Monthly Archives: June 2011

Death Racing

By Pete Williams

Logging the Death Race

PITTSFIELD, Vt. – It was 20 hours into The Spartan Death Race on Saturday and the transition area looked like nothing in endurance sports.

Logs were strewn everywhere in front of a barn alongside Route 100 in this Central Vermont town quickly becoming known as the home of the most unusual endurance challenge in sports. Athletes dealt with obstacles in the mountains that loomed in every direction, but some of the more difficult tasks took place right here in this muck of mud and sawdust.

It began Friday night with a few deadlifts – 1,300 or so with rocks ranging from 10 to 30 pounds. That’s 100,000 pounds worth of deadlifts over six hours. That was followed by a hike upstream in 45-degree waters which were at times waist deep.

Joe Decker, shouldering a load

After emerging from the icy waters, the shivering contestants were forced to carry a lit candle for a quarter-mile. If they lost the flame, they started over, repeating the loop seven times over a three-hour period until sunrise.

The log splitting event, a Death Race staple, included a new twist. After selecting their 50-lb. tree stumps, athletes were forced to carry the stump up a windy 2.5-mile trail. At the top of the mountain they were read several bible verses. Upon retuning down the mountain they were required to recite the verse from memory. Miss a word, go back up the mountain. Get it right and they got to chop wood.

Twenty percent of the field missed and headed back up the hill with the wood.

The race already was eight hours old and just getting started.

This is what Joe DeSena and Andy Weinberg had in mind in 2005 when they came up with the Death Race as an alternative to triathlons and other endurance races they felt had become predictable and routine. The idea was to create an event athlete couldn’t possibly train or prepare for in advance.

Athletes do not know how long the event will be or what obstacles it will include. They’re not even given the exact starting time, just instructions on when to be on site, along with a list of items to bring. This year’s list included an ax, saw, drill and bit.

Other highlights (lowlights?) of this year’s race included carrying a 40-lb. log for more than 24 hours and carrying 10-gallon buckets filled with water for 2.5 miles. If one drop was spilled, they started over.

After more than 35 hours on the course, the mentally drained competitors were given a 200-question test to recall information given to them at the beginning of the race and throughout the course.

An average Ironman triathlon winner takes eight or nine hours to navigate a course, with much of the field taking between 12 and 15 hours. The 2010 Death Race winner, Joe Decker, took 28 hours to finish.

Decker was back for more punishment, one of 155 crazies taking on the ultimate in a category loosely defined as “adventure mud runs.” It ranges from the low-key and all-inclusive (Muddy Buddy) to the challenging (Tough Mudder and DeSena/Weinberg’s own Spartan Race).

The Spartan Race debuted with three events at the end of 2010 and now has two dozen events with The Death Race re-branded this year as The Spartan Death Race. It belongs in its own category.

Joe Decker, two-time winner

Decker, the 41-year-old owner of Gut Check Fitness in San Diego, was the first to emerge from the woods having hauled his freshly-cut 36-inch log through the mountains. After using his hand-drill and bit to embed his race number in the log, he crossed Route 100 and tossed it in a pond. Then it was back to more hiking and a pitch-black crawl through a small culvert under Route 100.

Emerging from the culvert, Decker was told to hike back to the pond and retrieve his log. Unlike subsequent athletes, whose logs floated, Decker’s sunk to the bottom.

No matter. He entered the pond and retrieved it within 10 seconds.

Back in transition, athletes still were drilling their numbers into logs. One imposing guy in a triathlon tech shirt and right sleeve tattoo struggled with the drill.

“I’d say woodworking is probably my weakest discipline,” he said to nobody in particular.

Death Race attire varies

Perhaps the most striking thing about this mid-race snapshot of The Death Race is how good everyone looked. Some had shredded their white race bibs, but most everyone looked far better than an average marathon or triathlon finisher. Only 20 or 25 athletes had dropped out. Most everyone was in good spirits.

Of course, when you don’t know when the finish line will come, you pace accordingly.

We spent just 90 minutes at The Death Race, which admittedly is like covering one-half inning of a baseball game. One blogger preparing for the 2012 event did a more thorough job here, noting that Tallahassee’s own Megan Mays, 28, earned everyone’s respect for slogging through the race.

