Gear Reviews: Shoes, Books and More

Head on to this page before buying your next pair of running shoes or gear.

Standard Chartered KL Marathon Race Recap

A marathon and then some. Read the event day recap.

Trans Nuang 2013

5 runners. 42km. 16 hours. Elevation gain 2,878 meters / 9,442 feet. All here.


Category Archives: Gear Review

Asics Gel Kayano 20 Review

My last run-in with the Kayano was back in 2007, the Kayano 12. The shoe had been a purchased – at 50% off retail, I still had to fork out a hefty RM299. Of course, inflation and higher cost of labor means RM299 is a bargain these days. You can read my review of the Kayano 12 here (sure brings back memories!) and do check out this amazing photo gallery of the Kayanos that came before version 20.

The Kayano was, and still is, Asics’ top-tier stability offering. This year sees the 20th anniversary of the venerable shoe. You know it holds a special place in a shoe company when they make a 3-part video of it! Named after designer Toshikazu Kayano (read the interview here), only the Nike Pegasus surpasses its vintage. There’s a reason for its longevity. Many loved its plush and supportive ride, and typical of the company’s training shoes, the Kayano is one heck of a durable shod. As a bonus, thanks to advancement in shoe technology, # 20 has shed some weight too, if only a little.

At 11.7oz for US10, the K20 isn’t a light shoe for this lightweight runner.

The upper is arguably very flashy but not in the garish manner of the Noosa. Gone are those boring utilitarian look, the 20 sees the first use of FluidFit, spiderweb-like bands that occupy the flex points of the upper, allowing the upper to conform to how the feet move. The bands have a little give and are able to stretch to provide that glove-like fit. The upcoming update of the Nimbus (16) will also get the FluidFit features. Other than their lightweight performance trainers and racing flats, asics have always embellished their core models with plenty of overlays – sometimes a bit much complicating design elements – and the Kayano is no different. Other than FluidFit, there are several strips of overlays that provide even more structure to the shoe.

Other areas of the upper are the usual open mesh. The well-padded tongue isn’t integrated but wide enough to eliminate the side-to-side movement. Lacing system is the traditional and not the asymmetrical type which I’m ambivalent to. All other areas of the shoes are sturdily constructed from the equally well padded memory-foam collar to the medium-density exoskeleton heel counter.

The FluidRide midsole is made up of 2 layers of foam. A softer layer sits directly under your foot lending some softness while a thicker Solyte layer goes under that. Asics mentioned that this is to give the wearer a blend of soft yet responsive ride. There are also 2 large slabs of gel placed in the heel and forefoot sections of the midsole. The Kayano 20 also has a Dynamic DuoMax medial post and an extensive plastic shank in the midfoot section. Yes, there are a lot of “control” elements built into the shoe!

The thick midsole is made up of the softer layer (in red) and the firmer one under it. On the medial side, the Dynamic Duomax posting provides more rigid structure.

The substantial TPU shank is a standard in the Kayano over the years. The Guidance Line, in my opinion, is a good implementation. On a less structured shoe, the flexibility it accords is much welcome.

The outsole comprises of forefoot blown rubber and hard wearing and bomb-proof AHAR. Flex grooves are cut the length of the outsole and across offsetting a bit of the stiffness. Per Asics America website, the Kayano 20 has a 10mm drop (stack height of 12mm/22mm forefoot /heel) and my scales showed it to be 11.7oz for my US10.

As I’ve mentioned, running has been disrupted of late with several long events, followed by the choking haze that enveloped the country as a result of prolonged drought and bush fires. My time in the Kayano was limited to a couple of short runs around the KLCC Park. Do note however, that the Kayano is marketed as a “stability” shoe and is much more shoe than what I run in these days. At 60kg, my weight would hardly qualify me as a large person. Do bear those points in mind as I put my quick take on the shoe.

The K20 is a fully loaded shoe. For a person whose shoe cabinet is 95% filled with shoes of simpler construction, flexible and light in the weight department, running in the K20 isn’t an easy experience for me. From the very first steps, the shoe immediately feels stiff in the midfoot, resulting in a clunky feel right out of the box. The plushness isn’t felt that greatly on the run as opposed to when walking around. I was conscious of the fact that my experience with the Kayano of yore proved that the shoe required some amount of breaking in, with the wear characteristics changing only after 70-80K. Since I’m gearing for a race in April, I’ve not toyed around with my footwear much, sticking to my current tried and tested shoes under rotation. There’s also a pronounced toe lift at the front, something I felt when I was running. If you’re a heel striker you’ll definitely feel the forward roll.

