Monsal Trail – longest yet

  This week’s runs have seen me on the Thames towpath just south of Oxford, from home to Drinkstone and back, knocking five minutes off my Thetford parkrun PB from two years ago, and then today’s big one.

I was travelling to near Manchester, so I’d always thought that if the weather was good I might spend some time walking or running in the Peak District. As I was late away from home, I decided that a run would be a good option, and had selected the Monsal Trail near Buxton, a former railway line now restored for use by walkers, cyclists and horse riders (I note they rarely say runners), with several tunnels and high bridges.

I had planned a 10-12km run, but once out I found the idea of making it a bit longer grew on me – perhaps because most of the planned first 5km was gently downhill so it was bound to feel relatively easy. I turned round at 8km with the possibility of a 10-mile run, but on the return leg I decided to push on. Of course, the way back was gently uphill, but although I was a little slower it wasn’t excessively hard, and so I ran on past the car at Millers Dale, ran to the western end of the Trail and turned back to the car.

Total distance was about 21.7km, a smidgen over a half-marathon and my longest run yet. I was tired but not wiped out, and indeed the worst outcome was once again sore patches on my lower back/upper bottom from my sweaty shorts. As I didn’t wear my running belt (having the hydration vest on) I can eliminate that as a potential cause. It is the shorts. More testing is needed to determine whether it is this particular design (I have two identical pairs which I use for almost all my running at the moment) or something generic to me.

But the ability to just choose to run a half-marathon distance almost at will is very encouraging. Running twice as far still seems an awfully long way, but there’s time to build up to that, and I needn’t run quite as fast.

The scenery of the run was delightful with steep gorges and flowery meadows, the railway line cut into shelves on the side of the hill, striding across the river on high bridges, and many tunnels – I was impressed with how well the Garmin coped with those, presumably reverting to its “run indoor” mode relying on my arm swings until it could get a GPS fix again when I emerged.

Official photos and reflections

The chunky entry fee for Sunday’s  London 10 Mile run included “free” photographs. Most of my 18 are actually of other people entirely or I’m barely visible.

But two are reasonable photos, at 5 and 10 miles…

The official results put me in 1086th place (based on chip time), about 34% of the way through the field, my best relative position in a long race, helping me put things in a bit more perspective.

By a curious coincidence, I was 1086th across the start line too, which all sounds very even and satisfactory, but my two halves were uneven, the first being 43:30 and the second being 45:20, and it’s those lost 110 seconds that are annoying me. I was 972th at 5 miles, so I overtook a net 114 people in the first half and was overtaken by a net 114 people in the second half. That latter was particularly dispiriting.

My mysterious benefactor who had unwittingly spurred me on at several points is now identified as Harriet Kiddy, and I’ve been able to thank her via Strava. She in turn thanked me – she’d been chasing me for a few miles: great to hear that I’d been a little help to her too, and it added a further little cheer to the post-event analysis.

Looking further ahead, one analysis of the London Marathon course has ascent of 54 metres, about a third of the London 10-Mile, and almost all of it very minor rises: no hills!

London 10 Mile

Today was the day that running training for the last 17 weeks has, at least nominally, been heading towards. Although I would have been going out running anyway, I’ve been working to an Mbition training plan with today’s London 10 Mile in Richmond Park (originally advertised as the Royal Parks 10) as the objective. I successfully ran all 51 of my training runs (plus a small handful of sneaky extras) so had put in the work.

It was a longish walk from the south where we’d parked the car near the Robin Hood Gate, across the park to the event village, but a lovely one on a sunny day, with no traffic other than cyclists and a few deer. While Lucy went to investigate whether there was scope to buy an event t-shirt, I queued for the toilets, which gave me opportunity to pin on my race number and sort out my bag and other bits and pieces. The long queue moved swiftly, and after that was sorted I dropped off my bag.

There was no news from our friend Claire whose suggestion this race had been, and who has also been training for it, and so I guided Lucy to my suggested spot for her to watch the start which also allowed for an easy short walk to the 3-mile point, and then I went to my yellow pen, the second of the four pens. It was already getting busy and the 90-minute pacemaker was some distance in front of me, unreachable in the dense mass of people, and I wasn’t much in front of the 100-minute person. I wasn’t looking for a formal pacemaker but it did suggest there would be a fair few people in front of me looking to go more slowly than my 85 to 87-minute target.

