Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Exploring Shenandoah National Park

I’ve mentioned it before, and I’ll say it again. Living on the east coast certainly has its perks when it comes to proximity to trails. So, when the beautiful epicurean told me she needed to make a trip to the University of Virginia for work, I was eager to tag along and run some trails in nearby Shenandoah National Park. I was able to set aside my dislike for UVA due to my Virginia Tech alumnus status, and embrace my time in Charlottesville, VA.

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We made the 5 hour drive on a Thursday afternoon, leaving me enough time for a shake-out run around campus before dinner with friends. Upon returning to the hotel, I discovered that I had forgotten the cap for my hydration bladder. This certainly didn’t bode well for what I hoped would be an extended trip to the park. I considered duct tape my best option after a quick search revealed no nearby stores with new bladders. I stayed positive, and got everything squared away for a long jaunt in the woods the next day.

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I had planned to wake up early to make the 45 minute drive to the trailhead, but need to wait for stores to open so I could find some duct tape. After my first stop was a bust, I found myself at Walmart and surprisingly discovered a cheap bladder that seemed like it would fit in my pack with some creative adjustments. It certainly wasn’t ideal, and the cheap valve ultimately ended up slowly leaking and wetting out my shirt, but it worked well enough that I was able to focus on the adventure at hand!

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I arrived at the Old Rag Mountain trail parking lot around 10am after a winding but uneventful drive. There was a couple getting ready to venture out on a hike, but the lot was empty otherwise. Temps were in the 30s with a slight breeze and overcast skies, which no doubt kept more people away. Over the course the day, I maybe saw 5 people, and seemed to have the entire park to myself, which was just fine with me! After a few confusing minutes, I found the trailhead and even managed to accurately use a compass to send myself in the direction I had planned. If you know how directionly challenged I am, then you realize what a big deal this was for me!

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The route I had originally mapped out didn’t involve summiting Old Rag Mountain. However, I’d heard more than a few amazing stories and seen plenty of pictures of the views, so clearly I needed to climb! I took the more runnable trail up to the summit with little issue, and bagged some serious elevation gain in the process. The views at all stages of the climb were as incredible as promised, and I was quite thankful I had decided on the detour. I’ll let the pictures tell the story!

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After Old Rag, my next destination was Lower and Upper White Oak Falls. As I navigated my map and the trails I was running, I couldn’t help but be impressed with how well I’d been able to follow the map I’d laid out for myself. This no doubt seems pretty trivial to most folks, but it seemed like a major accomplishment for me. I took in the gorgeous scenery along the way, stopping for pictures and I made sure to pause enough to appreciate the silent, still winter beauty around me, minus the snow that the park had clearly not seen as of late.

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In all, I wandered to the tune of 22 miles or so, complete with over 6,000 feet of gain, which made for a quality training run. More importantly, however, the opportunity to explore a new national park and further remind myself of why I love being out on the trails so much. I probably could have spent the rest of the day and all night out there and been perfectly happy, but my empty hydration pack and lack of additional nutrition made for a logical end to the day. Plus, I had another delicious dinner in Charlottesville waiting for me when I got back. All in all, it was the perfect opportunity for #chasing42!

Daily Chase: Vol. 72

March is now upon us, and this is about the time that hints of spring begin to peek through the snow and cold. Well, instead, we’ve had more days above 50 than not, many in the 70s, and the snow has been nowhere to be seen. Climate change may be very real and I firmly believe in doing everything we can to slow things down, but I’m not complaining about the weather in Delaware 🙂 The busy hasn’t stopped, in my life, or around the world, in the last week or so, but that’s what keeps things interesting, right?

I’ve found my mind torn in a number of different directions as of late. Everything sparks my interest, and yet I don’t quite find enough time to do any one area justice. Perhaps part of #chasing42 is learning how to focus your energy more directly, and not get torn in as many different directions? #runningthoughts #ultramantra

Some things garnering my attention:

Shoes: I’ve been looking intently at the new Altra Escalante, and also trying to find a solid deal on the Topo Terraventure. The Escalante seems like a no-brainer, and I’ve read enough positive reviews of various Topos that I think it’s time to expand my shoe quiver!

