Running Scared

In high school, running scared was my favorite thing to do.

I had a very different definition of running scared back then.

My senior year of high school, my 4×800 meter relay teammates had a knack for handing me, the anchor leg, the baton in first place. I’d accept the exchange, and run like hell, visualizing my competitors on my heels. I never looked back, always willing myself to reach the finish line before I was caught. For an entire season, I fearfully ran myself across the line first. Running scared was fun. Running scared was a thrill.  

Today, I’d do anything to no longer run scared.

This evening, as I laced up my Cliftons, strapped on my Garmin, and situated my phone in my Spibelt, I left my headphones behind. I almost always wear headphones when running alone. I see running as time for myself and enjoy listening to my favorite podcasts on easy days. I keep the volume low enough to hear my breath and my footsteps but today, that didn’t feel like enough. I approached what should have been a relaxing and stress-reducing recovery run with fear and trepidation.

Less than two minutes into my run, my heart raced as I made eye-contact with a man walking diagonally across the street toward me, only to realize he was on route to the entrance for CVS. As I continued up the street, I took a wider than normal breadth around male pedestrians. By the time I reached the National Mall, I was holding back tears, my fear juxtaposed to songs of ice cream trucks and idle chatter of tourists. Continuing on, I noticed every man I passed and felt my stride quicken just slightly each time one reached his hand into his pocket. In my 15 years of running I’ve experience catcalls, cars repeatedly passing by, harassment, and men lunging at me and as a result, I haven’t felt truly safe in a long time. But now, this fear is heightened as I am faced with the question of whether or not I will make it home alive each time I leave to train.

This may sound dramatic. It is.

This evening, I exhaled a sigh of relief as I walked back into my apartment building upon ending my run. Relief because I’d made it home, something Wendy Martinez was not lucky enough to do just two nights ago. But with this relief came grief and guilt, as well. Guilt and grief over the fact that on Tuesday evening, I ran the streets of D.C.,  just miles away from where Wendy would be murdered roughly an hour later.

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Finishing up tonight’s run

This is not the first incident of its kind that has led to the feelings of grief, fear, and anger I am currently processing, but I’d be lying if I said this didn’t hit me a little harder and make my fears feel a bit more real. This time it was Wendy, but how easily could this have been me or one of my closest friends? We all run these streets, and like Wendy did, we often run them alone.

We’ll see articles and news reports filled with safety tips for runners. Uninformed men will ask why we don’t just run inside or find a male friend to run with. Someone will try to make this Wendy’s fault.  To all of that, I give the middle finger. The problem is not that we, as women, are making unsafe choices. The problem is a world where women are unsafe simply existing.

To be very blunt, we live in a world where women are forced to think, “I really hope no one tries to murder me on this run”, as we leave the house. This makes me sick to my stomach. And it sure as hell ain’t fair.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. And I’ll admit I considered staying in my apartment gym and running on the treadmill tonight. But in the end, I went outside because really, what else can we do? We female runners, will not retreat. We cannot and will not hole up in gyms and seek refuge on treadmills. We will not allow senseless violence to rob us of our passions.

Running is mine and I’ll be damned if I ever let fear take that from me. Yes, I am running scared, but I’m still running. And I’m running with a little more passion and purpose as I remember the lives’ of women whom I did not know. Women who were taken from us far too soon.


My deepest condolences are with the friends and family of Wendy Martinez. I did not know Wendy, yet my heart is broken.

No Thank You

Inspired by Lauren Fleshman and Oiselle

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No thank you to covering up and hiding behind clothes that feel safe. No thank you to keeping the tank on while running in 100 degree weather, for fear of being judged as not thin enough. No thank you to ideal body types and unrealistic standards. No thank you to diets, restriction, and food rules. No thank you to excuses like “I’m not hungry” or “I just ate”, when your mouth is watering and your stomach is rumbling. No thank you to gluten-free, fat-free, carb-free. No thank you too anything ‘free’ other than my own body. No thank you to BMI charts. No thank you to earning desert and exercising away guilt. No thank you to arguments about macros and why “that diet worked for me”. No thank you to Weight-Watchers and Flat Tummy Co. targeting teens.No thank you to scales. No thank you to diet culture.