The start was delayed by 15 minutes for reasons not explained, but that period did allow for a minute’s silence in memory of those killed last night, and an emphatic round of applause for the emergency services.

Eventually the first pen was underway, and after a short pause, our pen was too, getting me across the line about four minutes after the gun. It was very busy and slower than desired along the first straight, but once I’d turned the first corner and been cheered on by Lucy, it wasn’t too challenging to start to overtake people, both up the first hill and down the other side. I expected there to be some people a bit slower, but there were some very slow people who really should have been much further back in the fourth pen if that’s all they could manage at the start.

The scenery of Richmond Park is sublime and there was plenty of opportunity to enjoy it as the route wended its way to the south-east corner by Robin Hood Gate and then began its circuit of the park. I found myself running alongside a woman in pink in the second mile, and we more or less matched each other until about 7.5 miles which I think was helpful though with hindsight perhaps caused me to push a fraction too hard, though that was mostly driven by me aiming for a specific time and thus a particular pace on my Garmin.

After turning the north-east corner at Roehampton Gate, there began a slow drag of 2.7km gaining 66 metres of height and all into a stiff breeze and increasingly warm temperatures. I waved to Lucy as I passed her, she calling to me from the right-hand-side when I was expecting her on the left. This section was challenging and maybe I pushed too hard here, though once we turned the north-west corner by the Star and Garter Home, the next side was downhill or level so did give time for the legs to recover somewhat, and I did one km in 5:00 and my average speed thus far was bang on target at 5:21/km.

However, turning the south-west corner at Kingston Gate then produced another significant little hill, just 30 metres but at a gradient of up to 10%. The painful ascent was enlivened by tree surgeons sitting in a tree overhanging the road and cheering us on. Great fun but it didn’t have much impact on my legs which had had enough by the time I got to the top, and never regained their freshness. My intermittent companion in pink now pulled away from me, though initially not far. The ascent was followed by a steep descent which improved the speed but didn’t do much to help the legs – long and gradual would have been more helpful.

After a brief circuit at Robin Hood Gate to add a few metres to the route, it was back towards the event village along the outward route, which meant a gentle but persistent 1.7km uphill with another 30 metres of ascent in warm sunshine. I was determined I wasn’t going to walk, but the pace dropped dramatically to around 6:18/km, the lady in pink disappeared into the distance, and I was feeling demoralised as I was passed by dozens and dozens of people whose legs were in better shape than mine. Eventually I crested the hill and the remaining 900 metres were downhill and then level: although easier, my legs were struggling and I could still only manage 5:39 for the 16th kilometre.

As I approached the final turn into the finish straight, after a run with relatively little support, the crowds suddenly appeared and the air was thick with “Come on Stephen” (names being printed on the race numbers), which was great to hear, and plenty of hands out for high-fives, but it wasn’t really needed by now as it’s always easy to find a last smidgen of energy for the end with the finish line in sight. I passed Lucy close to the finish, and crossed the line in a chip time of 1:28:49, some 98 seconds slower than my PB which had been my primary target and 2.5 to 3 minutes slower than my dream target.

I had given it my all, and as I walked to the table with goodie bags, it was something of a drunkard’s walk, only just managing to propel myself in the right direction without falling over, and having claimed my water, protein drink, fridge magnet and packet of crisps, I had my cherished medal hung around my neck, walked out of the finish zone, and collapsed on the grass. After a short while I recovered enough to have a drink and message Lucy as to where I was. Gradually I recovered strength and after eating my crisps, drinking the water and the protein shake, I went to collect my bag while Lucy queued for some food.

The food queue was lengthy, and though the food was excellent we barely had time to eat it before we went over to the finish straight to wait for Claire who’d had time to post a Facebook message that she was at Mile 9, which we noticed six minutes later. She was a few minutes yet, and we cheered a few others across the line before she appeared, jogging cheerfully, in company with Paul Wright. As her longest run before today was 11.7km, she did very well to finish, though clearly had a few breaks as she had managed to take a lot of photos on her phone including ones at every mile.

