Tag Archives: afraid

And…. Action!

Inevitably at the start of the year, we look back on what was, and start to think once again about what might be.

2014 was a pretty transformative year for me. I set myself some monster targets running and cycling wise, and achieved all but the very last one of them.

Everything else was left more fluid. For the first year in a while, I had just a small handful of harp gigs in the diary and I played much less than normal. This was deliberate, for reasons I’ll talk about another time. At the start of last year, I was in a brand new relationship, in a temporary job, with no commitments beyond demolishing a serious debt mountain, looking after two big black furries, and working my way through a long-held list of places I wanted to see and things I wanted to do.

I tried mountain biking for the first time.

I deliberately flung myself face first down a Munro in the snow to practice self-arrest with an ice axe, on my first day of proper winter hill walking (under supervision I should add).

I ran my first ever marathon. On Easter Saturday, I had a brilliant run on the West Highland Way with a favoured running buddy. A few weeks later, I ran my first ever ultra marathon.

I put myself forward as a support runner for the West Highland Way race, potentially running through the night in the Scottish wilderness with someone I’d never met, to help them achieve their goal. I wasn’t needed in the end sadly, due to them becoming injured, but the fact that my offer was accepted was wonderful and a huge honour! Instead, I spent my second Summer Solstice at the top of Meikle Bin, and this time I ran almost to the top.

I cycled up a truly brutal, epic Tour de France climb, in horrendous conditions, again to help someone else achieve their goal. Two days later we did it again.

I took part in my first ever club cycle race.

I had a minor tantrum in the middle of my second ultramarathon and was rescued by crystallised ginger and kind people, and the combination of both enabled me to finish the race.

I spent my birthday weekend in a forest just outside Aviemore, getting rained and hailed on, running/staggering round in circles, and sleeping for approximately 2 hours, to support someone through a big race.

I got my revenge the next week by dragging him up Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis (along with a fab guide) for my alternative birthday weekend.

I ran 38 miles in a day, 20 of these through the most extreme conditions I’ve ever encountered. The first 18 miles were horrendous for other reasons, but somehow when the weather turned, something magical happened. Then the day after, I DNF’d in an event for the first time.

I spent an incredible week exploring the north west Highlands, somewhere I’d wanted to visit for almost twenty years.

I bought a new-to-me harp, and signed up for an online course with an inspirational teacher.

Somewhat unexpectedly, my harp journey started again.

I’ve been to some incredible beaches.

I’ve had lots of time and space to think about lots of things.

I achieved a lot in 2014, and I am incredibly proud of all of it. I’m particularly of getting up Mont Ventoux.

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Photobombing the Buchaille Etive Mor in Glencoe – 12 miles out from Bridge of Orchy with 12 miles still ahead on the first truly hot day in months.

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Thanks to Nicholas Beckett from Edinburgh Sports Photography for the above fab photo, taken along the bonny banks at the Highland Fling.

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Looking surprisingly glam given how knackered I was here – second ascent of Mont Ventoux in three days (Malaucene route this time)

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This was the first time up Ventoux. We could see…. nothing. Both very tired and very cold but full of beans.

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Spidean Coire nan Clach – Beinn Eighe, November in Scotland. Who’d have thought it. Blue, clear skies.

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I think of these words often now – the Tom Simpson memorial on the Bedoin ascent of Mont Ventoux

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Getting to the top of the big hill at Loch Katrine, for the first time.

But there is more to come.

2014 was really about trying to escape from previous failures. I can confirm that if you run far enough and cycle up enough big tough hills, you will find some answers. They probably won’t be what you expect but you definitely won’t forget them if you learn them the hard way.

When you find the things you truly love doing, it becomes ever more important to make space for them in your life.

The fact is that now, there are not enough hours in the day for running, cycling, hill walking, motorcycling. Let alone looking after pets, seeing friends and family, earning a living.

In my previous life, I didn’t know what to do with myself much beyond working.

