A fellow asthmatic, Ullrich, climbs l'Alpe d'Huez

Asthmatics

Asthmatics

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Having asthma is kind of like winning the lottery, except it happens to more people and instead of money you win a chronic difficulty in breathing. I wouldn’t say I’m proud to be an asthmatic, but it’s not information I’m ashamed to share. In doing so, I often discover others who are similarly afflicted, and upon doing so we instantly go from being perfect strangers to perfect strangers who know something insignificant about each other.

My asthma attacks are experienced in a variety of forms, ranging in severity from a shortness of breath to “holy shit, I’m dying”. You can liken an attack to breathing through a straw with your nose plugged; depending on how bad the attack is, the straw keeps getting smaller, going from the wide one you get with a Big Gulp all the way down to those little ones you get with a coffee at a crappy diner. Cycling with asthma is like breathing through those straws while doing wind-sprints up a flight of stairs.

This straw-breathing effect is caused by the contraction of the airways leading to the lungs. The traditional treatment is to use an inhaler to suck in medication which dilates the passages and restores them to a size that allows for comfortable – if still sub-normal – breathing. There are newer, more effective treatments but many of them scare me because they cite side-effects like spontaneous death.

After 38 years, I’ve come to understand a bit about what causes my attacks. There is the cold-induced sort – which can be quite severe – but in my case will usually resolve itself throughout the first hour of riding to where it becomes a nuisance rather than an impediment. I also have acute attacks, which for about 32 years I believed were caused by an allergy to sawdust. These don’t resolve themselves and the condition gets worse until I intervene with an inhaler or a visit to the Emergency Room.

It wasn’t until I moved to Seattle and started having more frequent severe attacks that my doctor here pointed out that it was “crazy” to suggest I’m allergic to sawdust and inquired as to what kind of quack I had been visiting in Minneapolis who would tell me such a thing. He pointed out, quite logically, that I was simply allergic to something that was aerosolized in sawdust. As it turns out, this same element is present in whatever pine trees give off from October to May. Thanks to the Pacific-Northwest’s monopoly on pine trees, I now carry a rescue inhaler with me whenever I go training during these months.

The thing about being a Cyclist with asthma is that Cycling, as an endurance sport, is quite dependent on the rider’s ability to breathe well. In fact, I’ve found that the single most important factor to how well I’m riding on any particular day, regardless of how fat or out of shape I am, is how well I’m able to manage my breathing. The exciting bit is that training with asthma is a lot like resistance training; you get used to a reduced ability to draw oxygen into your lungs, thereby restricting the supply that gets to your muscles. Its like reverse blood-doping. You get used to it and your body adjusts to the reduced supply of gun fuel. Then, on days when the air is clear and warm, you ride like you’re on EPO. I call this the “EPO-Effect”.

I read some time ago that 80% of Pro Cyclists are diagnosed asthmatics who hold a prescription for an inhaler. This makes for a remarkable attraction of gifted endurance athletes to the most breathing-dependent sport on the planet. Surely this is because the EPO-Effect makes asthmatics strong like bull, not for the dilating effect the medication has on the air passageways.

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  1. @frank @unversio I found a complete EV4 in flat black for sale with a Sram red build. It’s a 53CM.

  2. @frank

    Also, I borrowed a friend’s inhaler in 12th grade to bed down an attack. I didn’t realize hers can cause hallucinations and I spent the next 12 weeks in a wheelchair after falling out of bed.

    I hope you and she were on the very best of terms.

    Twelve weeks?  Jesus H. Merckx. I never suffered like that for my hallucinations.

  3. I don’t have asthma, thank Merckx, but I do have allergies.  After many years of brute, pig-headed stupidity and chronic sinus infections I finally sought the advice of a doctor specializing in diseases of the holes and passages of the head.  One of the things he told me to do was to visit an allergist.  The allergist, a wise man, pointed out that although I was too stupid to realize it, it was clear that I had allergies that were making me more prone to sinus infections.  After going through some tests to determine what allergens were most problematic, I started getting shots to de-sensitize my body to them.  Now I just get a maintenance shot every 2-3 weeks and they have made a huge difference.  I almost never take decongestants or antihistamines now and I no longer have chronic sinus infections.

