Training and trying vs. giving up and getting fat

And. I’m back. Maybe I’ll post more than once per season in 2013.

When I wrote that last post I was depressed and stressed out. Could you tell? I was also injured. I pretty much stopped running in any consistent way for the next couple of months. I averaged 8-10 miles during the weeks in which I ran. Many weeks featured no running whatsoever. I stopped going to the gym altogether. I’ve gained 6 lbs, and it would be a lot more had I not been a total calorie intake Nazi.

I’m now free of all Achilles issues and I have extremely mild plantar fasciitis in my right foot (yeah, I know; it’s been there for a year now). But it goes away after two miles on the treadmill usually; some days it’s not there at all. I had forgotten what a pleasure it is to run with no pain, it’s been so long. I started running fairly consistently about two weeks ago, usually 4-5x a week. I’m mostly on the treadmill due to ice/snow on the running path. I’m around 20-30 mpw average now with no major issues. About once every 10 days I do a slightly faster run. I am in remarkably good basic aerobic shape, considering all the neglect. I started doing weights again, once a week, two weeks ago too. Next week I’ll start going twice per week.

It’s probably nuts to talk about goals at this point. But I have them. I always do, in the back of my mind. The goal over the next month is to be able to run 30-40 mpw free of injury. I will probably do most of the runs on the treadmill since I think the reduced impact has helped me to heal. I will continue to do at least one faster workout per week. I will also do some trail running in Van Cortlandt.

Come April I’ll start doing 5K training again. Then I want to race a 5K in late May or early June. No time goal. I just want to get back to racing. Then if that goes well, and I remain injury-free, I’ll focus on the Fifth Avenue Mile again in late september. It’s the only NYRR race I still give a flying fuck about doing well in. I’ve also been invited to do the Green Mountain Relay again in late June. If I can get short legs (no giggling) — and my teammates are cool with my not racing them all out — then I will probably do that again, because it’s fun!

I still want to crack 20:00 in the 5K. I’ll be 48 in a few weeks. I’m probably an idiot for wanting this, because that way lies more injury, failure and frustration. But I’m realizing that if I don’t have some sort of racing goal it’s nearly impossible for me to care about running anymore. So it’s either train and try or give up and get fat.

In which running moves up a few slots

I sat down this morning with plans to compose a detailed, entertaining and photo-strewn record of my time in London and Edinburgh touring with ENDURE: A Run Woman Show. But I won’t. Or, rather, I can’t. Sorry. Think of one of the most intense experiences you’ve had in your life. Then imagine it going on for roughly three weeks. How can you then do any justice to it with a blog post? Especially when you’re still trying to process everything you saw, felt, learned, gained, lost, did, appreciated, regretted, succeeded at, failed at, and otherwise experienced.

So I’ll write about what else is going on.

I am on a creative tear lately. I have ideas for half a dozen stories. I just published one this week. I have a novella-length story that I’m trying to finish but can’t publish for various reasons of privacy, so that’s a big problem to solve this year. I am looking at getting back into live storytelling regularly again. I am taking two performance-oriented classes starting next month: one is a vocal training class and the other is in standup comedy. I have been writing standup material for about six months and wondering what to do with it, missing the obvious answer to that question (just get up and perform it, dummy) until quite recently. I am trying to figure out how to get myself back to Edinburgh for an extended stay because I loved that place so much. I would like to at the very least be there for next year’s Edinburgh Fringe Fest in August, in some capacity but of what sort I don’t know yet. If it’s possible to spend the entire summer there, then, yes, that’s an affirmative and a no brainer.

Finally, there’s running. I wasn’t running much in the UK but I was hardly idle. I estimate that I did around 5-9 miles of walking a day (and a little running as part of the show I was crewing for). I did a few harder runs while there and was surprised that I hadn’t lost that much basic fitness. The best discovery upon returning home was that my hamstring and Achilles issues cleared up during my time away. My plantar fasciitis, while not gone, is extremely mild and responds to babying enough that I can train on it.

I’ve got no racing plans to speak of. Missed Percy Sutton, I’m skipping the Tuckahoe and Fifth Avenue Miles. What’s the point? I’m out of racing shape and not trained for any distance. I probably won’t run any races through the rest of 2012. But 2013? That’s another story. Here we go again.

