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2009-11-09 3:14 PM

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Subject: Reverse Altitude Question, What to expect?
So I looked through a bunch of old threads trying to find this and didn't see anything.  I saw a ton of things about what to expect when you move from low altitude to high altitude and how that effects your s/b/r performance.

I've been living in Colorado for the past 5+ years basically, but most of that doesn't matter, for the past 2 1/2 years I've been in the Denver area, so around 5k ft give or take a few hundred.  I started training a year ago and did my first HIM a few months back (5:39 total with a 2:16 run).  I've since been heavy on my running for the past 2+ months, averaging 25miles/week (I only recently started using the BT logs like I should).  This past Saturday I was feeling good, did a 15mile bike ride to a friends place at decent speed (~17mph) which was slow enough that I could eat my morning bagel while relaxing on the aerobars on the way there.  10 minutes later I went out to run with them and helped pace them at 9minute miles for 9 miles (averaged 9:03, relatively flat route but still had a few hills that slowed the pace to 9:30 for that mile).  We had timed it so that we met up with a running group and went running with them within 10 minutes of stopping.  I proceeded to run another 4.2 miles... with the first 3miles around 8:30pace, but the last mile dropped to 9:45).  Went and had a good breakfast with the group, and then a smaller group of us met up on our bikes and went and did a 35mile ride, averaging a slower 16mph speed, but no drafting going on since we were on rec paths.

So with that day, my 13.1mile mark of running yielded me a 1:58 time... which technically beats my PR of 2:04 from 2003 back when I used to smoke cigarettes.

I'm traveling to Jersey to see a bunch of old college friends and some family this coming weekend.  So I figured what the hell... and I signed up for the Atlantic City half marathon this Sunday.  This course is dead flat at like 10ft above sea level.  My half mary in 2003 was extremely similar to this one and was done an hour north of AC in Seaside... also dead flat and 10ft elevation where I did the 2:04 when I lived in Jersey.


So I know I can go do a sub 2 hour half mary in altitude, especially if it's a race considering what I did this past weekend.  But I have no idea what to expect at sea level.  I'm not sure if I should try to do the first 6.55miles at 8:30 pace... or at 8:00?  I don't want to start off too slow only to find that I have WAY too much reserve energy and not enough speed to make up that difference.

What have others seen when they've lived in elevation and then went to a race similar to this.  How big of a performance gain can I expect?  I know it'll be a PR already, but we always want to do our best and leave it all out there on the course when we can.


2009-11-09 3:40 PM
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Subject: RE: Reverse Altitude Question, What to expect?
You're body can't tell the difference in pressures short of equalizing your ears.  The difference us low-landers feel when we come up high is the physically decreased amount of oxygen per breath.  Our blood doesn't absorb as much oxygen as we normally do, so we weaken and slow down.

For the opposite - there's no loss from a poor blood mix - you have more red blood cells than us.  Your body will have at least as much oxygen as it usually does, and you probably won't feel any different.  You will be slower on the bike, just because of the increased wind resistance - but you're not asking about cycling.

In sort, going down in altitude doesn't hurt. 
2009-11-09 3:57 PM
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Subject: RE: Reverse Altitude Question, What to expect?
I wouldn't expect coming down in altitude to hurt.  I'd expect it to be just the opposite actually.  That running a 9 minute mile pace for 13.1miles there will feel easier than it does here.  Because of the higher efficiency of transporting oxygen to the muscles and brain the same RPE should result in being faster... but how much?
2009-11-09 4:10 PM
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Subject: RE: Reverse Altitude Question, What to expect?
When visitors from Colorado come and run with me in Kansas, they've said "there is TOO MUCH air" - which is not necessarily a bad thing. My guess is that your pace will feel easier than normal.
2009-11-09 4:22 PM
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Subject: RE: Reverse Altitude Question, What to expect?
The tricky part is it'll be so easy to breathe that you may go out way too fast.  I was visiting my mom in Indiana this summer and after 2 rides at approx. sea level I could barely walk since my effort at elevation is always limited by my breathing, and I had no idea how hard I was working my legs with O2 in the air.

Sorry, I have no idea what % difference you'll see in your time, but maybe start out at Denver race pace and pick it up after a bit if your legs are feeling good.

Enjoy the race!  I'm looking forward to racing at sea level someday
2009-11-09 5:22 PM
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Subject: RE: Reverse Altitude Question, What to expect?

This is anecdotal, but for what its worth, I've read some athletes complaining about feeling "flat" racing at lower altitudes. I raced with some folks from Utah, who were expecting to be like supermen at the sea level Catalina course and they got creamed. I would chalk it up to lack of experience leading to unrealistic expectations.