Gear: My Salomon S-Lab 12 vest has been serving my well for a number of years, and I love the fit immensely. However, one of the zippers has completely broken, and the others are on their way out, so I’ve been thinking more intently about replacements. In addition to the S-Lab 12, I’ve been looking at several other vests, including:

  • Ulimtate Direction Fastpack 15 or Fastpack 20, PB Adventure Vest 3.0, AK Mountain Vest 3.0, or Jurek FKT Vest. I’m also coveting several of the new, larger packs- the Fastpack 25, and Fastpack 35, but I can’t honestly say that I have a use for them…yet!
  • Cotopaxi Veloz 3L or 6L vest– this is a totally new design for a running vest, and they are kickstarting the product. I’m tempted to give it a try as a lighter, shorter distance vest that would also work well for longer distances with ample aid stations.

If you have any experience with any of these items, or happen to have a discount code for me, I’m all ears!

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Run: My runs have continued to be consistent, even if it hasn’t necessarily gotten any easier to squeeze them in during the week at times. I’ve found myself venturing outside some mornings for quick runs sans-watch, in an attempt to focus my energy a bit more and wake up! I was in Boston this past weekend for a quick trip, and had the chance to get in a pretty phenomenal run, which you can read more about in an upcoming post. Thursday night hill workouts have been a nice challenge as well, and it’s been great getting out with others and pushing ourselves up and down the deceptively difficult hill near the Hagley Museum for some quality climbing!

Thought: Environmental concerns, protests, legislation, and research have been in the news quite a bit as of late. With numerous outdoor retailers making the decision to boycott Utah over the Governor’s stance on public lands, and the dismantling of environmental protections at the federal level, tension and fear is at an all-time high. People are downloading and archiving environmental research data due to fears that it will be scrubbed from the public record, and we continue to allow climate change deniers into positions of power within the very agency sworn to protect the environment.

In my professional life, I spend a lot of time thinking about intersectionality. In the context of my work, this is the notion that each of the various aspects of our identity intersect with each other to make us who we are and impact how we experience the world around us. None of us can solely be defined by one aspect of our identity (race, class, gender identity, sexuality, etc.), and efforts to combat oppression in any of these areas cannot be accomplished in isolation. We must acknowledge how various issues are interconnected, and acknowledge that sometimes good things are accomplished while simultaneously holding back other accomplishments. That’s why this piece in Outdoor Magazine was so powerful for me. If we can start having more difficult conversations like this about how all of our concerns are interconnected, and often not conveniently, then we can truly begin to realize the change we are looking for in the world. I highly encourage you to take a look, and think about where you fit into this puzzle. Keep #chasing42!

Daily Chase: Vol. 71

The chase continues! It’s been a hectic couple of weeks, but that’s what keeps things interesting, right? If you follow politics even remotely, then you’ve had plenty of opportunities to shake your head, roll your eyes, and let out a sigh of sadness, confusion, or utter frustration. It’s about this time of the year that the higher education professional in me begins to feel the stagnation of the semester, as do the students. This is a bit mitigated now that I’m working at the University of Delaware, since the spring semester doesn’t begin until February, but students still get antsy very quickly. I’ve been adjusting to my new schedule this semester, and the changes to my workouts as well. However, the clock continues to count down towards the Umstead 100 so I will continue #chasing42!

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A weekend getaway to Virginia meant some quality time in Shenandoah National Park. 

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Run: It has been an incredibly busy and adventurous two weeks of running and I have the numbers to show for it! I’ve clocked in around 150 miles and 14,000 feet of vertical gain in the last two weeks as my training reached a peak weekend yesterday and today. Getting up early on Mondays and Wednesdays to run a few miles has proven quite the unique challenge but a necessary evil since I’m on campus both evenings teaching. The flip side this semester is that with my Tuesday evenings free, I’m able to make it to the track workouts and get in some speed work, which I certainly missed during the fall. So, not only is the streak alive but I’m feeling really good about my training as I head into a busy spring filled with plenty of work trips and responsibilities, and some exciting races. Did I mention that it was 70 degrees and sunny this weekend? This is normal February weather, right?