No thank you to gazing eyes of strange men. No thank you to catcalls and “you should smile more”. No thank you to “hey baby”. No thank you to “bitch”, when I ignore you. No thank you to older men calling me honey. No thank you to looking over my shoulder when I’m walking alone. No thank you to holding my keys between my knuckles. No thank you to checking the backseat before getting in the car. No thank you to pretending to talk on the phone in parking garages and on the street once the sun has gone down.

No thank you to undermining educators. No thank you to scripted curriculums and shackles on creative freedom. No thank you to teaching about Christopher Columbus as if he were a hero. No thank you to standardized testing. No thank you to taking resources from “failing public schools”. No thank you to buying books for my classroom with my own money. No thank you to taking work home every night, yet barely earning enough to make ends meet. No thank you to iPads as babysitters. No thank you to neighborhoods so unsafe that kids can’t play outside. No thank you to low expectations placed on low-income students and students of color. No thank you to segregation. No thank you to guns.

No thank you to gender stereotypes and unequal pay. No thank you to questions of marriage and children. No thank you to “that’s so cute” in response to my profession as an educator. No thank you to mansplaining. No thank you to fear of failure. No thank you to the linear career path. No thank you to settling. No thank you to the appreciation of what you have as an excuse not to want and work for more.

No thank you.

 

Boston Bound: Weather is Weather

The Boston Marathon is known for many things, among those things is its unpredictable weather. Marathon Monday has seen everything from blizzards to 90 plus degree days. There’s a lot of information out there about how to prepare for the Boston Marathon down to the mile by mile, but one thing you cannot possibly prepare for is the weather.

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Screenshot of the B.A.A. website. “Unusual” weather. Isn’t Boston weather always unusual?

 

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Image from Reddit

We’re now within a week of the 2018 Boston Marathon and it seems like the weather is all that anyone is talking about. Participants are glued to the Weather App, as if willing a mild forecast to appear. After two hot years, many runners, myself included, believe we’re due for a good weather year. Unfortunately, it looks as if that might not be the case. The current forecast is calling for rain and high-winds. But remember, this is Boston we’re talking about so we actually have no idea. (Bring multiple race day outfit options.)

Looking at the current forecast it’s easy to freak out and think it’s impossible to have a good race. Don’t do that. That’s so far from the truth. Weather is weather and you can’t do anything about it, so instead focus on controlling the controllables. Control what you do this week as far as running, eating, and sleeping. Control how much time you spend on your feet on Sunday. Control your attitude.

If you adjust your expectations and run a smart race you can absolutely run your best marathon yet, no matter how bad the weather is.

It might be hard to believe but you can have a great race regardless of the weather. A great race in bad conditions may not mean a personal best time, but there’s no reason it can’t be your smartest, strongest, or toughest race.  

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Taking a quick time-out on the course during Boston 2017

Last year’s race brought temperatures in the mid-70’s with relentless sun. The Boston Athletic Association sent out an email to participants before the race, warning of warm temps and urging runners to slow their pace to account for the conditions. I didn’t listen. Although I’d been training through the winter and only had a handful of warm days under my belt, I thought to myself “I’ve got this, I’d rather run in heat than cold anyway”. I was dead set on running a PR and I didn’t think the weather would get in the way of that. I took off in Hopkinton with the same race plan I would have had if it were 45 degrees and overcast, and I expected to achieve the same result. I refused to adjust my expectations to account for the weather and I learned my lesson the hard way. I ended up walking before I reached the half and I was lucky to even finish, something many runners who made the same mistake that day couldn’t say.

 

When I ran the Chicago Marathon this fall, it was a similarly warm day, reaching the low-70’s with significant humidity. But this time, I took the lesson I learned in Boston and applied it. I adjusted my expectations for the weather and reminded myself to control the controllables. I pushed my goal time back by about five minutes and told myself that the only thing that mattered was running a smart race. As a result, the same heat that had crippled me in Boston barely phased me in Chicago and I managed to run the second half of the race fast enough to hit my original goal time.

