Becoming Superhuman in 2011

Rapid Fat-Loss.  Incredible Sex.  Becoming Superhuman.

Of the three promises contained in the subtitle of Tim Ferriss‘ new book,  The 4-Hour Body, it’s that third one that really grabbed me.

4hrbodycover 241x300Not that rapid fat loss and incredible sex don’t sound appealing; it’s just that they’re the same promises hucksters have made for eons. Becoming superhuman, though—that’s one place not many marketers are willing to go.

If this were anyone else, I’d never believe it.  But this is the same Tim Ferriss who drastically slashed his body weight to weigh in for the Chinese Kickboxing Championships and qualify for an extremely low weight class, only to put it all back on right away and win the competition by exploiting a loophole that disqualifies fighters who are pushed out of the ring three times in a bout.  This, on only a few weeks of actual kickboxing training.

Given Tim’s track record of doing awesome stuff and the success of his first book, The Four Hour Workweek, I don’t see how anyone with the slightest interest in fitness could resist learning what Tim has done in the realm of creating rapid change in the human body.

A veritable smorgasbord of body hacks

The 4-Hour Body isn’t meant to be read cover-to-cover.  After a few essential introductory chapters, Tim cuts you loose to pick and choose, a la carte, what to read.  (“Thinner, faster, bigger, stronger…which 150 pages will you read?” is the first line in the publisher summary.  The entire book is 578 pages long.)

Here are the chapters I plowed through during my initial, oh-my-god-I-cannot-put-this-down fervor:

  • The Slow-Carb Diet I: How to Lose 20 Pounds in 30 Days Without Exercise
  • Hacking the NFL Combine II: Running Faster
  • Ultraendurance I & II: Going from 5K to 50K in 12 Weeks
  • Becoming Uberman: Sleeping Less with Polyphasic Sleep
  • Pre-Hab: Injury-Proofing the Body
  • Effortless Superhuman: Breaking World Records with Barry Ross
  • The Meatless Machine I: Reasons to Try a Plant-Based Diet for Two Weeks
  • The Meatless Machine II: A 28-Day Experiment

The big point you need to understand is that Tim is an experimenter, an empiricist.  He circumvents the red tape and politics of academia and goes straight to people who are getting massive, incredible results.  Then he learns what they do, boils it down, and makes himself his primary subject for observation.

A few fascinating ideas

Here are just a few of the cool things in The 4-Hour Body I had never heard before that I can’t wait to try:

  • Tim advocates a binge day each week in which you eat whatever you want, so much that you almost make yourself sick and therefore have very few cravings for the rest of the week.  He suggests certain measures to minimize fat gain on this day, such as starting the day with a high-protein, “good” meal, then employing caffeine, grapefruit, and brief muscle contractions to move the subsequent binge-food quickly through the body.
  • In the ultramarathon-training section, Tim works with Brian MacKenzie from Crossfit Endurance.  Brian trains most of his athletes for 100-mile races without ever having them run more than a half marathon!  The idea is that you don’t need much of an aerobic base to complete the distance; you simply need to strengthen your body and train your body to burn fat (aerobic) at high intensities without switching to sugar (anerobic).  Lots of 400- and 800-meter repeats, along with functional lifting, make up most of the training.
  • In the polyphasic sleep section, Dustin Curtis presents several plans for sleeping less through the use of several short naps throughout the day, rather than a single, long session at night.  The most extreme plan uses six 20-minute naps which are almost entirely REM sleep if done correctly,  but there are several intermediate plans for the less masochistic.  I can’t wait to try some of these.
  • For maximum strength-gain with the smallest amount of effort, Tim recommends 2-to-3 rep sets of relatively heavy weight with lots of rest in between.  In a typical, three-times-a-week workout, the muscles are under tension for less than five minutes!

If there’s a shortcoming in the book, is that no chapter is quite long enough to really get all the information you want.  Tim generally presents a sample plan for achieving the goal, but I find myself wishing that each chapter could be an entire book.  However, there are tons of links for learning more at the end of each chapter, and I’ve found everything I’ve needed by following these links to go more in-depth.

What vegetarians should know about The 4-Hour Body

Tim Ferriss isn’t vegetarian, but he treats it like any other diet worth experimenting with and gauging results.  He provides several case studies, one of which is that of vegan ultrarunning god Scott Jurek.  (To me, the detailed listing of Scott’s one-week grocery list alone makes the book worth the price.)