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Nature’s beauty rarely disappoints. 

Thought: Don’t worry, folks, climate change isn’t that big of a deal. There’s nothing to see here. The strange weather patterns, melting glaciers, and disappearing species are a perfectly normal part of the natural world.

Well, at least that seems to be the messages many of the financially motivated, administratively inept and otherwise corrupt members of our new governmental regime would have us believe. It’s absolutely unbelievable to me that despite the overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrating the impact of humanity on the global climate, we are still debating it. We are still arguing over putting in place measures to preserve the dwindling natural environment around us, secure the clean water sources that give us life, and protect the species that keep our ecosystem in balance. We should not need to host data collection parties to preserve scientific research before it disappears from government websites. We should not find ourselves needing to protest the destruction of our environment by corporations seeking to irresponsibly develop protected lands in an effort to make money by producing goods that nobody needs in the first place. Don’t start lecturing my on the nature of capitalism, either. This isn’t capitalism. The benefits (if there are any) do not outweigh the costs. Those in power continue to demonstrate their inability to act in favor of the greater good, and not what’s good for their re-election campaigns.

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Appreciation and action go hand-in-hand. 

The more time I spend on the trails, running and hiking, the more I think about how fragile the beauty around me truly is at the hands of man. The gorgeous mountain top views, flowing streams, and rushing waterfalls have been around for millions of years, existing in harmony with the flora and fauna they support. It’s sad to realize that in the blink of an eye, our species has managed to destroy so much of that beauty, and replace it with concrete jungles and fossil fuel pollution. I know I have a role to play in that, as a consumer, and as a steward of the land I explore, but it’s hard not to throw up my hands in disgust. It’s hard to fight when what you believe is so seemingly logical and rationale, and yet pushed aside in favor of fleeting notions of personal wealth and comfort. Sometimes #chasing42 feels like chasing my tail. Still, we must continue to #resist!

Daily Chase: Vol. 70

January was a bit of a blur in many regards. The University of Delaware offers a 6-week winter term for students, of which a small percentage partake and an even smaller percentage are on campus. The result was an incredibly calm, quiet, and productive month that was nothing like the rest of the year. I’m typically juggling quite a few projects, so January was a wonderful opportunity to get a lot of uninterrupted work done, as well as tackle some meetings that would typically be much more difficult to schedule. Since I wasn’t teaching yet in the evenings, it also meant a much more consistent and easy-to-follow training calendar. The consistently mild temperatures meant I was able to really start the year off right, and my 325+ miles in January are proof positive of that. I know things will be getting much busier beginning on Monday with the start of the Spring semester, but I’m ready to return to a more fast-paced schedule. I’ve always been someone that thrives when I have more on my plate, and I’m looking forward to getting back in the buffet line on Monday!

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Run: It was another solid, consistent week of training, helped in part by the fact that I finally put together my training plan for the first 6 months of the year. Although I love to just go out and run, I know that I need to be a bit more regimented with my schedule so I don’t burn out, and I can truly enjoy the races I have coming up. This past week was my last opportunity for Monday and Wednesday evening runs for a few months, as I’ll be teaching those evenings during the Spring semester. This likely means attempting to get up early to squeeze in a run before work. This is a prospect I am far from excited about and uncertain as to how effective it will be. All I can do is try, but waking up is already a challenge during the week! After some sound advice, I made my way over to the UD football stadium earlier this week, and was pleased to find out it was open and I could venture in for a very rewarding stadium stairs workout. I followed this up with the first of six club hill workouts on Thursday, and my climbing was in solid form heading into the weekend. I capped off a solid week yesterday with a strong 27-mile effort on the trails at Brandywine Creek State Park, and I couldn’t be more happy with how well my legs are feeling. It’s time to hit the semester running and #chasing42!

