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Once More, With Feeling

March 31, 2017

“You are the unicorn of lottery runs.”

That is what one of my colleagues said when I told her yesterday that I had been selected in the lottery for a marathon….this time, the Marine Corps Marathon.

After the New York Marathon in November last year, I decided that there was no way I was going to run a marathon in 2017. So, how is it that somehow, I will be doing one in October?

Running the New York Marathon was tough – physically, obviously but much more so emotionally. In the weeks leading up to the race, I would find myself crying after a track workout, daunted by the task ahead of me – so much so that around 6 weeks before race day, my coach took me away from the rest of the group and we talked. Honestly. Openly. Maybe harshly. But it was necessary. We ultimately decided that my ONLY goal was to enjoy the race. No time goal, no pacing goal – just me, the streets of New York and the experience.

The race was hard. It took me 40 mins longer than it had taken me to run Chicago the previous year. It took all of my mental willpower to continue to put one foot in front of the other. Once I finally finished, I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. My boyfriend had to practically carry me back to the hotel, as I was incapable of walking. He helped me take off my running gear. He put me in the bath. He got me in my pyjamas. He fed me. He put me to bed. I was completely incapable of doing anything for myself. I was broken. Physically. Emotionally. Broken. There’s no other word for it.

So broken that I did not run again for 4 months. I had completely and utterly lost my love for running. Each time I even thought about lacing up, I had such a strong negative reaction that I never actually got around to tying the laces. I did nothing. No running. No cross training. No strength training. I allowed myself to heal.

Three weeks ago – almost 4 months to the day after New York – I decided it was time to jump back into the fray. So on that Tuesday morning, I set my alarm for 5.30 and by 6.15 I was on the track. My coaches and running group were there, and welcomed me back with delight. I didn’t participate in the prescribed workout….instead, I ran easy for 3 miles, stopping to recover my breath every couple of laps. It took me almost ¾ hr at a slow, plodding pace. Since then, I’ve run a couple of times a week, focusing on easy running and building up my base. Slowly. Surely. Not rushing to increase my distance. Trying, once again, to find my enjoyment of running.

When I put my name in for the Marine Corps Marathon lottery, it was with the certainty that there was NO way that my name would be selected. No way. After all, I’d been a first time lottery entrant for both Chicago & New York when I was selected, therefore there was no chance it would happen a third time. “If you didn’t want to run a marathon, why did you even tempt fate by putting your name in?” you may ask. A fair question. Not wanting to feel left out is part of it. Habit is another part of it. While I may not have been running with any consistency for several months, I am still a runner and running habits are hard to break – if there’s a lottery for a race, in goes your application. Plus, Marine Corps is one of the more prestigious marathons to run, and having already done two of them in Chicago & New York, it seemed silly to not even throw my hat into the ring for one that is right on my doorstep. And besides, there’s no way my name would be selected, right???

Which is a long way of explaining how, once again, I find myself staring at a computer screen, reading the words “Congratulations” and wondering just what I have let myself in for.


Great Weather for Ducks – or the Broad Street Run

May 1, 2016

That has to have been one of the wettest runs I have ever done. I think that even if I’d jumped in the river, I wouldn’t have been as wet as I was by the time I crossed the finish line.

It started on Friday when I texted my friend Sarah to say I’d seen the weather forecast for Sunday’s race and it wasn’t looking good. “Don’t worry,” she responded, full of confidence, “general consensus is that it won’t rain in the morning.”

As we pottered around Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon, we were ever hopeful as we caught glimpses of blue sky and kept our fingers crossed. Sure, it wasn’t exactly warm, but at least if it remained dry, then we’d be happy.

5.45am this morning, the alarm dragged me out of my warm and cosy slumber and once I had shut off its persistent ringing, the first thing I heard was dripping water. Lots & lots of it. A quick glance outside confirmed my fears – it was raining. And it was raining a lot.

As Sarah lives in downtown Philadelphia, and just a 5 minute walk from the subway that would take us to the race and also bring us back, our original plan had been to travel light to the start of the race. No gear check. Just a bin bag to keep us warm while we waited and to be discarded at the start. With the arrival of wet weather, our strategy needed to change. I’ve done enough races in inclement weather to know that no matter how annoying it can be to have to get to a race early to drop off a bag, and how tiresome it can be to have to pick it up afterwards…..being able to strip off your soaked clothes and put on clean, warm, dry clothes, well, it makes it worth it. So gear check? Back on the plan.