As a result of a lot of thinking while covering a serious amount of self-propelled miles last year, I have everything I need in terms of ideas and plans for the next step of the journey.

Now, they need action, and commitment, and confidence and the drive to see them through.

But the last year has taught me that if you are brave and keep trying enough big bold things, sometimes they will work out after all.

PS just to prove it’s not all highs and happy faces, here’s me remembering just how much I hate chossy damp dark slimey chimneys! Thanks to guide Dave Chapman for the photo and a brilliant day despite a few squeaky bits.

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It feels like it has been raining for weeks. Christmas is 3 days away and somehow I don’t think it will be a white one. The Scottish word for this weather is dreich, a marvellous word that doesn’t have a literal translation into English, but is approximately wet, miserable and unrelenting.

The weekend has been a write-off. Both of us have been wiped out by a horrendous cold, just when we thought we’d bounced back from the last one at the end of October. Marcothon is sadly over for me, but I hope to be running again as soon as I’ve lost the death rattle in my lungs. A day off on Thursday was spent tucked up with the hounds on the sofa, as was Friday, Saturday and again yesterday, which should have been an important trip south to celebrate my granny’s birthday.

All the sofa time meant I could sit with my laptop going through some GoPro footage from earlier in the year. I’m reasonably handy at putting something musical together, but film is a whole new world.

There’s a film competition open at the moment, with a theme of women in the mountains, and I’m hoping to make something documenting the wonderful year I’ve had. So this was a bit of a chance to practice.

Sitting inside watching and listening to the endless rain outside reminded both of us just how incredibly lucky with the weather while we were away.

We stayed in Gairloch the last week of November, and apart from a little rain on the Sunday evening, it was dry and wonderfully clear the whole week we were there.

We were spoilt for choice with mountains to climb, and decided to explore Beinn Eighe. Neither of us were prepared for Coire Mhic Fearchair, and after a very misty day on Tower Ridge in September, we’d forgotten what it’s like when you can actually see for miles at the top.

There was a small dusting of snow at the top of Ruadh Stac Mor, and a few icy rocks on the approach to Spidean Coire nan Clach.

The greyness of the shattered rock was vast, and just for a few moments on the ridge, I had to sit down as the whole range was spinning. All I could see was grey rock, it was very unnerving and I was glad to have company as I had a little word with myself in my head and then carried on.

We started early to make the most of the limited daylight hours, which meant we had the beauty of a sunrise around Sail Mhor, and then were left open mouthed as the sun set over Glen Torridon on the walk back to the car.

It’ll take a bit more experimenting with the GoPro, and there’s lots of stills in this, but it was fun to make and even better to watch back thinking of the blueness of the morning light in Coire Mhic Fearchair.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=m4gmoBMGHOQ

All you have to do

After plodding along pretty steadily and mostly pretty happily for the last couple of years, I finally made a big decision on the morning of Day 2 of the Saltmarsh 75.

It was shortly before I took this photo. This is looking out along the Blackwater Estuary towards Bradwell power station, which you can just see on the horizon.

It was a beautiful day, in an incredible part of the country. I had run a long way the day before in some pretty tough conditions. I’d been looking forward to and training hard for this event for a whole year, but I was about to pull out of the race. I’d just had enough, and nothing was going to change my mind about carrying on.

I decided that I really needed to start thinking about running a bit more quickly.

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In theory this should be easy. To run a bit faster, you just… ermm… run a bit faster right?

There’s a great quote I read in a motorbike magazine a few years ago. Something along the lines of:

“All you have to do is lean a little further, get on the gas a little earlier, brake a little later and then you’ll win the race”

See? Easy!

But to lean, you have to understand how and why and when to lean. You have to learn when a little further is a little too far.

You have to learn how much gas/throttle is too much. You have to learn how early is too early.

Learning to go fast on a motorbike can be dangerous, even assuming you are in the relatively controlled environment that is a road racing circuit. It hurts when you fall off, and you can break yourself and your bike. If you are anything like most bike racers, you will cry far more about the latter.