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Thought: I have declared that this is the season of downhill training. I know, after quite a few experiences, that the downhills are the bane of my existence late in a race, and I’m determined to have more strength for those late race downhills this year. This means I’ve been hammering the downhills during my hill workouts, and pushing upward more methodically. It’s a strange reversal for me, but it seems to be working already, based on yesterday’s long run. I can only hope that my quads are ready for the Umstead 100 in April and Laurel Highlands in June. I have every intention of training hard so I can push those downhills while I’m #chasing42!

Daily Chase: Vol. 69

So, it would seem that our collective post apocalyptic nightmare is in fact a reality, and we didn’t simply imagine the election we all lived through. Now, following a poorly attended inauguration (unless you have the magical ability to deny reality while looking at conclusive photographic evidence), and an empowering and energizing global march, we are left to deal the daily fall-out. Hopefully, you have at least some sense of just how bad pretty much every decision he has made thus far is for anyone who isn’t a rich, White, heterosexual male. However, regardless of your political beliefs, you are reading this blog because you are a runner. You like to be active and be outdoors. If so, then this administration should scare the s#@t out of you! Between the climate change denial, the relaxing of EPA regulations, the increased ability to sell public park lands, the silencing of research coming out of government agencies, and the ease with which pipelines are being approved, we are watching as the world around us is pulled apart at the seams. We can only hope that the other countries who signed on to the Paris Climate Accords pick up the slack and double down on the efforts.

On the flip side, if our Bobblehead of State succeeds in building his giant monument to human stupidity otherwise known as the wall, then someone will clearly need to organize a race from one end to the other 🙂 I’ve got dibs on the first FKT attempt!

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Run: It’s been a solid two weeks of running. I’m still surprised by the mild winters in Delaware, but certainly don’t find myself complaining about wearing shorts in January. My volume has remained pretty consistent, and I’ve thrown in some solid tempo workouts and vertical gain pushes to mix things up. A week ago, I headed out to Brandywine Creek State Park and did hill repeats on one of the more difficult climbs in the park. Both the climb and descent were good practice due to the fairly technical terrain, and I managed over 2,000 ft of gain in a little over 10 miles so I was quite pleased. This past Friday, I had the afternoon off since I had to work yesterday morning. This meant a golden opportunity to do a longer run on Friday, and explore some of the trails in White Clay State Park that I’m not as familiar with yet. It was a perfect afternoon for a run, and I only managed to get a bit lost once, which is a big accomplishment for me. Not being able to run yesterday morning was a great reminder of the importance of being flexible in your training. Your training schedule needs to fit in with your life, and you need to be comfortable with adjustments when things arise that throw off your schedule. Things will always come up!

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Thought: As I wandered around the trails at White Clay State Park on Friday, it occurred to me how unfazed I was by the prospect of getting lost. The park isn’t large by many standards, but for me, it was more about the realization that I felt comfortable enough with significantly longer distances that I wasn’t worried about getting off track. If I ended up tacking on 5 or 10 more miles, I didn’t mind. I had the daylight, some fuel, and confidence in where my endurance is at right now. It’s a very freeing feeling to know that you can just keep going, and know that it means you can do even more exploring than before, and simply have fun with it. I pretty much had the trails to myself, and that nature high just got more and more intense with each passing mile, each stream crossing, each hill climb, and each new switchback. Running has definitely given me increased physical fitness, but it’s the mental freedom that I’m most thankful for overall. I’m happy to be #chasing42, no matter where I’m going or how far it takes to get there!

Race Report: PHUNT 50k

When a friend messages you to let you know he found a bib for an upcoming race for you, you don’t ask too many questions. This is even more true if it’s a race you wanted to run in the first place. I suppose distance does play a part in such decisions, but I happily added a last-minute 50K to my early season race calendar. The PHUNT 50K/25K is a race I had been hearing about since I moved to Delaware 18 months ago, and I was eager for the chance to toe the line!