The main reason Tim isn’t vegan, he says, is that he has found no culture that thrived on a purely plant-based diet.  But it’s not incompatible with any of the hacks in the book, even if access to animal products would certainly make it easier to double or triple testosterone levels for muscle building and sexual enhancement, another one of Tim’s experiments in the book.

In “The Meatless Machine II: A 28-Day Experiment,” exercise and nutrition coach John Berardi, PhD puts veganism through an unbaised test, not grounded in any morals but simply to judge its suitability as a diet for athletes.  His conclusion is that veganism is sustainable even for those whose goal it is to gain muscle, though he warns that supplementation makes it more expensive than a diet that includes animal products.  (I actually learned a lot about potential deficiencies that I wasn’t previously aware of.)  Berardi also makes the encouraging observation that vegans generally take the time to learn much more about their food and where it comes from than omnivores do, so that the increased effort required to eat a plant-based diet may actually be a good thing.

Superhuman in 2011

Last year around this time, I wrote a post called Two Inspiring Books for the New Year.  This year, The 4-Hour Body gets that nod.

I’m sure it’s not for everyone, especially those who like to play by the rules.   As a big fan of fitness and diet experiments, I realize this this book is particularly suited to my tastes more than it will be for others.  But if you’re looking for something to shake things up, to get you out of a rut created by the same old principles you always hear about, The 4-Hour Body is it.

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Comments

  1. This book sounds crazy interesting. I used to work with two group fitness instructors who truly believed in the 1 crazy binge day a week….I’m not sure I could do that to my tummy….

  2. I just read this book- it was super fascinating, mostly because it was talking about all the things no one would tell you to do while still being realistic, but somehow makes it realistic.

  3. As a vegan that has had issues with bulimia, I don’t see how one binge day a week can be beneficial. Other than that, the book does sound interesting but almost too specific to realistically integrate into a busy lifestyle.

    • Lory,

      With a history of bulimia, this might not be the approach for you, but for many it is.

      The 4 hour diet is a slow-carb diet. There is not grain, no dairy, no fruit except squeezes of citrus juice in water. Most people would not willingly go into this life style change without the out of occasionally being told that it’s OK to cheat.

      That’s what the binge day is. The day you CAN eat cookies and cake and fruit and cheese. It comes frequently enough that most people can defer their cravings to that.

      On a biochemistry basis, the cheat day also refuels the muscles with glycogen so you have the energy to hit it hard the next day.

      Yes, if you are an obsessed individual who weighs themself too often, you’ll notice a gain the next day -up to 15#. most of that water that whooshes away with digestion in the 24 hours after the binge ends.

    • As a former disordered eater as well, I agree with this comment completely. The binge thing was the thing I take issue most with– even though I do recognize it may work for some people, I think it promotes an unhealthy way of looking at eating– rather than mindfully enjoying your food. Then again, I haven’t read the book.

      • I have to say I couldn’t agree with you more, Sui. I also struggle with disordered eating and I think that approaches like this have the potential to perpetuate disordered habits. I wish that there were more resources out there that were as popular as trendy books like this one that advocated a balanced approach to food and eating. Then again, I guess that’s not what trendy books are for.

        • I think what you are saying about eating disorders makes sense, but that doesn’t mean that this is a bad approach for people aren’t prone to eating disorders. I can’t say how effective it is because I haven’t yet tried it, but I’m looking forward to seeing how it works.

        • Just wanted to comment here. I’ve been on this diet with great results for a month now. I struggled with eating disorders as a teen, and as an adult, that was part of the dieting problem for me. Counting calories and tracking every morsel made me completely obsessed with food.

          On this diet, you count nothing. It’s pretty simple. If you have cravings, you just say, well, I’ll eat that on Saturday (my binge day).

          On my “cheat” or binge day, I haven’t gone truly crazy yet. (Although I did have a nice dinner out, including desert.) But mentally it feels like a release valve. There’s no point in getting obsessed with anything, since I can still have it. I have fruit, bread etc. on Saturday, and I can live without it until then.