I guess I’m trying to say there are always barriers when you learn something new, or try to improve something you can do already. There is a reason why you do things the way you do them. Mostly it’s easy, or comfortable, or you like doing it that way. And you are scared of the unknown.

The main thing that stops me pushing my running speed is my asthma. I had a bad run last night where it wasn’t settling as it should and it really started to hurt. I know enough about managing it to realise when to stop, so backed off and went home.

But once I start to learn how to go faster, I’m frightened my breathing will get out of control and I won’t be able to calm it down. This can be due to a variety of factors, and a damp Scottish winter is a fairly big one.

So what can I do about this?

I have to know why I want to do it.

I have to find a starting point.

I have to understand what I am going to do and how I am going to try and do it.

I have to be sure I want to do it, so that when it gets hard, I don’t give up.

I have to practice it. Lots.

I have to appreciate it might not work, and I might have to change my approach several times before I find a way.

Reading through this list, I realise how much of this applies to music and learning a big new piece, and how my time at the RCS changed how I approach things.

I also think back to some of the incredible things I’ve done this year, and how I never thought I’d be able to do them.

But I did.

So there’s no reason I can’t learn to run faster. I have an inhaler, I know when too far is really too far, I know that there might have to be some considerable discomfort and I know it will be worth it.

A proper set-up job

It’s fair to say that it has been a while since I rode my motorbike regularly. It’s strange how something that had been such a huge part of my life for so long, and something so important to my identity and how I define and describe myself, can have fallen by the wayside to the extent it has. I was so excited about him coming back home, and then horrified that I just have not got back into it the way I had expected.

There are a few reasons for this. I am an experienced rider – I’ve had my bike licence for almost 20 years, I’ve done speedway, trackdays and held an ACU Clubman road race licence a few years back (meaning I didn’t just have the licence, I’d used it a fair few times as well!). I’ve ridden all sorts of bikes from little 100cc learner bikes to full on 1000cc sportsbikes. For 18 months I had a daily commute of 80-90 miles which I alternated between a CBR400, CB500, 748 and GSXR1000.

But, as soon as I take a break from riding for whatever reason, I lose confidence. It becomes a vicious circle – to break it you need to ride to build your confidence, but the confidence only comes from riding more. My dinky legs don’t help, I don’t have the luxury of shoving both feet flat on the floor if I panic on a slow turn.

I had to wait what felt like a very long time between selling my beautiful Big Blue GSXR1000 K6 back in November 2007. I’d had a crash while racing at Cadwell Park in the Desmodue race series, and was in for a potentially long recovery from a badly broken thumb. I’d also just separated from my ex husband and moved to a house with no garage/bike storage. My bike had to go and I had to buy a car instead, and believe me for this girl, that hurt far more than the broken bones did.

After that, I ran out of money. My dad came up trumps with the long term loan of a beautiful VFR750, and then a few years later, some money from my grandmother’s will finally meant I could buy my own road bike again. A friend was selling his GSXR750 K6 which was low mileage, mint and standard with good history I knew I could trust – a rarity indeed. I know most people’s grans might question this use of their money, but not mine.

We’ve had some great times together, including the trip to Ipswich waterfront for an ice cream as above, but I haven’t yet bonded with this bike in the same way I did with the 1000. There’s a number of reasons for this, some riding time/running/harp practice related and some technical.

Moving away from somewhere I’d lived for so long meant leaving all my favourite bike shops behind. Places I’d spent years visiting, and mechanics and technicians I trusted deeply were no more. I was dreading making new contacts again, desperately worried I would encounter a few dodgy characters along the way, and hoping nothing dangerous or uncomfortable would happen as a result.

I needn’t have worried – a local Suzuki dealer were lovely on the phone from the off and my master cylinder recall was done by some great guys who didn’t bat an eyelid when I arrived to collect my bike and skipped around their workshop because I was so excited to take him on his first Scottish escapade.