The Trail Dawgs Running group is a fantastic local group of trail and ultra runners who put on a number of great races in the area, including a marathon I did this past May. In general, the running community in Delaware/Maryland/Pennsylvania is fantastic, and the Dawgs are a big reason for that! So, I knew this would be an enjoyable, laid back, and well-run race with a bunch of cool folks. Of course I wanted to spend a few hours out on the trail!

Packet pickup on Friday night was a breeze, not the least of which because it was only a 10 minute drive from my office. For a very low cost race, the Nathan water bottle and waist pack, along with some other items, amounted to a surprisingly great set of swag. I couldn’t resist picking up a new winter hat as well 🙂

The unusually late 9AM start time, coupled with the easy 25 minute drive, meant I was able to sleep in on a Saturday morning, which felt rather strange! I had time to relax, have some breakfast, get read, and still arrive in plenty of time to wait in the short porta-potty line. I’d certainly call that a win! One of the reasons I love small trail races so much is for the ease and convenience, and this race definitely worked that aspect quite well. The large activity hall at the Fair Hill Recreation Area, right next to the start, provided more than enough warm shelter for runners prior to the race, and proved a great location to meet up with friends before the race. Did I mention the convenience?

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The trail signage was fantastic! Photo Credit: RunningMadPhoto

Around 8:55AM, we wandered outside and made our way towards the starting area, and at 9AM sharp, the RD unceremoniously sounded a starting horn and we were off. No corals, no timing mats, no waiting around for waves. It was all about going out on some beautiful single-track trails and having a great time. The course was two 15.6 mile loops, with aid stations at mile 3.8, mile 7, and mile 10.8. I didn’t need my hydration vest by any means, but wore it anyway so I could easily carry my phone, nutrition, and the all-important TP. The forecast had called for rain and snow earlier in the week, but it pretty much all held off, with the exception of some light sleet, so the trails were for the most part in great shape.

I had no intention of racing this event hard, but of course the adrenaline of the first race of the year got the best of me, and I went out and ran the first mile in about 8 minutes. I knew the course didn’t have any significant climbs, but I wasn’t sure about total gain. However, I knew I had gone out too fast, but my mile 1.5, I figured I’d push it a bit and see what happened. The 50K and 25K runners started at the same time, but the pack still spread out pretty quickly. I was moving really well on the comfortable terrain, and found myself latching on to several different runners for pacing over the course of the first loop.

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All smiles out on the course! Photo Credit: RunningMadPhoto

I spent minimal time in well-stocked and energetic aid stations and saw it as an opportunity to practice efficient transitions for future races. The temperature was hovering right around 30 degrees, and I quickly regretted the running tights. I know I run hot when I’m racing, so I should have known better. I was moving really well, and eagerly tackling the short climbs on the rolling terrain. I had committed to running this first loop at all points, and I enjoyed the challenge those first 15+ miles presented. The first loop flew by rather quickly and I rolled back into the start area after about 2.5 hours. I realized around mile 12 that the other runners I was latching on to were probably only running 1 loop (25K) but I rolled with it and kept pushing.

My legs were a bit tired at the end of the first loop, but I had been hydrating well and taking in a decent number of calories, so I was feeling good. I spent a few minutes at the aid station enjoying some Coke and GU waffles, and then launched myself back out onto the course. The crowd on the second loop was obviously a lot more spread out, and I almost felt like I had the trails to myself at times, which was fantastic. The trails were still in really good shape, even after 500+ runners had trampled them on the first loop, and my feet were feeling really good thanks to my Altra Olympus 2.0s.