After taking an extremely packed subway to the start, and handing our gear to the bag check folks, we then had over an hour of hanging around before we were in a position to even cross the start line. 40,000 people run this race and it takes a long time to get the corrals through. While the bin bag definitely helped I was already pretty much soaked through by the time we started, a situation that never improved throughout the course of the race. The only variable to the rain was the intensity with which it came down – from a light drizzle to a veritable downpour, we got it all.

But in spite of the weather, I found myself getting into the groove fairly early on. Being soggy is never pleasant, but at least it wasn’t too cold. In addition, the course itself – point to point along Broad Street – was mostly downhill, which provided some relief. Having been only slightly more trained for this race than for my last one, once again I didn’t have any particular plan other than to finish in under 2 hours.

Miles 1 through 5 passed fairly slowly, but once the backwards countdown began at the halfway point, the distance seemed to fly by. At mile 7, a Van Morrison song came on my playlist and I’m not entirely sure how it happened, but I ran two sub 11 minute miles. When I’m at my fastest, I average around 10.15 / 10.30 per mile, but I am nowhere near my fastest right now; however for some reason, my legs felt good, my breathing felt relaxed, so I just went with it. I would like to apologise to those runners who happened to be around me during those two miles because I was singing along – aloud – to my playlist, which couldn’t have been pleasant for anyone.

Of course, the result of two speedy miles is inevitably a tiring of both the mind and the body and sure enough, the last mile found me slowing down somewhat, back to my 11.15/11.30 pace. But I didn’t care because at that point I looked at my watch, did the maths, and realised that I was going to cross the line in very close to 1:53. Still significantly slower than my PB (1:38) but 3.5 mins quicker than my last two 10-mile races.

I crossed in 1:53:09.

Within minutes of crossing the line, I was shivering uncontrollably and made way through the finishing chute & food stations as quickly as possible, so I could get to the gear trucks. As I’m not the speediest of runners, by the time I got there, most bags had been collected and so the bus driver kindly let me get on the toasty warm bus to get changed into my dry clothes and to wait for Sarah & Leah. I’m so glad she did as I ended up waiting for half an hour which would have been most unpleasant in the rain.

Once the girls had regrouped, we finally made our way home and into hot, hot showers – the best one I’ve had in a while.

It was a truly miserable experience, but I can’t help feeling a sliver of pride. It would have been so easy to have looked at the weather, stacked it up against my lack of training and just turned over and stayed in bed. But the fact that the thought never even crossed my mind, that I was willing – and happy – to go out and run in such miserable conditions, well, I’m pretty damn proud of that.

Because I’m a runner, and that’s what we do. And if I can do that, I can pretty much do anything, right?

New York, New York – so good they named it twice

April 29, 2016

It’s been a while since I’ve last been here.

Since my last post, I’ve run a few more races – Avengers Half Marathon, Walt Disneyworld Half Marathon, Cherry Blossom 10-miler, GW Parkway Classic – most of which have been spectacularly slow and for which I have been mostly unprepared. In fact, the Disney race I ran in Orlando in January ranked second on my list of hardest races I’ve ever done – second only behind Chicago. I’d done barely any training in the run up to the race, it was a hot & humid day and a very boring route. I felt totally and utterly drained – both emotionally & physically. I think the time I ran tells the story in and of itself.

Yet it also ranks second on my list of proudest running achievements as even with all the challenges, I was still able to get out there and run a half marathon. There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to run it and finish it. And I did. Even if I was a full half an hour slower than my personal best at the distance 🙂

Running during the winter has been sporadic at best. I apparently decided to become a cold weather wuss and used the cold and snow as an excuse not to hit the roads. Truth be told, I’ve been in a bit of a running funk. It hasn’t been exciting me as much as it used to – there’s not been any of that anticipation that usually comes when I lace up my trainers and head out the door. It’s felt more like a chore, and of course, no one likes doing their chores. So I’ve been running very infrequently.

With that in mind, I’m therefore not entirely sure why I threw my hat into the ring for the 2016 New York Marathon, but I did. Again, I had the same philosophy as last year, when I entered the lottery for Chicago – the chances of my name being selected were pretty low and if I were to be chosen, well hopefully that would help me find my running mojo again.

