I Got Knocked Down, But I Got Up Again (Reprise)

18 Nov

Well hello, strangers. It’s been a while!

It was 3 weeks ago today that I was walking home from chambers, just after dark, when out of nowhere a guy on an e-scooter (one of the hire scheme ones) rode into me from the left, knocking me sideways. He was riding on the pavement, and so I really had not expected him to be there. I took most of the fall on my right hip and thigh, but some through my elbow, and with the speed I fell at my head followed through and hit the tarmac. Luckily, I landed in a little lay-by rather than under the wheels or onto the bonnet of a passing car, and I didn’t lose consciousness. But, as with any head injury, there was rather a lot of blood. Insofar as being knocked over can be lucky, the fall was seen by a second year medical student, who rushed over to administer first aid. I didn’t get his name, but he was great, and has the ability to remain calm under pressure and reassure his patients mastered already. Two other lovely first year students also stopped to help out, and one ran to the shops for clean tissues. I held everything together pretty well until T arrived to pick me up and take me home, at which point the shock kicked in, and I broke down into a sobbing, hyperventilating mess. As I hadn’t lost consciousness and the cuts could be steri-stripped and dressed at home, a trip to A&E was thankfully not needed, but it’s fair to say that I was in quite a lot of pain, and I didn’t get much sleep that night. I took the Saturday very easy indeed, with lots of little naps around the bare essentials of work which had to be done, and managed to sleep much better that night. By Sunday, I could at least move my arms more easily, so was able to go to orchestra. I’d already decided I was going to opt out of leading my section, as I really wasn’t sure how much of the rehearsal I’d manage, and I’d not been able to get the practice sessions in I’d had planned on Friday and Saturday due to the pain. Thankfully, I was able to manage all of the rehearsal, although I definitely wasn’t putting as much energy into my playing as usual! I was also lucky that my 4 day hearing (starting on the Tuesday) went short, and so I was able to take the Wednesday as a duvet day and catch up on a bit more rest.

The cuts to my head gradually healed and the bruises to my arms began to fade (I had a nice, round imprint of a Voi e-scooter handle on my left arm, as well as bruising on my right elbow from where I landed). What took longer to settle was the soft tissue damage from taking such a hard fall on my right hand side. I’ve had issues with my right sacroiliac joint before, and that flared up again, and the hamstring, iliotibial band (kind of goes down the outside of your thigh from your hip to your knee) and adductor muscles (inside of your thigh) were all super-tight. I was just about able to jog/walk by the following Saturday, but I could feel that the muscles were right on the edge. I’ve had almost two weeks of jog/walking, although it’s now run/walking, and although there’s still some tightness there, it is much improved. I’m hoping that over the next 5-10 days I can progress to steady running and then increase the distance a bit more so that I can go back to exploring other parts of Bristol again. I’m still rather hypervigilant as a pedestrian, but I’m hoping my confidence will gradually build.

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That Which Was Bitter To Endure May Be Sweet To Remember…

14 Aug

So, it’s been a while since I last posted, but then not much has changed! In May, I ran a reasonable amount (145 miles), and June was even better (172 miles), but July started with a busy work patch, and then T and I went on holiday to Malaysia for 10 days, so I only ran 117 miles. I did a bit of sea-kayaking and plenty of sea swimming and paddling (it’s hard not to when it’s toasty warm, and the sea is so inviting), but no running. I got back into a bit of ‘new normal’ running on my return, and then got asked if I could come and fill in for the Midland League final match of the season: the club was in a bit of a relegation battle, and needed as many people as possible to plug gaps in the team. With the way match scoring works, it is always better to have someone for both your A and B string (teams) in every event, even if they’re not particularly fit, because that way you will get at least 1 point (for being the 6th B string athlete): quite often you end up with than one point, because other clubs don’t have an A and B string, and then you get extra points, even if you still finish last, because you get the points for being second or third B string, rather than for finishing last.