Inscriptions of the heritage everywhere.

The upper fit feels just fine. Asics tends to put a lot of materials into their production, yet the fit quality hasn’t been jeopardized. There was no cinching of materials and the mesh has good breathability. The FluidFit webbing wraps the foot well yet have some give to accommodate the changes in foot movement through the gait cycle. There’s enough room in the toe box too, which I appreciate. Finally, the Kayano is still a beefy shoe, make no mistake about it. It looks sleek and rides a tad lower than other beefy shoes such as the Structure, Adrenaline, Supernova Boost but as you can see from the photo above, the scales don’t lie. Nevertheless if you’re heavier set than I, you may appreciate the support it provides.

I realize that I don’t have much positives to report on the K20 but the fact remains that the Kayano series has been around for a long long time, venerated and sold by the truckloads. Undoubtedly, the shoe works for a lot of people. Perhaps I’m just a scrawny person who requires much less shoe and where the Kayano may shine is on the feet of larger built runners. If you’re that person, and if you’ve been running in stability models, like the Adrenaline, you should give it a try.

Disclosure: The Kayano 20 is already in the market, retailing for RM599 and was kindly provided for my review by Gigasport, authorized distributor of Asics in Malaysia.

Gear Review: adidas Recharge Massage Pro Slides

I’ve done plenty of of shoe reviews but never had I the opportunity to review sandals. You can imagine my curiosity and excitement when the package arrived from Germany last week, containing the RC Pro Slides (or in full, Recharge Massage Pro Slides). “Slides” are what we’d normally call “Sandals”.

Unknown to me, the sports giant do have an extensive range of fitness sandals in their inventory, even in Malaysia. Most are pegged under Swimming gear which you can take a look here. The RC Pro Slides are no different. Flip the sandals around and you’ll see why. They’re lightweight, constructed around contoured footbed, and more importantly, true to its name, feature strategically placed massage points.

The footbed is made of soft, water-resistant SUPERCLOUD™ EVA for quick-dry comfort. To fit a variety of widths, the equally soft upper is of a velcro bandage type which gives a nice secure wrap to the foot.

I’ve worn the RC Pro Slides for a week, 100% indoors and I find them to be excellent about-the-house footwear. We Asians are typically unshod when at home. Our culture dictates it as a form of politeness and respect. There’s the cleanliness aspect as well. But if you’re like me, you’ll appreciate the kneading sensation the massage points give your tired feet. It takes a little while to get used to it for sure and there could be a little measure of discomfort as with foot reflexology. But once you’ve adjusted, it’s really just fine. The pressure point massages improve blood circulation, the better for recovery. I’m in fact wearing the RC Pros as I’m typing this post out. Finally, because their part of the swimming collection, you won’t be slipping and sliding off wet floors.

In conclusion, I do like the sandals a lot, pottering about the house in them. I’ve not seen them in Malaysia just yet, but you should check them out if you do happen to spot them.

Disclosure: The adidas Recharge Massage Pro Slides are media samples provided by adidas Europe. This post came after wearing them in for a week.

Update @ April 3rd, 2014 – I spotted the RC Massage Pro on discount at the KLCC adidas Boutique. The RRP of RM199 is now discounted at RM159.20.

Skechers GOrun Ride 3 Review

It’s very likely that this review of the GOrun Ride 3 (GRR3) isn’t the first you’ve read on the 3rd version of Skechers’ most accessible shoe for newbies to the GOrun series. Indeed I’ve not had enough time in the shoe, having spent the last 3 weeks negotiating the Titi and Gunung Nuang Ultra 50Ks respectively. Both events really took something out of me, requiring extended recovery time. Due to the small gap between the two events, my legs were truly beaten and all I could muster were a handful of short (and negligible) runs in the GRR3, but since the shoe retains all the good from earlier versions, the wear experience of the GRR3 is akin to returning to the arms of a love one. That kind of comforting feeling.

The Nite Owl (on top) and the GRR3. Notice how the midsole sipes have been tweaked.

