Ironman Canada – A Dream Come True

Believe.

That was the key piece of the puzzle when accomplishing my dream goal of qualifying for the Ironman World Championship.  Physically, I know I could do it.  I knew I had the capabilities of being on the podium at an Ironman event.  I put in all the work and trained harder than anyone I know. Now, I just had to believe in myself and do it.

I began triathlon in 2009. I never swam, cycled, or ran in my life. I was one of the “those guys” who thought the Hawaii Ironman was the only triathlon out there.  Being completely oblivious, I signed up for Ironman Arizona on a whim.  I swam in the “arm-floaty” lane, forgot to unclip and crashed on my first couple bike rides, and waddled through all my runs.  My first marathon was 4:30, almost died doing my first half Ironman in 6:30, and hobbled through my first Ironman in 11 hours.

I am an incredibly hard worker.  I hate to lose.  I am very competitive, and I always give everything my best effort. I’ve been in the dumps many times with my fair share of bad races.  Each time, I found a way to learn from my mistakes and failures and come back for more.  I believe it’s this “can-do” attitude that gave me the ability to continually improve.

Training:

After my disappointing race in St. George earlier in the year, I hired Nick of Durapulse Performance Company to prepare me for Canada.  I made it clear to him: I had ONE goal for this race.  It was Kona or bust.

Approaching five years in this sport, I’ve realized there is no easy path to success.  Improvements often times come very slowly.  Being an elite age grouper takes hard work, day in and day out.  I live and breathe triathlon.  Every morning, I reminded myself of the main prize: toeing the line in Hawaii.  This is what inspired me to wake up at 3 a.m. to do those crazy three hour interval weekday rides, 20-mile Monday runs, and sufferfests on the treadmill…  and somehow making it to work by 8 a.m.  Working a full-time job left me little time to do anything but work, train, and eat.  Oddly, I love it.

A typical training week included:

Monday – Long run (longest run was 22 miles)

Tuesday – Aerobic ride and transition run (2-3 hours) in AM, Swim PM

Wednesday – Track and Crossfit AM, Masters swim PM

Thursday – Interval/hill work on bike and transition run (2-3 hours) AM, Masters swim PM

Friday – Crossfit AM, Swim PM

Saturday – Long bike (longest ride was 130 miles with 7k feet of climbing)

Sunday – Masters swim AM

My peak training week was 21 hours with most weeks averaging around 18 hours.  I also got 1-2 massages weekly.  My most insane workout was a 20-mile TT run on the treadmill.  I’ll NEVER do that again.  Most epic bike ride was a 110-miler in Flagstaff, which included climbing to Snowbowl and doing a loop through Wupatki and Crater Lake (7k+ feet climbing).  The Mcnary/Pinetop ride wins the award for biggest disaster.  I also did multiple solo 100-mile TT rides where I emulated race day and kept stops to a bear minimum.  These were mentally and physically exhausting.

Preparing for this Ironman was different compared to all my past Ironman races.  Ironman Canada training included a lot more intensity and a strenuous strength/crossfit training program.  At first, I was very hesitant getting myself into the Crossfit craze.  The workouts left my body trashed and sore for days.  During the first week, I remember I had to skip a swim because engaging my abs while flip-turning hurt worst than getting kicked in the junk.  Nick told me to trust the plan.  Eventually, the soreness subsided and I was stronger than ever.

Nick coaches some of top age groupers in the state.  I’ve had the privilege of training with Bryan Dunn, multiple Kona qualifier, and huge Star Wars geek.  He has followed my training on Beginner Triathlete since 2009, and has been a huge influence in my rise to a top age grouper. He has been my Jedi guidance counselor, always giving me advice, tips, and motivational trekkie quotes. Big thanks to my main training clan: Stephen Hannaman, Ryan Hardy, and John Argue.  I suffered a lot with these guys.

Also, thanks to my #1 fan base for your continued support through all the years: the Wein family, the Rosenlofs, the Przeors, the Astons, the Donahues, Angi, Chad, my ONE Multiport family, BT friends, and Durapulse teammates.  And, although I’m a complete creeper and have a shrine of all her memorabilia and autographs, Linsey Corbin and her family have become big Elliot fans.  I love you Linsey!