The plan: a return to Fair Lawn, NJ for the First Day 5K on New Year’s Day with a goal to get as close to 19:59 as possible. This means 8 weeks base building + 10 weeks 5K-specific training. I’ve joined a gym again — one that isn’t a half hour away — so I can get back into regular strength training. I’m getting sports massages for as long as I can afford to. Barring horrendous weather, injury or other personal disasters, I think I have a shot. Hey, Weather? Guess what? If it’s cold, icy or windy, I have indoor options. Injury? Bring it on. I’m used to you and I am totally willing to work on your schedule, use the stupid elliptical and drop race plans. And, Fate? Fuck you. My dad can’t die twice.

Spring Training: Week Six

This was a good week. although also a tiring one.

My legs were somewhat tired after the previous Sunday’s race, but they didn’t overrule my brain when it told them to run an extra mile on Monday. I spaced out and ran nearly 10, only realizing the error of my ways at just short of the five mile mark.

I did Tuesday’s tempo run as a ping-ponged series of four miles back and forth along a long stretch of lonely road we have up here (Pipeline Road — or, on the maps, Aqueduct Road). Unfortunately, it’s the one extended section of concrete my runs take me on, but considering that it’s straight, fairly flat and devoid of cars after the morning rush hour, that’s a compromise I was willing to make.

Sometimes I think that running a race can have the effect of speeding me up in subsequent days. I ran my miles at 7:15 (a little faster than planned), despite a swirling wind.

On Wednesday I did the only dumb thing of the week — a run in a foot of fresh snow, on tired legs. That two mile slog did me in for the remainer of the week. But it was enjoyable to be outside, as I would spend the remaining days (and will continue to) inside on the treadmill. And I didn’t bash my head this time.

On Thursday I dialed down the pace on the speed intervals, although in hindsight I probably didn’t need to. But I was really tired on Saturday and then delayed doing the long run on Sunday for as long as possible, finally climbing onto the treadmill at around 4:00, when I could procrastinate no longer.

That run was okay. Given the past week’s workload (more intensity than I wanted plus more miles than I’ve run in quite awhile), I didnt’ want to push myself too hard. So I did three miles at around 70% effort and then did the remaining ones at 75% avg.

DOMS last night at 3 a.m. rounded out the week. I didn’t hit the 80 mile mark as originally planned, but it was close enough and another 1.8 may very well have killed me.

Snow bunny

I just did my first run in my new Redwing snow shoes, down around the Bronxville pond. What we’re experiencing is not technically a blizzard, apparently. But the wind was around 20 mph. Not that I noticed the wind today.

Good God, running in snow is hard! Notice I said in rather than on. In the untrodden sections, I sank down a good 4-6 inches with every step. I ran just under two miles, much of it in a foot of fresh, powdery snow. Running in that stuff was laughingly slow. Once I got onto some packed snow, the going was much better and I could achieve something resembling a natural running form. Average pace: 12:55. Average HR%: 74.

I was supposed to do a four mile recovery run this evening, but the only way to stay below 70% was to walk. So I figure two miles at 74% is roughly equal to four at 65% (Uh…). But why do my calves, quads and ass hurt so much? Oh, I’m gonna pay for this folly, I know it.

For fun (and, as it turns out, demoralization) I tried two all-out sprints of .05 miles, one on the packed stuff and one on powder. The first one yielded a blazing pace of 8:32. The second one was paced a minute slower. My attempt to dash up a hill was equally unimpressive.

How do you people race in this stuff?

Spring Training: Week Five

(In which, to mix things up a little, I compose my weekly review in iambic pentameter quatrains.)

Last year I felt a failure, so, this year
I have high hopes. Redemption comes out of
The blue, to my delight. A race can be
Like poetry. It flows, it whips, it reels.

The week went well for me at last. I ran
Ten times last week, with three hard days. My speeds
Increased again as well, and down my heart
Rate went. It seems I’ve got some decent wheels.

A run I skipped begat fast legs, I think.
Or was the wine the trick? Whichever way,
The drink or rest, it worked for me, oh yes.
In short, I rocked that race in sev’ral ways.

Blue bib? Not yet. Fell short this time. Next month
I’ll try again. But confidence is what
I sought and got me some in spades. So now
I sport a spritely step and cheerful gaze.