As you can probably guess from the title of this post, my name did get pulled so this running chica will be heading to NYC on 6th November to join 40k other runners as we traverse the five boroughs of New York.

Just writing that, I experience a frisson of excitement. There’s also a heck of a lot of fear accompanying that frisson – after all, I know the hard work that is ahead of me – but I’m reassured & comforted by that frisson. Perhaps it means that my passion for running has not been extinguised, but merely dampened, dormant.

I guess over the next few weeks & months, I will find out.

Michelle, the Marathoner

November 1, 2015

 I am a marathoner. 

It’s been three weeks since Chicago and it still feels…..odd saying that. I ran the race – I know I did, I was there, I felt the pain – but it feels so unreal. I ran 26.2 miles. In one go. I mean, that’s just crazy. 

In the run up to the race, I was equal parts excited and totally bricking myself. I made the – very sensible – decision to get there on the Friday rather than Saturday. This then meant that I could go to the expo on Friday and rest up on Saturday. Oh, and to completely stuff my face of course. One of the many things running a marathon does give you is license to eat whatever the hell you want. 

I was staying in the race hotel and so it was teaming with athletes – elite & non-elite alike. I spent most of Saturday afternoon hanging out in the lobby and people watching. It was surprisingly entertaining.  There was also a great camaraderie amongst all the runners. I had been….sad at the thought of fulfilling this bucket-list achievement completely solo, but as it turns out, I wasn’t alone at all. I was with 45k other runners and we were all in it together. 

One huge advantage of staying in the race hotel was the fact that it is extremely conveniently located by both the start and finish lines. This meant that on Sunday morning, I only had a short walk to get to baggage check and into my corral. As it turns out, I probably could have left even later than I did because, as is the norm with races of this size, there was lots of hanging around. I got into my corral at 7.40am, but didn’t cross the start line until 8.20am. Turns out it takes a long time for 45k people to start running. 

The day started out cool and sunny, with the forecast calling for temps to rise to the mid-70s. As I’m a fairly slow runner, I knew I’d be running slap bang in the middle of that heat which was, well, concerning. But hey, I’d done most of my training in the heat and humidity of DC & Virginia so in theory, I should be used to it. Famous last words….

When I finally crossed the start line, I had to stop myself from crying – mainly because when you cry, it messes up your breathing and it’s bloody difficult to run if you can’t breathe properly. But I felt so emotional and so….unbelieving of what I was actually doing that it was hard. But gulp down my tears I did, and by mile 2, I had once more found my composure. 

Given that we were running through the city, my GPS didn’t pick up a good satellite until mile 5 so I had to run up until then purely by feel – not good for a girl who relies on those numbers to the point of obsession. By the time it was giving me accurate readings (I clearly wasn’t doing a 6 minute mile, thank you very much) I realized that I was not going to hit my sub-5 hr goal. But, you know what, I was actually ok with that. It meant that the pressure was off and I could just bloody enjoy it. 

And enjoy it I did. The streets were lined with spectators and it’s difficult to adequately explain just how much energy that brought to the race. It was unlike any other race I’ve done and it was incredible. As the miles ticked down, I stuck to my run / walk plan and just soaked it all up. When I got to the halfway point, two things happened. Firstly, “Livin’ On A Prayer” randomly came up on my playlist and if you know the lyrics, well, you know how appropriate that was. I couldn’t have scripted it any better; secondly – and more importantly – it was at that point that I knew – I just knew – that I was going to finish.  

Miles 13 through 20 passed by in a bit of a blur. I was focused. I was breathing. I was hurting. But I was running. 

It was at mile 20 that the wheels started to come off. I’d been running with some – bearable – foot pain since mile 6 and at mile 20, that pain became less bearable. In addition, it was midday, the sun was beating down and there was limited shade on the route. At mile 22 – the furthest I’d ever run before – I threw my race plan out of the window and focused all my efforts on putting one foot in front of the other. I still don’t know from where I got that focus and determination. My run/ walk ratio increased drastically but at no point did I ever contemplate giving up. It was by far the hardest 4.2 miles I’ve ever run and 100% mental.  