Good luck in your race.



2009-11-09 8:18 PM
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Subject: RE: Reverse Altitude Question, What to expect?
Broompatrol - 2009-11-09 4:22 PM

This is anecdotal, but for what its worth, I've read some athletes complaining about feeling "flat" racing at lower altitudes. I raced with some folks from Utah, who were expecting to be like supermen at the sea level Catalina course and they got creamed. I would chalk it up to lack of experience leading to unrealistic expectations.

Good luck in your race.



Well, depending where in Utah they live they very well could be lower than we are here in the Denver area.  SLC is a full 1000 feet lower. 

Zion, I'm heading to Ft. Myers Beach in a couple of weeks and will be very interested to see how this affects me.  I have exercise induced asthma so I really feel the lack of oxygen here.  Please report back on how your 1/2 mary goes.
2009-11-09 9:44 PM
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Subject: RE: Reverse Altitude Question, What to expect?
zionvier - 2009-11-09 2:14 PM
What have others seen when they've lived in elevation and then went to a race similar to this.  How big of a performance gain can I expect? 


I train at 9,600 feet so my situation is different but it's all I know. When I race at sea level, I schedule the trip so that I race within the first two days. The difference is tremendous. I physically cannot push my muscles hard enough to get significantly out-of-breath.

In my last tri (Dallas,TX) I pretty much loafed the bike because my swim was horrible and due to an injury I couldn't get my wetsuit off so I had a 5+ minute T1. Plus, the whole ride was against the wind and it was pouring rain so I just kinda gave up and cruised it. I wasn't even close to out-of-breath. On the 10k run I was running as hard as I could and fast enough to where my thighs were pounding in muscle pain (and very sore the next day). But I was still not out-of-breath really at all. The pain in my legs limited my ability to go any faster.

On the run compared to sea level, I think the same effort for me here is about 30 seconds per mile slower.

On the bike, I think on flat terrain it's about break-even with ease of breathing canceling out the thicker air. But at sea level it's much easier to eat/drink. Here, even when riding at an easy effort it's difficult to eat/drink because I miss out on a breath and it's difficult to catch up. Climbing is much easier/faster at sea level. Climbing a sustained 8% average grade here is pretty brutal but in San Diego it is very easy for me and much faster.

In terms of how to pace, if I were you I'd go out at the same breathing RPE that you'd normally do in the race in Denver. It will be a faster pace but since you routinely run the distance you should have a good chance of holding the pace to the end.

ETA:
I don't have any opinion on how the reverse altitude effects my swim because I've been injured so much since March in my upper body that I haven't been able to swim much. So my swim is all messed up.

Edited by breckview 2009-11-09 10:02 PM
2009-11-10 12:30 AM
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Subject: RE: Reverse Altitude Question, What to expect?
I live in Estes Park every July & August, plenty of time to get fully acclimatized. Then I return to 1200 feet and immediately resume racing.

I am always frustrated that when I return, I am no faster than when I left, but at sub maximal paces I feel like I can go forever.

When you are at altitude, the decreased O2 pressure does not allow you to exercise at as high of an intensity as you can when you have more O2 flowing to your muscles. So you never get an opportunity to train at intensities that you can easily reach at sea level.

My guess is that you will complete hte HIM with much more ease, but possibly not much faster than at altitude. You should be somewhat faster, but you don't speed up as much when you come down as you slow down when you go up. (hope that made sense).

My experience is liek Breckview's...I cannot work hard enough to make my legs hurt when I return form altitude. But i'm no faster than when I left.
2009-11-10 6:52 AM
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Subject: RE: Reverse Altitude Question, What to expect?

My best runs/PRs have come from when I visit sea level.  As some have said, you still need to pace yourself.  Your HR will be lower and you will feel like you can go forever.  Watch out for cramping and hydrate normally.  You should be able to knock about 15-30 seconds per mile from your time.  For a half, that equates to 5-10 minutes.  Just make sure you don't blow up from muscle fatigue.

Have fun!!!

2009-11-10 9:53 AM
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Subject: RE: Reverse Altitude Question, What to expect?
AdventureBear - 2009-11-09 11:30 PM
I live in Estes Park every July & August, plenty of time to get fully acclimatized.

I don't know the medical specifics nor do I care but I don't think you'd find any locals at 9600' who would think two months is enough time to "fully acclimatize" to this altitude. It took me at least six months before I stopped waking up in the middle of the night thinking I was suffocating. And after 12 years here it's still not like I remember training when I was younger in Dallas. I am almost always out-of-breath during training even at an easy effort. I've had to train myself to eat/drink on the bike but never miss a breath because if I miss one breath, it's difficult to catch back up. I know how to do it but it takes a conscious effort to become "comfortable" again.