    If you know or suspect that certain allergens lead to asthma attacks, or if you just have allergies, it might be really helpful to consult an allergist.

  4. @Optimiste

    On further analysis of the lead photo, I have to comment on some other characters besides Richard Simmons’ balding half-brother in the red shorts.

    In the lower-right, I never imagined a cast member of “Jersey Shore” would be interested in the Tour, let alone make the journey to watch in-person.

    Toward the back-left, the man wearing what seems to be a scoutmaster’s hat: although disturbing, he’s clearly staring at Jan’s arse.

    But most intriguing is the girl in front of the RV. I can’t tell if her detached expression is due to a general disinterest in cycling (unlikely considering the context, unless she’s a VMW), or if she is simply resigned to the fact she has to wear loaves of bread for shoes.

    Hm. This analysis requires a re-posting.

    Red-shorts Guy is possibly more awesome than Jan. Just on a Passion-to-Visual model, he’s ahead. Although it goes without saying Jan is in the pain cave more than Red Shorts, Red Shorts is obviously feeling it more. Thats worth some points. I declare a draw.

    I am certain I photographed Mick Rogers racing the same day, but I’m surprised to see him spectating just to RS’s right.

    And I had no idea Tiger Woods was a fan of cycling back in 2003.

  5. @DCR

    @DerHoggz

    @DCR

    Just skimming the thread, no clue why you posted that but those are hands down the best looking shoes available.

    It was in response to @frank about my avatar. I do love those shoes. For anyone interested they are the Rapha/giro Grand tour shoes. Being rapha you can imagine the cost though!

    I had surmised they were ballet slippers. I was wrong. They are glorious. Strong work on the SunTour cap; I love them more than Campa, mostly because I can’t prove how rad they were.

  6. Strong work, all.  Nice to be breaking some new ground.

    I had “walking” pneumonia about three years ago.  Despite the name I could barely get out of bed.  A least I did not have to be hospitalized.  And, I got an awesome inhaler out of it.  This led to fantasies about the performance-enhancing effects said inhaler might have on my cycling.  I promptly forgot about it.  I wonder if it’s still tucked away in the medicine cabinet somewhere.

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  8. @frank

    @VeloSix

    Wow!! 80%?? While I don’t claim to be asthmatic, I’ve had a handful of attacks as a result of season allergies, which when severe, trigger a tight chest, shortness of breath. I’ve never experienced this in the saddle, and could imagine the panic I might feel.

    If you haven’t experienced this in the saddle – even without being asthmatic, you’re not trying hard enough!

    My only asthma reactions have been the feeling of a very fat man sitting on my chest, and would show itself at night, during my most unfit out of shape state, and during the peak of fall allergies.  Once while mowing the lawn as a kid.

    My starvation of oxygen in the saddle has never encountered that same sensation.  Although I’d have to point out my attempt to reach the tops of climbs prior to everyone else have certainly induced some near hyperventilating, as well as a few club training ride sprints.  My lungs might disagree, and argue I’m trying to ruin them.

  9. @scaler911

    I take a small list of vaccines on account of being spleenless, and pneumonia is one of those.  I had it once as a kid, and not having the infection fighting organ any more, just the word pneumonia makes me tremble.

  10. @Beers

    @VeloSix Do what works, but sniffing will probably maintain/make your infections worse, especially the sinuses, snot-rocket that shit… Sinus infections are fucked…. To equalise, try the swallowing or yawning technique divers use…

    I wish it were that easy.  Believe it or not, swallowing induces the change in pressure that creates the “bubble” that is in my ears.  Yawning and tugging on my ear lobe like some padded room resident tends to jostle the fluid around and provide some relief, but the sniffing (not to be confuse with snorting a runny nose) has the best effect while hand are on the hoods.  (provided its not a bad day, and the soreness builds and builds and culminates with an ear infection)  This year I had to back off the intensity in October, and went through two rounds of antibiotics trying to rid my skull of one of my worst ear infections I can remember.

    I’m going to start allergy shots ASAP.  I live in the number 3 city in the US for allergies, and refuse to suffer this same set back next October!