Mays was one of two Florida athletes to appear on our Fitness Buff Radio Show before the event. Rebecca Hansen, a 49-year-old trainer from Naples, also finished.

Decker repeated as champion, which has to rank among the toughest repeats in sports.

Race organizers required athletes to generate pre-race publicity for themselves and the event or risk some sort of hideous punishment. (Full-body shaving, including head, was rumored.) Mays and Hansen, incidentally, were two of the only four women left standing when the race was called on Sunday afternoon after 45 hours.

Just 35 of the 155 athletes who started finished the race and only 7 completed all of the tasks. That group included Vermont’s Grace Cuomo Durfee.

Paul Roarke, the 50-year-old former U.S. Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sergeant from Pensacola, dropped out after suffering a leg injury 26 hours into the race.

“No excuses from me,” he says. “I will just have to try harder next year.”

Listen to Megan Mays and Rebecca Hansen discussing their pre-race training HERE.

Listen to Joe DeSena discuss the creation of The Death Race HERE.

Read about Paul Roarke‘s pre-race preparation HERE.

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First-Time Streaker

Going streaking!

(Editor’s Note: The following was submitted by a woman who ran the “Streak the Cove” 5K on May 22, 2011 at the Cypress Cove Resort. Registration is now open for the second-annual Streak the Cove 5K on May 20, 2012. The event is produced by Enterprise Media, LLC.)

By Margot

This had been my idea. I had convinced my boyfriend that it would be fun, non-sexual and a great way to launch his running career. But when we got there, I was the one acting like a giddy five year old as we pulled into our parking space and I took in the nudist experience.

Steve and the friends we rendezvoused at Kissimmee with were out of their clothes and waiting for me while I tried to adjust my attitude from nudist newbie to seasoned runner. Once undressed though, we were all the same.  There is something tremendously equalizing about being nude amongst the nude.

We had not preregistered for the inaugural “Streak the Cove” event so we hustled to the check- in table, wondered what to do with our keys and dissolved into the crowd out of about 152 runners while awaiting the start.

I was surprised to see so many runners in the under-30 age group, which race organizers attributed to an interview with an Orlando sports radio station prior to the event.  Other than that group, there was the usual mix of male (about 63%)  and female (about 37%)  attendees, mostly nude, a few dressed, one younger guy wearing a tie, his running shoes and nothing else.  At the head of the pack were serious runners, in position to maintain the lead. Not everyone here was in it just to be naked.

This was Steve’s first ever running event and he and I walked and ran around the double loop, getting a great view of mostly everyone as the past us. We had worried about flesh normally bound in spandex now flopping freely and decided early on this concern was unfounded. Running nude is exhilarating! This was, in fact, the most fun I had ever had at a sporting event ever.

Like most races the track was lined with enthusiastic supporters, only ours were nude.  The route took us through the residential area of Cypress Cove Nudist Resort which was generously shaded by oak trees.

Our goody bags included the usual assortment of upcoming sports events ads and coupons, as well as literature from the American Association for Nude Recreation which was actually very interesting. Also included was my now-favorite race giveaway – a bright red coolie cup with Cypress Cove in Coca Cola style lettering. I almost tossed it before I took a closer look. How clever!

We crossed the finished line practically, if not completely, dead last. The awards ceremony was held poolside and our race entry fee allowed us to stay at “The Cove” for the rest of the day. Female first place went to a 35-year-old Daytona woman who regularly wins nude running events and the male winner, who came in under 18 minutes left before the awards ceremony.

If there was an award for “had the most fun” Steve and I would have had to split it.

Interested? The next nude running event organized by Enterprise Media, LLC will be held October 9, 2011 at the Caliente Resort in Land O’Lakes, just north of Tampa. You can register HERE or find more information on the races at nuderaces.com.

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Triathlon “Capital?”

By Pete Williams

Cyclists, runners at the DC Triathlon

WASHINGTON – There’s something cool about having much of the downtown mall shut down early on a Sunday morning for a few thousand triathletes.

