This here bringer of the pooper to the fun party

Running, diet, and the joy found therein

A couple of weeks ago I finished reading Scott Jurek’s New York Times bestselling book Eat and Run.

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For those of you who are unfamiliar with Scott, he’s a record-breaking ultramarathoner. He’s been so dominant as to have won many of the most distinguished races in this sport including the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run seven times in a row. In 2005 just two weeks after winning the Western States for that seventh time he took on what many consider to be the toughest race in this category, the Badwater Ultramarathon, a 135-mile path through Death Valley that covers three mountain ranges and climbs a total of 13,000 feet in cumulative elevation:

Imagine a sun so pitiless that it seemed to want to personally torture you. Imagine that every time you inhaled, the air was so hot that it seared your already parched throat and stung your lungs. Now imagine that a tall, cool, iced bottle of water was waiting for you, along with an aquamarine swimming pool and giant puddles of shade under oversized umbrellas and that fans were wafting cool breezes your way as you lay down on crisp chilly sheets. Now imagine that all that relief was only 110 miles away, and you had to run there, through heat every bit as awful as what you had just endured—maybe worse.

Temperatures during that race reached as high as 120°F and at mile 70 with 65 miles to go he bonked, meaning his body pretty much shut down and said, “Scott, you’re an asshole, therefore I quit.”

Now, I have had the pleasure of meeting and spending time with Scott since he and his wife Jenny joined the Every Mother Counts team to run the Kilimanjaro Half Marathon.

Scott is the antithesis of an asshole. In fact, he’s positive, bright and so friendly as to make you feel like he’s known you for years. His joyousness is contagious. It’s actually quite strange given his supremacy in this sport. I guess I would put it this way: Lance Armstrong is at one end of the spectrum of what a dominant athlete represents in terms of personality. Scott is waaaaaayyyyy over at the opposite end. And that end is so far away that the distance between the two is longer than the Badwater race.

Lance Armstrong. Ha. Haha. Jenny Jurek knows why I’m laughing, and she’ll never tell you why.

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Not only had he fallen far behind several other runners in the race, his body was continuing to tell him he was out of the race completely. But then… Scott did what he is famous for. Somewhere he found reserves that most runners search for their entire careers but never find. He picked his body up off of the ground, ignored the involuntary dry heaving, and put one foot forward. He then went on not only to win the race but to set a new course record.

You can read all about that experience both in his book and in Born to Run, another bestseller that I’d recommend to anyone dressing themselves in gear to hit a trail on foot. In Scott’s book you’ll also find the incredibly moving story of his childhood in Minnesota and what he calls upon in his life and body in order to run these distances with such agility and endurance. Each account he gives of reaching mile 70 or mile 110 and how he overcame the obstacles ahead of him (not just distance but sprained ankles, complete darkness, and in one particular instance an actual goddamn bear) had me glued to the book. I’ve mentioned before that I’m oddly obsessed with the human body’s ability to withstand and overcome pain, and if you share that same interest, hoo boy. This book is THE book for you.

I mentioned last week that I want to continue running, that somewhere in the last five or six months I found the joy in it. That may very well be because I didn’t injure myself, because I trained the way I was supposed to train (well, mostly… that’s another post entirely). But when I got home from Tanzania I challenged myself to a quick five miles and felt very much like a kid. There were several moments during that run when I actually heard, “Whee!” scream through my brain.

A photo posted by Heather B. Armstrong (@dooce) on

He talks a lot in his book about getting back to the reason humans run in the first place, how as kids we ran boundlessly and effortlessly through woods and neighborhood and playgrounds. Remember those times? Remember when no one reported our parents to the authorities because we walked over two miles home from school? Alone. Sometimes climbing fences and trespassing through backyards. We’d always find our favorite tree, drop our backpack and climb its sprawling branches for a few minutes like a monkey on Adderall. We knew all the shortcuts: always cross the street when you pass Mrs. Cox’s house because her angry dachshund will run out chase you for at least a block.

He also talks in great detail about his diet, and that’s really why I’m writing this today. Scott has been meat free since 1997 and a vegan since 1999. He credits his diet with being an essential component of his success. Now, stop. Your email and comment fingers are already getting itchy, I know. If I write about or consider changing the food I put into my body ever again YOU’RE DONE. That’s it.