This week the miles go up again, but not
Absurdly so. I’ll run nine times with three
Hard days, to top out at eight-o. The tread-
Mill’s oiled and working well. That’s swell. That’s swell!

The snow will hit us overnight, but I’m
Prepared for that. My snowshoes beckon me
Take flight. And I’ve a toasty hat. Enjoy
Your runs, my runner friends. Run hard! Run well!

Spring Training: Week 4

The further along I get into training, or whatever it is I’m presently doing, the more relieved I am that I decided to skip doing a spring marathon. This past week shaped up to be a disappointing one, with low mileage, horrible weather and a severe bang to the head. All adding up to less than 45 miles, though not for lack of trying and regret for coming up short again.

If I was looking out to a race in 12 weeks, I’d be feeling pretty distressed. Maybe meandering slackerdom is the source of liberation I’ve been looking for all my life. No goal = no pressure + no disappointment. It also = no achievement, I realize. But everything in life’s a tradeoff…

Monday and Tuesday actually went pretty well. My recovery run pace continued to hold steady around 10:00 and my tempo pace picked up a smidgen. I felt horrible on Tuesday, the fallout of four days of celebratory eating and drinking. Which, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed immensely. But I was certainly hauling the celebration along with me on Tuesday and forcing myself to run fast, and not particularly enjoying it. It’s times like this when I look back to the years during which I subsisted on vodka, Doritos and generic frozen pizza and realize I must have felt horrible pretty much all of the time.

My legs were dead on Wednesday, no huge surprise there.

Snow, ice and plunging temperatures resumed on Thursday, which featured a morning run I won’t soon forget. Or maybe I will, if I suffered any permanent brain damage. Still, determined to get those miles in, I went out again on Thursday afternoon and struggled through another few, although I had to stop and walk often due to residual ice.

On Friday I woke up and the right side of my neck was swollen and in a fair amount of pain. My back wasn’t happy either. It was a long, stressful workday as well, a 9 on the Stress-o-Meter. So I said fuck it and skipped the workout. If ever there was a day to take off, this was it.

Or maybe Saturday was. I took that off too. A mild headache (probably from that huge martini on Friday), continued neck pain, a persistent malaise and slight fever sent me to bed for the most the day.

And everything had been going so well.

Even though I’ve curbed my hypochondriacal impulses, I Googled “concussion symptoms” anyway. Headache, malaise, upset stomach: check, check, check. But no memory loss or single pupil dilations. Increased irritability? With me, who can tell? Did I really want to go in for an x-ray of my head or whatever they do? Bah. The treatment for a mild concussion is the same as what I was doing anyway: rest.

Even though the latter part of the week fell apart, I did manage to finally sleep well last night and wake up this morning feeling halfway decent. The headache was finally gone, my neck was in reasonable shape and I had some energy (or maybe it was just cabin fever gnawing at me). Sure, it was 5F outside with the windchill, but ain’t no way I was going to go into that stupid treadmill room. I would run outside if it killed me.

As so often happens, the runs I have the lowest expectations of often turn out to be surprisingly good ones. I’d originally planned to run a meandering hilly route through local streets, but at the last minute decided I’d check out the running path to see if it was still covered in murderous ice. It looked okay, so I decided to do a loop down to Bronxville and then see how far north I could get before the path became unrunable again. The Bronx River was partly frozen and I was half expecting to see hapless ducks and geese trapped in the ice like miniature versions of Shackleton’s Endurance.*

My legs felt great after two days of rest, so I decided to just run as fast as I wanted to for whatever distance seemed good. Sounds like a solid plan! I ended up doing a progression run, starting out at 9:10 or so and ending up around 7:25. Not great, but better than I expected for the effort I was expending. The path is still a giant jigsaw puzzle of black ice in spots, but it’s not too bad. We’re supposed to get temps above freezing this week, so I’m hoping those will go away.

I’m scheduled to do 70 this coming week, with 3-4 days of doubles. Yep, well, we’ll see. Between work and the weather, I’ve no clue what I’ll be able to do. But this week I demonstrated to myself that even now, after a year of disappointment, currently feeling slow and fat, and much of the time wondering why I’m bothering to pursue running seriously at all, I still care enough to go out and try.