Most of the subtle changes take place on the upper and it’s here that Skechers made a welcome move towards brighter colors. It doesn’t hurt to have a striking, and may I say cheery, looking shoe. As with recent GOrun models, the GRR3 ships with optional sockliners, making it a configurable standard 4mm (with) and a little lower (without) ride. Personally I’ve always run with the sockliners in. My choice for a US10 ensures that the space up front made the fit just nice. Removing the sockliner would’ve made the toe box too spacious.

The Nite Owl (top) and GRR3. Notice the difference in the mesh construction.

On top of the refreshing colorway, the mesh is a rework from the Nite Owl and in the case of the GRR3, there’s a layer of stiffer TPU layer just under the S logo (see photos above). The rework and the addition of the layer don’t make any difference to me. At least I didn’t notice any difference. There’s more than enough padding in key areas like the collar and tongue. The heel counter is still the soft type which is not only weight saving but keeps the weight low.

GRR3 on top has one less solid rubber plug.

The midsole and outsole see no change – still the same Resalyte and rubber plugs combo. As a result, you can expect the same ride from, um, the Ride 3. The midfoot bump is barely felt, if that is something that concerns you. I believe Skechers will continue to keep the midfoot bump minimal. You’ll also notice that the flex grooves/sipes of the GRR3 have taken an angular design rather than a simple cut across. I can’t say that I notice the difference in the wear experience.

With sockliner

Without the sockliner.

My US10 weighs 8.6oz which is light considering the stack is noticeably higher than the GOrun 3 (GR3). The GRR3 stays true to being a flexible shoe.

As with the GOrun 3, you really can’t go wrong with the GRR3. It’s an accessible shoe, one that’s very versatile. It’ll handle a long run really well yet will give you the responsiveness you need to take on the surges towards the end of a training session. Because of it’s versatility, my shoe of choice for next month’s marathon is a little harder to make. The GR3 or GRR3? I suppose my decision will come after a couple of simulation runs over the next few crucial weeks. Now if only the choking haze will clear up!

The Skechers GOrun Ride 3 is not yet available in Malaysia at least for a couple more months.

Disclosure: The Skechers GOrun Ride 3 is a media sample provided by Skechers Malaysia. I’ve only put in approximately 35K in them but the ride is similar to earlier versions of the GOrun Ride.

Shoe Review: Skechers GOrun Ultra

The running shoe industry is indeed a strange one. Bare bone and minimalist footwear saw unprecedented growth over the last few years. Nearly every runner worth his shods know terms like offset, heel-to-toe drop, proprioception. Over the years, the term minimalist is generally used to describe shoes that have single digit drop numbers, flexible, lightweight and without superfluous gimmicks. Within that segment, there are shoes of many flavours from the relatively cushy (GOrun models, Virrata, Kinvara, Free) to the ones that offer firmer ride (like those by Merrell, Inov-8, and Skechers GObionic). The shoe market then sort of corrected itself over the last few months, and the term maximalist started to be bandied around. Read Pete Larsen’s good take on the whole thing here.

Skechers with their suitably named GOrun Ultra (GRU) fits into the thicker and cushier segment of shoes which maintains a reasonable amount of low offset, flexibility and lightweight qualities. Whether all that qualify the GRU as a maximalist, if there’s such a term, I’ll leave that debate to the marketers and experts.

It hasn’t been easy but over the last 2 years, Skechers have been gaining many fans with their light, low drop, flexible and responsive GOrun series. Other than the mentioned features, more importantly as a runner, I like how they fit my feet – roomy toe box that doesn’t pack my digits like sardines. Traditionally, the GOruns have always ride closer to the ground, with the exception of the GOrun Ride (GRR), Skechers’ thickest shoe prior to the Ultra. Even then the GRR’s stack height is lesser than the models produced by other shoe companies (see table below, measurements collated from Runningwarehouse). The Ultra now takes over the mantle as the thickest shoe in Skechers Performance inventory. How then does it match up with the rest of the mainstream shoes? How’s the ride? Is it stable? Does it slow down the wearer? Is it a shoe to run speedwork in? I’m a runner and chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re one too. Therefore you’ll be interested in how the shoe performs over brand because at the end of the day, would you rather run well or run injured?