But of course, the 7200' at Estes Park is obviously going to be much different about which I'd have no idea.

My experience is liek Breckview's...I cannot work hard enough to make my legs hurt when I return form altitude. But i'm no faster than when I left.

My experience was actually the opposite of what you wrote above. I can't make my lungs hurt but my legs muscles are my weak link and so when pushing a hard run effort my legs hurt bad and limit my speed. I don't know about the bike yet because I've yet to push a hard time trial effort at sea level but I'm hoping to do some in 2010.


2009-11-10 11:06 AM
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Subject: RE: Reverse Altitude Question, What to expect?
I live/tain at 4500 feet.  I often race at 0 to 1000 feet.  I find around a 10 second per mile bonus by racing at lower altitude.  It screws up your breathing a bit as you tend to breath at the same rate, but have thicker air.  It won't screw up your workout, it just feels different.  If you are at low altitude for a week or so and come back up it will suck for around 10-11 days with no stamina. 

So basically you get a little more stamina and a small but measurable pace increase by dropping 4-5000 feet elevation.  At least that is what I have found. 
2009-11-10 10:21 PM
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Subject: RE: Reverse Altitude Question, What to expect?
breckview - 2009-11-10 8:53 AM

AdventureBear - 2009-11-09 11:30 PM
I live in Estes Park every July & August, plenty of time to get fully acclimatized.

I don't know the medical specifics nor do I care


Then I wont bother to expand, but 2 months is more than adequate to acclimatize to altitude. Physiologic adaptations to endurance training occur over a lifetime, whether you are training at altitude or not.


But of course, the 7200' at Estes Park is obviously going to be much different about which I'd have no idea.

7522' is the official altitude at Estes. But you are correct, the ~2000' difference btwn Estes & Breckenridge is much more difficult to deal with than the ~2000 difference between Denver/Boulder and Estes. i.e. the higher you go, the more difficult it is to adjust to (but physiologic acclimatization occurs regardless in roughly the same time course)

My experience is liek Breckview's...I cannot work hard enough to make my legs hurt when I return form altitude. But i'm no faster than when I left.

My experience was actually the opposite of what you wrote above. I can't make my lungs hurt but my legs muscles are my weak link and so when pushing a hard run effort my legs hurt bad and limit my speed. I don't know about the bike yet because I've yet to push a hard time trial effort at sea level but I'm hoping to do some in 2010.


I was basing my comparison on your earlier comment which I must have misunderstood.
I physically cannot push my muscles hard enough to get significantly out-of-breath.




2009-11-11 10:21 AM
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Subject: RE: Reverse Altitude Question, What to expect?
AdventureBear - 2009-11-10 9:21 PM
i.e. the higher you go, the more difficult it is to adjust to (but physiologic acclimatization occurs regardless in roughly the same time course)

That's great news! I'll be sure to tell my climbing buds heading to Everest next Spring that, "two months is plenty of time to get fully acclimatized" to Everest base camp.
2009-11-11 10:38 AM
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Subject: RE: Reverse Altitude Question, What to expect?

As far as advantage of training at altitude and racing at sea level, yes, there is a big advantage for most.  why do you think so many elite runner's train in Colorado.  that being said, I don't feel it has been much of an advantage for me.  The only run distance I have raced at sea level is a marathon or IM.  I tend to not do well with humidity.  Probably would not be as bad on a shorter distance.  But overall, most runner's will see some advantage training at altitude and racing at sea level. 

2009-11-11 11:29 AM
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Subject: RE: Reverse Altitude Question, What to expect?
As an added bonus, you'll be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.


2009-11-11 11:36 AM
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Subject: RE: Reverse Altitude Question, What to expect?
breckview - 2009-11-09 9:44 PM
I train at 9,600 feet so my situation is different but it's all I know. When I race at sea level, I schedule the trip so that I race within the first two days. The difference is tremendous. I physically cannot push my muscles hard enough to get significantly out-of-breath.


Which actually highlights the issue's AGAINST altitude training. The lower concentration of oxygen deprives the muscle of fuel and makes it harder to tarin at very high intensities relative to wjhat can be accomplished at sea level.
2009-11-11 12:08 PM
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Subject: RE: Reverse Altitude Question, What to expect?
bryancd - 2009-11-11 10:36 AM
breckview - 2009-11-09 9:44 PM
I train at 9,600 feet so my situation is different but it's all I know. When I race at sea level, I schedule the trip so that I race within the first two days. The difference is tremendous. I physically cannot push my muscles hard enough to get significantly out-of-breath.