This blog was created after my Ironman race in 2011.  I wanted to keep family and friends updated on my progress of reaching my goal.  I told myself I’d never do another Ironman until I had a legitimate shot at Kona. To be honest, labeling my blog “My Road to Kona” was silly at the time. I had tons of work to do, but I took on the challenge with everything I had.

4 years, 8 months, 25 days, 9 hours and 43 minutes since I first began training, I finally made my dream a reality.  I raced Ironman Canada this past weekend and qualified for the Superbowl of all triathlons… the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.

Ironman Canada race report:

I flew into Seattle a week before my race.  The next day, my uncle Derek and I drove to Whistler.  Derek is racing Ironman Canada in 2014 and had done a training camp on the course in July.  I spent the five-hour drive to Whistler picking his brain about every single detail of the course.  I ran a loop of the course Saturday and tackled the major climbs of the bike course Sunday.  Training on the course was a big part to my success on race day.

There were five critical components I learned from my mini training trip:

  1. This course was hilly!  Pacing would be absolutely essential.
  2. The scenery throughout Whistler was incredible. If I had a bad race, at least I could enjoy the amazing views.
  3. Whistler is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise.  You felt out of place if you didn’t have a bike rack on your car.
  4. There were man-attacking black bears everywhere!
  5. Maple syrup was sold everywhere in all varieties: ice cream, gelato, suckers, popsicles, flasks, and huge containers. It was elf heaven!

Some of the amazing views…

Ski slopes in the summertime:

Ironman Canada

Ironman signs everywhere:

Ironman Canada Signs

Road closure sign on Highway 99:

Highway 99 Sign

One of the lakes we passed on the run course. Beauty.

Lost Lake

Crossing a river on the run:

Run - Bridge

The swim venue- Lake Alta:

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Monday through Wednesday I spent relaxing at my lake in Seattle.  It was a perfect place to spend before a race.  Quiet, no stress, and delicious, homemade meals from my mom.

Why did I ever move?

Swimming at home

I also spent this time looking up everyone in my age group.  I made an Excel spreadsheet and highlighted the fast guys noting their strengths and weaknesses.  Then, I looked up their bib numbers for my uncle to track on race day.

Derek and I began our quest to Whistler Thursday morning.

I had a big support crew in Canada.  My mom and dad made the trip to Whistler Friday.  My fellow elf counterpart, Jenna (and her mom), came to cheer as well.  My #1 race Sherpa, hands down, goes to Derek.  He diligently studied the course and timing mats to give me splits throughout the entire race.  If you’ve never done this task in an Ironman race tracking someone to this magnitude takes tons of work and energy.

My mom and uncle:

Mom and Uncle

Jovie and me. Olympic champions.

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T-1 day to race:

I called my coach for one last pep talk.  I was upfront with him…  I was nervous.  Nick knew I was ready and this was going to be a breakthrough race for me.  A week prior, we set very loose time goals:

Swim: 58-1:02

Bike: 5:10 – 5:20

Run: 3:15-3:30

Mentally and physically, I was in a good place.  Though, I had a lot of expectations for myself and felt a lot of pressure from my ONE Elite team, teammates, coach, family, and friends.  I knew I had tons of people tracking me.  I was well-trained and ready to kick ass in this race. I thrive under pressure. Bring it on.

Game day:

I woke up at 3:30 a.m. to eat my normal breakfast: oatmeal with blueberries, strawberries, and honey.  My mom had made inspirational signs and hung them all over our condo.  She knew this race meant a lot to me.  My uncle, mom, and dad were all up to wish me luck. I spent a long time visualizing myself throughout every portion of the race.   No matter what the day brought, I was going to give it everything I possibly had.  I was ready to crush dreams.

Our condo was a five-minute walk from the Whistler Village and T2.  I walked over to transition at 5 a.m. to get shuttled to Lake Alta.

Ironman race mornings are simple; gear bags and bikes are dropped off a day prior to the race so prep time is minimal. I set up my bike computer and relaxed by a bench by the swim start.