While the GRU is designed to meet the demands of going long on the trails AND road, I see it primarily as a road shoe. There are several long road runs that I’ve signed up which would be perfect for the GRU. Just like for the GOrun 3, GOMeb Speed 2 and GOrun Ride 3, I opted to size up the GRU to US10 to allow for some foot swelling.

Visual rundown of the GRU will tell you that the shoe has been designed to follow a more conventional path, albeit with 65% more midsole. There are a little more overlays and plush padding to pamper your feet. The integrated tongue even looks similar to that of Salomon Fellraiser. A cursory look could in fact mistake the GRU for a Salomon. The GRU comes with a removable sockliner, which if used, will give the shoe an 8mm offset. Without it, the offset measurement is halved. It’s very important for the buyer to know if he/she will be wearing shoe with or without the sockliner as there are tangible differences in fit and sizing. If in doubt, go with the sockliner like I did.

The upper is constructed with 4-way stretch mesh which should allow plenty of room. The shoe laces are thicker than those found on the GOruns. They’re also stiff and a little too long as can be seen from the photo above, although I opted for parallel lacing instead of crisscross here. The full contact Resagrip outsole is given an aggressive treatment with large lugs which look like nuts screwed into the bottom. The outsole sits on top of a thick pillowy Resalyte midsole.

I logged a few runs in the GRU from 5K to 21K prior to Titi 50. The shoes felt great right from the start and concerns of the thick midsole messing up the gait was non-existent. The ride was exceptionally smooth and quiet. I kept thinking how this would be a Spec Ops operator’s ideal shoe. No one would hear you creeping up on them. In fact I tested this theory out and managed to surprise a few walkers at the park. Sorry! I noticed a teensy bit of heel slippage on my first run which could be attributed to the larger shoe but once I adjusted the lacing a little, it was no longer an issue. I also made sure that I ran over rocks, steel grating and grass. The GRU didn’t slip once and pretty much absorbed whatever harshness thrown its way. You could say that my feet felt pampered.

A 21K at Ammah Hill presented a longer test and again the GRU took it all in stride. Only when I pushed the pace towards the end of the long did I miss the responsive ride of the GOMeb Speed 2. You could still run fast in the GRU but I’ll say that a sleeker shoe will get that job done better.

The final test would be Titi, 50K over endless ascents and descents. As it turned out the GRU did well, certainly better than the wearer who bonked halfway through. Other than the usual tightness and soreness of the quads and calves, the soles of my feet still felt fine after the 50. Not a single hotspot and blister. No black toenails either. The thicker Drymax socks definitely worked well with the GRU. The outsole however took a bashing at the lateral heel area, with the foam nearly completely sheared off.

In wrapping up this post, I’d say that the GRU is the shoe to check out if you run plenty of miles and like the soft feel of shoes. It provides an ultra quiet and smooth ride in an upper that breathes and fits well. There are also shoes of similar traits out there but the GRU makes a stronger case for runners who like a bit more room in the toe box as well as a great fitting upper. Durability could be better since this is a high mileage shoe. Time will tell if Skechers will eventually add a bit more durability in this area for future GOrun models.

Disclosure: The Skechers GOrun Ultra is a media sample provided by Skechers Malaysia and the review was done after I’ve logged close to 100K in the shoes. The GRU is already available in Skechers stores in the country and retails for RM419 and RM399 for the men and women models respectively.

Shoe Review: Skechers GOmeb Speed 2 New York Limited Edition

With several long runs coming up, I was keeping an eye out for shoes that offer some measure of comfort while retaining that roomy toebox and low heel offset, namely the GOultra and GOrun Ride 3. So when the WhatsApp message from Skechers showed a entirely different shoe, I was really caught by surprise.

I’ve seen several photos of Meb wearing the gold color version of the Speed 2 and thought it was only produced for him. Little did I know that the Skechers GOmeb Speed 2 New York Limited Edition (GS2) would be produced in very limited quantities worldwide, something like in the hundreds. In the ASPAC region, only 40 were allocated and you could say that I’m one lucky fella.

The new and old.