That will have been the line that I crossed. It’d be worse than exploiting my children for millions and millions of dollars on a mommy blog.

First, let me say: I’m not going vegan. Calm down. Reach up and yank your britches from between your butt cheeks.

But let me edit that: I’m almost already there. Minus the meat in my diet, I’d pretty much be a vegan.

There are a lot of reasons people choose to eat a vegan diet, but the one I think I’d subscribe to most if I ever decided to make that change is the same one I used when researching Paleo. It’s a way of eating that returns to the way we as humans evolved to eat. It’s the gathering of plants and nuts and fruits that would keep everyone fed until someone made a rare kill. Then they’d feast.

For reasons that I’m not entirely sure of I’ve drastically cut back on my meat consumption since January. It has not been intentional. I still eat meat occasionally and see myself continuing to do so here and there making sure that it’s raised ethically. But in the meantime I need to find alternative sources of protein to fuel all my workouts and runs. So I’ve been reading and learning and thinking and nodding and looking up recipes like a Mormon bingeing on a Pinterest board about crafty bookmarks for the scriptures.

And so I’m wondering what your experience has been if you are a vegan or a vegetarian. Mind you, I was a vegetarian for over eight years starting at the end of high school, but I ate nothing but processed crap and felt terrible all the time. Going Paleo helped me cut out all of that garbage and filled my plate with real food, and I love eating this way. I’ve never had second thoughts about making that change or the temptation to return to the way I used to eat. Scott’s experience as a vegan is so compelling that you come away from the account of it examining not just your diet but your life as a whole. You will examine and evaluate your humanity.

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First up for me: adding beans back to my diet (my fellow Paleo eaters are screaming, “NOOOOOO! POISON!”). Started with one spoonful too many and nearly blew a hole in the ground big enough to swallow Wyoming. An exceedingly unpleasant experience. So I slowed that transition right the fuck down.

Also, you will not be the first running enthusiast to curse me for having the once-in-a-lifetime experience of running with Scott Jurek. Trust me when I say I know how very lucky I am, as lucky as I was to get to meet and hang out with his wife Jenny who brought me very close to injuring myself from doubling over with laughter.

  • Kate

    Check out the Thrive books by Brendan Brazier! I’ve been experimenting with eating vegan as well, more in order to get more veggies in my diet, and I’ve loved all of the recipes. The book is written by a vegan Iron Man, so he knows how to make nutrient dense meals. They also contain relatively easy to find ingredients and for the most part are easily transportable to and from work. Also, I loved both of the books you mentioned. Being a somewhat reluctant runner, there’s something that appeals to me about these ultra and trail runs. The focus is more on just going and less on time.

  • Anna

    I loved the book as well, for similar reasons. Very motivating!

    Well, I must say I’d love to see you turn vegan. I understand the concept behind Paleo, but each time I read about it, my stomach turns: it’s simply impossible to feed the world’s population like that. On a vegan diet however, we could. Going Paleo (strangely) is a very first-world-thing to me. I feel strongly about feeding EVERYONE on this planet, not just me.

    I must add that I am not completely vegan myself, I still eat animal products (inlcuding meat) occasionally but try to make sure it was raised in my country (which is not the US) and fed with food grown here as well.

    Good luck with running – can’t wait to hear where the path takes you!

  • Hayley Dier

    Seriously. So. Jealous.

  • Anita Blanchard

    I’ve been doing “vegan before 6” and it amazing. I am surprised how much I get to eat and how full I feel and how light I feel. I’ve cut down on meat after 6, too.

    I also really like the idea that eating more plants means being helpful to the planet. Right? There is a feeling that every meal helps the world be less polluted and have more food….AND I am being healthy.

    Love the vegan lifestyle! Also, yes, I’m a runner. It’s great for that, too.