          There’s no war with my body, impulses or cravings. I’ve never experienced this kind of freedom before on a “diet”. And yes, I’m losing weight. (12 lbs so far.) And yes, I feel great.

  4. Interesting! I don’t feel like the binge day would work well for me–I find that if I have a day of eating junk food then I tend to crave it more instead of less. I’d love to read it, though. I’m intrigued by the discussion of training individuals for huge races even if they aren’t necessarily advanced runners.

  5. My dad was just telling me about this book. I love The Four Hour Work Week so I’m tempted to give this one a try.

  6. I got the pdf version and have read a bunch of it myself! I’m still cranking through it – and ending my showers with a blast of cold water too!

    • I got it on my Kindle and regret it. It’s so very hard to flip through a book that way. Wish I had a hard copy.

      • I got it on my new Nook, actually my first nookbook, and I noticed the same thing…this book is just not meant to be read digitally. I might buy a hardcopy so I can quickly flip around.

    • Charmaine says:

      This is so funny, I’ve been taking cold military showers too b/c of 4HB.

    • I’m thinking about doing the cold shower thing too. I’m not really interested in the fat loss benefit, but he says there are lots of other benefits too. I just don’t know if I’ll be able to stand it. I used to do ice baths after long runs, but I hated them.

  7. When I was working on my BA thesis, back in the Stone Age, I would from time to time read a paper/book related to my topic of choice and become really excited about the ideas in it. My advisor at the time would always rein me in by telling me that “if it sounds too good to be true, then very probably it is not true”. This book sounds a bit too good to be true (running a 100K when your longest long run is a HM? Yeah, right), therefore…

    • I think skepticism is a good thing, as opposed to buying into things without question. But I also think that chalking something up to “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” and not investigating it any further is even worse than blindly following. It’s not surprising that the context here is academia, exactly the risk-averse environment that Tim talks about in the book always many years behind what elite athletes already know. When I first read that people ran 100-milers at all, I thought it was a typo, too good to be true. That people could do it on a vegan diet? Outlandish. Yet they do.

      I have no idea if people can run 100 milers without training at more than half-marathon distance. CrossFit is pretty well established though, so I kind of doubt the guy in charge is just making this up. I think it’s better to see what I can learn from it than write it off as made-up.

    • Luis,
      Tim’s book has a lot of hype around it, and I’ve read many similar comments on “too good to be true”. Some of the things in the book are a bit extreme (e.g. taking multiple short naps during the day and not sleeping at all at night), but some ideas are pretty much common sense and easily implementable. Whatever your goal is, you would need to pick and choose the concepts you are willing to follow. For me, the diet part alone was worth the price of the book.

    • I agree that it may sound too good to be true, but just as Tim Ferriss states in this book: “Be proactively skeptical, not defensively skeptical”…Every theory deserves the benefit of doubt.

  8. It sounds intriguing especially with regards to the sleep issue. Let us know how you go.

    • The sleep is the most exciting for me too. I’ve been trying for a while to improve my diet so that I require less sleep, but I never knew that so many people had success with the polyphasic approach. I’m sure I’ll write a post about it after I try it.

  9. I’m SO intrigued. Can’t wait to read this.

  10. I have been following Crossfit Endurance to prepare for the HAT 50k – my first ultra endurance event! So we shall see. I just thought it was interesting and thought I would give it a try.

    • Hey Susan, that’s great! I’ll be running HAT too, it’s a great race. We’ll have to meet up!

    • Charmaine says:

      Very cool – I had been doing Crossfit for a while but recently transitioned to Crossfit Endurance (after reading 4HB) to train for my first 50K (Quicksilver in San Jose, CA). I have a marathon in 12 weeks, so i’m really looking forward to seeing whether I can pull this off! No doubt my runs have become a lot easier b/c of CF (and working on my posterior chain :P).

  11. Hey Matt – great review. I picked up this book earlier in the month and, like yourself, was yearning for more information. At times, I felt like I was reading his personal lab notebook and was in utter awe of the sheer volume of experimentation he has done – perhaps more in a year than I’ve done in my entire adult life.

    My friend Andrew is featured as a diet case study, emphasizing frugality. I’ve known this guy first-hand for over a year and watched what diet, combined with CrossFit, has done for him. Personally, CrossFit and a disciplined diet (Paleo, not exactly veg) has brought me from sitting on my behind to a 2010 of several organized 5Ks and a net weight loss of about 15% (not counting muscle gain) – I know it works.