I only had 2 weeks’ notice, and this is definitely not long enough to make yourself fitter. The best I could hope for was to try and remind my legs and lungs what running a bit faster felt like. 2 weeks out I did 3 x 1,500m, and anything under 7 minutes per mile felt ugly. That suggested I was going to be running 22 minutes or so for 5k (my track PB is 18.26 – although that was 8 speedy years ago). 1 week out I did 5 x 1km. I tried to do each one a little bit faster than the last one: the very first one was 4.24, or 22 minute pace, and felt manageable. The last was 4.08 or 20.40 pace, and felt very unmanageable for more than that single kilometre. I figured in similar conditions (15 degrees, sunny but with a breeze), I’d be OK for something like 21.20-21.30 based on my average 1km time in that session.

Of course, we then had a heatwave, and I had a busy week away with work in Plymouth, including a bit of an IBS flare-up due to dehydration from said heat, and stress. I couldn’t really risk solid food Thursday evening or Friday morning, and by the time I got home on Friday I was tired, dehydrated and a bit low on energy. Perfect.

Fast forward to race time on Saturday (a bit behind the scheduled 4.20pm): it was a not-at-all-pleasant 32 degrees, and simply jogging for 15 minutes at 9 minutes per mile had felt a bit vile. There were 6 A-string runners and 3 B-string runners, so I was already guaranteed more than the single point I had promised. We were also running with the men’s A and B string runners, so the start line was pretty packed. The gun went off, and I tucked in at the back. The two other B string runners were better than me, and away, but there were a couple of A string runners I could tag along with, although one was going about a few seconds per lap faster than the 22 minute pace I had in mind. This was tolerable for 10.5 laps, and then she was away. Still, I managed to hold my place, finishing ahead of the 6th placed B string runner, and – with a little bit of an attempt at a finishing kick on my part – I finished in 21.29. I had accurately predicted that I had lost about 1 minute per mile since my glory days! As for how many times I was lapped by speedy men and women, I honestly couldn’t tell you. I was just focused on that vest a few paces ahead of me…

The continued relentless heat overnight meant I slept poorly again, unassisted by the boy cat deciding that last night of all nights was the time I really wanted and/or needed a furry, purry hot water bottle on my chest. This morning’s 10 miles was an ugly, slow plod: my calves were tired, my quads ached, and my breathing was laboured. The heat is supposed to break soon, and I for one shall be delighted!

As for whether this has tempted me out of retirement, the short answer is no. I enjoyed the camaraderie, and the delight in seeing clubmates try their hardest, and often succeed, but I know how much work it would take to get even two of those ‘lost’ minutes back over 5,000m, let alone all three (although if I ran 18.26 as a FV40 it would be a far better performance, objectively, than 18.26 as a FV35). I still have no desire to go back to that sort of training and commitment. I can see myself doing the odd cross-country league match, but not focusing on specific races with specific (challenging) time targets in mind. For the rest of August I will quite happily revert to my ‘retirement’ running.

That Was The Month Of Maying (Also The Month of April…)

1 Jun

Well, I can confirm (if you’re one of the few who has somehow evaded Covid) that the post-viral fatigue is real. Very real! Having tested positive for Covid on Tuesday 15th March, and negative on Friday 25th March, the post-Covid chest infection didn’t go away for at least another week, and it took all of my energy to simply go for short walks and/or orchestra rehearsals (and a very lovely choir reunion). I didn’t return to run/walking until Monday 11th April and didn’t return to continuous running until Saturday 7th May. Now, to be fair, that return to continuous running was slightly delayed by me being able to give blood again (when taking running very seriously I weighed as little as 44-45kg, but I’m now a more ‘normal’ 50kg and so just – just! – able to donate once more). Given my blood volume will be smaller than most people’s, a donation does tend to leave me pretty tired, and so I took the view that it might be sensible to give myself an easy week after donating before trying to run continuously. Since that first 5 mile run, I’ve gradually increased the length of two or three of my runs each week (I now have a ‘long’ run of 8 miles) and re-introduced strides, just to keep the legs turning over a bit. I’m still not interested in racing just yet, but am very much enjoying the process of feeling a bit fitter week by week (and right now it probably helps that my iron levels are gradually returning to normal, too). I’ve also started to reintroduce hills, and as I build distance a little more I’ll be able to go to some of the running routes which were too far away. It’s a shame to have missed the beauty of spring, and seeing a route change week by week, but a joy to know that I’ll be back on those much-loved trails soon.