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Chicago 2017, having the best time

We won’t likely have to worry about being defeated by heat in Boston this year, but the idea stays the same. Control the controllables and adjust your expectations for the weather. If we’re facing rain and a head wind, know you won’t be able to hold the same pace you would have if there was no wind. Dress appropriately and try to stay warm in athletes village. Don’t decide that you can’t run well because the weather isn’t perfect. If you believe this you certainly won’t. The time on the clock is one way to measure the success of a race. One way. Not the only way. If the weather is such that it is likely to slow you down, accept that and slow down from the start. You can always speed up if the weather improves or if you’re feeling great, but you’re much more likely to punish yourself by running too fast early on than by running too slow. Instead of aligning your goals solely with pace, base your goals on effort. Aim to make those early miles as easy as possible and run just beyond comfort for most of the race so that you can gut it out in the end rather than slog to the finish. If you adjust your expectations and run a smart race you can absolutely run your best marathon yet, no matter how bad the weather is. Your best race may not be reflected in your time, but you’ll feel it in your legs and in your heart.

The time on the clock is one way to measure the success of a race. One way. Not the only way.

Finally, if you do make the mistakes I made in Boston last year, don’t let that take the experience away from you. You’re running the Boston Marathon. Again, you are running the BOSTON FREAKING MARATHON. Do not take that for granted. Running this race is an incredible privilege and although it may not seem like it among the mass of people during the race, you’re one of a small fraction of runners who has made it here. If you make mistakes and you suffer because of it, don’t beat yourself up about it. Everyone has those races. Instead, shift your perspective. Soak up the experience a little more. High-five kids, thank volunteers, and encourage those around you (last year, a fellow run-walker got me through some of the toughest miles of mile life). And no matter what the time on the clock says when you cross that finish line, celebrate.

Shamrock Half Marathon

This weekend I ran the Shamrock Half Marathon in Virginia Beach, my fifth half marathon. Previous to this race I ran a half in the spring of 2014 back home in upstate New York, weeks after recovering from pneumonia (it wasn’t pretty), and the Rock and Roll D.C. half the next 3 springs after that. The first two races were rough and didn’t yield great times, but the third and fourth we more fun, faster, and fueled a desire to find out what I can do at the distance. Rock and Roll D.C. is a pretty tough course, featuring a brutal hill around mile 7. My PR was run on this course, so I knew I wanted to race something flat. According to Google, the Shamrock Half Marathon was exactly what I wanted.

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Over the past few months I’ve been preparing for the half, as well as the upcoming Boston Marathon and my workouts told me I was ready to run a PR, but I wasn’t sure by how much. Having run so few half marathons in a 5 year span, I have a hard time predicting what I can do. I decided my goal was to run happy, smart, and try to run under a 1:27, which would give me at least a 90 second PR.

Leading up to the race I had a rough week. Teaching is hard and parent relationships are even harder. After taking an extra rest day on Wednesday to sit on my couch and cry (#transparency), I couldn’t wait to get away for the weekend and leave the stress behind. Friday and Saturday I fought an upset stomach, but I was determined not to let anything stand in the way of a fun race and a fast time.

Race morning was the type of weather distance runners dream of-something I hadn’t experienced in my previous 4 half marathons or any of the 7 full marathons I’d run. It was around 40 degrees, overcast, and no wind. I knew it was going to be a good day.

As the start time approached and we headed to our corrals, I felt excited and confident. I knew I was capable of running faster than I ever have before and I was ready to go out and prove that to myself. Before the race, my coach wrote to me, “the race is a celebration, not a test”. This became my mantra for the weekend. I didn’t realize until later that with this in mind I hardly felt a single nerve before the gun went off. I was simply ready to celebrate.

After a chilly wait, the countdown began and before I knew it, we were off. The night before, I wrote down my race plan, in short, it was: have fun, start conservative, make the last three miles the fastest. When I passed the first mile marker, I worried I was going to be in trouble. Instead of the 6:45 I’d planned on, I went out in a 6:33–a pace that would result in big PR, IF I maintained it. For the next mile, I tried to back off, ease the pace a little and just feel good. I ran a 6:39 and tucked in behind a couple I overheard saying they wanted to stick with 6:40’s for a while (they didn’t run a single 6:40, they ran much faster). The miles passed and I continued to tick off miles between 6:30 and 6:36 consistently. I felt good, but since I was already running faster than anticipated, I was hesitant to try speeding up.