Essentially the GS2 shares the same GOspeed (review here) DNA. Fast, responsive and snug fitting. There are, however, small changes here and there that would make the wear experience a better one, IMHO. Let’s get on with it. Warning: There’s no unboxing video here because unlike GPS watches, the objective of a shoe review is merely to get it out of the box and start running in them. The proof is in the wear experience. I also don’t know how an “unboxing review” works. A post is either of an unboxing or a review. As far as I know, one can’t “review an unboxing” hahaha! Anyways, this isn’t an grammar blog because I do commit atrocious errors as well. :D

The upper sees the biggest changes. The open mesh and synthetic overlays have been replaced by thinly welded ones. The mesh is now more closed than the earlier version while the material used for the tongue is somewhat like neoprene, although I suspect it isn’t. Despite the closer stitching and construction, the shoe retains a large measure of breathability. I’ve worn the shoe a few times with no issues of overheating and hotspots. I’m looking forward to testing it out on a MP 30K.

The GS2 has a Resalyte midsole which I suspect has been re-tweaked to ride a little softer. It was apparent right from the moment you slide your foot in. The size of the DuPont Hytrel stability plate has been reduced and that probably contributed to the more forgiving experience. Another plus is in the area of flexibility which sees a welcome improvement. Finally, the outsole has the same number of sensors with the same placements of rubber plugs.

Now, here comes the big difference. I’ve had to go up a full size to US10 in the GS2. Fellow runner Nick also had to upsize, so I’d strongly suggest trying out the shoes before buying. Interestingly, as you can see from the following photos, the weight increase is only 0.2oz despite the full size increase (sockliners are not removable). Which means that, given the same size, the GS2 would probably be a shade lighter than the original.

I’ve only worn the GS2 for a couple of short runs and I can’t wait to take them longer. Over 10Ks, the shoe is still a fast ride, quite impossible to go slow in them, like strapping yourself in a performance car. It’s a lot more comfortable than the first version and very wearable for races up to the half marathon. I like a bit more cushioning in my shoes, and I’ve found that the original is a bit too stiff and hard for my liking. This version is just about right and I’m hoping it’s suitable for a slowpoke marathoner like me for the 42K. If you’ve worn and liked the original GOspeed, you’ll like the GS2.

Disclaimer: The Skechers GOmeb Speed 2 New York Limited Edition is a review pair kindly provided by Skechers Malaysia. Opinions stated are my own.

My Top 3 Go-To Trail Shoes

Up till 2012, the only trail shoe I’ve ever had was the venerable Brooks Cascadia 4 (review here). One thing led to another in 2013 and trail shoes starting jostling for precious space in my cabinet. They’re the Montrail Rogue Racer (review), Mountain Masochist, Skechers GOtrail (review), Asics Fuji Racer 2 (review), Fuji Attack 2 (review), Nike Zoom Wildhorse, Skechers GObionic Trail before coming to a halt with the Salomon Fellraiser. Other than the Skechers and Asics, the rest were out-of-pocket purchases.

Over the months, I’ve developed my personal favorites and I thought I’d share this with you. Do note that my selection below is based on several criterias:

  1. Lightweight (10oz and below)
  2. Lowdrop (10mm and below)
  3. Roomy toebox
  4. Cushy

Skechers GObionic Trail (GBT)

For quick and speedy runs, you won’t go wrong with the GBT. It’s got well spaced out lugs with adequate responsive cushioning that even had me wearing them on the road a few times. There’s no rock plate underneath so you’ll definitely feel the stones through the soles. Shortening your strides and staying nimble instead of simply pounding away will enhance your running experience. I’ve no complains on the fit and its lack of weight makes slogging uphill a little easier than if you’re wearing a heavyweight. I’ll be running in the GBT for Nuang Ultra Challenge happening this March.

Suggestion: None so far but the laces could be improved for easier lacing. My initial review of the GBT here.

Nike Zoom Wildhorse (NZW)

As good as the GBT is, I had some reservations about going with it for 100K. The purchase of the NZW was specifically made for purposes of TNF HK. Since I needed to know the characteristics of the shoe, if it could provide the cushioning and support for the ultra, I put it through the wringer. Did I learn a few things about the shoe!

Firstly, the NZW is unlike any mainstream shoes Nike has produced. Based on the Nike Free last, the NZW has a simple construction, is lightweight with a roomy forefoot plus a cushy ride in a 4mm drop package. There’s much to like about it except it’s traction. Adequate for mild single tracks and dry conditions, the shoe simply can’t handle wet and slick grounds. It drains well though. Despite hitting the deck so many times during the wet Trans Nuang, I went with it for my race shoe in Hong Kong. Underestimating the weather and terrain, I fell victim yet again, slipping and sliding down the later parts of CP4 which cost me precious time. The pointy foam lugs around the heel are too small and not aggressive enough to offer braking ability down a wet slope. In fair weather, however, the NZW is hard to beat.