As someone who grew up in Northern Virginia and accustomed as a young professional years ago to taking long runs around the monuments and the U.S. Capitol building, I was skeptical about how DC Triathlon race directors could pull off the logistics of staging an event in a market with the nation’s worst traffic. Swimming in the Potomac did not sound pleasant and getting into the city the day before to put bikes in transition didn’t seem worth the effort.

But after watching Sunday’s event, which consisted of sprint and international distance races, I’m ready to sign up for 2012, even with the rapidly escalating fees now that the race has become part of the overrated 5150 series, which apparently refers to adding $51.50 to the entry fee to have a loose association with Ironman.

The World Triathlon Corporation, owners of the Ironman trademark only as it pertains to triathlon, can be mostly blamed for the escalation of triathlon entry fees. The WTC’s recently-announced Ironman event for 2012 in New York City ($1,000 and up) no doubt will trickle down to other events, including the DC Tri, which is $110 for the sprint and $165 for the international for 2012. That “alumni” rate factors in a $25 consideration to returning athletes, so expect a staggering $135/$190 entry fee for newcomers, not including registration fees.

Is it all worth it? Probably – especially when you compare it to Florida’s own St. Anthony’s Triathlon, now the second event of the 5150 series.

Tough to get lost at the DC Tri

In DC, they mark swim course buoys with yard markers and directional indicators. That seems a little corny, something you might do for a kid’s triathlon, but it works. The bike course has a few twists and turns – and has the dreaded two loops for the international distance – but it’s an open, scenic route with less potential for carnage than St. Anthony’s. (And given that the DC Tri is no more expensive than St. Anthony’s, it’s definitely a better value.)

The course goes around the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and the Rock Creek Parkway.

Cruising past the Lincoln Memorial

Given DC’s legendary humidity, I thought athletes would be suffering. In fact, the opposite was true. Athletes enjoyed low 70s temperatures and nearly everyone finished by 9:45 a.m. – unlike the St. Anthony’s overheated, 4,000-athlete death march that continues well into the lunch hour.

As for swimming in the Potomac, it couldn’t be any calmer. St. Anthony’s, meanwhile, hasn’t pulled off a swim not marred by weather since 2008.

In an interesting twist, the DC Tri started the pros at 9 a.m. It’s hard to think of another race that lets the age groupers start first.

As for logistics, the DC Tri might have fewer headaches than St. Anthony’s. After all, you can take the Metro into the city – with your bike – and I saw a number of athletes headed home on the Metro with their carbon fiber. The finish line was near the U.S. Capitol building – making for great pictures and a terrific setting – and there were regular buses taking athletes back to transition. The medals were stunning — giant pennies.

Next Stop: Qdoba

Perhaps best of all, the post-race food was catered by Qdoba Mexican Grill, which was free for athletes and discounted to $5 for spectators. (Qdoba also gave out as many 2-for-1 coupons as you wanted.)

The elephant in the living room, of course, is getting into DC, a brutal test of endurance if you’re driving from out of state and coming in via I-95 or 270. We noticed a lot of carbon fiber inching along next to us as we approached DC early Friday afternoon – stuck 30 miles south of the Beltway.

That aside, I’m bullish on the DC Tri for 2012.

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Surviving the Spartan Race

By Pete Williams

Spartans...Prepare for Glory!

ALDIE, Va., – Maybe it was the 130 yards crawling in manure-smelling mud under low-slung barbwire. Maybe it was tunneling under a mesh net while being drilled with paintballs by a sniper. Maybe it was hauling a five-gallon bucket of gravel up and down a hill, pulling a block of concrete 50 yards or navigating over and around countless logs and obstacles.

Maybe it was doing countless burpees, the penalty for being unable to complete an obstacle or being whacked with giant mallets by guys dressed as extras from the movie 300 protecting the finish line.

This is not you’re ordinary mud run or obstacle challenge.

No. This…is….Sparta – or at least The Spartan Race, perhaps the most creative of the many adventure mud runs that have popped up in recent years.

Conceived by the founders of the legendary Death Race with input from the Royal British Marines, The Spartan Race is less a run than a punishing death march through a roughly three-mile course featuring two-dozen obstacles and challenges that get progressively difficult.