    I’m excited, yet still a bit timid, to tinker with this stuff. Cold baths, sure (damn, it’s hard), but it’ll take some soul-searching to get into daily PAGG rituals.

    Haven’t been over here in a while – your site, both aesthetically and from a content perspective, is great, and I wish you and the family a superhuman 2011!

    • Hey Brian, great to hear from you again. And it’s encouraging to hear from a “real person” that the stuff in this book is legit.

      But what’s so tough about the PAGG stuff? Just concerns over side effects?

  12. Got a gift card to Barnes and Noble for Christmas and spotted this one while shopping online!

    Definitely something worth checking out!

  13. I’m not a vegetarian, but was curious about how vegetarians would view 4HB. I’m part of the way through the audio version right now, and enjoying it. But I’ve also decided that I’d rather have a little extra body fat than shower in cold water! Brrr :o)

  14. As a personal trainer and nutrition specialist, I have always advocated cheat days and cheat weekends. But then the client has to be brutally good the rest of the 5 days of the week. Workouts similarly have to be bang for the buck. Muscles have to work in order to see results.

    There are cultures in India that are strictly vegetarian and some even don’t eat garlic or onion. Many of them are athletes and would scare you with the physical strength.

  15. Mark Duffield-Thomas says:

    Great review, I started reading it yesterday. I am trying to do a lot more running and be more vegan in 2011 so going superhuman is added to the list. Great website as well, I found you via Tim’s facebook post and will be back, thanks.

  16. We all love permission to binge, yeah? For me, the most useful, actionable tips from 4HB were:
    – Ice baths
    – The specific schedule for ‘binge day’, including exact exercises and foods that keep insulin response subdued so that the food doesn’t immediately get stored as fat.

  17. Augie Ortiz says:

    Great review. I started reading the book last week and love some of the ideas. This is the 3rd time I’m hearing about shorter/highier intensity workouts in the last few months. Ben Greenfield is an advocate of 8-10 hour Ironman training weeks as opposed to people doing 20+ hours a week. The key is to make your limited time more intense. Going anaerobic more than a traditional training plan. Lance Armstrongs coach Chris Carmichael has also recently published “The Time-Crunched Triathlete-Race winning fitness in 8 hours a week”. I doing an Ironman next fall and I have limited time to train. Maybe be able to get in 12-13 hours a week max so I’m going to experiment with the higher intensity/shorter duration methods.

    • Agreed. I’ve never really thought that my training took too much time, as I think I’ve always been in the sub-10-hour per week camp. But I have, at times, been disheartened to realize that if I ever want to significantly improve, I’d need to start putting in tons of miles and hours. This book has given me new hope that I might get to the next level by training more effectively, not necessarily longer.

  18. Hey Matt

    An unbelievable book – read it in one sitting! Not surprising though, the same happened with 4HWW and 4HWW 2nd edition!

    Great synopsis you’ve provided and if I hadn’t already bought and read your review would have made me do so instantly.

    I run an alkaline blog which is, of course, vegetarian/vegan so it’s been great to find your site. I’d love to interview you next month as living alkaline and combining this with exercise/strength/endurance stumps a lot of my readers.

    Let me know if you’re keen – you’ve got my email above.

    Cheers buddy, happy 2011!
    Ross

  19. Chris Bellacose says:

    I’ve been looking for this book. I will probably order it from amazon. I want to try the naps… Who doesn’t like naps?

  20. I’m vegetarian (Lacto-ovo, although in Tim’s diet, there is almost no “Lacto”) and I already lost 6 lbs. and 7 total inches in 2 weeks on the diet. It’s not hard to do if you are vegetarian, just requires some slight tweaks of your meal plan.
    Some of the stuff in the book is a bit extreme, and like you said, the more you like to follow the rules, the less benefit you’ll get (I personally prefer to avoid the chemicals he took to accelerate weight loss, but to each his own)

    • Me too; the supplements are a bit of a turnoff, though he does seem pretty upfront about the side effects.

      One place where he’s decidedly pro-lacto is in that testosterone shake with the raw whole milk and raw eggs!

    • Great to hear that vegetarians are doing Tim’s diet and doing well. I’m going to start it, but I’m a little worried about what my meals will actually consist of.