The next thing was to tackle the suspension. My friend had attempted to adjust it to suit himself, but he was a different build/weight with a different riding style. My first job when I bought the bike was to put this back to standard as a starting point, an easy job that just requires a screwdriver, some patience and the ability to keep count of clicks and turns. It wasn’t enough though, and I’ve really struggled with the bike’s handling, and of course this hasn’t helped the confidence situation.

The bike was twitchy on the front end even at slow speeds, and thoroughly uncomfortable at the back over even the slightest of bumps. I will have a go at most things on a bike, but suspension is quite technical, with many variables involved and the potential to make a bike unrideable. All reversible of course, but enough to put me off fiddling too far.

I asked around and received an interesting recommendation which I decided to follow up in future. Recently however, I was at a wedding in the area and decided to pop in on my way home rather than just ringing up for a chat. I felt really comfortable with the place and booked my bike in.

Yesterday was the big day. I wasn’t disappointed, and I had a thoroughly entertaining Saturday morning playing bikes and hanging round a workshop for the first time in a good while.

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A couple of hours later, and just £45 lighter, my bike is a different animal and I am so much happier riding it. I’m no longer fighting it round bends or scared to go over a bump mid-corner in case the bike spits me off, and manhole covers/bumps in the road are a much more pleasant experience.

However the weather is now against us. While down south I would still be riding over the winter stopped only by snow or ice, up here it’s a different kettle of fish. It was a very wet, extremely windy ride over to the workshop yesterday, to the extent we cancelled our follow on ride to St Andrews because it was neither safe nor comfortable. We saw just one other bike out, a very hardy Fireblade rider. This is just the start of things, and I know those cold dry sunny days that are so enjoyable down south are much more of a rarity now.

But I’m not completely ruling out a few sneaky winter rides. I loved my ride home yesterday, despite fighting to stay upright when climbing on and off at the petrol pump, and I really feel I’m back now.

There are almost 8 years, and 250cc between these pictures – the first was taken on Christmas Day 2006, my first Christmas spent alone and very happily playing on the wonderful A507 near Baldock. The second was taken yesterday, and contains a slight hint as to what the next big run is.

The helmet has changed, the girl has definitely changed, but the feeling I get when I ride is still exactly the same.

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Runner restored (temporarily?)

I had my best run in months last night.

Just my normal 5km/3 mile route along a tarmac path at the bottom of the Campsie Fells.

I can see the hills for the first half a mile and then it’s into the trees and down the back of a local housing estate. Compared to some of the routes I’m lucky enough to be able to call local, it’s pretty dull, but it serves its purpose well. It’s safe, flat and quiet.

5k is probably my most hated distance. My asthmatic lungs seem to take this distance to warm themselves up, so generally the enjoyment level is pretty low but the satisfaction level is high.

It has been a while since I’ve found running so easy. A big Ventoux-sized hole was carved in my run training and I’ve found it really, really hard to get back into the swing of things after focusing on my cycling.

Shortly after my return from Provence, I discovered I was quite badly anaemic (quite common in distance runners particularly female ones) and the prescribed iron tablets caused absolute havoc.

The few runs I managed to get in before the Speyside Way race were horrendous. I got so frustrated with myself I started to have panic attacks mid-run, and with a new member of the household able to collect me, I now had a way of abandoning rather than just slogging it out to the end as I would have had to do previously.

Last night was different. It was still harder than I would have liked, but I started to feel that I could enjoy my running again and that I was in with a shout of being able to at least have a good stab at my next race.

This is the one I’ve been working towards all year and desperately don’t want to pull out of.

The Saltmarsh 75 will take me round the wild coastline of Essex. It couldn’t be more different from the more familiar face of Essex. I’ll pass one of my favourite places on the planet along the way.

At the moment, the nearest salt-related monument is the grit bucket at the bottom of my road.

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But I can’t wait to be back ‘home’ and am looking forward to giving the last month of training my best shot.