“One foot, other foot, one foot, other foot. You can take a walk break in a few minutes. Just keep going. You are awesome and you can do this. Trust in yourself. Trust in your training. One foot, other foot, one foot, other foot.”
Chicago is a wonderful city but I couldn’t tell you where the race went. Despite having the course map pinned up in my cubicle for the last few months, during the race itself I had absolutely no concept or understanding of where I was. It’s not as if I wasn’t paying attention – all my attention was on the scenery & spectators around me. But if you had asked me at any given point where I was, the most you would have got from me was ‘Somewhere in Chicago.’ 

But you can bet your bottom dollar that when I passed through mile 25, I knew exactly where I was. And then, it was one mile to go, one kilometre to go and I decided I was going to run that last kilometre – no walking. It was slow. It certainly wasn’t pretty. But it was running. Runners all around me were walking and so I was picking them off one by one. At 400m to go, we turned a right hand corner to be greeted by mountain. In reality, it’s a slight uphill slope on Roosevelt – but after 26 miles, it may as well have been Mount Everest. With every part of my body screaming in agony, I ran up that bloody mountain, turned another left hand corner and saw the finish line ahead of me. 

Those folks that know me know that I am not shy about talking and using 10 words when one will do. But trying to explain the feelings I had when I turned that corner and saw that finish line?  Well I think that’s beyond even me. As I sit here writing this, just thinking about it is making my eyes well up. In some ways, that moment meant even more to me than crossing the finish line itself. 

And then… was done. The blessed relief of being able to walk and know that you didn’t have to run anymore, well, that was pretty darn special. As I crossed the finish line, arms raised and legs screaming, the tears built once more – but this time I let them fall. I was a marathoner. 

I’m never going to break any running records. I’m never going to win any races. But I learned an awful lot about myself on the streets of Chicago that day. I am stronger than I ever thought possible and I am pretty damn special to have done what I did. 

Thank you Chicago for reminding me of that. 


October 9, 2015

Chicago_Expo2On April 28th this year, I got an email telling me that I had been selected in the lottery to run the 2015 Chicago Marathon.

5 1/2 months ago, it seemed…..unreal.  The furthest I had ever run was 14.5 miles.  I’d always sworn that I would never run a marathon.  Yet here I was, with an entry to one of the most respected, high profile & sought after marathons in the world.  A marathon that I had – actually – not wanted to do at all.

Over the last few years, I’ve done many 5ks, several 10ks and 8 half marathons.  With the half marathon, I felt I had found my distance.  It’s far enough that you feel that you’ve challenged yourself; but it’s not so far that you feel over exerted.  It’s a distance that I can train for without much of a sacrifice.  Long runs take two hours, and I am still able to walk to brunch afterwards.  When on business travel, I rarely have to worry about finding double-digit distance routes.  All in all, it’s a distance that fits my lifestyle, and I was quite happy with it, thank you very much.

When ever anyone asked me if I’d progress to a marathon, my answer was always the same – HELL no.  26.2 miiles was just so……far.  In 2014 I ran personal bests in the 5k, 10k and half marathon – in the latter, it was by a whopping 15 minutes.  Why on earth would I want to consider anything other than improving those times again?

So when my friend reached out to me and suggested we put our names in for the Chicago Marathon, my initial reaction was the same as always – HELL no.  However, she was looking for a new challenge and moving up to the marathon distance fitted the bill.  I dithered quite a lot, but in the end I agreed – not because I wanted to do it, but because I thought I wouldn’t have to.  It’s a lottery entry and so the chances of me getting picked were slim, no?

Apparently not.  What was surprising was that when I got the email, I was excited.  Really, truly excited.  It came in the middle of the day while I was at work and I’m pretty sure I screamed at my desk.  “I’m going to run Chicago! I’M GOING TO RUN CHICAGO!”

In pretty short shrift, I joined a running group, got myself a coach and started following a plan.  Tempo work.  Speed work.  Easy runs.  Long runs.  I learned about hydration & nutrition; I focused on stretching & sleeping.  Hotels for business travel were selected purely based on whether or not they were located in areas where I could run double-digit distances.  Early nights & early starts became the norm; weekends were planned around my long runs.  Training took over my life and I didn’t mind that for a second.