Transition area:

Transition

Then, I see the funniest thing ever.  Elf is one of my favorite movies.  Jenna comes jogging along in her Jovie outfit!  This made my day. She’s the best!

Jovie

Her mom knew I was deathly afraid of a black bear attack, so she startled me in her bear costume.

Debby the Bear

6:40 a.m.  – I stood in the large herd of triathletes to make my way to the lake.  This is the most nerve-racking part of the entire day.  It’s impossible to get rid of the pre-race jitters during this time.  I pissed in my wetsuit as I walked into the water to relieve some stress.

Swim:

The swim course was two rectangular loops in Alta Lake… very straightforward with sighting buoys everywhere. Water temperature was in the high 60s.

I lined myself up in the front row. Let the games begin.  The gun went off and, like any mass swim start, there was quite a bit of feet grabbing, punches to the face, and a few blows to the back of my head.  I swam hard for the first ten minutes to avoid getting clobbered. After the first turn I found a good pack to draft.  The water was clear, so it was easy to see the feet of the swimmers ahead.  I sighted every three breaths.  I peeked at my Garmin after the first loop and I was just over 30 minutes.  I knew as long as I was out of the water under 64 minutes, I was still in good shape. The second loop cleared up quite a bit. I settled into a good groove while swimming close to the feet of the swimmers ahead.

Swim split1:02:38. 10th place, 180th overall.  It was a good, smooth start to the day.

T1: 3:26

I picked up my transition bag and quickly strapped on my shoes and helmet.  This was the first Ironman I decided to ride in a bike jersey.  I had pre-stuffed my pockets with all my nutrition: seven honey stinger waffles, four caffeinated gels, and a Mentos container of caffeinated salt tabs. Running to my bike, I quickly looked around and saw the majority of bikes still in transition. A good sign!

Bike:

The bike course was challenging.  It contained 6,400 feet of total climbing.  It spelled disaster for those who didn’t pace properly.  The first 14 miles were fast, steep descents with some small rollers.  Then, you hit the first major climb… a 7-mile ascent to the top of Callaghan, the Nordic venue for the 2010 Olympic games.   It’s equivalent to a South Mountain towers climb, with just over 1,200 feet of climbing.  After a fast descent down Callaghan, we rode back into Whistler (more rollers) and headed down to Pemberton.  The Whistler to Pemberton descent was fast – about 2,300 feet of descending.  In Pemberton, we were taken on a completely flat out-and-back section of farm road for approximately 34 miles.  Then, the big climb back into Whistler (2,300 feet ascent).  I knew “the climb” would destroy many people.

Ironman Canada Bike Profile

My heart rate was high starting the bike with all the adrenaline.  About five miles into the ride, I settled into my power zone and my heart rate calmed.  I knew I couldn’t be stupid and blow up in the first half of the ride.  I reached the Callaghan climb knowing exactly what was ahead.  I let people pass me as I kept a close eye on not letting my power or heart rate get out of control.  I knew I’d have to take risks during the race to accomplish my goal, but it was too early to do anything stupid. I carried one bottle on the climb to minimize weight. I spun up Callaghan with very steady power. It was a good chance to gauge the time gaps of people ahead of me; there were kilometer markers of exactly where you were in the climb.  Descending Callaghan was fast.  I took two bottles from the aid station to make myself heavier to descend faster. I tucked down and spent some of the steeper descents resting my legs.  At the bottom of Callaghan I realized I was in pretty good shape.  The bikers of ahead were scarce with the huge packs all behind me.

Riding back into Whistler (about 40 miles into the ride) gave me a big boost.  There were huge crowds of spectators all along the course.  I felt really good.  Power was spot on, and heart rate was low. I was in my happy place.

Bike - Whistler

HAWK was flying.

Bike - Whistler

I flew down to Pemberton averaging 30+ mph.  It was the first time in an Ironman I was alone for a large portion of the ride.  There was a section of the ride I looked ahead and behind me… and there was no one in sight. I reached Pemberton still feeling amazing.  Those 100-mile training solo time trials were paying off!  The 34-mile stretch of flat farmland was a good time to catch-up on nutrition and fluids.  I averaged around 24 mph in this section at an easy perceived effort.