Ultra running, Ultra recovering

This is Lossiemouth beach, on the north east coast of Scotland. It was last Sunday, August bank holiday weekend (well, if you’re in England) and as you can see, we had the best of the weather while it was miserable down south.

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This was our away day after the darkness of the day before. It seemed crazy not to visit the nearest beach when we were so close, and I had ditched the planned race so we had time to spare.

It was everything we needed and more. We had ice cream and Irn Bru and we bought seaside rock. We softened our gnarly feet on the sand. One of us burst our blisters and got sand in them (ouch). We froze our toes in the sea, and were wearing more clothes than most.

We laughed as we got out of the car and shuffled along the sea front. One of us suggested stealing a walking stick off a passing old man. The other gently pointed out that we would be in no position to run away afterwards. We laughed some more. We saw a small child wearing a t-shirt proclaiming him Small But Epic. One of us wondered if it would be possible to steal this too, and realised that perhaps we weren’t quite in our right minds today. The strop over the lack of coffee at breakfast was further evidence of this.

Back to the day before. We ran approximately 37 miles, or as much as we could of this, along the Speyside Way. We started at Ballindalloch and traced the River Spey all the way to Spey Bay, then followed the coastline round to the village of Buckie.

The course should have been easier than our trip to Kintyre in May. It would have been, had we been a bit more prepared.

The first 12 miles were wonderful. We ran past some distilleries and some disused stations.

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A few weeks before, the route had been under several feet of water in all the floods. It was still damp underfoot, but this made for good soft ground to run on. We made it to the first checkpoint in good time, in last place but well ahead of last place last year.

However, life had got in the way, long runs went out the window and we really paid for this. We got to know the sweeper very well. Through chatting to him, I learnt some good starting points for mountain biking and ski mountaineering. We made it up the biggest climb to Ben Aigan and despite a couple of heavy rain showers, we were treated to the most beautiful view down the Spey to the sea. This should have been the tough bit out of the way, and all downhill from here.

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This was to be rather more literally downhill than I expected. Soon after, the wheels came off. I had a big wobble at 18 miles and had we been near the river, I would have thrown my running shoes in it. Everything was wrong and I just didn’t want to run any more, at all, ever. Surprisingly after a few minutes break, a bit of reassurance in the form of a squeezy hand hold from my friend Angela and then some unexpectedly reviving crystallised ginger from sweeper Sean got me back on track.

It got worse. By the last water station at 31 miles, I was ready to pull out. Everything hurt. But two unbelievably upbeat marshals, who had been at the very first water station as well, kept our spirits high. By the time we left, I’d forgotten all thoughts of finishing up and we were on the way to the finish line. I later found out the pink-haired marshal was Race Director Sarah’s mum, and she promised to pass on my heartfelt thanks. Without her encouragement, I would have given in.

Somehow we made it to the end. The welcoming committee was small as we had missed the cut-off, but we were handed our goody bags and medals, and a chap in a Celtic top seemed delighted to shake our hands and was full of so many kind words we really didn’t know what to say. A couple who should have been running but pulled out with an injury had come up to marshal and waited for us, and gave us a lift back to the car to save us walking just an extra 10 minutes. 10 minutes is a long way when you have run 37 miles, and I can’t begin to tell you how much we appreciated this too.

The support from those people made the disappointment of the day so much easier to deal with. I had been very, very hard on myself and realised there was no need. I spoke to fellow runner Ray McCurdy in Glasgow today. He had run his 120th ultramarathon on Saturday, and had also found himself about half an hour behind where he expected to be. At the other end of the race, a new race record had been set by local runner Terry Forrest – a truly staggering time of 4.01.42.

Both of those runners will have had good days and bad days, just as I did on Saturday. I nearly pulled out of my next race, the big one looming large in just 5 weeks time, but have decided to leave the decision until nearer the time.

First, there is a good bit more recovering to be done.

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Back into balance

It has been an exhausting few weeks. Somehow January ended up being as full-on as November and December, and I couldn’t get going again after having a long Christmas break.