Suggestion: Tweak the outsole. You can read my review of the NZW here.

Salomon Fellraiser (FR)

The FR was not intended to be a purchase mainly because Salomon shoes are typically constricted up front. That criteria ensured that the brand, despite its humongous popularity, will not find a place in my rotation. The FR is a bit different in that it has a roomier toebox and seemingly bottomless traction. The big discount offered at that time only served to nudged me into parting with just over RM300. Unlike the simpler construction philosophy adopted for the brand’s lightweight models like the S-Lab Ultra and Mantra, The FR is built like a tank. There’s much overlays and criteria like flexibility and weight are sacrificed for protection and tremendous degree of traction. If your confidence isn’t boosted just knowing the deep chevron lugs will keep you vertical, I don’t know what will. Indeed how quickly you scale or descend the hills and mountains will boil down to how well-trained you are. With the FR, the issue of grip will no longer exist. The question becomes, “Can you handle the terrain?”. All else being equal, the FR will provide that extra edge on slick conditions and over ultra distances. There’s a good amount of cushioning in the 7mm drop shoe as well. The downside, as mentioned, is the reduced flexibility, heavier weight (nudging 10.2oz for my size US10) and the ease with which trail debris enter the shoe.

Suggestion: Lose the thick tongue, simplify the upper, improve the gusset around the tongue.

The conclusion you can draw out of this post is that there’s no perfect trail shoe. Instead each has its own strengths and weaknesses depending on the trail and weather condition. Having more than a pair gives the runner better options and in some cases result in a safer run too.

Now that we’re into a new year, do you have any shoes that you’re really looking forward to?

iPhone App Review: Nike+ Move

The new year has entered its 2nd week. Chances are there will be a number of folks out there who made the decision to start exercising and maintain an active lifestyle (read: spending less time on the Couch of Doom playing Call of Duty – both CoD!) running into motivational challenges. It’s tougher when you’re in it alone, with your friends opting for a session at the corner mamak stall rather than out sweating.

Other than being really strong-willed and determined, it’s good to know that there are gear and apps out there which can nudge you along until such time when even a monsoon won’t keep you indoors. I’ve no experience in sport accessories like Fitbit and Nike+ FuelBand (Google them up) but such devices employ the use of sensors and accelerometer to track movement – some can even track your sleep pattern – and convert them into points, which you can then track online. Nothing like seeing the points go up to keep you motivated.

If you don’t have such gear, you can always rely on the piece of electronics which we always have with us – the smartphone. The iPhone especially have a wide range of apps for just about anything. In this case let’s have a look at the Nike+ Move app which was launched to capitalize on the iPhone 5S M7 co-processor. The M7 manages and tracks the phone’s gyro, accelerometer as well as compass. It works quietly in the background sipping battery power so, on paper at least, it won’t be the power hogger that most of us fear.

When you launch the Nike+ Move app for the first time you’ll have a step-by-step walk-through of how you can start collecting points. As you swipe through the screens, you’ll be apprised of your progress over the weeks, and you can see the breakdown of your activities, put yourself in a Leaderboard, with options to share your achievements to the social media channels (but of course!). The following are the screen transitions

Since it does all the above, one may wonder if the app is cannibalizing Nike’s very own FuelBand. To which the answer from Nike was a “No”. I don’t have the FuelBand, so I’m unable to comment on that. The app is a quick and simple starter for fitness newbies who want to track every bit of their movements throughout the day. It doesn’t track your mileage nor intensity but rather in minutes and NikeFuel points. It’s a standalone and doesn’t integrate with the Nike+ website which is a downer. As the newbies progresses, he or she may find other apps more appropriate when it comes to tracking specific activities and relegate the use of this one to keeping the time spent on the couch/office chair to a minimum.

The Nike+ Move app requires an iPhone 5S (due to the M7 co-processor) and is available free in the iTunes Store. Download yours here. Nike also has other fitness apps like the ones below. Search them out in the iTunes Store.

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