The race is relatively large, but around mile 6-7 I found myself isolated. There was a pack up ahead, but I wasn’t in a position to make up the 15 or so seconds and try to hang on. For a while it started to feel like a time trial as I passing less than one person a mile. Miles 8 and 9 were quiet and lonely and they felt long as my body started to feel fatigued, but as I looked at my watch, my pace remained consistent. I knew if I could make it to mile 10 on pace without too much pain, I’d be in a great place.

Finally, there were 3 miles to go and as I got closer to the end of the race the number of spectators began to increase, a relief after the miles of silence. At mile 10 I began to push the pace a little and managed to run 10, 11, and 12 under 6:30. Finally, for mile 13 I tried to give it my all and dipped below 6:20 for the first time. I was happy to achieve my goal of running the last few miles the fastest but was a little frustrated I didn’t run them faster. Every time I pushed a little too hard, I felt like I was going to throw up. After throwing up with 200 meters to go at the Chicago marathon I wasn’t going to risk that, so I pumped the brakes a little each time and let the feeling pass. Finally, when I crossed the finish line, I was greeted with a 3 minute PR.

I am thrilled with the race I had and am so happy I ran a smart, consistent race the whole way but I also have a lot to take away from the experience. It wasn’t perfect and I finished with way too much left in the tank. My biggest takeaway from the race is I want to run more half marathons. Although I’m pleased with my time and my race, it felt a bit like a long tempo workout. I ran consistent and I felt uncomfortable in the last few miles but I never truly challenged myself. I was so scared to fall apart in the last few miles that I didn’t have the guts to push the middle miles. I put pressure on myself to run a smart race this time around, but I’ll need to experiment and take chances in future races if I want to see what I’m truly capable of. I need to practice the distance more to figure out how much I can make it hurt without falling apart.

For the next few weeks I’ll turn my focus solely to prepping for the Boston Marathon, but after that, I look forward to racing more and taking some risks.

I’m done letting my college running failures define my ability

At 17, I was a senior ending my high school running career on a high note. After years of hard work, I was at the top of the section in my event and for the first time I had the opportunity to compete at the New York State Championship meet (as an individual). My last two races of my senior year were the fastest races I’d ever run. I was lucky enough to finish up my high school athletic journey in the most ideal way. I could close that chapter of my life and package it up neatly with a ribbon on top.

I got to college with big goals of improving upon my high school successes and those around me shared those dreams and expectations. But the success I had in high school didn’t follow me to college. After a decent freshman year I began to feel the pressure to perform and the joy of running started to slip away. I was used to being the best; my senior year of high school had conditioned me to believe that winning was easy. But I wasn’t winning anymore and to some, if I wasn’t winning I wasn’t successful–a belief I started to internalize.

By the winter of my sophomore year burnout was setting in. I was tired and overtrained.  Stepping on a starting line brought me more and more anxiety each week. I no longer felt the butterflies-in-my-stomach type of nerves that most athletes experience before competition, now I just felt pure dread. I hated running but I stayed on the team because I was a runner and running is what I did. I had no identity outside of running and I felt that if I stopped competing I wouldn’t know who I was.

Running was my enemy for the next two and half years.  It seemed like the harder I tried, the slower I got. Somewhere in the back of my mind I always felt like my breakthrough was just around the corner and I would formulate some great comeback, so I kept slogging away despite my misery. Spoiler alert: there was never a comeback. 

For years after, I allowed my college running experience to define who I was as a runner. I went into college thinking I was above average and left believing I was below it. My mindset for the next three to four years was that because I didn’t run well in college I must be a bad runner. I created this idea that a runner could only peak in college and now that college was behind me, I would never get any better.

Fortunately, with the help of some great running friends (shoutout badass lady gang) and an incredible coach (shoutout badass lady coach), I’m turning this idea upside down.