My first race of the year is next Sunday and I have no idea how I feel about it. Or, rather, I do. I feel worried. And bad in advance. I’m certain I’ll race like shit, all things considered. So should I just race and accept where I am right now? Or skip racing until I feel “ready,” whatever that means? I’ll decide on Sunday morning.

*There. This is the cleverest witticism I could come up with today. I thought that one up while running. Thank you. Thank you very much.

Spring Training: Week 2

This was the week I realized how much work I have to do. The workouts were hard, which wasn’t a big surprise. What was surprising was how long it took me to recover from them. Coach Kevin had originally scheduled 75 miles for this week and 85 the next. I knew by Tuesday, when I still felt beaten up from Sunday’s hilly run, that this wasn’t going to happen. Or if I did try for that mileage then I’d probably end up paying for it in the form of crappy workouts, exhaustion, injury — or perhaps all of the above. So Kevin dialed down the mileage for this week and next. I’ve got no real race goal, remember? So why rush when I’m on the comeback trail?

I was stuck back on the treadmill for the early part of the week for either weather or work scheduling reasons. I also had to push my tempo run (normally happening on Tuesday) to Wednesday since my legs still felt like they’d been run over by a tank on Tuesday. While that run was okay, its rescheduling definitely had a cascading effect.

On Friday I finally got to run outside for my mile repeats. Good thing, because the cabin fever was turning me into a real bitch. I’d hoped the local track would be clear of snow and ice but, surprisingly, there were still some messy sections and much of it was slippery. It was also crowded with people (damned kids, using their school track!) and, to make the workout extra special, it was very windy. So I spent the session dodging snow, ice and people while watching my heart rate soar on the backstretch every time I hit that 15mph headwind.

I ran some of these too hard, and I ended up bailing .8 miles into the third one when my legs turned to lead. But I’m happy with the workout considering the conditions and the fact that I only had a day’s recovery from Wednesday’s effort. I wasn’t that far off the goal paces either.

Saturday my legs were predictably fatigued. Actually, all of me was fatigued. I haven’t felt that tired since the day after the Sacramento race in December. I still felt tired on Sunday but decided to give the assigned run a go anyway. I felt like crap for the first few miles but got some energy back about four miles in. The last three were hard to do, but not impossible, and I ran them at the proper effort. Good sign.

I didn’t even hit 60 miles, but that’s okay. I care more about quality than quantity right now. I want to get my basic speed at all efforts back. Then I’ll start worrying about mileage again, once I’m confident that I’m getting adequate recovery and not flirting with injury. This week I’ll try for 70. That’s probably the highest mileage I’ll run from now until early February.

My first race, a four miler, is in about three weeks. I have no illusions of a PR. I’d just like to run fast enough so as not to embarrass myself.

[Goal?] Training: Week 1

It’s both strange and liberating to have no goal race for this round of training.* I don’t even know when training will “end” because of this absence of a race to work toward. I’m just training for training’s sake right now. That is okay.

For my first trick, I went out and whaled through a high effort run through the hilly streets of my neighborhood, Crestwood. Yonkers, which Crestwood straddles with Eastchester, is as a whole very hilly. Yet the running path I typically use isn’t that hilly at all. It cuts through the hills all the way from Bronxville up to Valhalla (just on the uppermost edge of Southern Westchester), with a 1.5 mile break on roads along the way. So when I do run elsewhere around here, it’s always something of a shock.

So I ran up and down in the local streets since the path was iced over and I needed a break from the treadmill. Crap pace at high effort (85% avg). Bleh.

The Festival of Slowness continued through the next few days, with slow runs on the treadmill, followed by a slowspeedwork session, again inside. That was also a bummer. I was running 7:30 intervals at 92-93%. Oh, my God. Kevin used the word “nadir” to define this post-bad marathon, post-holiday, post-sitting on my ass period.

Just as I was feeling most despondent, things picked up late in the week. My resting HR finally settled down into the mid-40s again after a month of being elevated. Then my recovery pace vs. effort picked up on Saturday. Yesterday I went out to do another very hilly run in Scarsdale, again because the path is still frozen (and looks to be that way until at least Friday).

That was a damned good run, all things considered. I kept up a 9:15 pace at avg 78% for most of the early miles, then did a few 8:50s (the last at 8:30) in the second half. Elevation up/down was 2000+ ft., to which my calves can attest today. I enjoy running this course because I get to run through some really beautiful neighborhoods. The Scarsdale 15K and 4M races go through some of these same streets, and I’ll be running one of those in April, so it’s also good practice.