  • minxlj

    I do love reading your running posts. It’s giving me good motivation to get out there and start running, along with my ongoing fitness training. One day! 🙂

    You asked about experiences being vegan or vegetarian. Well speaking as a vegetarian, it is single handedly the best and most positive thing I’ve ever done in my life – I cannot live with the idea of wanting to eat an animal, for an animal to actually have to die for me to have lunch when I know I can exist perfectly well without that? Why would I want that to happen? It’s just not an option. I’ve been vegetarian for 22 years, most of my life (I’m 36 now). I can look my beloved cat and dog in the eye and know i love them and love all other animals. It’s better for animals, for the environment, it’s more sustainable, and I am happy and healthy. I must admit when I first turned veggie I ended up eating much better – I was 14, ridiculously focused on exam study so skipping meals and passing out because I didn’t eat enough (I know. Idiot.) But as teenagers like to be awkward I didn’t actually like that many vegetables, I’m fairly sure I existed on potatoes and peas for a while 😉 These days it is 1 million percent easier to have amazing meals out at vegetarian/vegan restaurants, and to find great food even in tiny stores. Even when I was on holiday in the middle of Iceland I found vegetarian food pretty easily.

    For the age-old question of protein, well last year I started weightlifting, proper training with a personal trainer – I’d let my fitness levels go over the years and I’m now rapidly getting them back and increasing my strength so much. No changes to my diet other than eating a bit more protein! That is the one weird question we get from carnivores often – “oh but where do you get your protein?!”. Loads of sources, seriously. Many more than you probably eat! Google is your friend. Even though I’m having to eat 160 grams of protein a day I’m not struggling. I’m actually looking to move to being vegan – there is too much horrific cruelty involved in the dairy and egg industries for me to continue. I now drink rice, oat and other milks instead and I’m getting the few eggs a week I need from a friend who has pet chickens who will not be killed. But that’s not an option for everyone and industry change is sorely needed. It’s not ethical or fair to treat animals that way, and fundamentally that is why I’m vegetarian in the first place. Anyway that’s a whole other discussion.

    (Also for folks saying they’re ‘not completely vegan’ – well either you are, or you aren’t. You can’t be a bit vegan, or mostly. The very definition of it is no animal products.) I do love that some people are focusing on the environmental impact and reducing meat intake though, it’s a good thing.

  • Hey Heather — Let me preface this by saying I have never dieted in my entire life. I eat well (very little junk food) and as a hobby read nutrition books & cookbooks, but I also love all sorts/preparations of food, so restricting types makes me rebellious and a little panicky.

    THAT SAID. For various reasons (weight, blood sugar, general body changes as I get older, mental discipline) I’m experimenting with Tim Ferriss’s Slow Carb diet. Basically Paleo plus beans minus fruit/starchy veg, with one “cheat day” full of whatever you want. Despite thinking TF is fascinating but possibly a (smart, driven) extraterrestrial. Despite my pooh-poohing just about every diet. Despite not caring THAT much about my weight.

    I feel GREAT. When I don’t feel like eating meat, there are plenty of bean/vegie/egg combos that are super satisfying. I don’t get rebellious because I know on Saturday I can have my fruit/baguettes/cookies/pizza etc. Easy to adapt for a family (I make rice/pasta/potatoes on the side).

    I think this diet might have enough carbs to fuel your runs, give you flexibility when you don’t feel like eating meat, still focus on whole foods, and give you legal, sanctioned access to salsa + tortilla chips.

    Food for thought, so to speak.

    PS. I love hearing all about your adventures with Every Mother Counts (not to mention your other travels). And your girls are growing SO BIG! (I’m getting all sentimental these days about my online friends’ kids growing up.)

    PSS. I was vegetarian for many years. Love vegetarian food + my dad’s Indian so grew up eating DELICIOUS veg meals. But I feel better with some meat in my diet. I’m sure that’s an individual thing, though…every body is different.

  • Just me

    Vegan here for 10 years. Was vegetarian 7 years before that. It’s been great, never been healthier as a vegan (not so much as vegetarian). Really easy do also. Don’t miss animal products. As for paleo, ha, based on my blood type I’m supposed to eat mostly meat.

  • Amanda Cherry

    soak or sprout your beans and you’ll be fine (from a loving Paleo eater who is just too lazy to do that and so stays Paleo)

  • Rooben

    Was just going to recommend this. Brazier goes into great nutritional/physiological detail, breaking down the benefits of veganism and a whole foods/plant-based diet for athletes (and dispels dietary myths such as carb loading pre-race). Very helpful if you’re trying to understand the relationship between diet and energy and recovery. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 13 and learned about factory farming. Made a goal to last through high school and it’s been more than 25 years. Probably the best thing I’ve every done for myself and the planet. Feels right for me but food, as we all know, is an extremely personal and therefore touchy subject. Offense comes easily. My favorite book on vegetarianism is “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer — it’s well-written, not preachy, and should be a must read for anyone who prefers to think about the world that lies behind their food choices.