I’ve finally realized the notion that everyone peaks in college is bullshit. We refer to our high school and college athletic careers as glory days and when we graduate we refer to ourselves as NARPS (non athletic regular people) and joke that we’re washed up, but that doesn’t have to be the case. If you’re not a successful runner in college, it doesn’t mean you can never be successful and it certainly doesn’t mean you’ve missed out on your peak. 

If you’re a runner, whether in high school, college, or beyond and you’re struggling, take comfort in the fact that your underwhelming performance right now does not define you as an athlete. Maybe you need a break, maybe you’re dealing with other stressors, maybe you’re struggling with mental health, maybe you need to change up you training or work with a different coach. A lot of these scenarios applied to me in college and for the most part, I’ve figured them out. It wasn’t right away and it certainly wasn’t easy but now, 5 years after ending my collegiate running career, I’m doing things I never would have thought possible.

Don’t be afraid to set new goals and go after them. Don’t let past failures lead you to believe your potential is limited.

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This morning, I ran 18 miles, a distance that would have been unthinkable to my college self. Not only did I run that distance, but I ran it faster than I ran most of my 6-8 mile runs in college. These days my tempo pace is faster, my 5k pace is faster, and my marathon pace is fast enough to put me in the top 5% of finishers at the Chicago Marathon. Five years ago, if you tried to tell me this would be the case I would have laughed in your face. It hasn’t been an easy road, but I’m finally done allowing my collegiate running failures to define my potential. I’m not sure what I’m capable of but I’m sure that I’m ready to find out. Running is fun again and I’m back to feeling those butterfly type nerves before races, not dread. And I’m not necessarily working harder than I was 5 years ago but I am working smarter and running happier.

Stop defining yourself by your failures and maybe you’ll see what your potential really is. 

Ready to Compete

I always assumed my competitive running career had an end date. Run for four years in high school, run for four years in college, and then become a recreational runner. I was fine with that. College robbed me of my joy for racing, leaving me anxious rather than competitive. Leaving the competitive running scene was exactly what I wanted.

I graduated college and ran my first marathon the following fall. Being a bucket list item, my marathon plan was ‘one and done’. My only goal was to make it to the finish line without injury, a lofty goal considering I’d just healed from a stress fracture and my longest lifetime run was 12.5 miles, but I did it. I still remember the pain I felt after crossing that finish line, I legitimately feared I had done irreparable damage to my body. But I hadn’t. I was healthy and once the pain subsided, I decided I needed to do that again. I had more in me and I wasn’t going to sit back and accept that race as my marathon PR.

I set my eyes on Boston. A goal that seemed insane, but I thought maybe with some actual training, I could eek out the BQ. A year later, in a 27 minute PR, that’s exactly what I did. Looking back at the lackluster training [in comparison to what I’m doing now], the failure to fuel during my race, and the surely inadequate amount of water I consumed, I’m still not sure how it happened. I had literally no idea what I was doing, but with some combination of ability and luck, it happened. I continued this [strongly not recommended] method of training and racing, improving upon it only slightly, for four more marathons. I was running some decent times on some OK training, but after finishing three marathons within 3 minutes of each other I began to crave a breakthrough.

Last spring, with 6 marathons on my Garmin, I decided I wanted to up my game a little. I wasn’t quite ready to compete again, but I wanted to get a little faster. I hired a coach, started working harder, and set a goal for the Chicago marathon in the fall. I wasn’t going to race per se, but I was determined to run fast.

For many, setting goals and trying to run fast is the same as competing, but I was scared to call it that. I was terrified to let my competitive side take over. In college, my competitive side destroyed me. My drive to be the best came above all else and manifested in a very unhealthy way (and caused me to never actually become the best or reach my potential). I worked myself to the point of overtraining, I lost my period, I suffered injuries, and I struggled with an eating disorder. I wanted to get fast, but racing again seemed out of the question.

 

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2017 Chicago Marathon

 

But today, as I finished up my long run, the desire to compete was strong. My run in Chicago went better than I had hoped, but I didn’t toe that line with the mindset that I was going to compete. Instead, I thought, “let’s see what happens”. I didn’t want to set my expectations too high because I was so scared to let myself down. For so long in college, I was left feeling disappointed and ashamed after races. I didn’t want to do that to myself anymore. But I am sick of being afraid. Five years after graduating college and leaving my competitive running career behind, I’m ready to reclaim it. I want to race again.