  11. Wow, Frank, I didn’t realize. My best pal on my collegiate sports team had asthma. He’d have to sit out windsprints most days and you could just tell how much he hated not suffering through it like the rest of us. Made them a bit easier to know that at least I didn’t have that hurdle to deal with as well.

    Damn, black & celeste. Great color combination, nearly as slick as pink & black. Ah, Italian style!

    Jan in Rapha? That’s a disappointment. Fuck those guys. You mean, he hasn’t read the Rules and realized it’s all about true passion and where a simple machine can take your mind & spirit, not some duplicitous marketing aimed at stirring a false sense of spirit and love for riding bicycles?

  12. I had asthma when I was a kid.  There were many days of barely having the energy to crawl, standing just wasn’t possible.  45+ years ago the drug of choice was Tedril which pretty much wiped me out for the next 12 hours.  10 years of shots and age eventually cured me, the exercise induced asthma hung on until late in my college years.  I feel for those of you who have it, but at least there are meds now that can help you control it.

  13. @VeloSix

    @scaler911

    I take a small list of vaccines on account of being spleenless, and pneumonia is one of those. I had it once as a kid, and not having the infection fighting organ any more, just the word pneumonia makes me tremble.

    Spleenless?  Those f*ckers weigh like 1-2 kg.  This is performance-enhancing organ removal.  Please return your Olympics bronze medal.

  14. @scaler911 Many thanx. 59 ctc

  15. @xyxax

    @VeloSix

    @scaler911

    I take a small list of vaccines on account of being spleenless, and pneumonia is one of those. I had it once as a kid, and not having the infection fighting organ any more, just the word pneumonia makes me tremble.

    Spleenless? Those f*ckers weigh like 1-2 kg. This is performance-enhancing organ removal. Please return your Olympics bronze medal.

    Ha! Maybe I should get a spleenectomy and lose one kidney, a ball and an eye. Seems better than giving up beer to lose weight.

  16. @Chris

    For all the Jan love going on here it’s clear that he hasn’t read the rules.

    Ulrich under Rapha

    I’m curious why you see this as a violation.  Seems one could go Rule #9 style on this, and say, “if you are featured in a photo shoot with your closet full of sponsor gear, it means you are a badass. Period.”  Or “If you are Jan, it means you are a badass. Period.”

    I’m not sure what explicit violations you are calling him out for, but selling out, without looking like you’re selling out seems the essence of being pro.

    That said, it is pretty lame to show off your closet full of brand new kit that you haven’t even bothered to take the tags off of.  And I might have put some single malt in that glass, and made an effort to hide the random wires on the wall.  O.K., you’re right, he’s a douche.

  17. @scaler911

    It’s all marginal gains, right? Like opting for an aero seat post clamp.  Do you think LA really had the big C? No, PEOR pure and simple.

    PS: I think you have the makings of an unusual beer marketing campaign.  Get your people on that.

  18. @Puffy Thanks for sharing such a frightening experience. Thankfully all I needed on each occasion was time on a nebuliser and some constant attention til the airways settled.

    @unverso  I’ m convinced mine came to the fore after bring hit by a pick up truck on the bike in late 2004. Broken ribs and fractured vertebrae meant weeks of very shallow breathing. By Christmas I was floored by some bacterial chesty/ pneumonia like infection that lasted for quite a while. The next 18 months were filled with repeat chest infections. The Docs weren’t convinced it was the RTA so neither did the insurance company when they settled. I know how I was before and how I am after. One of the many good things about Scotland – free prescriptions.

  19. @Ron Ron, when I win the lottery I am going to send you some Rapha kit to see what happens when you put it on.

  20. @razmaspaz

    @Chris

    For all the Jan love going on here it’s clear that he hasn’t read the rules.

    Ulrich under Rapha

    I’m curious why you see this as a violation. Seems one could go Rule #9 style on this, and say, “if you are featured in a photo shoot with your closet full of sponsor gear, it means you are a badass. Period.” Or “If you are Jan, it means you are a badass. Period.”

    I’m not sure what explicit violations you are calling him out for, but selling out, without looking like you’re selling out seems the essence of being pro.

    That said, it is pretty lame to show off your closet full of brand new kit that you haven’t even bothered to take the tags off of. And I might have put some single malt in that glass, and made an effort to hide the random wires on the wall. O.K., you’re right, he’s a douche.