The first time I ran 15 miles was in San Francisco.  It was July and the weather was disgustingly hot & humid in Virginia.  So I planned to get to California on Sunday afternoon, and do my longest ever run with the cool Pacific breeze blowing in my face.  Unfortunately, United Airlines conspired against me and after the travel day from hell, I finally got to my hotel at midnight – 12 hours later than scheduled.  It would have been so easy to not bother; to blame fate and make excuses.  Believe me, it crossed my mind.  Instead, I re-arranged my schedule for the next day and in the afternoon, I laced up and headed to the Golden Gate Bridge.  The views were spectacular, the weather was delightful and I’d run the furthest I’ve ever run.  I was hooked.

Each long run after that was the longest run I’d ever done and as they became longer and longer, I couldn’t quite believe the distances I was completing.  16 miles, 18 miles and then the big one.  20 miles.  I was in Toronto.  I was running the streets of my home, the streets that I miss, the streets that I love.  It was hard….really hard.  Mentally more than physically.  I had to dig very deep to finish.  But  when the Garmin tripped over to that magic 20….well, that was the first time I truly, TRULY, thought that I could do this.  I could actually run a marathon.

Two weeks later, I ran 22 miles and shaved 20 minutes off my 20 mile time.  I see those numbers, and I still can’t quite believe it myself.  I can’t believe that I have run those distances.  Me.  Who, just a few years ago, could barely run around the block.

And so, here I am.  Sitting in the hotel bar in Chicago with my club soda and margarita pizza.  In just under 36 hours, I will be at the start line, ready to run 26.2 miles for the first time in one of the most famous marathons in the world.  Runner 35972, reporting for duty.

It won’t be fast.  It won’t be pretty.  I’m so nervous just thinking about it – what the heck made me think I could do this?  But then I remember my training, I remember how much time and effort I have put into this….I take a breath, and I relax.  I can do this.  I WILL do this.

I will have raised over $1,000 for JDRF thanks to the extreme generosity of numerous friends, family & colleagues.  I am unendingly grateful for their support – not just financial, but emotional as well.  They have been there with me as I’ve trained, as I’ve hurt, as I’ve struggled and as I’ve finally got to this day, right here, right now.

In a little over 41 hours, I will be a marathoner.  I cannot WAIT to cross that finish line.

#ownchicago #chimarathon #chicagomarathon

Run Harder, Run Longer

September 21, 2015

Yesterday I ran 21.5 miles.

21.5 miles.

Even writing that, and knowing that I did it, I still can’t quite believe it.  

It’s not the first time I’ve run 20+ miles – the first time I did was in Toronto a few weeks ago.  That run was tough.  I re-jigged my running plan to make sure the run fell while in Toronto as I knew the weather would be cooler and I know the roads.  I set out early, I headed west and I took in the sights of my former home.  Miles 12-14 were mentally the toughest.  I really had to dig deep to keep going.  During those miles, I stopped a lot, I took photos of the Toronto harbour, anything to distract me.  But then, as soon as I hit mile 14, I got my mojo back; I realised that I only had 6 miles / 10k to go and that seemed much more…..manageable.  1.25 hours later, my Garmin tripped over to the 20 mile mark and I was done.  20 miles in 4h10m.  I felt pretty damn proud of myself.

But it’s nothing compared to how I felt yesterday.  I wanted to get one more 20+ mile run in before Chicago….just to prove I could do it.  I was registered for the Navy Half Marathon in DC and so in order to bump up my mileage, I decided to run there and then run home.  The run there was at an easy pace, and felt pretty damn good.  The plan was to run the first mile of the half at an easy pace and then run the last 12 miles at half marathon pace.  I tried to time my arrival at the start of the race to minimise waiting time…but the inevitable wait for porta-loos and wave starts meant I was hanging around for a good 25 mins.  Therefore, when the race started, I felt as though I had to warm up all over again.

Even though I felt sluggish, I decided to stick to the plan and after the first mile, I ramped up to my half-marathon pace, at least for the running parts (I do run/walk at a 10m/1m ratio).  4 miles into the race (8 miles of my run), I started to wonder if I could maintain that pace as I was already starting to ache.  But the funny thing about being in a race is that you seem to find something deep inside that keeps you going.  This race was no different.  Because even though I was hurting, I maintained the pace.  Even at the turn around point which was an incline of about 100m, when my legs were screaming and my lungs burning….even then, I maintained my pace.  By mile 10 (14 of my overall run) I was focused, I was motivated and I had to remind myself that my run didn’t end when the race did, that I had 4 more miles to go after that, and so not to go too fast.  