Just One More Thing…

27 Mar

I took another lateral flow test on Wednesday: still positive for Covid. I was a bit gutted, because although I was still tired, I’d been really hoping that was simply post-viral fatigue, not still-fighting-Covid fatigue. On Thursday I felt a bit better in the morning, but then started to get some slight pain when breathing in the afternoon, which I just couldn’t shift. My best guess is some kind of post-Covid chest infection. Anti-inflammatories seem to help, especially with ensuring I can sleep comfortably, but it’s a bit frustrating.

On Friday this week, I finally tested negative for Covid. It was good timing, because I’d completely run out of fresh fruit, and also needed to pick up some more lateral flow tests. FFP2 mask to hand, I set off. I was conscious that I was very, very, very behind where I wanted to be mileage-wise in terms of Bristol-Kyiv, so although I wouldn’t normally use my Garmin to measure walks, I am claiming that one mile round trip!

On Saturday I felt brave enough to try a slightly longer walk around the Downs:

I went down ‘Goat Gully’ (sorry, the zoom on my phone isn’t great, so the goats are quite small in this photo…):

Along the Portway (past my favourite Mr. Bump):

Up through the beautiful faded glory of Bishop’s Knoll:

and finished near this rather appropriate flag:

Now, it’s fair to say that although I felt fairly ok whilst walking (a little light-headed on occasions, but otherwise not too bad), afterwards I could definitely feel in my lungs that I had pushed myself, which is a bit humbling given that 2 weeks ago I had run 7 miles.

It was a similar tale today: 4 mile walk (but I left my phone at home, so no photos), when a fortnight before I had run 11 miles, and as I sit typing this I can feel that I have apparently worked quite hard. It’s a sign that I’m going to have to be very careful. Still, 9 miles for the week is better than no miles for the week, and hopefully I can at least keep the walks going next week, even if run/walking, let alone running, might have to wait until the week after that.

We’re still trying to reach that fundraising target of £5,000, by the way: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/sjcraisevitalfundsforukraine. Many thanks to those who have donated already.

Absolutely Positive

22 Mar

When I was in my lengthy cycle of comebacks and attempts to rebuild fitness, I had this slightly superstitious sense that whenever I committed to a target race, something went wrong. It didn’t play a factor in my decision to retire from racing, but the frustration of regularly having to abandon target races did!

Anyway, I couldn’t help but think of that slightly superstitious sense this time last week. On the Sunday I’d published the previous blogpost, committing to 100 miles in 14 days. Ambitious stuff for someone who’d been doing something between 20 and 35 miles per week for the past 4 months. I’d been feeling a bit tired all weekend, but I figured that was most likely because I was a bit burnt out from work, and – with almost 3 weeks of time off coming up – had been able to finally stop running on fumes. I told myself this was my body finally acknowledging that it could stop, rest and recuperate. Result!

On the Monday, I felt even more tired, and mid afternoon noticed that I had a slightly sore throat, but didn’t think a huge amount of it. I thought rather more of it when I woke up on the Tuesday feeling completely lousy, with a very sore throat and sneezing loads. T asked if I’d done a Covid test, which was a good point (I’d been away with work the week before, and let’s say that mask wearing is now very clearly optional in shops, cafes and on public transport, so had doubtless been exposed to lots of coughs and sneezes. As we know, they spread diseases). I did a lateral flow test, and it was positive. Not only do I believe that the guidance to self-isolate should be followed, but frankly I didn’t really want to even leave the sofa, let alone the house.

The real bummer was that it meant me having to miss our holiday to Norway (see above re: self-isolating. If I had given Covid to someone vulnerable, or someone who went on to infect someone vulnerable, I would feel awful). Still, by dint of me moving into the lounge, having windows open 24/7 and never being in the same room as T, he somehow managed to evade catching Covid, so at least not all of the money was thrown away! I did another test on Saturday, and it started to show positive before I’d even left the bathroom. I repeated a test on Monday, and it had the decency to take a little longer to show positive, and was also a much fainter line. I still feel pretty tired, and although I am definitely feeling better overall, it feels a bit like each good day is followed by a slight dip: overall the trajectory is positive, but with lumps and bumps along the way… I’ll try another test tomorrow, in the hope I could at least then go for a short, gentle walk to try and cover some of my outstanding 75 miles. I’m not at all sure I’m going to be able to cover all of the miles remaining on my pledge, but let’s take it a day at a time, and see what can be managed.