I trained on these streets a lot during my buildup for my spring 2008 marathon, and I think it helped me deal with the hills in Central Park. So I’ll be up there a lot this winter and spring to prepare for my hilly races.

One annoying thing that happened: I’m running up Brite Avenue, listening to Pink Floyd, when I hear a rumbling behind me and smell exhaust. I look back and there’s a huge truck right behind me, driving on the wrong side of the street. I think, “Oh, it must be pulling over to park,” but it stays behind me for another hundred feet. I pause the music so I can hear if I’m about to get run over. I think the truck will go around me, but, no, it stays right on my tail. Now I’m getting pissed off. So I hop up on someone’s lawn and wait for the truck to go by. Then it stops 15 feet ahead of me, presumably in front of the address where it’s making a delivery. I ask the driver why he felt he had to drive right behind me along the entire street. His reply: “I had to deliver on this side. I thought if I kept driving you’d eventually go faster.” Fucking moron.

This week features a substantial, but not insane, jump in mileage and another speed session, which I hope to be able to do on the track. I think there’s some tempo work too, but I don’t have pace assignments yet.

The days are getting longer and I’m getting a little faster. These things make me happy.

*Ignore the field that says “21 weeks until race.” I’m just too lazy to update the spreadsheet.

Oh, right. I remember now.

I remember 2007. Or at least I remember my paces from 2007. ‘Cause that’s what I’m running these days!

This week was the first one during which I attempted anything resembling training, after four weeks’ rest and recovery from my blowup in Sacramento. I’ll post a detailed report after tomorrow, but I thought I’d do a post of early observations and random news.

Lots and lots of runners I follow are mourning their downtime-induced loss of speed. I know exactly what they’re talking about. My tempo pace is probably 30-40 seconds per mile slower than it was two months ago. 8-10K pace is about what my tempo pace used to be. Recovery runs are only a little slower than they used to be (although I always ran them on the slow side once the mileage got above 70 mpw).  I haven’t attempted much in the general aerobic range, but I’ll be dipping my toes back into that world tomorrow.

Along with speed, it seems I’ve also lost endurance. Whereas doing a 10 mile recovery run used to be easy, I’m getting tired right in the 6-7 mile range.

So I’ve got some work to do.

The weather has not exactly been conducive to good training. We’ve had the coldest winter in NY that I recall, save for my first year here (1985), in which this transplanted Californian simply couldn’t fathom sub-zero windchills. I also had not familiarized myself with wool and spent that winter freezing my ass off (because I was 20 years old and broke all the time) in $5 cotton layers purchased from the tables of Senegalese purveyors along 14th Street in Manhattan.

Anyway, it’s been cold. Plus it’s snowed, which partially melted, then refroze, leaving my beloved 11 mile running path an unrunnable sheet of pockmarked ice. Yesterday I had my first real intervals session in months scheduled. But my local rich high school’s million dollar Mondo track was covered in the morning’s fall of snow, so it was back to the treadmill again.

My first race of the season, a four miler, is in a month. After yesterday’s foray into running at 93% effort, my expectations are low. Still, since it’s in Central Park I’ll be able to use it as a good gauge of fitness. I honestly don’t expect to run sub-7:00 (the time that would gain me the coveted first corral bib qualification). Maybe I’ll surprise myself, though. How much fitness can I regain in four weeks? We shall see. Given the bad running conditions and how slow-as-shit I feel lately, I am glad not to be under pressure to train for a marathon in early May anymore.

In other News About Me…

Since I find it easier to lose fat when I’m not running 80-95 mpw, and I’m sporting more of it than I’d like, I’m once again on the wagon and keeping my chubby little mitts away from Nutella, roasted cashews and my various other calorie-dense weaknesses. This plan will partially go to hell at the end of the month, when we celebrate Jonathan’s birthday. But since we’re both sporting tight pants these days, it should be a fairly restrained celebration.