I have no intentions of setting unrealistic goals of winning big races, I know where my abilities lie. But I am ready to set big, scary goals, that may be a bit crazy while remaining just inside the realm of possibility. I’m ready to toe the line at races and be fearless. I’m ready to start a race with the confidence that I will do what I set out to do rather than to just see what happens. From now on, I refuse to let myself be comfortable in the last miles of the race. I will no longer allow fellow runners to pass me in the last mile without a fight because I’m content with my projected finish time. I’ve spent the last five years teetering on the line of giving it my all and holding something back but I will not hold back any longer. I am ready to test my limits. I am ready to see what my best really looks like.

I’m going to compete again. I’m going to race again.

Competing isn’t for everyone, people run races for different reasons. But I feel like I’ve been robbing myself of my true potential for years and I’m ready to see where my limit really is. 

Another New Year

A year ago, I started this blog. Blogging was something I had told myself I would do for some time but never got around to actually doing so. Finally, as my 2017 resolution, I started this blog. Although I don’t write here that frequently, between this blog, my Medium page, and other outlets, I’ve written over 30 pieces this year. To someone who blogs daily or even weekly, that may not sound like much but for me, someone working full-time, marathon training, and finishing grad school, that feels like quite an accomplishment.

When I began this blog my goal was to use it as a personal reflection and as a way to spend some time writing, an activity I enjoy that also feels productive. What I did not expect is for writing to become a passion of mine, something that I hope plays at least a small part in my career one day. Throughout the year writing has become more than just my personal reflections and a significant amount of my writing is now about sharing my personal experience with disordered eating in order to help others. In 2018, I will continue to use my writing in this way and I look forward to continuing to grow as a writer this next year. For today though, I will do some of that personal reflection I started this blog with.

I didn’t think too much about the year as a whole being an eventful one, but as I look back I realize it was easily one of the most eventful years of my life. In March, I co-founded Lane 9 Project with two badass ladies and the community we have grown has made a tremendous impact on my life. Lane 9 Project has given me an outlet to share my story, help others, and strengthen my own eating disorder recovery. Lane 9 has shown me what I am truly passionate about deep down and made me realize that I hope to eventually spend my career working in the field of eating disorder recovery.

2017 was a big running year for me after an injury-plagued 2016. In April, I ran my second Boston Marathon. It ended in heartbreak when I did not re-qualify for Boston but it taught me many lessons. A few weeks later, I stepped up to another start line and managed to prove to myself what I was capable of and earn my BQ. In the fall, I ran my third marathon of the year (7th total) and despite some rough training in the weeks leading up to the race, I finished the Chicago Marathon in my fastest marathon time yet. Not only did my time improve in 2017, but with the help of an amazing coach, I learned how to truly listen to my body and respond to its needs.  As a result, I remained a happy and healthy runner the entire year.

The summer was filled with amazing things happening. First, Tyler and I adopted Troy Pup and our life has not been the same since. Who knew a puppy could bring so much damn joy? We cannot imagine life without Troy. We also spent a week soaking up breath-taking views of Zion National Park and a week later I headed abroad for the first time. I spent 2.5 incredible weeks in South Africa with One Heart Source, exploring, running, and, most importantly, mentoring an inspiring young woman who hopes to become a doctor. Finally, in August I was lucky enough to move in with my very best friend and I’ve loved every second of it.

The fall was long, stressful, and exhausting, but a lot of good came out of it. I went from teaching kindergarten to teaching third grade and although it has been an extremely challenging experience, I was given some amazing coworkers to help me through it. Additionally, after hours and hours of work for months on end, my thesis was finally published and  I now have my master’s degree.

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As we head into the new year, I look forward to what surprises 2018 has in store. I know this year will bring with it its own ups and downs but I foresee another year of big changes and notable accomplishments. This year I will continue to write, focus on Lane 9, advocate for eating disorder awareness, adventure with Tyler and Troy, and run fast. Wishing you the best year in 2018!