Back (But Not) For Good

13 Mar

I’ll do the catch-up later: what’s with the title?

A little over 2 weeks ago, Russia invaded Ukraine, sparking a humanitarian crisis, and a mass exodus of Ukrainians fleeing for their lives. The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), along with many other organisations, is doing what it can to help, and the barristers and staff of St. John’s Chambers have pledged to cover the distance from 101 Victoria Street, Bristol (our office) to Mariinskyi Palace, Kyiv, with a fundraising target of £5,000. I’ve pledged to cover 100 miles in 2 weeks, plus whatever I can manage to wobble and tumble my way through whilst cross-country skiing in the third week (safe to say that holiday feels particularly poorly timed right now: another 50 miles’ running would be a walk in the park compared to staying upright on skis!). You can sponsor us here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/sjcraisevitalfundsforukraine

As the granddaughter of a refugee, my knowledge of my family’s history gives me some small sense of the reasons why people flee and seek sanctuary. For my grandfather, who arrived in England a little over 100 years ago, his family shrank to just him, his sister and his parents. Attempts to contact those who had stayed behind resulted in silence at first, and ultimately a request from the Russian/Soviet authorities to not try and contact them again. Who knows if his aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents had died of natural causes, been killed in the civil war, starved in the famine, or even been killed by the revolutionaries? Countless Ukrainian families are currently separated, and the DEC is providing support to those they can help.

As for me, being a fun runner is suiting me. I ran a reasonable amount in January, relatively little in February when work was ridiculously busy, but should have a good chance of covering the 50 miles per week pledged as I have some time off to recuperate and refresh scheduled.

Thanks to T for making my Ukrainian flag face mask

So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish aka My First, My Last, My Everything

14 Dec

Well, this is a post I’ve put off. In November T and I went on a lovely holiday to Jersey in the first week, and then it was back to a blur of rehearsals for an orchestral concert (me), a choir concert (T) and a chamber concert (both of us – our first together!). It was all wonderful, but I was burning every single part of the candle you can think of, and so it wasn’t the hugest surprise when I then came down with a bad cold. At first I thought I only needed to miss a few days’ training, but it lingered on, and the fatigue was bad. I did regular lateral flow tests just in case it was Omicron variant Covid, but apparently not. Still, it meant that for several weeks I couldn’t really run much, and several runs were pretty bad pace-wise, showing that the post-viral effects were still there. It’s probably only this week that I’ve begun to feel a bit more normal. It means that I’ve been set even further back from a fitness point of view, and honestly, it’s been the straw which has broken the camel’s back. Right now I just cannot face another mad dash to claw back fitness in time for spring half marathons. I know that a similar mad dash in August/early September led to me wrecking my calves, which ultimately set me back further, and so on, and so on. It feels like one of those pictures showing a picture of the picture, which is a picture of the picture. Each attempt to ‘push the envelope’ results in the envelope breaking.

If lockdown 1 taught me anything, it’s that what I now really value about running is the process of training, rather than the results. When I’m in great shape, racing and the results which flow from it are amazing fun, but for me, racing when I’m not in great shape is pretty miserable. I’ve no chance of running a qualifying time for next year’s London marathon (for reasons best known to the powers that be the qualifying window closes on 31.12.2021, even though the race is in October 2022: I don’t think any other national championship cares more about your past fitness and less about your current fitness). That lack of QT is in itself an indicator of quite how bad the last few years have been. From 2007-2020 I always held a valid qualifying time, and now even that is beyond me. My body is telling me something about what is achievable, and I need to listen.

That means I’m retiring from racing, at least for now. I’ll renew my England Athletics licence, so that if I want to help the lovely Bristol & West by making up numbers at road relays or cross country I can, but I’m not entering any more races, and I’m taking some running downtime: running what I want, when I want it. No targets. No plan. If the weather is rubbish and I just fancy a 30 minute jog, that’s all I’ll do.

Racing has given me so much. SO much. I’m leaving it on my terms. The young woman who ran something like 1h46 for her first half marathon in 2002 would never have believed that she would one day run a full marathon in a little over an hour more, winning a national team title in the process. The girl whose school reports were wrecked by PE would never have believed that she would love running so much. The hard work – the late night training sessions, the bleary eyed early morning plods – they were all worth it. But now it is time for running to be only fun, and not work. As for blogging: well, I think you can guess there won’t be nearly so much of that.