Next up, “the climb.”  I still felt great as I started the final 19 mile, 2,300-foot ascent into Whistler.  At this point of the race, I knew I was in good shape as I was right in the mix of the female pro race.  I was passing the females pros (who started five minutes before age groupers) like hot potatos.  It was cool seeing the media motorcycles riding next to them.  I gave a few funny faces and waves to try to get on TV.  I was dancing on those pedals and was climbing like an angel.

Climbing to Whistler

About 106 miles into the ride, I see a Whistler sign that has the number “10” on it.  WTF? Ten more miles?  My back was starting to get tight and I could sense some fatigue starting to kick in.  Then I realized, those crazy Canadians are metric … 10K to go!

I rode into town and the spectators gave me another boost of energy. I was ready to run.  Let the race begin.

Bike split: 5:16:41, 6th place (+4 spots), 72nd overall (+108 spots)

T2: 2:14

I unstrapped my shoes a few hundred yards from the un-mount line, handed my bike to a volunteer, and ran to my run bag.  I tried a new transition technique.  I put my run singlet, visor, sunglasses, nutrition, race belt, and water in a separate drawstring-bag inside my run bag.  I left my socks and shoes outside of this drawstring-bag so I could put these on immediately.  I ran out of transition with my drawstring-bag as I did everything else on the run.  I knew every second counted.

Transition

Transition

The run:

The run was two loops, with small rollers throughout the entire course.  It contained about 1,300 feet of total climbing.  The scenery along the run course blew my mind.  We ran along two lakes, through the woods on packed gravel trails, and across bridges and rivers.

I got a time check from my uncle.  I was in 6th place.  4th and 5th were only a couple minutes ahead.  2nd and 3rd had about 10-minute lead;  and 1st place had a 20-minute gap on me.  Looking up my age group prior to the race, I knew exactly who the leader was…  bib #1002, Ben Adam, 2nd place age group finisher at 70.3 Worlds last year.  I also remembered bib #1035; I knew I could run him down.

I saw this sign at the start of the run. Sherpa artwork:

Uncle's time gap sign

Although it was early in the run, I took my first major risk of the race and went out HARD. I went all-out Kamikaze style. I flew past 4th and 5th place within the first couple miles.  I saw my uncle again at mile three and he said I was running faster everyone in my age group.  I felt so good.  6:40-7:00 miles.  I was hauling ass!

I saw Jovie and Deb holding their sign and screaming for me. I was a happy elf.

Sign

Around mile seven, I chased down another guy and was in 3rd.  Then, I caught Gillian Moodie, the 3rd place pro.  We paced with each other for most of the run.  All along the course, I hear “GO GILLIAN!!!” I was getting no love.

Elliot and Gillian

Elliot and Gillian

Then, I see bib #1002.  Was I seeing things?  I had just closed his 20-minutes  gap and he was fading… bad. Nick told me prior to the race: “Ironman is all about who can maintain a good pace the longest.”  I was out-enduring everyone, passing people left and right.  Currently in 2nd place, I knew if I just held on I was guaranteed a Kona slot. Time to dig deep and try to win this thing!

I was in a happy place for the entire race until I reached mile 14 of the run.  All of a sudden, it hit me.  I was in a world of hurt.  My pace started to plummet and I started to question whether I could get through this horrific moment.  Everything throbbed. Did I ruin my entire race going out too hard at the beginning of the run? My mind started to play games with me.  My friend, Stephen Hannaman, sent me a message prior to the race – “Two things define you: attitude when you have everything, and patience when you have nothing.”  I took this to heart.  I knew if I could just keep running and wait it out, the pain would eventually subside.  Several minutes later, I got my second wind.