  • ellen

    I’m a vegetarian, and a runner! I love it. I feel less tired and just all-around fresher/lighter than I did as a meat eater. I do have to be careful to get enough protein though (beans, lentils, eggs, etc) because otherwise I start to feel a bit weak from all of the exercise. Let me tell you, my farts are legendary though. You have been forewarned.

    If you’re into podcasts, try out Runner Academy. Lots of interesting interviews and tips for training. I also joined a running group in Boston, and it’s been amazing – both for improving my speed and being part of a community of really nice people. Highly recommend checking out one in your area.

  • Jackie Sario

    I was a lacto-oval vegetarian for 13 years before I read the book “Eat Right 4 Your Type” in the late 90s. It suggested eating according to your ancestry by analyzing your blood type. I added just a couple of meats and took out a couple of vegetarian fare and my health dramatically improved. I thought I was pretty healthy before but the change was amazing. Since then, I follow a much more current eating program called “The Genotype Diet” which goes even further than the blood type to help figure out ancestral eating habits. If vegan or vegetarian eating just doesn’t seem to help you feel your best, get on Amazon and read about “The Genotype Diet.”

  • MNW

    I’ve been a strict vegan and successful age-group athlete for about 6 or 7 years. I changed from long-time (20 year) veg to vegan MOSTLY for health reasons (amazing how many cookies and chips have milk products in them), but have since learned to appreciate the ethical, environmental, and animal appreciation aspects of the diet. Although I chose to eat this way, I believe that eating mostly “clean” is the best recipe for anyone’s success–as you mentioned, even vegetarian/vegan options can be processed, sugar-filled, and unhealthy. I encourage anyone to try veganism to see if it is right for them. I am not militant in my belief that this is the only way or the right way. It is right for me, but it would be nice to have others join 🙂

  • Jamie

    I’m interested to read all the responses.

    I’ve just started running and am training for my first half marathon later in the year with my goal being a Ragnar next spring. Since I’m *so* new I’m focusing more on the habit of running and fitting it into my everyday life right now. Once that is second nature my goal is to focus on the nutrition part and making that habit. I also subscribe to Thrive and am working on adding in good things little by little.

  • Rachel

    Rancho Gordo beans! Specifically, Christmas Lima beans. Soak them overnight then cook them in a pot with water, salt, garlic, and a piece of kombu seaweed and it eliminates the fartyness, I promise. I don’t know what part of the ocean kombu comes from but it must smell like daisies up in there because this stuff absorbs fart causing vapors or something magical like that. Pick yourself up a copy of At Home in the Whole Foods Kitchen by Amy Chaplin, she will teach you everything you need to know about basic, home-cooked, mostly-vegan meals, nothing too weird or sketch in the ingredients either.

  • “Minus the meat in my diet, I’d pretty much be a vegan.”

    Minus all the sex with men I enjoy, I’d pretty much be a lesbian.
    Minus all the whiskey I drink at night, I’d pretty much be a teetotaler.
    Minus the fact that I’m pro-choice, pro civil liberties, anti-death penalty, pro government spending on social sanctions, and an environmentalist, I’d pretty much be a republican.

    (Sorry, but that was a weird statement, just begging to be made fun of, just a little bit.)

  • I met Scott Jurek a couple of years ago after my foot surgery. He was in Sandy at Wasatch Running promoting his book. He is amazing. I just wanted to stand next to him because of his kind and positive attitude. Plus his skin in amazing! You can run 18 miles with me tomorrow. Starting in Parleys and running up and down Emmigration. 😉
    I really struggle getting enough protein in my diet but after being strict Paleo I have added Hummus and chick peas along with quinoa into my diet. Just bring your Gas-X!