So, it is done. I knew it was going to be hilly (by my standards, at any rate – there are plenty of hillier races) but the combination of the hills, the wind in the face on the leg heading west, and the warm temperatures, made the time target prove to be too challenging and in the last quarter I paid for having managed that target pace in the first three-quarters. However, I wasn’t that far off the objective, but nevertheless feel a little disappointed and dispirited. With an objective in 10.5 months which is 2.6 times as far, it also isn’t very motivating about my capacity to run such a long distance, either.

Clearly I need more practice on hills, and I need more long runs both to get my legs more used to distance and to start to reclaim some confidence. Would the two half-marathons I had my eye on in August and September help or hinder that, I wonder?

Little ones

Wednesday saw me realise that the need to drop the car off at the garage meant that the window for a run was short, so it was just a brisk 3.5km across the village and back rather than the intended 5 or 6km tempo run.

Friday by contrast was planned to be short. Inspired by the Strava Mile sweepstakes, I decided to run a brisk mile – something I’ve never aimed at before. Although I’ve done intervals with fast runs, they’ve been embedded within a larger effort and so I’ve never focussed on them individually.

I did a warm-up run of 2km fairly gently (though 12 months ago it would have been at my limits), then paused to get my breath while leaving my heart and muscles nicely warmed up, then ran back. I was somewhat frightened by the 4:10/km pace initially, and couldn’t quite keep that up, but knowing that I needed to beat about 4:33/km, I kept ahead of that and set a new kilometre PB of 4:23 and mile PB of 7:05. Very satisfactory.

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside

Landguard Point

The picture is at Languard Point, with the sea behind me, the exit of Harwich Harbour to the left, and shows a bit of the nature reserve, cluttered with the accumulated remains of several centuries of military defences and hemmed in by the Port of Felixstowe behind and the seaside world of leisure away to the right. The boardwalk is really bouncy to run on – great fun. A lovely spot.

My longer Sunday runs have been around the lanes near home for quite a few weeks, and while each has been somewhere different and included new roads, there has been a certain sameness about them, and it was time to shake things up a bit.

So this morning it was ho! to Felixstowe for a visit to the seaside – not entirely novel as I’ve run here a few times before, but not for a while. I ran south-west to the tip of Landguard Point, then retraced my steps and continued north-east to the first Martello Tower then along the prom, past the pier for a while before turning to run back to the car. By the time I finished just after 9am it was 23° and there were already sunbathers out, with lots of other people taking a stroll on the prom, together with a few other runners.

There were the smells of rubber from things being inflated, of cooking food, and of chlorine from the leisure centre. The last is a bit of an obstacle at the moment as the prom has been closed since last June for a short distance to allow some works to be carried out, which means a little diversion around the leisure centre, a route that has confused my Garmin each time I’ve done it.

The intention was for a run of 8km at 5:37/km but my legs felt great after a gentle week and I committed one of the sins of the taper period and ran both further and faster, but not too seriously so. I will need to be very careful to rest properly towards the end of this coming week, but no harm done today. It did at least have the benefit of giving me fresh confidence as there was so much in the tank to push a little harder and plenty of energy when I finished. It has left me in fresh doubt though about whether to adopt the run-walk strategy that I used successfully on my 10-mile race at the Lee Valley Velopark (and last Sunday’s 15.3km) or to return to my more normal “run it all” approach and trust to the energy gained from the taper and the occasion to see me through. Something to ponder.

Volunteering

This is me (in red, centre photo) enjoying Bury St Edmunds parkrun back in April, and at the time of writing still the banner photo for the event on Facebook.

I’ve now done 72 parkruns. Volunteering is exactly that – voluntary – but nevertheless it is a truism that parkrun wouldn’t exist without volunteers, and having volunteered just once, it was about time I improved my volunteering ratio. I’m currently running a little less as I prepare for next weekend’s race, so an email plea for volunteers on Thursday saw me offer my services straight away – I’d volunteered for next week some weeks ago, so it’ll be two in a row.

Last time I was “backup timer”, and this week I was a “scanner”, in a team of three scanning each runner’s personal barcode and their finish token, information which then gets combined in a computer with the information from the timers to assign a time to each person.

Having been asked to arrive half an hour early, I wandered around 25 minutes before the off, and there was no-one about, but a few minutes later the action started and the various volunteers got briefed on our roles. I stood in front of the start line (off to one side) for a view that is quite different from being in the pack, and watched the stream of humanity go past at just a few seconds after nine o’clock.