Which actually highlights the issue's AGAINST altitude training. The lower concentration of oxygen deprives the muscle of fuel and makes it harder to tarin at very high intensities relative to wjhat can be accomplished at sea level.


Yes, I totally agree. There is no way I can train running and especially swimming as high intensity as I'd like and I think it shows in my results. I already push the run a little hard every now and then and have to sit down (or fall down unconscious). For some reason, cycling appears different (maybe just because I like it so much). Besides not being able to eat/drink because if I miss one breath I'm screwed, I can push the bike pretty hard here.

But what confuses me is that it appears that many modern training philosophies do not advocate training at a high intensity very often which would seem to turn altitude training for those truly acclimatized into mostly positive. Honestly, I don't really know but I tend to think that for very high level athletes that might tend to train at high intensities often, training at altitude would definitely be a BIG negative (sleep high/train low). For others, I'm not so sure.

And, then there's cycling. I'm not sure if Lance trains here because he likes it here and feels safer (probably), or if he thinks there's some advantage above just doing the pre-race legal doping thing, and beyond just "mountains" of which there are plenty to choose from at low altitudes . Maybe he thinks that the heat of Austin limits his ability to push hard training intensities as well.
2009-11-11 12:36 PM
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Subject: RE: Reverse Altitude Question, What to expect?
So reading all of this on top of some other googling, I'm starting to think it would be good to live at 5k feet, and do your tempo and hard hill training here.  Go to 8k+ for long runs and try to get as back down to low elevation when you do your speed work.  That way when you go to do your speed workouts it's not your lungs or heart that are burning and instead your muscles.

Sounds kind of like what the pros do honestly.  They seem to all live in Boulder, but they constantly race in other locations which are typically much lower altitude.  So they are in effect getting their high intensity/speed workouts in at low altitude when they do that.
2009-11-11 1:24 PM
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Subject: RE: Reverse Altitude Question, What to expect?
I also have issues when I go to sea level with the humidity (which we don't really have here in Denver.) It is easier to breathe, but I have to pay attention to how much I am drinking as I feel like I sweat WAY more. My lungs also feel very heavy.
2009-11-11 11:23 PM
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Subject: RE: Reverse Altitude Question, What to expect?
zionvier - 2009-11-11 11:36 AM

So reading all of this on top of some other googling, I'm starting to think it would be good to live at 5k feet, and do your tempo and hard hill training here.  Go to 8k+ for long runs and try to get as back down to low elevation when you do your speed work.  That way when you go to do your speed workouts it's not your lungs or heart that are burning and instead your muscles.

Sounds kind of like what the pros do honestly.  They seem to all live in Boulder, but they constantly race in other locations which are typically much lower altitude.  So they are in effect getting their high intensity/speed workouts in at low altitude when they do that.


I have a different theory about why Boulder seems to produce so many amazing athletes. Opportunity. Boulder is an incredible location for endurance training. Go north, south or east and you have hundreds of miles of flat low traffic areas to ride and run. Turn west and you have hills of any length you want for sustained endurance climbing of 20 miles or more. In Pittsburgh, I'm lucky to climb for more than 5 minutes at a stretch.

The weather in Boulder (the whole front range) is also great for training. Even in the dead of winter there will be plenty of 40-60 degree sunny days for outdoor training.

Third is the fact that you would have to live in a hole in the ground to not have any number of training partners to choose from at any given moment.

Finally, Boulder is a mecca. Many people are imports and moved to Boulder because of their love (and usually skill/speed/proficiency) in endurance sports (or climbing). So there is a disproportionate amount of great athletes there.

Physiologically speaking, training at 8000 feet will benefit you if you plan on racing at 8000 feet, but the reason you see so many pros do it in that area isn't because of the altitide specifically, it is because it's beautiful, it's more interesting than heading east, and it's a badge of honor. Even pros, olympians and tour de france riders enjoy talking about their rides up to Trail Ridge Road or Devil's Gulch through Glenhaven.

The Olympic hopefuls living and training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs do a lot of supplemental oxygen workouts so that they can workout at higher intensities than they can otherwise do at that altititude.

For mountaineering trips, the mantra is climb high, sleep low (for short term acclimitization in order to summit high peaks) But for endurance training, the mantra is train low, sleep high (to take advantage of the endurance benefits of low oxygen pressure exposure, but still reap the benefits of high intensity training at lower altitudes). That's the reason for the "oxygen tents" that are marketed for endurance athletes...they allow you to "sleep high" by creating a low oxygen environment.