  • I don’t really have an opinion either way on the health benefits of strict vegetariansim or veganism, but as an archaeologist I do have one on prehistoric diet! You’re right when you say that meat wasn’t necessarily a big part of the prehistoric diet (unless you were a Neandertal) but it wasn’t lacking entirely and some groups got quite a lot, same with fish. I don’t think you’d find many prehistoric societies that didn’t eat meat whenever they could get it. They also, contrary to what Paleo would tell you, ate quite a lot of wild grains and starchy tubers. The thing is that we’ve evolved to be omnivores, we’re designed to eat a wide range of food, from a wide range of sources, and do it successfully. Different environments meant different diets, but people exploited the full range of what was available to them; ignoring a major food group wasn’t an option. The fact we can do it now speaks mostly to our affluence. When starvation is constantly lurking around the corner you can’t afford to be so fussy! I guess all this leads me to believe that in general we should be eating from a wide variety of sources and that ignoring one or more of them goes against the bulk of our evolutionary history. How you play with your diet within that broad framework is probably more of a personal choice than one that will suit everyone.

  • dips

    If you have to try Vegan food….
    Why not make your veggies a bit more delicious.
    Id suggest to try Indian cooking at home (no, not the restaurant “Indian” that you get in the US. Thats oily and spicy and terrible).
    And beans – try adding ginger & garlic to bean recipes. They reduce flatulence. Work like a charm.

  • Carol

    Do you ever have a drink or two?

  • Awww…. I’m not a runner & I don’t know this guy, so I’m not jealous (which is a great feeling, BTW 😉 sigh…), but I’m WILDLY enthusiastic to see you talk about considering a “plant strong” diet as the Forks over Knives folks like to say (have you ever seen that documentary? It’s amazing). (and I didn’t know one didn’t have to be a member of the community anymore to comment, that’s great, I could have been commenting for a long time! — I had a profile, but could never remember my password 😉

    I grew up mostly vegetarian at home in Brazil… [long parenthetical remarks:]

    (my family is Seventh-Day-Adventist & our religious/cultural group is pretty “famous” for its vegetarian diet & for living 6-10 years longer than the average American [that’s only in the U.S. since SDAs are carnivores minus pork & shrimp [& related seafood] all over the world but here — my family was an exception for Brazil] and Loma Linda, CA is one of the worlds “Blue Zones” where people live longer, OK, enough with this stuff, I don’t mean to be annoying, just informational)

    …then I went completely vegan when I was 18.5 and that pretty much got rid of my annoying allergies (stuffy nose, asthma, etc) and I remained vegan for about 10 years and was very healthy (still am).

    I did go back to eating dairy and eggs sporadically and fish once in a while, but we’re in the journey to going back to a mostly vegan diet at home. I do need to learn the “tricks” regarding beans (since I have IBS and gas problems & have to try to avoid beans and lentils), and I guess that’s one of the reasons why I still do eggs & dairy sporadically, so I’m really enjoying your commenters’ take on beans! 🙂

    I don’t really have any vegan cookbooks to recommend because nowadays one can find tons of wonderful vegan blogs online, but for cooking vegetables I highly recommend Deborah Madison’s cookbooks (Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is over 20 years old, but it’s an amazing classic) and her more recent ones too!!

    I think that you’re very wise in making changes very slowly, but I’m THRILLED that you met such a wonderful couple that is a living example of how good a vegan diet can be for one’s body. Thanks (as ALWAYS) for sharing your journey with us and I’m also delighted that I don’t see any negative comments here yet . Cool! All of us vegans or aspiring vegans (me) are coming out to support you, I guess.

  • Lauren3

    Whenever people talk about eating “clean” all I can think of is……………………………….it ALL comes out as poop in the end!

  • Beth Rich

    Vegetarian off and on my adult life. I always feel better, but I have a “feast!” mentality when it comes to a good chicken fried steak.

  • Rachel

    I was raised vegetarian (goat’s milk, cheese, and eggs were allowed), by all accounts our diet was complete and healthful…and I was sickly, with permanent dark circles under my eyes, immune and endocrine systems all jacked up, and (retrospectively) chronically malnourished. When I started eating cow the 3 month long cold that had been my winter companion since kindergarten went away, and my hormones and blood sugar were stable for the first time in my life.