Then it was a casual walk over to the tent where the scanning takes place, and a wait, first for the runners to start their second lap, and then for the first finisher. It’s a gentle start, and then the pace gradually hots up as we get towards the middle of the pack where most people finish, and the queue for scanning lengthens. There was much scope for more efficiency as people at the front of the queue weren’t paying attention, and many of them presented their finish token first, or barcodes facing the ground. It was enjoyable working my way through them: I was surprised at how many have their barcodes on a rubber bracelet, though they scanned surprisingly well (with the exception of one or two pink ones).

Soon the queue had been whittled away, and it was a friendly wait for the last few to cross the line. Then packing up, putting away the tent, and carrying stuff back to the cars.

An enjoyable morning, perhaps partly for the novelty, but it’s good to be able to help out. Next week timing again.

New shoes

As my main road shoes (I have another pair of trail shoes) are coming towards the end of their recommended life, I treated myself to a new pair of Brooks Adrenaline GTS shoes, my fourth such – this is the 2017 model, and I’ve had two 2016s and a 2014 pair.

The primary focus was to be able to run the London 10-mile a week on Sunday in shoes giving their best. Despite the fact that they shouldn’t need “running in” and are essentially the same as three previous pairs, I thought I’d better give them a little test.

So this morning it was my semi-regular 6.4km loop to Drinkstone and back. Once warmed up, my legs felt good – whether it was a fairly restful few days (ignoring the 15km on Sunday) or the new shoes (physically or psychologically) I don’t know. I’ve also managed to shed a small amount of weigh in the last couple of weeks (Christmas weight, here I come!) which will have helped a tiny bit.

But anyway, the net result of all that, despite deliberately slowing down for a km in the middle, was a new record pace on this route and for a couple of segments within it, and a 6km personal best time of precisely 30 minutes.

So the shoes passed the test with flying colours, and are now put aside for 10 days until it’s time for Richmond Park.

New things

With two weeks to go before the London 10 mile race in Richmond Park, Sunday was my last long run for the next 14 days. My schedule called for 15.3km at 5:37/km and I managed 15.3km at 5:36/km, coming in 9 seconds ahead of plan, so that was pretty pleasing.

Today was a day of experiments, not so much with the London 10 mile in mind, but thinking more of the London Marathon and training for it. So it was my first outing for my new Camelbak hydration vest which allows me to carry 1½ litres of water on my back and drink on the move. The Camelbak also has some small pockets on the front into which I put a couple of Sport in Science gels and energy bars, which I consumed on the run.

The Camelbak worked well. I was unsure how quickly I was depleting the water supply (one can obviously tell when holding a bottle of water, but tucked away on my back, it was less clear) – hopefully I’ll get better at judging that with experience. The tube gently rubbed my neck as it passed from my back to my front, more annoying than causing any physical problems. Later inspection showed that it had arrived with the tube emerging from the left at the back and moving to the right at the front, which I fixed for next time.

The gel was a novel experience, the most difficult bit being tearing it open with sweaty fingers – more experimentation needed, I think. The energy bar was more of a challenge to eat on the run, and presumably slower to be absorbed, but did provide variety to the gel. Plenty of time to experiment on my long runs over the next few months.

Running on the move

I’ve said here and elsewhere that I’m using travel with work as an opportunity for my running, not an excuse. But that doesn’t mean it is without challenges.

Some can be tackled with planning: when I need to stay away, but it doesn’t matter where exactly, then I try to pick somewhere where it will be practical to go for a run on arrival in the evening or first thing in the morning.

But sometimes where I’m staying just doesn’t lend itself to running, or I may have colleagues with me making adjusting plans more difficult, or hire cars to drop off, or aeroplanes to catch, or simply no sensible way to bend my day to fit in a run.

There is always scope to get up from a hotel bed earlier, or get home later by stopping off en route.

But tiredness is a problem not so easily addressed. Yesterday I got up at stupid-o’clock to drive to Liverpool to fly to Northern Ireland, and this morning, after a long day, it was an early departure to come back. I’ve yet to have a run in Northern Ireland, but it was impractical to do so this time, so I stopped off in Warrington for a run on the banks of the St Helens Canal, also known as the Sankey Brook Navigation.