I hit another rough patch at mile 18.  I got really low on energy and light-headed as I felt like I was bonking.  I began drinking Coke.  Everything in my body was aching and the voices in my head were getting louder telling me to walk.  I told my mind to STFU, as I closed my eyes and pictured me racing in Hawaii.  I could do this!  I am so close!!! At this point, I was putting one foot in front of the other, with my head down, staring at Gillian’s shoes to match her stride.

Luckily, I didn’t get eaten by this unregistered participant:

Bear

I went to my “folders” that I made up in my head prior to the race. I recalled all the achievements I’ve accomplished the past few years, all the words of encouragement from friends and family, and remembered that tons of people were tracking me at this very moment.  I am a 2:51 marathoner, I told myself.  I’ve raced with the best in the 70.3 World Championship.  I had a stellar race in the Boston Marathon last year.  I can race with the best.  I’ve felt this pain before in training.  I put in so much work to get to this moment. This is where all my hard work pays off.

Then, I recalled what Nick told me: “You don’t have to be feeling good to be having a good race.”

In emergency mode, I chugged two cups of coke at an aid station. I forced myself to never walk.  I knew once I started walking, I’d make excuses in my head to walk even more.  Another mile passed and I felt a little better.  Gillian was also starting to tire as well, as we were still running stride for stride.  She served as my carrot for the remainder of the race.

Late in the race:

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Running

Montana-made pro, Linsey Corbin, told me before the race: “enjoy it all when it sucks – thank a volunteer and tell somebody good job.”  Oddly, this worked.  I started thanking volunteers and telling runners I passed “good job”.  It distracted me and took my mind off the pain.

I saw my uncle again around mile 19 and he said I was only 1:31 behind 1st place.  I had made up so much ground.  I pushed even harder.  At this point in the race, my whole body felt like it was shutting down.  My legs had turned into rubber.  I ran through aid stations pouring coke over my body, thinking it was water.  I focused on what I practiced in training: high turnover and relaxed shoulders.  I thought of my parents and how proud they’d be when I crossed that line on the podium.  I looked down at my watch and I was running eight-minute miles. Dig Elliot, I kept telling myself.

At mile 21, I see bib #1009 at the turnaround running at a good clip. He was about a half mile behind me. I remember looking him up and knowing he was a good runner.  I wanted the age group win… bad.  I gave it absolutely everything I had to stay ahead of #1009 and catch #1041.  Nothing was budging.

At mile 25 I heard footsteps approaching.  I looked back and it was bib #1009.  He looked strong.  I ran with him for less than a minute.  The elastic promptly snapped, and he left me in the dust.  Kudos #1009 on a stellar run. I saw my uncle one last time and he said I had a 10-minute gap on 4th place.

Almost there:

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Less than a mile to go!  I could feel my hamstring starting to seize up. I just wanted to cross the finish line so I could collapse.  There are tons of twists and turns, and more small rollers in the final mile. I didn’t see the finishing stretch until the last few hundred yards.

Final Stretch

On the final stretch, I managed to give high-fives to spectators.  I gave a fist pump and a brief smile as I knew I had accomplished my goal.  I left every last ounce of energy and heart on that course.  The clock read 9:43:03 as I raised my arms in the air with a huge sense of accomplishment.  Dazed and exhausted, I quickly fell to my knees in pain.  My calf and hamstring locked up.

A day I’ll never forget:

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“Elliot-ing”

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I left it ALL out there:

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Volunteers picked me up and carted me around in a wheelchair.

I was so out of it. Jovie gave me little buddy, my good luck charm, as she congratulated me.

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Run split: 3:18:03, 3rd place (+3 spots), 37th overall (+35 spots), 22nd amateur, chicked 2x

The race officials let my family and friends into the finishing section.  I completely obliterated my Ironman personal best by almost 50 minutes. I’ll never forget the look on my parents’ faces… they were so proud of me.  Although extremely tired, I was ecstatic about my finish. As my coach put it afterward: I had a flawless race and I executed my game plan to near perfection.

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A couple hours later we visited the Bearfoot Bistro Vodka-tasting room.  This quickly relieved all the pain.  The ice room was good on the legs.

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Kona qualifiers! Congrats John!