    I know a few vegans who have done it long-term and don’t seem to be suffering, but it is not for everyone (most of the people I know who have tried it had to at least return fish and eggs to their diet). I had no idea how sick I had been until I started eating red meat on a regular basis, because I didn’t really know what it felt like to be well. I cannot strongly enough recommend making dietary changes with the hands-on help and monitoring of a board-certified, actively practicing nutritionist. It is really easy, when excluding food from your diet, to bollocks your microbiome or exclude an essential nutrient. The amount of noise out there from self-styled experts who got their degree in nutrition from Google University (and other even less reputable institutions) is overwhelming.

  • Ariane

    I love being vegan. I switched from plain vegetarianism about a year and a half ago, and I’ve never felt better. Becoming a vegan freed me from a lot of the body issues I’d had for half my life and gave me more energy than I’d had in years. Knowing that I’m not contributing to animal suffering is icing on the (vegan) cake. My body feels clean and light, and it also helped me realize the impact of other life choices, which led me to stop buying products from companies who test on animals. Animal welfare is my passion in life, and it is s rewarding to finally be “walking my talk”.

  • Jeff Spencer

    Make sure you keep an eye on your iron. (I mean get regular blood tests, especially if you start to feel fatigued). I’ve tinkered with vegetarian and vegan diets for many years. Ate tons of spinach and all the plant-based iron and protein sources you’re supposed to. On paper, I should have been fine, but, turns out I was skating on the edge of anemia for many, many years and didn’t realize it. Depression, fatigue and general crankiness were the result. This highlights the problem of trying to force an ideology to work if our body just won’t cooperate, for whatever reason. Kinda like those Mormons and their theology…

  • Tammy Jennings

    Vegan for 10 years. I teach fitness classes and my husband is a triathlete. I just had my annual check up and my blood work shows that I am healthy and not lacking in anything. Check out Sarah Kramer’s cook books- yummy, easy, great sense of humor. PS Daiya dairy free cheese melts the best.

  • MamaLynn

    I’ve been lacto/ovo vegetarian for almost 18 years eating fish a few times a year. I spent 1 year vegan (also doing low fats/no oil at the same time). I second the recommendation to supplement B vitamins. I had problems the year I was vegan not getting enough B vitamins and it can affect you neurologically. I still eat close to 75% vegan on a daily basis (breakfast, snack and lunch). Beans are a great source of protein, but you can also add lentils, tofu and quinoa. Quinoa is actually a complete protein. At home we cook Mexican, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Ethiopian, Indian, Italian. There is a lot more diversity than you might think. Plus you have access to Whole Foods and their beautiful bulk section!

  • Jeff Spencer

    Hey Rachel—Would you agree that those of us who don’t trust mainstream medicine sometimes shoot ourselves in the foot? I certainly have. And—finding the right doctor/nutritionist doesn’t seem like it should be so hard. One test when visiting a new practitioner: tell them you will not be buying any supplements from them, that you’re after hard science and verifiable diagnoses. At the end of the day we each have to own our choices, do our own search, question every expert. The science is still emerging. For instance, the microbiome is the new, hot topic, but is still largely unknown by most and even the experts in the field have not come to a consensus…

  • Kate

    I stopped eating meat about 6 years ago. I was never a big meat lover and after more and more information about the terrible ways meat is produced I just decided enough was enough. I do eat animal products like eggs and dairy (all ‘ethical’) and I am not too fussy when I eat at other people’s houses (I don’t care too much if they cook with chicken/beef stock or animal fat).

    Honestly, I didn’t eat much processed food before I stopped eating meat so not much has changed. I think food is often made into this overly complex thing it isn’t. My philosophy is just: look at your plate and listen to your body. Simple! Is the food homemade (or from a good source)? Is there a reasonable amount of veggies and protein on there? Some healthy fats? Then you’re good.

    My main tip for sticking to a healthy diet is: learn to cook. Like, properly cook. Don’t study recipes, but look at the ingredients you have on hand/are in season and know how to handle them and how to make them into a meal. It is so easy! My vegetarian go-to meals are: frittata loaded with veggies (I’m never giving up eggs btw), lentil stew, sandwiches on spelt bread, stir fry with tofu, zoodles, cauliflower ‘fried rice’, baked eggplant parmesan, veggie fritters. Keep it simple and you’ll do fine!