My run schedule called for some six-minute fast intervals with three-minute recovery. But my body quickly told me that after early mornings, travel, and not to mention a weekend of fell-walking, it had other thoughts about running fast for six minutes. So I improvised, and if I want to be positive, what emerged was 6km of fartlek. It was hard work, whatever it was.

A run schedule is all very well, and making a gap in the calendar is important, but making sure the body is ready too, that’s a different challenge.

Preston – parkrun location 42

Encouragement and magic gingerbread from friends helped me find the energy to get out of bed in good time rather than lie there listening to the rain. I headed down the M6 with the wipers on storm, wondering if it was a good idea, but by the time I reached Preston the rain had stopped and I discovered a delightful town centre park alongside the River Ribble and with a lovely Japanese garden.

I also found almost 400 people celebrating Preston parkrun’s 5th birthday, a number of whom were very welcoming to a stranger from distant lands. I don’t know what amp/speaker system the run briefer had, but any similar group thinking of getting one should get the same – amazingly effective. It was, however, somewhat difficult to concentrate on the verbal instructions and commentary, because standing next to the adult briefer was a young girl who gave a visual interpretation with gestures for everything he said and exaggerations of all his own gestures – it was wonderful and really made my day.

The line-up for the start was friendly but very crowded: I’ve never had so many beautiful women touching me at once. Sadly that didn’t last long and we were off along the bank of the Ribble, and then to the hill which the run briefer had described as steeper and longer than it looks, and he was right, and he hadn’t mentioned the slippery surface. Not a big hill but it punched well above its weight. The rest was very pleasant around the park and under four bridges. And then two more laps: a very enjoyable run, even if some way off my fastest after a tiring week. Not surprisingly I was overtaken by The Flash, but managed to stay ahead of Jabba and Princess Leia, among others who were celebrating the birthday run in fancy dress.

At the finish, there was an embarras du choix of 5th birthday cakes, all being very ably supervised by the girl who’d entertained me at the run briefing, and I made a point of thanking her for that as well as the cakes: hopefully I improved her day even if not as much as she improved mine.

So, after thanking the run director and spending a few minutes cheering in other runners, it was back to my temporary home for the weekend, inspecting the gradually rising cloudbase and to plan a modest fell walk for the afternoon.

Time to go Forth

Having said the other day that I had determined to use work travel as an opportunity rather than an excuse, I stayed in bed in Elgin yesterday (after all, it was a great bedroom with a four-poster bed and three showers to choose from!) so on the last morning of the Scotland trip I felt I really ought to get out.

So despite a latish night in the bar last night, I set the alarm for 6am and got up and out into a bright morning, running through the streets of Bridge of Allan and out to the north bank of the River Forth. The footpath along the bank of the Forth offered views of the Wallace Monument and of Stirling Castle.

It was a bit of a challenge to get myself out of bed but as so often, once I was outside and running, I was so glad I had done so. Why that lesson is so easy to relate, but after all these years still so difficult to put into practice is a challenging question to answer.

A good cooked breakfast and then the flight from Edinburgh to Birmingham and a drive back to Cumbria for the weekend – I’m not sure whether there will be any weekend running: we will see.

Dyce and Don

Travelling with work used to represent a challenge to my running – or perhaps “excuse” was a better word. I find travel tiring, and fitting in the running meant rising early before hitting the road, or finding the energy to go for a run after getting back after hours of driving, or getting up from a hotel bed when I really wanted to enjoy the luxury before knuckling down to work again.

But a couple of years ago I vowed to use the travel as an opportunity, not an excuse. It’s an opportunity to run in new places (or at least places where I run infrequently), even if it means a very early rise from a hotel bed, or stopping off part-way home to run.

 

Last night I flew up to Aberdeen and stayed at an airport hotel prior to driving to Elgin this morning. For once there was little hurry so there was plenty of time for an extended run around Dyce (the small town where the airport is located). With advice from a runner on the WeightLossResources website, I set off in perfect running weather.

I ran around the end of the runway, through housing into woodland where there were bluebells aplenty, down through the woods to the River Don where I diverted to the south to the weir, then back north along the bank of the Don for a few kilometres before joining the path along the old railway line to the railway station, over the bridge and then back along the airport perimeter to the hotel.

My legs felt a little tired after Sunday’s half-marathon, but I slowed down a little and they were fine. The sore spots on my back (from sweaty shorts) gave me no difficulties. So all in all, a very satisfactory and enjoyable run.