Unlike other events in the category that set up the same course all over the country, The Spartan Race, which made its Florida debut in April in Miami, adapts to the site. For Saturday’s race, held among rolling horse farms and wineries in rural Loudoun County, the site was “Pev’s Paintball,” a sprawling complex of built-in obstacles.

That’s how athletes, who embarked in half-hour waves of roughly 300 (of course), found themselves being used as target practice. (The mesh nets provided some cover, at least from hits to the head). At another point competitors had to pick up a paintball gun and hit a small target 10 yards away. Penalty for missing? Thirty burpees.

Burpees are even more challenging when covered head to toe with mud and mentally and physically fried from completing 90 percent of an obstacle – such as a meandering balance beam – only to slip on muddy shoes or mud left from a previous competitor.

Wave start in Aldie, Va.

The Pev’s Paintball property has no significant bodies of water, so this edition of The Spartan Race lacked some of the formidable water obstacles featured in previous events and recorded on the many terrific videos on the Web site.

To compensate, race organizers added endless mazes of giant log obstacles, usually used as paintball positions. The lack of water challenges meant competitors could never wash off until after the race. Some men went shirtless, avoiding a heavy, bogged-down T-shirt, but subjecting themselves to more inevitable scrapes and abrasions beyond the legs.

There were greater casualties. Twice I saw ATVs equipped with litters hauling competitors off the course to the medical tent, well staffed with local rescue workers. Spartan Race officials reported later that only 81 percent of the field finished. (The Spartan Race waiver is extensive even by the lawyered-up standards of endurance sports boilerplate; you literally sign your life away.)

A buddy of mine who accompanied me to the race suffered a hand laceration early, a minor injury but one that significantly added to the degree of difficulty to his race, especially at the end.

Having thrown the javelin in high school, he had no problem sticking a spear throw into a bale of hay 10 yards away. (Thirty burpees for me).

The final gauntlet included getting over a six-foot wall, a seven-foot wall, and an eight-foot wall, all greased with mud from previous competitors. There even were volunteer hecklers assigned to berate competitors still gasping from 30 burpees. (Most missed the spear throw.)

One took a look at me and said, “Are you really wearing bike shorts to this race?”

“Those aren’t bike shorts,” her partner said. “Can you believe he’s actually wearing tri shorts? This isn’t some wimpy triathlon, pal.”

No kidding. I grabbed the top of the six-foot wall and pulled myself over, banging my ribs in the process. I caught my breath and flung myself over the seven-foot wall, struggling to maintain my grip on the muddy ledge.

The eight-foot wall looked imposing. A team of four guys racing together was hoisting each other over. This is allowed, though hardly encouraged. One guy noticed a small piece of wood nailed to the wall about a foot off the ground and took off running.

“Dude,” a heckler said. “That’s for shorter women.”

The guy pulled up shy of the wall and accepted help from his buddies. I turned down their offer, pausing to contemplate strategy. I figured I had enough left to get off one good attempt or succumb to 30 burpees.

Between my muddy clothes, lack of calves, and four-inch vertical leap, it was a long shot. Still, I got my right elbow over the muddy wall and made it over, banging the ribs again.

The last obstacle was an inverted V-shaped wall, which volunteers kept lubed with grease. At least this time ropes were provided. I made it over this obstacle relatively easy.

All that stood between the finish line were a pair of 300 wannabes wielding mallets. Unlike the HGH poster boys from The Spartan Race videos, these guys were a little doughy. Apparently the Loudoun County talent pool is a little thin.

Still, Betty White would have provided a formidable challenge at this point. I knew from watching the previous wave that the strategy was to bull rush the Spartans so they couldn’t swing their weapons.

I did just that and pushed by the first guy, took one last shot to the torso from No.2 and dashed to the finish line, where I received my medal and black T-shirt, which served as a nice face towel until I could hit the temporary-installed showers.

Not sure if non-finishers received shirts. Perhaps for an additional 30 burpees?

Touch-screen monitors were positioned nearby, providing real-time results. Unless I missed it, there was just water, sports drinks, and a race-sponsored energy drink available, no food. This, after all, is the Spartan Race. (There was, however, food available for purchase.)