    The fact that the shirts in the “closet” look to be different sizes and still have tags would lead me to believe that this is a store front for rapha or another cycling shop. And if I am getting paid to wear their cycling gear I would gladly violate the rules. Such as wearing a vest/sleeveless jersey. And minus the lime green vest I find that kit to be a tasteful option.

  21. @Nate

    @Ron Ron, when I win the lottery I am going to send you some Rapha kit to see what happens when you put it on.

    Go ahead and add me to the mailing list.

  22. @DCR Offer good for Ron-level Rapha-hating only!

  23. @Nate Well damnit. Here I was getting my hopes up.

  24. @Nate

    @DCR Offer good for Ron-level Rapha-hating only!

    I’m going to start working vitriolic anti-Colnago language into every post I write in the hopes that one day a vintage steel frame will show up on my doorstep without explanation.

  25. @scaler911 Wasn’t suggesting you train with pneumonia, fuck that even more! Meaning that riding with asthma restricted airways was training at altitude type experience.

    My recent bout of chest/sinus came after a 400km week, probably nothing for some, but the biggest for me in my build up. @scaler911 and @frank you have both also experienced walking the tightrope, and where you are really on form, sickness beckons. A while ago someone also suggested they had a safe body weight, where if they dipped below, they would get sick (may have even been you scaler).

    I read some interesting research lately on this topic. One indicated you are more susceptible to infection/ have a reduced immunity for up to 48 hours after a severe physical effort. I reason your immune system is too busy trying to fix the fucking that you did to your muscles and organs. Fuck knows how badly guzzling carbs on the bike (probably another whole article) to maintain performance affects your internals trying to filter that shit out and put it where it’s needed, it just ain’t natural.. We’re basically putting our bodies in hyperdrive, easy to see why they might run low afterwards.

    Another piece suggested rapid weight loss also impacts your immunity, your body is almost in shock trying to deal with the loss of nutrition (or lack of beer and frites), as well as increased training load as above.

    A third dealt with blood glucose and how wild fluctuations again affect immunity. This is significant as riding, particularly without refuelling, drains stores significantly and then we refill afterwards, starve gorge, starve gorge.

    And the final was that people have an optimal body fat percentage, which acts as a buffer in the starve phases of training, otherwise your immune system is shocked trying to deal with the lack of fat to cannabilise when the glucose runs out.

    Having asthma (weaker lungs), dropping 3kg in 3 weeks, a 400km week and a toddler with a cold. The perfect shit storm…

  26. @DCR

    The fact that the shirts in the “closet” look to be different sizes and still have tags would lead me to believe that this is a store front for rapha or another cycling shop.

    Not to mention that not even a Rapha sponsored rider would get 6+ copies of each product/color the company makes, or be willing to decorate their home exclusively with Rapha prints…

    For the record, I think Jan looks pretty baller in the Rapha get up.

  27. @Nate

    @DCR Offer good for Ron-level Rapha-hating only!

    Yes! My cynicism has finally paid off! Thank you, Nate. What is the California Powerball up to?

  28. @VeloVita

    Not to mention that not even a Rapha sponsored rider would get 6+ copies of each product/color the company makes, or be willing to decorate their home exclusively with Rapha prints…

    Or maybe he’s planning ahead for his always changing waistline.

    For the record, I think Jan looks pretty baller in the Rapha get up.

    Yes, yes he does.

  29. @razmaspaz None of the above, I’m just not a fan of his yellow gillet of authority. I certainly don’t share @Ron‘s rampant Rapha hate.

  30. @Ron

    @Nate

    @DCR Offer good for Ron-level Rapha-hating only!

    Yes! My cynicism has finally paid off! Thank you, Nate. What is the California Powerball up to?

    No one is winning so the jackpot is growing.  You might get a whole house full of Rapha.

  31. @xyxax

    @VeloSix

    @scaler911

    I take a small list of vaccines on account of being spleenless, and pneumonia is one of those. I had it once as a kid, and not having the infection fighting organ any more, just the word pneumonia makes me tremble.

    Spleenless? Those f*ckers weigh like 1-2 kg. This is performance-enhancing organ removal. Please return your Olympics bronze medal.

    That’s fucking hilarious!!!