Back at the hotel I opened the laptop and ordered some sports gels and energy bars and recovery stuff, to start my experimentation with better long run fuelling.

Public ballot

A record total number of 386,050 applicants registered for a ballot place in the 2018 Virgin Money London Marathon. This is the highest number of applicants for any marathon in the world.

327,516 of those applicants were from the UK. This is 73,586 up from the previous UK applicant record of 253,930 for the 2017 event – an increase of nearly 29 per cent.

Just over 58% of the UK applications for 2018 were from people who have never run a marathon.

I feel even more privileged to have gained a charity place. Wouldn’t it be ironic if I got a ballot place too? With about 16000 places available, the odds of success are about 1 in 24, or 4%.

A bit too far

With the excitement of Friday’s news of the 2018 London Marathon place still simmering away (indeed, perhaps on a more active boil), and with the previous weekend’s 10-mile PB at the Lee Valley Velopark also not gone away, I perhaps got a bit carried away with this morning’s run.

When a route from Norton through Pakenham and Stowlangtoft was first considered, it was about 15km, but in planning last night, I looked at an extension to the north to make it up to half-marathon distance.

I set off knowing that I could have the choice, but really wanting to do the HM distance. Added to that danger was that I had to make the choice around 8km, at which point I was still feeling fresh. I turned left rather than going straight on, committing myself to the longer distance.

This did give me the opportunity to discover the hamlet of Langham which I’d never visited before, but as I approached 16km I started to struggle, and by 17.5km was finding it very hard indeed, and there was a fair bit of walking towards the end. I did find the strength to turn off my shortest route to visit another map square, and then to run past the car for another 300 metres to get to the full 21.1km.

It was really too big an increase in distance for me to expect to be comfortable, and then I tried to do it too fast in the circumstances, but nevertheless it was a good feeling to have succeeded.

I was passed by 12 cars and a motorbike, and passed a deer, a pheasant, two rabbits, three dog-walkers (with seven dogs), and two dog-free walkers.

Post-run thoughts:

  • I need to find a way to take on board water and potentially fuel during long runs. I’m going to look at running backpacks with hydration pouches, but do I still then need a belt for easy access to other items while running?
  • From Christmas onwards I will be doing a run of 13 miles or more almost every week as I head towards VMLM on 22 April. What was the pinnacle of my running distance-wise, and is still the longest I’ve ever run, will need to become routine.
  • I need to find a way not to get rubbed on my lower back/upper bottom by my sweaty shorts
  • With the exception of those sore spots on my back, post-run impact was pretty modest. This is good, and is encouraging me to consider more long runs this year before I get to the more intense 16-week lead-in to the VMLM.
  • I mustn’t get carried away too quickly. My body is still better geared to shorter running at the moment. My training focus should be the London 10-mile in Richmond Park in June.

Stephen afoot

I started running indoors in late 2007, and after reaching 5km indoors in March 2008, started outdoor running, and entered the first Royal Parks Half Marathon in October 2008. I did two more half-marathons in Reading in 2009 and 2010, after which my running rather lost objective and focus.

In 2014, I discovered parkrun, which gave a fresh objective, and I rediscovered my enthusiasm for running. Successful weight loss in 2016, together with several running friends (mostly online so far) and a growing love of parkrun tourism further increased my love of running.

A chance visit to the London Marathon in April 2017 (in the interval of Harry Potter and Cursed Child) generated a lot of emotion, and I found myself, having vowed not even to do another half-marathon because of the strain the training had put me under, seeking a place for the 2018 London Marathon.

To my delight and surprise, I quickly gained a place running in aid of Guide Dogs. With almost 12 months to go, my enthusiasm for longer distance running started to bubble over, and I thought it might be a good time to experiment with a blog, mixing run reports, thoughts and plans. I don’t expect a wide audience, but it may be interesting to experiment with the format.

2018 and 2019 proved to be my years with the most running so far, each containing a marathon, and each containing a lot of parkruns (48 in 2019). 2018 was also the year Lucy took up running, now joining me as a parkrun tourist, and in 2019 our new American cocker spaniel, Brindley, also took up running with the enthusiasm that he throws into everything he does.

2020 is to be the year of the Boston Marathon, and parkrun in Australia, among other running exploits. Good times ahead.