London 2015. The race of my life.

Desperate Times Call For Half Measures

31 Oct

Last week I was pretty disciplined. I did 3 runs on alternate days (5 miles on Tuesday, 7 miles on Thursday, and 9 miles on Saturday), and 3 gym sessions: an hour on Wednesday, an hour on Friday and an hour and fifteen minutes on Sunday. I also went for a few hours’ rambling around the beautiful Westonbirt Arboretum on Sunday afternoon with T. 21 miles of running and 3.25 hours of cardio is still not huge compared to full training (the 21 miles probably took about 3 hours, and a 70 mile week takes up about 9.5-10 hours, as much of my running is steady. Of course, on top of that there’s strength stuff and stretching).

This week, with life a little more stressful, work a little more pressured, and the lethargy which comes from the daylight reducing kicking in good and proper, I still managed 3 runs on alternate days (10 miles on Tuesday, 8 miles on Thursday and 12 miles on Saturday), but despite my intentions to do a decent number of gym sessions, it just didn’t happen. On Monday, I was definitely a bit creaky and ready for a rest day, and on Wednesday both T and I needed a lazy start to the day after some worrying family news the night before (which thankfully turned out to be less worrying once things were a little clearer). Friday was a blur of work: working late the night before with some last minute instructions, and then being sat at my desk pretty much continuously from 8.45am until 4.30pm, with all of 15 minutes for lunch (just enough time for a piece of toast and a banana). By the time the evening rolled around, I was knackered, and ready for pizza and chilling, not the gym. I finally got my act together this morning, and did 30 minutes on the static bike and an hour on the cross-trainer. Perhaps the extra hour in bed with the clocks going back made all the difference! So, not the best week: 30 miles of running (or about 4 hours) and then 1.5 hours of cardio. But better than nowt, and there’s always next week. At least I’m able to do double-digit length runs on my running days now, so 10k and half marathon races don’t sound too daunting once I’ve got my general fitness back where it needs to be. Oh, and once I can go faster than 7.30m/m-8m/m again, natch!

Champing At The Bit

17 Oct

I seem to be settling into a fortnightly blog pattern at the moment: I guess when the news is limited, and a bit up and down, the incentive to blog diminishes a bit!

Two weeks ago I started with a rest day, and then did an easy 5 miles on the Tuesday. My calves felt ok, but not great, which was a bit surprising after they’d felt pretty good during my ‘long’ run on the Sunday, and had then had a day’s rest. On the Wednesday I did 5 miles with strides in lightweight trainers, which can fairly be described as a mistake. Although the adrenaline rush of doing some faster running meant I wasn’t aware of any significant pain during the run, my calves were definitely grumbly after, and my 7 mile run to my sports massage appointment on the Thursday was a bit painful. My ever-honest masseuse pointed out that if, after nearly 3 weeks of active recovery (and trying to continue to run most days), things weren’t improving, I needed to ease back. I was told to rest for a couple of days after the massage, which was pretty intensive (read: painful). It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but it was what I needed to hear. So I rested on Friday and Saturday (although rehearsals and then a fantastic concert took my mind off my frustrations at another setback).

On the Sunday T and I were off Champing (church camping) in Herefordshire. Church camping is what the name would suggest: you are camping in a church. It’s organised by the Churches Conservation Trust and you get exclusive use of the church overnight, plus camp beds, a kettle, tea, coffee and (yay!) a toilet with a security code. You’ll note there is no mention of a shower in that list, so I’d already decided I wasn’t going to attempt to run, and that meant another 3 days of rest, but with lovely walks in between. We were in rural Herefordshire, and the stars were stunning. It’s the best view I have ever had of the Milky Way, and shows quite how much light pollution alters our view of what the night sky should look like. Lying in bed (tucked up warm in thermals and a decent sleeping bag), the only sounds were the cows lowing and the owls hooting. It was just what we both needed.

The church at Holme Lacy where we stayed, bathed in late afternoon sun
As you can see, during an explore around Hereford, we came upon a very musical spot!
The River Wye was a beautiful backdrop to 3 days’ walking
The churchyard at Holme Lacy

After 5 days’ rest from running, on Wednesday it was time to try running again. I knew my calves were a lot better, as there was none of the stiffness I had been feeling some mornings. Nonetheless, having learned that being greedy simply saw me crocked again, I opted for a gentle 3 miles at a steady pace.