I finished in 43:45, good for 40th among the 122 men who finished my wave. As I washed the mud and hideous pig farm smell off – cold water only for the Spartans – I thought of the 200 people who this weekend will embark on “The Death Race,” a marathon version of The Spartan Race in Vermont that has lasted three days in recent years. (No one is told the length or duration of that event.)

I won’t be competing in The Death Race.

That is Sparta.

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What’s Your ‘Death Row Meal?’

By Pete Williams

Go for the minced pork BBQ

All this talk about healthy eating can be, well, unhealthy. It’s good to be focused on eating properly, especially with the food industry working so hard to make us fat. It’s also impossible to perform well in endurance sports without proper nutrition strategies.

But the great thing about training and eating properly is enjoying your favorite foods without guilt. Many popular nutrition plans advocate a free/cheat day, which is a good thing.

Once or twice a year, I take that a step further by indulging in a “death row meal,” my last supper, the final feast, the bucket buffet, the last thing I’d eat on Earth were I heading out before breakfast.

I enjoyed my death row meal earlier this week at Bill’s Barbecue in Richmond, Va. It’s two minced pork barbecue sandwiches (sometimes three), fries, large limeade, and a slice of chocolate pie. It’s just an annual thing since we don’t have Bill’s BBQ in Florida.

The more you clean up your diet, the more a fatty meal makes you feel sleepy, bloated, and lethargic. That’s because you’re more in tune with how food makes you feel and fuels you for high performance.

That’s not the case with the death row meal.

It just tastes and feels great all around.

What’s your death row meal?

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SUP Hot Spot: Sandbridge Beach, Va.

By Pete Williams

Sandbridge SUP guru Anne Gassett

I was having a conversation recently with a couple of Florida-based stand-up paddle board gurus who were extolling the virtues of the greater Destin area, often referred to as the Beaches of South Walton, as perhaps the best location in the nation for SUP.

It’s tough to argue with them. The 30-A communities around Santa Rosa Beach have plenty of flat water and mostly year-round warm weather. But 30-A also has an ideal demographic. It attracts mostly vacationing families looking for laid-back family fun. There’s nothing better for that than stand-up paddleboarding. The terrific folks at YOLO Board picked an ideal place to launch their business. The company’s annual YOLO Seaside Celebration (Sept. 6-10) is an awesome week-long celebration of the sport.

Tampa Bay, on the other hand, is similar but not quite as ideal a demographic. Tampa Bay has plenty of flat water, a warmer climate than 30-A and a much larger population. But it’s more of a Budweiser and jet ski crowd.

What other place, we wondered, is comparable to 30-A?

One came to my mind immediately: Sandbridge. As the name suggests, it’s basically a giant sandbar between the Atlantic Ocean and the Back Bay just south of the Oceana Naval Air Base and the Virginia Beach strip. There’s no commercial development, just single-family homes rented only to families.

I spent a good chunk of my childhood at Sandbridge, which in recent years has been put on the map by native son Ryan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals. Surely, I thought, there must be someone in Sandbridge taking advantage of the growing interest in stand-up paddle boarding.

As it turns out, there is. Anne Gassett is an ACE-certified trainer, Sandbridge resident, long-time OC6 competitor, SUP enthusiast, and bootcamp instructor. In January, she ventured to Fl0rida and completed Brody Welte’s Paddle Fit certification class and has expanded her SUP business, giving lessons and renting/selling YOLO boards in Sandbridge.

I’m guessing there aren’t too many places where you can walk 100 yards in one direction and launch your board in the ocean and 100 yards in another direction and launch in a massive body of water like the Back Bay. But you can do that in Sandbridge, where surfers have enjoyed the ocean side for decades.

Just when I didn’t think I could enjoy Sandbridge anymore than I do, I got the thrill of seeing it by paddleboard today courtesy of Anne Gassett, who along with her husband Bill will be hosting the Back Bay Hei Hei Race in Sandbridge on Oct. 8-9.

Sandbridge is only about six miles long, not including the wonderful Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. That’s only a fraction of the Beaches of South Walton. But I’m guessing it won’t be long before Sandbridge becomes part of the discussion whenever people talk about premier locations for stand-up paddle boarding.