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I finally picked up my bike and morning clothes bag around midnight.  I checked my phone and had over 300 text messages and tons of Facebook messages.  Reading all the messages was totally worth the expensive roaming charges I racked up in Canada!  Thank you SO much for all of your support.  It truly means so much to me knowing I have so many people cheering me on.

I woke up the next morning, a bit hungover, but still on cloud nine.  My family and I walked over to the Whistler Village to attend the awards ceremony and Kona registration.

Awards Ceremony

Calling me up to the stage for my 3rd place finish:

Awards

The little man with the big heart.  One of the proudest moments of my life:

Podium

Proud parents:

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After nearly five years of rigorous training, I finally accomplished my goal of racing in Hawaii. I truly believed I could do it.  I’m telling this to all – whether it’s sports-related or any other aspect of life… never give up on a dream.  I just proved that when you work hard, day-in and day-out, and never digress from the main prize… dreams really do come true.  It’s a day I’ll never forget. On October 12, 2013, I am toeing the line at the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.

See you at the Kona underpants run Linsey!

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14 Comments on “Ironman Canada – A Dream Come True”

  1. Twarkins82
    September 2, 2013 at 8:43 pm #

    Congrats again. I am one of your biggest fans Elliot. Thanks for sharing

  2. September 3, 2013 at 8:12 am #

    Awe-inspiring post, Elliot. This is the stuff that really gets me going, dreaming of one day doing a triathlon. Running is still my thing, but I am extremely confident that one day I’ll be toeing the line at a 70.3, and if I decide I’m crazy enough, the 140.6 Ironman distance. But enough about dreams — enormous congratulations on achieving yours! The anticipation between now and Kona will feel electric and you have earned the right to enjoy every single second of that manic energy.

    I look forward to reading about that experience when it comes, but for now, I just enjoyed a thrilling story of someone gunning for their shot at greatness. Big props to your excellent crew and support network as well — you are admired far and wide.

    Well done 🙂

    • September 6, 2013 at 8:48 am #

      Thanks for your continued support, Dan. Love getting these kinds of comments. Can’t wait for you to go to the dark side and give triathlon a shot. You’ll love it.

  3. September 3, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

    Congratulations on a spectacular achievement! We’re so proud of how far you’ve come, and utterly amazed at the dedication you’ve exhibited through all of those years of training. Looking forward to finding out where you’ll go from here… maybe Zumba champion? 😉

    • September 6, 2013 at 8:45 am #

      Hahaha. Thanks, Kim! Can’t wait for our trip to the Boston Marathon next year!

  4. DeWitt
    September 3, 2013 at 3:40 pm #

    Really cool Elliot! Great job! Congratulations.Thanks for taking the time to write it up. Good luck in Hawaii!

  5. September 4, 2013 at 7:53 am #

    got a power file/ data for us to see? w/ body weight?
    great race! congrats on Kona, sounds like it is well deserved.

  6. September 4, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

    What are you going to do with your life now? If you kill yourself can I have your bike? I’ll give it to my youngest daughter. I think it’s her size.

  7. Terrence (Terry) Walsh
    September 6, 2013 at 12:27 am #

    Elliot,
    That is without question the best race report I have ever read and I’ve read hundreds,literally.tremendous execution.Wifey and I spectated this year and recall you passing by.
    Congrats and keep up the good work champ !

    • September 6, 2013 at 8:43 am #

      Wow, thanks for the kind words… and thanks for the cheers along the course!

  8. Chrissy
    September 6, 2013 at 7:41 am #

    Congratulations!! Great report – feel like we were right there w you. Good luck training for the big dance. So well-deserved.

  9. September 10, 2013 at 10:41 am #

    GREAT job Elliot! Reading your RR gave me chills, and you couldn’t be more right! It takes a lot of hard work, and dedication but dreams DO come true!

    • September 10, 2013 at 10:43 am #

      Thanks Jana!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Kona 2014: Defeat | Elliot Kawaoka - October 22, 2014

    […] to spectate. Their family has been so generous and supportive of me. They’ve attended and dressed up at all my big races. At home, I’m treated to countless LGO dinners, sugar highs, popcorn, […]

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