      Any tips on breakfast, lunch and dinner for vegetarians?

      • Albert, what you’d eat depends upon the kind of vegetarian you are. I’m actually a pescatarian, and I also eat dairy and eggs.

        So breakfast is usually two eggs flavored with salsa, soy sauce or herbs. I like a handful of little tomatoes on the side for some freshness and crunch. Or you can saute some vegetables to eat with the eggs.

        Lunch is a big salad with lots of different veggies with beans for protein. I often mash them up and heat them with salsa and do a Mexican-style salad sort of thing. An avocado on top increases protein content.

        Dinner is the same, or vegetable soup. I add beans, lentils and/or nuts for protein.

        Keep in mind that for most people up to three eggs daily is okay for your health. So you can safely add a hard-boiled egg to either lunch or dinner.

        If I get hungry between meals, I snack on some fresh veggies–carrots or whatever–and a few nuts.

        If you find yourself out and about and very hungry, try Chipotle, eliminating the rice, meat and most of the sour cream. I ask for light cheese on my fajita salad and go for extra guacamole–their seems pretty healthy.

        Good luck,
        Sue

  21. I have a copy of the book (hopefully one of the first 100 signed copies) waiting for me in the post office.
    Can’t wait to have it on my hands!
    If this book is half as good as The 4 hour workweek, then it’s going to be outstanding.
    Personally I think I’ll skip the binge day because whenever I start indulging myself I find it very hard to stop, but for the rest I’m ready to test many things from this book!

  22. A major concern for me is that there’s little or anything about post-menopausal women, who are a distinct physiological subset.

  23. That having been said, I’m implementing many of his recommnendations regarding diet and have already consulted an ART practitioner to get rid of persistent shoulder and neck pain.

    4HB is a fascinating book, not only for its tips and tricks but as a window into the outside-the-box outlook of its author.

  24. I just saw this post on Tim’s page and your summary inspired me to get to skip to the Meatless Machine … I was leaving the best for last. Good stuff!
    PS – Please put a like box on your blog posts, so people can like it (like me).

  25. wow great post and tips. I’ve been looking for some books and inspiration to get into the health-circuit again. thanks!

  26. Cinn Fields says:

    I’ve been looking around the web to see what kind of reaction the book is getting from people who know about the different topics it covers. The sex stuff (15 minute orgasm) is what got me to buy The 4-Hour Body. There is some good stuff in those two chapters – useful illustrations and a fairly straightforward approach from his teachers and trainers – but its really just an introduction – I’m guessing this one of the topics in the book he has researched the least.

    If these chapters are an example of Tim’s 80/20 rule – what he thinks is the 20% that produces 80% of the result – then I’d say what is in the book is closer to 10%, not 20% – there is a lot more available for both parties than what he describes. I’m guessing that as Tim’s research continues he’ll eventually wind up looking at the original source of this information. For people who’ve never seen the information Tim is presenting, it’s a fast way to get started on a very very fun journey.

  27. You have to know Tim Ferriss (as in, at least read his other book ‘The Hour Week’) and follow him on his various social network sites, to understand his mind set: – for getting to the heart of a subject, as quickly as possible, with maximum results.

    Having kept an eye on his research and preparation for the book, I’m sure it’s going to be one of the those you can’t put down until it’s read in full, and then going back and underlining specifics things to action.

    I’ve promised not to buy any more books until I’ve read the pile I got…but may make an exception for this one:)

    • That’s exactly the way I would have summarized his mindset. What I like about this stuff and his approach is that he doesn’t spend a lot of time justifying everything with theory, and instead focuses on what gets results.

  28. I have already blazed through the first 200 pages myself over the past few days! Look for my own write up on it soon! Thanks for sharing!

  29. Great post! I too dove right into this book over the New Year’s holiday and could NOT put it down! I recently became a vegetarian to much dismay of most my family and friends, however it has proved to be a great change in my life for more than one reason…I am also a marathon runner that has intentions to break a 4-hour marathon, and after 10 tries have still not done it. I believe it is possible with a few SIMPLE changes.

    I love reading about other people who share similar values, life choices and ideas around diet and fitness and can apply them to daily life in an understandable manner. I agree…this book rocks, and I cannot wait to get through the rest.