2009-11-12 10:05 AM
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Subject: RE: Reverse Altitude Question, What to expect?
AdventureBear - 2009-11-11 10:23 PM
I have a different theory about why Boulder seems to produce so many amazing athletes...

Yeah, I agree with most all of that. I don't think it has anything to do with altitude training or access to coaching except maybe at ther very highest pro level. Colorado generally attacts certain type of people. One of those groups are those of us who make outdoor activities their lifestyle. While Boulder has a lot of triathletes, every resort town in Colorado is populated with people whose life resolves around outdoor activity instead career.

For mountaineering trips, the mantra is climb high, sleep low (for short term acclimitization in order to summit high peaks)..

In expedition-style ascents you generally want to climb high and spend as much time as your body can handle there (like 1-2 nights), then descend to recover.
2009-11-13 1:08 PM
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Subject: RE: Reverse Altitude Question, What to expect?
I live and train in the Springs. Last year, I flew down to DC to run the Army 10 miler w/ friends from around the country.

I thought I would set a PR, but that didn't happen at all.

My legs felt so heavy but I could never get winded. I talked through the entire 10 miles (how annoying for my friends who were huffing and puffing near me), but my legs just weren' t into it. 

I have no idea why, but I just felt flat.
2009-11-14 9:51 AM
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Subject: RE: Reverse Altitude Question, What to expect?
LaurenCO - 2009-11-13 1:08 PM I live and train in the Springs.


I'll be back in the Springs in February and I'm looking for some people to train with.  Do you have a group?
2009-11-16 1:50 PM
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Subject: RE: Reverse Altitude Question, What to expect?
COSkiGirl - 2009-11-09 7:18 PM
Zion, I'm heading to Ft. Myers Beach in a couple of weeks and will be very interested to see how this affects me.  I have exercise induced asthma so I really feel the lack of oxygen here.  Please report back on how your 1/2 mary goes.


So here's the gist of how my race went yesterday (Sunday).  Hurricane Ida had turned into a noreaster and was hanging out all weekend.  Massive amounts of rain, flooding of roads on the coast of Jersey, strong winds blowing the sand off the beach and onto the streets.  Luckily that all ended and Sunday was 65 degrees, some cloud cover, and the typical 100% humidity.  The race was in Atlantic City on the boardwalk, so it was dead flat, the biggest "hill" was the ramps getting down and up onto the boardwalk to the street.  The wood boardwalk made it easy on the legs though, but there was 0 water stations until mile 6.

I had my plan... negative splits, start out at 8:30, drop to 8:00 until mile 7, then drop into the 7s.  I think I judged my fitness perfectly in the end, but like aways I started out faster than I expected, but I let it go since I felt so good.  My first 6 miles of splits were: 8:04, 8:04, 7:58, 7:57, 8:03, 8:00.  My plan was two 8:30 miles followed by 4 8:00 miles.  So I started out faster, but kept that pace and waited until after mile 6 to re-evaluate how I felt.  So at mile 7 I slowly started picking the pace up and had the following splits: 7:56, 7:40, 7:34, 7:37, 7:35, 7:48, 7:27.  The last .1 was down near 6:40 pace, but that's of course because of the finish line being visible and wanting to look good for the crowd.

So I executed my plan pretty well, went slightly faster than my plan in some miles based on how I felt, mile 12 took a little hit, but nothing serious.  As for how I felt.  Breathing was comfortable, definitely not stressed or anything.  My heart rate averaged 166bpm over the entire run, which is pretty normal for where I train at.  The second half being a few bpm higher than the first half, but only by ~3bpm.  It did feel as though my leg muscles were my limiting factor physically.  I can NOT say that is caused by the lack of oxygen in Denver preventing me from training at a higher intensity though.  Because I still consider myself building a base and haven't began to do higher intensity interval sets.

The pace I ran for the entire 13.1 was ~30seconds/mile faster than what I typically run a 5 mile training run with a similar HR average with a slightly higher level of effort in regards to my breathing.  So with the added excitement of it being a 'race' makes it impossible to quantify values.  But I don't feel I've pushed my limit here in Denver to the point that lack of oxygen is preventing me from training at the needed higher intensity yet.  But I do believe that at some point, when I begin doing intervals on a more regular basis, that it will become the limiting factor.

I ran 13.1 in 1:58 (PR) a week before in practice, plus biked an easy 15miles before and 35miles after that day.  My race on Sunday was a 1:43:04.  A new PR I'm happy with for now... but I have the Sedona half in February at ~4k ft.  I'm sure it's got more hills, but if I can't at least do as well or better after another 3 1/2 months of training I'll say altitude was a big factor.
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