  32. Can’t believe no one has mentioned that red shorts guy looks like Robert Picardo.

  33. @scaler911

    @xyxax

    @VeloSix

    @scaler911

    I take a small list of vaccines on account of being spleenless, and pneumonia is one of those. I had it once as a kid, and not having the infection fighting organ any more, just the word pneumonia makes me tremble.

    Spleenless? Those f*ckers weigh like 1-2 kg. This is performance-enhancing organ removal. Please return your Olympics bronze medal.

    Ha! Maybe I should get a spleenectomy and lose one kidney, a ball and an eye. Seems better than giving up beer to lose weight.

    I’ve dropped an appendix and a kidney, but it didn’t do me any good.

  34. @seemunkee Didn’t help One-Ball Gunderson in the end either!

  35. @frank

    I read some time ago that 80% of Pro Cyclists are diagnosed asthmatics who hold a prescription for an inhaler.  

    Surely this isn’t true?  That this select population is 80% afflicted can’t be coincidence.  Good luck cleaning that up!

  36. @razmaspaz

    @Nate

    @DCR Offer good for Ron-level Rapha-hating only!

    I’m going to start working vitriolic anti-Colnago language into every post I write in the hopes that one day a vintage steel frame will show up on my doorstep without explanation.

    Perhaps I’ll just declare my general hatred of bicycles, cycling attire, and other velo-related periphery/equipment and cover all my bases.

  37. @EricW

    @razmaspaz

    @Nate

    @DCR Offer good for Ron-level Rapha-hating only!

    I’m going to start working vitriolic anti-Colnago language into every post I write in the hopes that one day a vintage steel frame will show up on my doorstep without explanation.

    Perhaps I’ll just declare my general hatred of bicycles, cycling attire, and other velo-related periphery/equipment and cover all my bases.

    Hmmm, you have Rapha kit and a Rapha sticker on your bike.  In fact, your bike is a Colnago.  Magic 8 Ball says you are out of luck!

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    @Optimiste

    On further analysis of the lead photo, I have to comment on some other characters besides Richard Simmons’ balding half-brother in the red shorts.

    In the lower-right, I never imagined a cast member of “Jersey Shore” would be interested in the Tour, let alone make the journey to watch in-person.

    Toward the back-left, the man wearing what seems to be a scoutmaster’s hat: although disturbing, he’s clearly staring at Jan’s arse.

    But most intriguing is the girl in front of the RV. I can’t tell if her detached expression is due to a general disinterest in cycling (unlikely considering the context, unless she’s a VMW), or if she is simply resigned to the fact she has to wear loaves of bread for shoes.

    Hm. This analysis requires a re-posting.

    Red-shorts Guy is possibly more awesome than Jan. Just on a Passion-to-Visual model, he’s ahead. Although it goes without saying Jan is in the pain cave more than Red Shorts, Red Shorts is obviously feeling it more. Thats worth some points. I declare a draw.

    I am certain I photographed Mick Rogers racing the same day, but I’m surprised to see him spectating just to RS’s right.

    And I had no idea Tiger Woods was a fan of cycling back in 2003.

    Or that Pippo Pozzato and Tiger were so close.

  39. @seemunkee

    @scaler911

    @xyxax

    @VeloSix

    @scaler911

    I take a small list of vaccines on account of being spleenless, and pneumonia is one of those. I had it once as a kid, and not having the infection fighting organ any more, just the word pneumonia makes me tremble.

    Spleenless? Those f*ckers weigh like 1-2 kg. This is performance-enhancing organ removal. Please return your Olympics bronze medal.

    Ha! Maybe I should get a spleenectomy and lose one kidney, a ball and an eye. Seems better than giving up beer to lose weight.

    I’ve dropped an appendix and a kidney, but it didn’t do me any good.

    I am in the same boat on the appendix side. I can’t seem to drop below 140. Anyone on here in need of some organs? Willing to barter for rapha kit and beautiful Italian steel!

  40. @Nate I am not a huge fan of Colnago. although the Europecar kit looks pretty nice. If you sent me one I would continue to ride my Cdale. Maybe I would swap out the higher end components and hang on the black beauty.

  41. @RedRanger I can’t believe it, but I didn’t win the lottery today, either.  You’ll have to wait till the next drawing.