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I too am setting the stage to review the book as I travel along my own journey of what I consider a “practical crash course in how to reinvent yourself.”

    • Maybe the next “4 Hour” book Tim will write will be 4-Hour Marathon! Seriously, don’t give up on it. I expect you’ll find that going vegetarian significantly helps you with speed, weight loss, and recovery time. It did for me and I qualified for Boston 6 months after I went vegetarian, after trying unsuccessfully for 7 years!

  30. A very good vegetarian recipe which I believe that everyone should try, the recipe is found at this link http://fourgreensteps.com/community/recipes/vegetable-a-side-dishes/vegetarian-cabbage-kimchi. You should definitely try it especially when you love Korean food!!

  31. Okay, you’ve piqued my interest – this book sounds like my kind of read.

    Although I’ve tried the massive binging – and I definitely still eat normally in the days that follow rather than less. Boo.

  32. Great review. I like the term “empiricist” after all, isn’t that what matters. I participated in a TV segment for Nightline/Nightline prime about fad diets and when I tweeted about it, everyone wanted to know my thoughts on this book. I hadn’t read it and assumed it was similar to the others out there. I will read it thought I’m not a napper and hated ice baths more than anyone. Great post and Happy New Year.

  33. The protein intake every 3 hours seems bizarre in that it makes fat percentage go down to under 10%? It goes against current protein requirements of about 1 gram per kilogram of body weight. For 100 lb person then it is about 50 grams per day. Even this seems high as a recommendation. Most clients find the 30 gram protein shakes supply them with enough. But the book recommends doing the isolate whey protein every 3 hours along with nuts. Pretty bizarre that this excess protein (calories) doesn’t just get converted to fat.

  34. Matt did you decide to do any supplementation after reading this?

  35. can tim’s 4 hr body work for vegans?

  36. I’ve read most of the chapters on the 4 Hour Body (at least the ones that interested me) and although most information is great i also disagree with some recommendations like those exaggerated binge days.
    I think we can’t forget that Tim still is a healthy guy, but I’m not sure how the enormous insulin production after the binge would work for someone whose liver is not that healthy.

  37. My husband and I were completely impressed with this book! We are now a 4 hour body couple for a few months now, and the results have been amazing…we started in already good shape and with a healthy diet (vegan), but we gave it a try. What we discovered is that we believe we were protein starved. I wanted more muscle, and I got it! The whole binge day is not all that crazy, we are health conscious every day, so the biggest binge is sweetener in our coffee and fruit..seriously. There is alot of info in the book! Some really great exercises we had never tried … kettle bells are the best workout ever! We are working out less and getting better results. LOVE THIS BOOK! It may not be for everyone, but it is worth reading and maybe learning a little something more about nutrition, health, and exercise.

    • I’m a vegan as well and came to this post looking for meal suggestions. I am on my fourth week and haven’t dropped as much weight as I was hoping to. What are your typical meals? I’m especially interested in what you use for protein. Thanks!

  38. Ok, I’m very intrigued by this book. I was a beginning runner and ran for about a year, did some 5ks and an 8k, and a mud run. Then, about 6 weeks ago I hurt my knee and was sidelined and i am now ready to get back in to running. I am female, 52 years old and have always been interested in fitness and improving my eating habits. I was considering become vegetarian (ovo-lacto) for weight loss and to improve the way I feel and look. Is this book too extreme for the “average” individual?

    • I am a very average individual, not an athlete, and so far I’ve found the dietary changes very easy to implement, and not in the least extreme. The most helpful “rule” for me was to design 3-4 meals and then rotate through them. So my meals consist of beans, vegetables, and a protein–usually eggs or chicken. I use salsa, spices, onions, garlic, and guacamole for flavor. It’s easy, it’s streamlined, and I enjoy the food. The binge day isn’t much of an issue–it’s become the day I set aside for a meal out, or maybe pizza.

      I have 3 kids and I work, and with my limited time the book’s approach has been a real blessing. I’ve lost 10 lbs in 5 weeks, and I’m thrilled. No, it’s not the dramatic results some describe, but it’s a really big deal for me. I’ve been fighting my weight for several years with very little success, and this is the first approach that really works for me. I’m also using kettleballs and am now slowly getting into running.

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