more runs like that… instead of always feeling such a let down…