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Look up and you’ll go down! Photo Credit: Mark DeNio

I kept expecting to hit some sort of wall on the second loop, but thankfully never really felt any sort of bonk, despite pushing it a bit hard on the first loop. My pace did slow somewhat, and I walked up a few of the hills, and lingered at the aid stations a bit more, but still felt really good for the most part. It began to sleet a bit at this point, but the tree cover provided plenty of protection, and it created a nice natural forest chorus as it struck the foliage around me. I was able to set small targets for myself during the second loop, which was helpful as well. That’s definitely the advantage of a looped course, and one of the reasons I enjoy them so much…as long as it’s an enjoyable loop!

I rolled into the finish line calmly in around 5 hrs 29 min (16th place, 6th in my always tough age group!) and would have happily gone out for a 3rd loop after such an enjoyable race! My quads were a bit sore, but nothing out of the ordinary, and I was overall really pleased to have such an early 50K under my belt. I collected my medal and unique finisher’s plate, and relaxed for a bit as I waited for others to finish. The environment, support, love of running, quality trails, excellent organization and aid stations, and energy that this race had is what trail running is all about. I can think of no better way to begin #chasing42 in 2017!

Daily Chase: Vol. 68

Happy New Year to everyone! It’s always a bit of a shock to the system when the new year creeps up on you, and this year was no different. The beautiful epicurean and I had a wonderful time in Arizona over the holidays, and reluctantly hopped on a plane on New Years Eve day to return home. Alas, the epicurean caught my cold/flu, which made travel less than ideal, and we were quite happy to curl up on the couch and relax on New Years Eve. I honestly can’t remember the last time we went out and did anything overly entertaining for New Years, and instead have consistently opted for quiet nights in. This is not to say that we are necessarily opposed to such endeavors, but we both seem to lack the commitment to do any actual planning. I’m sure that if I applied as much energy to planning those activities as I did my runs, we’d no doubt have a raging social life, eh? 🙂 At any rate, I hope everyone had a wonderful New Years (if you were celebrating), and that your 2017 is off to a wonderful #chasing42 start!

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We escaped the cold for a Christmas tour at Longwood Gardens. 

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Run: My training has gotten off to a great start in the new year, despite not finishing up my actual training calendar for the first half of the year yet. The weather has been generally really nice (for January), so I’ve spent a good deal of time outside, have been able to explore some new routes and trails near campus, and have even made it to track workouts on Tuesday nights again. Speed work has never been something I enjoy a great deal, but it sure does feel good when I’m finished! At the last minute this past week, a friend was even able to offer me a bib for a local 50K race, so I had the chance to toe the line for the first time yesterday as well. The trails were fantastic, the race was well organized, and I decided to push myself a bit, which resulted in a 5:29 finish on a course with almost 4,000 feet of climbing. I’m pretty sure I could have finished faster if I had been a bit smarter during the first (of two) loops, but adrenaline and a lack of a clear goal clouded my mind and I went out a wee bit too fast 🙂 I know you’re shocked! So, in case anyone is counting, the #chasing42runstreak is up to 422 days.

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Thought: Are you a resolution maker? Do you set goals for yourself in the new year, or do you scoff at the arbitrary nature of waiting until January 1 to make a change to your life that you no doubt have been thinking about for months of even years? This time of year always encourages new commitments to the gym, eating healthy, and a host of other activities that really just make good sense 12 months out of the year. However, an entire industry and emerged, centered around these resolutions, and the result is people hoarding their intentions for the moment the ball drops. People save up their intended changes for the magical moment where everything is possible, instead of opting to make changes throughout the year as they identify the need for them. More important, folks tend to craft lists of resolutions that are so long and extensive that the odds of actually achieving them decrease with each addition. In general, you are far better off sticking to one or two significant changes and working on deciding how you can best alter your daily routine to incorporate those changes. It’s hard enough to do something simple like deciding to wake up earlier or change your diet without trying to follow a brand new checklist of activities each day. So, whatever your resolutions or goals are for 2017, keep them simple, manageable, and measurable. Once you’ve worked that one new lifestyle activity into your regular routine, then you can move on to the next one. It’s all part of working smarter, not harder, as you continue #chasing42!

So what will your first change or goal be for the new year?

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