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Jessi Stensland Brings ‘Movement U’ to Florida June 25-26

By Pete Williams

Movement expert Jessi Stensland

Seven years ago, Jessi Stensland was on the verge of retiring from triathlon at the age of 27. Knees hurting, joints barking, she no longer could stand the constant pounding of endurance sports.

Then she met Mark Verstegen and his staff at Athletes’ Performance, who showed her not how to train better for swimming/biking/running but to train her body to move better.

Twelve weeks later, she had the race of her life. These days, she competes in endurance sports of all varieties – many off road – and teaches “Movement U,” one- and two-day seminars around the country geared toward showing athletes, as well as chiropractors, physical therapists, and massage therapists, how they can optimize movement for performance and injury prevention.

Stensland, whose Web sites are gojessi.com and movementu.com, will be holding a two-day seminar in Melbourne, Fla., on June 25-26. Based in Boulder, she wrote the foreword to Core Performance Endurance, one of the five Core Performance books I’ve had the honor of writing with Mark Verstegen.

We spoke with Jessi on The Fitness Buff Show today. You can listen to that interview HERE or read an edited transcript below:

Q: What was your a-ha moment with this?

A: When Mark Verstegen and the staff at Athletes’ Performance took me under their wing and made me understand that I can train my body to be injury resistant and more efficient by working on movement-based training. One movement I’ll never forget is when they had me do a one-leg, one-arm, dumbbell row. I’m on one leg in a T position, bent over at the waist, heel kicked back. They’re cueing me to keep my hip, knee and ankle in a straight line, hips parallel to ground, and keep straight lines before I moved my arm. It took all of my effort to keep everything in line before I could think about moving my arm. I thought, wow, I have to get this right and then I can transfer so much more power to my hands. Twelve weeks later I finished a race with tears coming down my face because it all came together.

Q: You blogged recently about the starting line at a cycling event and seeing everyone all curved over on their bikes.

A: It was a pre-ride for an Xterra triathlon and you saw people hanging on their tissues, slouching with rounded backs. It’s so easy to relate that to the squat position. If ever you get into that position while squatting, with a rounded back it never looks healthy. To get the most out of your legs, you want that strong flat back and then you can power through your legs – glutes, quads – and to relate that back to the bike it’s how you apply force and power to the pedal stroke. Take simple those same principles and why would you sit on the bike slouched hanging on your tissues instead of being strong with good posture? It’s common sense and that’s what I hear all the time from people at Movement U. “I’ve had this body for all these years, how did I not know that?”

Q: What’s a Movement U weekend like?

A: They are very much interactive and a bit of lecture. We arrive, meet and greet, and head right into a movement session. Before you listen to me talk I put you through a movement session, not a strength or swim/bike/run session, but you go into your body in an athletic way, similar to yoga, but we’ll be more dynamic and athletic. It’s more Movement Preparation, preparing your body to take on swim/bike/run demands and then we head into a lecture. The main thing we talk about is posture, glute activation, spinal stabilization, and if these aren’t common terms to you as an endurance athlete they should be. They’re simple and we apply every point we give you to swim/bike/run and that’s why I started Movement U. This bridges the gap between the information you know is out there and how to actually apply it to move our bodies most efficiently. Most people never realize, for instance, how poorly their bodies are rotating.

Q: Why is it endurance athletes can’t get past this mindset of training harder and longer for races of longer and longer distances and not step back and think of how they can train smarter and more efficiently to go faster – even at shorter distances?

A: It’s hard to get that message across. Recently I read a publication and a well-known coach said the way to run 26 miles faster is to run 29 miles. And people are slugging out four, five, and even seven-hour marathons and thinking they’re somehow getting faster. It takes more intensity and some level of pain threshold to want to do those shorter distances faster. I was doing 5x5s, five-second intervals five times. I was putting so much power into that treadmill and it’s so much more fun. People want challenges as endurance athletes and if I could challenge you in that way so many people would crave that to get faster but it’s not in our culture yet. The smarter you train, the better your movement patterns are and the fewer injuries you’ll have. What movement-based training will do for you is speed up the time, making you time efficient and getting the most out of your body. That way you can make the same changes in two weeks that you might otherwise take two months – and you’ll be injury resistant. So it’s about showing people how to be more efficient. What if you could make those changes faster than slugging though a couple months and risking injury?

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