On Thursday, I did a strength and conditioning session in the morning and then went swimming in the evening. The pool was pretty quiet, which always helps me not find the experience too annoying!

On Friday, I tried 4.5 miles at a slightly less cautious pace. Everything still seemed ok.

On Saturday, I did a strength and conditioning session in the morning, and went to the gym in the evening. I split my hour into 3 blocks of 20 minutes (bike, rowing machine and cross-trainer) to make it a bit more tolerable, although my back-up plan of listening to music failed, because I hadn’t realised there was no 4G/5G reception in the gym. Oops! I will download something next time.

This morning I finished the week with 6 miles steady.

So, a grand total of 13.5 miles (just over a half marathon…!) for the whole week, plus 90 minutes of other cardio (and a decent amount of walking, in my defence, but I definitely don’t fall into the category of people who have to record their leisure strolls on their Garmin) and some additional strength and conditioning (I don’t count my daily maintenance session of core and glute work as S&C: it’s just what stops me falling apart if I run at all!). Realistically, I’ll need a few more weeks of alternating gym-based cardio and running, but as long as the length of the runs can gradually increase, and the gym-based sessions are a decent length I can probably get up to 6 or 7 hours of cardio a week pretty quickly, which will be enough to stop the fitness deteriorating much further.

Tri-ing Things Out aka Almost Out Of The Woods

3 Oct

2 weeks ago I was nursing very, very sore calves, and my Achilles tendons felt a bit stiff. I took 2 days of complete rest, doing plenty of stretching and a bit of core and glute work, but not much else. On the Wednesday I did a tentative 2.5 mile run, staying close to home so I could stop and walk home easily if there was any significant pain. On the Thursday, feeling slightly braver, I did a 3.5 mile loop with a a clubmate also recuperating from injury. I was still finding my calves were tight, and that any attempt to run or walk up a steep hill felt sore, but running was manageable. In my (moderately limited) experience, mild Achilles problems need a careful balance of rest and some work, as complete rest doesn’t always seem to work as well as you might expect. By the Friday I was ready for a 5 mile run, and on the Saturday I went all out with 6 miles. On the Sunday I had booked myself in to a lane session in the Portishead Lido. I must admit, when the alarm went off I felt exhausted, and cursed my stupidity at booking something at a fixed time on a Sunday which meant I had to be out of the house around 8am, particularly as it was a bit overcast. But shortly before I left the sun came out, and the cycle ride over was lovely. The sun was shining throughout my swim, and swimming outdoors in a heated pool with the sun on your back is gorgeous. The cycle ride back was pretty pleasant, too! I did a bit of work, and then a steady 7 mile run in the afternoon. Swim, bike, run? It was almost like being a triathlete!

This week the calves and Achilles have been on a slow upward improvement curve. It seems to take a lot of stretching to keep things under control, and I still haven’t dared to venture onto any hills, but I managed 5 miles on Tuesday, 6 miles on Wednesday, 7 miles on Thursday and Friday, 8 miles yesterday (in the pouring rain) and then 9 miles today. A grand total of 42 miles. But today’s run was about as comfy as things have felt in over 2 weeks, and the pace was pretty ok, too, so fingers crossed that is a corner turned.

Today was also the London Marathon. Thankfully, I’d made my peace with not being there pretty soon after the last ankle sprain in July, so I was able to watch the elite races and keep an eye on friends’ progress on the tracker without feeling envious. Although at times it does feel like I might not ever toe a marathon start line again, given how injury prone I seem to have become (and how long it now takes to recover from each niggle and setback), I’m at peace with just taking this recovery a week at a time and seeing where it goes. I’d love to be at London next year, as I think we could have a good ladies’ team and a crack at the national team title, but if it’s not to be, it’s not to be. The first step would have to be a sub 1.28 half marathon by the end of December, which feels pretty tight in terms of completing this recovery stage and then getting some quality sessions in to get back into the sort of shape I was in around May/June this year. And if the last 6 weeks have taught me anything, it’s that rushing the process ends up sending you backwards overall. More haste, less speed, quite literally!