  42. I haven’t won the lottery in like 43 years! WTF?

    I had a bit of asthma as a kid. I don’t know if you out grow it or not. I did develop an allergy to lead and explosions later in life. As a young private on my junior leadership course, I had a Sgt that didn’t know he had pneumonia and he ran us into the ground one night in the cold winter rain for being …well young privates. His lung collapsed but he bounced back after losing it. He did cut down to 2 packs a day. That helped.

    I weighed 140 once. I was in grade school. I think that being Jan-like in the off season is completely natural. Coke, E, beer, crazy parties. I just draw the line at Rapha. As The Badger once said, “Who gives a shit how you ride in April. July is what matters, so slow the fuck down.”

    If someone is giving away free Rapha, please don’t send any my way.

  43. @Nate I put my last $2 in on Wednesday and I didnt win either.

  44. @VeloVita

    @DCR

    The fact that the shirts in the “closet” look to be different sizes and still have tags would lead me to believe that this is a store front for rapha or another cycling shop.

    Not to mention that not even a Rapha sponsored rider would get 6+ copies of each product/color the company makes, or be willing to decorate their home exclusively with Rapha prints…

    For the record, I think Jan looks pretty baller in the Rapha get up.

    With the exception of the YJA, completely agree.

  45. @coloradonate

    Can’t believe no one has mentioned that red shorts guy looks like Robert Picardo.

  46. @Dan_R

    I weighed 140 once. I was in grade school. I think that being Jan-like in the off season is completely natural. Coke, E, beer, crazy parties. I just draw the line at Rapha. As The Badger once said, “Who gives a shit how you ride in April. July is what matters, so slow the fuck down.”

    I love those stories about him yelling at his team who were not fat and out of shape. Theories are spun that Hinault had so much knee trouble because he had so much work to do to catch up in the Pre-Season, and grinding so hard on big gears when he was overweight.

  47. @Dan_R

    I haven’t won the lottery in like 43 years! WTF?

    I had a bit of asthma as a kid. I don’t know if you out grow it or not. I did develop an allergy to lead and explosions later in life. As a young private on my junior leadership course, I had a Sgt that didn’t know he had pneumonia and he ran us into the ground one night in the cold winter rain for being …well young privates. His lung collapsed but he bounced back after losing it. He did cut down to 2 packs a day. That helped.

    I weighed 140 once. I was in grade school. I think that being Jan-like in the off season is completely natural. Coke, E, beer, crazy parties. I just draw the line at Rapha. As The Badger once said, “Who gives a shit how you ride in April. July is what matters, so slow the fuck down.”

    If someone is giving away free Rapha, please don’t send any my way.

    It’s all about April. That’s why he never won De Ronde.

  48. Good post. I learn something totally new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon on a daily basis.
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  49. Evidently a third of Team Sky are asthmatic.  The study discussed in this article suggests that exercise induced asthma is quite common in endurance athletes.  I’ve been thinking about asthma lately because of Katie Compton’s recent attacks and I’m not sure if I’m surprised or not by the findings of the study.

    http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/dec/28/asthma-elite-athletes-study-swimmers-cyclist-eid

     

     

  50. @JCM

    Doesn’t surprise me one bit. There’s a chicken-and-the-egg problem here, as well: Do they develop asthma as a result of intense exercise, or are elite endurance athletes more likely to show symptoms?

    A lot of junior athletes start out because their doc sent them exercising to help their asthma. My girlfriend ran Track and XC in highschool, and a lot of her teammates and rivals started for those reasons. Maybe there’s even a hidden “hypoxic training” bonus involved if you grow up with restricted airways?

    Another factor could be the fact that a highly-trained endurance athlete can actually hold an effort where lung capacity becomes the limiter – and that could show symptoms that would otherwise remain hidden.

    On the other hand, long and hard training in dry air (or chlorinated – the study also looked at swimmers) could cause an otherwise healthy individual to develop symptoms.

     

    All I know is that in my N=1 case, I was completely asymptomatic until I started exercising intensely. I still don’t consider myself an asthmatic, but after a long dry ride it’s often difficult for me to breathe deeply, and sometimes just breathing can be painful after efforts.

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