Re-adjusting to full time work in an office has really taken it out of me, a lot more than I realised, and finding space for all the other things in life has come at a price.

February came and the calendar was pretty empty for the first time in ages. Normally this would make me feel uneasy, but actually I was glad as I desperately needed some time and space to bring things back under control. The house was a bombsite, diet and sleep patterns have been appalling and I have generally felt as though I was starting to run myself ragged again.

Running has been a bit hit and miss too – my longest ever run of 16 miles went brilliantly, 5 miles last Wednesday felt torturous and finally yesterday I ran out of puff. 2 miles into a run with some speedier friends and I knew I needed to call it quits for a bit. I felt tight, stressed and exhausted both physically and emotionally, and I could feel the tears starting to prick at my eyes. I made my excuses and ducked out, headed back to the car and then determined not to waste the day or the fuel, I decided to go and spend a bit of time on my own further down the valley.

There were some trails on the map that I had wanted to explore for a while. I set off, determined not to put any pressure on myself, and started to feel better. My legs felt better now and the calf that had been screaming at me earlier had settled right down. After missing the correct turning and ending up a bit further along a road than I thought, I turned back and found the right path.

As I headed too far up the road, I’d passed a group of Land Rovers out on a jolly. One of them was stuck in the road and this held up the whole convoy. I wasn’t sure whether it was a puncture or getting stuck in all the snow, but I took great pleasure in the fact that I was so nimble on just my two wee feet, and I skipped past them. We looked at each other, most of them on the round side and in the warmth of their cars, and me on the small side out in the snow in my tights and running shoes with just a jacket and a rucksack protecting me from the elements. I’m not sure who thought who was the strangest, but I felt happy and very glad to be out enjoying the day.

Along the trail, I saw three sets of footprints, one smaller than the others. This was the friends I had left earlier, and I realised where we had been running earlier. In a strange way, it felt like I had a little company along the way. I knew they were just across the valley from me, and while I enjoyed the peace and quiet of being alone, there was solidarity in knowing there were others not far away doing the same as me and loving every minute.

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I ran as much as I could, but stopped for a walk when I needed to. I’d hoped to get further, but called it a day while I still felt good. I’d done enough struggling earlier, and didn’t want to run out of energy again.

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^ Looking west over the Carron Valley Reservoir

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^ Looking south with Meikle Bin in the background

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^ Looking north-west, Todholes farm just visible in front of the hills

Before long I was back at the car. I headed back down into Fintry, past some horses flinging themselves around in the sunshine, and then back up and over the Crow Road which is now such a regular part of my week. Every time I drive on this road, I remember the first time I came up it, just a few days into my new life up here, and I feel incredibly grateful for all that I am able to do now. I have beautiful surroundings and the fitness to be able to really make the most of them.

I’d been meaning to get some proper stretching done for a while, and decided that now was the time. Cutting my run short meant I had some spare time, and after 45 minutes of yoga I really felt like a new woman. Everything was nicely pulled out and rather than feeling more tired, my energy levels were restored. I had a blissful hour soaking in the bath with the fantastic Feet in the Clouds, and I felt very spoiled. It had cost me a couple of pounds in diesel and car park charges, but otherwise my day was free of charge and the benefits were priceless.

I had come home from work on Friday and found my house had been cleaned for me. Today I have been at the Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival with friends. Body and soul were restored yesterday, but my spirit really came back into normal service today.

Paul Pritchard‘s film reminded me that my body may be injured but it can still do amazing things and the only thing stopping me is me. His climbing accident happened a month before mine, but left him considerably worse off. My right side is considerably weaker than my left, but it still works, and he has managed to complete some fantastic journeys using just his left leg so really I shouldn’t be complaining too much.

Earlier this week I looked at everything I had planned for this year, and wondered if perhaps I had taken on too much again. After spending time with some brilliant people this weekend, I am ready to go again. However, I have been reminded once again that I really, really need to look after myself, and that if I don’t do this, the only person that will miss out is me.