I committed (as it were) to be an alternate on PigtailsFlying‘s team for June’s Green Mountain Relay in Vermont. Like most other things running-related this year, I’m taking a “fuck it, I’ll try that” attitude. The introvert who needs six hours of alone time each day screams “Nooooo!” at the idea of spending three solid days with a bunch of strangers, much of it in a confined (very confined) space (and mobile too, which is sure to bring out my motion sickness), during which sleep and personal hygiene are considered non-essentials.

But the same introvert who misses the moments of pleasure and surprise in spending time with strangers is bellowing from the other shoulder that this could actually be fun – if I only reoriented my perspective from one of discomfort and deprivation to one of adventure and discovery. As my sister pointed out, it’s only a few days. And good blog fodder. But, then, so is the stomach flu. Don’t I sound like a great teammate already? No wonder I’m an alternate; Pigtails has met me exactly once, but I guess that was enough!

I’ve got no signs of injury. Anywhere. Even after my faster (cough cough) running on the treadmill yesterday. Nary a niggle. Nothing. I’m wondering how long this will last. All season, if I’m careful. I hope.

Obligatory “year in review” blog post

Doing a “look back on 2009″ post seems to be all the rage among running bloggers this month. Although I normally purse my lips in disapproval at such conformity, I’ll jump on the bandwagon.

Now is as good a time as any to reflect upon the past year, which from a marathon racing perspective was a disaster for me. But it was not a disaster in all areas. For one, I ran some stellar races (and workouts) at various points in the winter and spring. I almost ran a stellar 5 mile race in the fall (only to DNF at 3.7 miles with a raging hamstring). And I learned a lot, oh, yes. I learned a lot — about training in general and about myself as a unique physiological running specimen.

Here’s what I learned this year:

  • High mileage results in huge gains for me, but only up to a certain point. If I run high mileage for too long, I will eventually break down in the form of either overtraining or injury.
  • If I have injured myself, I often have a short window of faux-recovery during which I can nevertheless run a spectactular race or speed session (and fool myself into thinking I’m not really injured). But if I continue to run hard after that I will get reinjured.
  • A hot, hilly long run or race will fuck me up for weeks, if not months.
  • Doing a very long and very hilly run at the end of one or two high mileage weeks is dangerous. Depending on how long I’ve been doing high mileage, chances are good that doing one of these will push me over the edge into injury, although it can take anywhere from 7-10 days to develop. Training in Central Park is an especially hazardous prospect in these cases.
  • Extreme changes in weekly mileage are a bad idea. Going from 50 to 95 (even if I’ve recently run 95 without issue) is a great big embossed and monogrammed invitation for Injury to attend my next workout, and perhaps even bring a guest.
  • If I’m feeling very worn down and don’t want to run, I need to take the day off. A few missed runs won’t destroy a season. But too many runs that I shouldn’t have done will.

Bonus realization:

  • My right gracilis muscle does not like running in weather below 20F. My left one, however, is completely okay with this.

The above lessons are hard won. But I won’t soon forget them.

As for what happened in Sacramento two weeks ago, here’s my theory: I suspect that I was undertrained for the marathon specifically. When you look back at my training in the fall, it was constantly being interrupted by one thing or another. First it was a two+ week trip to South Africa, which involved days of travel, a large time zone change, eating and drinking a lot of stuff that isn’t on the menu for marathoners in training, and big time stress in the form of all of the above along with the added treat of being a victim of major property crime. Not to mention some terrible workouts due to poor conditions (brutal heat among them).

Then I came home and had a few good weeks only to experience the first of two serious injuries: hamstring pull followed by inflamed tendon. I didn’t give myself time to heal properly from the first, piling on 95 miles after a 52 mile injured week, and the second injury came in to take its place. All told, injuries screwed up my training for close to a month total. So out of a 13 week schedule (3 of which were taper weeks), at least 6 were heavily compromised. For you mathletes, that’s a screwup factor of 60%.

I toed the line in Folsom thinking that there was a good possibility that I might have to settle for a 3:20 or even a 3:25. I might have been able to make that time somewhere else, but not on that course on that day. The downhills chewed up my quads a la Steamtown and the headwinds were just, wow.

This was all on top of whatever was wrong with me in the spring, which for the sake of simplicity let’s say was overtraining. After an amazingly good buildup from the fall into April, I crashed in May. I was a wreck in June and July, then ran in a holding pattern in August and commenced training in September, as described above.

So that was 2009. Good riddance.

2010 will bring some changes. More on that soon.

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