When I crossed the finish line, I took 10 minutes to grab my medal, swig some water and catch my breath.  I didn’t bother with the post race celebrations or food, I simply took a moment to get my head into the right place….and then I started running again.

The last four miles were by far the hardest.  I knew that as I crossed back into Virginia, I would encounter hills and so I decided up front that I was going to walk them.  Those last four miles were considerably slower than the previous 13 but not too far off the first 4.  By mile 20, my legs were screaming  but when I looked at my Garmin and saw I’d done that distance in 3h50m – 20 mins faster than when in Toronto – well, it was at that point that I knew that I was there.  Mentally.  Physically.  I just knew.  I am going to be ready and I will cross the finish line of the Chicago Marathon.  And so I ran the 1.5 miles home.

Today I ache from head to toe.  If I am in one position for too long and then move, I move as though I am 40 years older than I am.  I feel so physically drained that it’s hard to keep my eyes open.  But, almost involuntarily, I’ve had a mantra buzzing around my head today and it makes the aches, the pain and the exhaustion so very worth it.

“Michelle’s going to run a marathon, Michelle’s going to run a marathon, Michelle’s going to run a marathon…..”

You bet your ass I am.

20 days and counting.


August 2, 2015

I’ve always struggled with pacing, particularly when starting a run; my enthusiasm typically gets the best of me, I go out too fast and then as the run progresses, I get slower and slower.  I don’t think I’ve ever managed a negative split run, which is a goal most runners have.  Last year, using my Garmin helped, as did running with my coaching group in Toronto and my ability to pace myself correctly definitely improved.

However, with a few months off and with a new running goal ahead of me, once more I’m struggling with pacing.  What has made it even more difficult is the way my new coach delivers our training plans.  In Toronto, coach Kev gave me numbers – run tempo at 6.45 km pace, run speed work at 6.30 km pace etc.  Yes, it meant a lot of looking down at my wrist to make sure I was on pace, and perhaps I became a little bit too obsessed with sticking to the numbers….but it was quantifiable, and my brain could cope with that.

Coach Margie runs our coaching sessions a little differently – same format, but rather than giving us a pace to work to, she goes on ‘feel’….half marathon pace, 10k pace, threshold …but no actual numbers.  I don’t work very well this way.  My tendency to go out too fast means that I start too fast and then try to sustain it….leading, once more, to the inevitable crash towards the end.  I have no idea what my current half marathon pace is, let alone 10k or 5k.  When I compare where I am now to the same time last year, well, it just doesn’t stack up.  In August last year, I could run 10 miles in around 1h45.  Today, I can barely run the same distance in 2 hours. I know this is directly related to my pacing, and as a result, I don’t feel that I am improving or getting any faster.  I am frustrated.

At this Thursday’s workout, I took coach Margie to one side and asked her about it. We did talk about this at the beginning of the program and decided not to put numbers in for now as she wanted to see how I coped with both the heat and the workouts.  However now we are several weeks in, 10 weeks out from the marathon, and as I explained to her, I need the numbers.  They might be a crutch, and given that I don’t actually have a goal finish time – my goal is just to finish – they might not actually be relevant at this point.  But I need them for my sanity if nothing else… I need them to feel as though I have something for which I can aim, against which I can track.

We planned it out.  I ran the Royal Parks half back in October at around a 10 min mile, which, assuming I can get back to that same level of fitness, would put me at an 11 min mile for the marathon.  Based on this, my long run pace is 12.15 min/mile, half-marathon pace is 10 min/mile, 5k pace is around 9.15 min/mile.  Thus far, based on this, my ‘easy’ long runs have been too fast, averaging 11.30 min/mile.  It’s important to have long runs be slow and easy, as going too fast will diminish my ability to recover.  This will be the first thing I change.  This weekend, my schedule calls for a 15-mile run – the furthest I will ever have gone.  I have the benefit of being able to run it in the cooler climes of northern California, rather than the sweaty humidity of Virginia, so I am going to take advantage and put my new pacing into practice.

Already, I feel better.  I have numbers to which I can work, against which I can track.

10 weeks and counting.