2019 in Review (Run Report #170)

College Park parkrun #170 was our final event of 2019. So we’re going with a bit of a different report for this week. We have a summary of some highlights from the year, in numbers and in stories. Then some reflections on how the community is developing. And finally some brief highlights from the December 28th, 2019 event. This is a long one, but worth it.

And if you prefer pictures to words, you can just go direct to our photo albums page.

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2019 in Numbers

54 events organized. That’s 52 Saturdays plus New Years and Thanksgiving. With zero cancellations. This was the first year that we never needed to cancel.

7,074 finishers. That’s 24% more than in 2018. There were 100+ community members walking, running, or volunteering on the trail almost every single week, in all weathers.

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The two smallest weeks, in February (snow) and December (rain) still saw around 70 finishers. And there is extra fun on those quieter days when we are running or walking through snow or puddles with friends.

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The two non-Saturday events both saw record attendances. On New Years Day we were unprepared for the 243 finishers, as we brought along too few finish tokens. So we quickly sorted the first set of finisher tokens for ‘recycling’. On Thanksgiving we were ready for the 249 finishers. And we will definitely be ready for a sizable crowd on NYD 2020. For more on the NYD event, see our New Years Day 2020 blog post.

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173 different community members volunteered a total of 824 times to put on the 54 free events. It’s obvious that the success of the event depends on there being enough people to cover the various roles each week. But it’s just as valuable that so many different people volunteer. Both the sheer number of people, and the diversity. We really like that the person who is leading the event in any given week could be somebody who zips around in 17 minutes, or somebody who is normally finishes in 50+ minutes.

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We celebrated a lot of milestones in 2019, and so more and more people could be seen on the trail each week wearing a free, white (10), red (50), black (100), or purple (25 volunteerings) shirt.

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For our 3rd birthday, in mid October, we decorated cakes with a flag for everybody who had earned a free shirt so far. We surprised ourselves at how many there were, and how many cakes we filled. At that time we needed 141 flags. And by our estimate another 18 milestones have been reached since then.

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As of the end of 2019, 11 people have completed CP parkrun 100+ times, there are 67 50-timers, 158 25-timers, 383 10-timers, and 668 5-timers. At least 2,600 different people have taken part at some time or another since we started in late 2016, completing 17,358 5Ks at a total cost of $0.

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A couple of notable milestones were reached 2019:

In November Xander and Tara Mease completed their 100th runs. For Xander this came just a couple of weeks after reaching the ripe old age of 7.

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In July Mike McClellan wore the red 50 sash. He came within a couple of weeks of being the first octogenarian in the US to join the 50 club. He then took some time off for surgery, but was back to the trail, as a walker by later in the year, and often volunteered when he was unable to run. Now, at the end of the year, Bonnie McClellan is about to join Mike as a 50-timer, just a few weeks shy of turning 80 herself. These two are so inspiring!

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Also in November, Duane Rosenberg became the first elected official in the country to earn a black 100 parkrun shirt. Duane is mayor of New Carrollton. Not too far behind him is College Park mayor Patrick Wojahn. We are so fortunate to have these local leaders supporting our healthy community.

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Former mayor Andy Fellows, mayor Patrick Wojahn, and mayor Duane Rosenberg

Another distinction for Duane: he is the one person who completed ALL 54 CP parkruns in 2019. That’s impressive!

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Lisa Wilson completed 53 CP parkruns, and she also volunteered 53 times in 2019. Since she always finishes with the tailwalker, we are fairly confident that Lisa spent more time doing a parkrun than anybody else on the continent in 2019.

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John Ramsey also completed 51 parkruns in 2019, including 3 as a tourist. He was injured for a while, so he also joined us a couple of times as a volunteer when he was unable to run.

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The fourth member of our community to complete 50 parkruns in 2019 was Gus Campbell, who calls both College Park and Leakin Park parkruns home. In 2019 he finished 24 times at College Park, 22 at Leakin Park, and 4 more at other DMV events. And on two more weekends he was a volunteer. Frank Filteau also joined us 50 times: 49 as a runner, and one as a volunteer.

2019 in Stories

The numbers are impressive, but the stories are even more compelling. Here are just a few of our favorites from 2019.

We started January with our now traditional New Years Double parkrun, welcoming an amazing 243 finishers to the trail, with 43 having started the day either at Kensington parkrun or Leakin Park parkrun. 1/1/19 also marked the debut of our new “patronus board” featuring a terrapin, of course. It has graced many milestones throughout 2019.

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Paul and Mary Wester on leg #1 of their New Year's Double at Kensington parkrun

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Leakin Park parkrunners at our New Year's parkrun 2019

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In January we barely recognized the crowd of parkrunners who gathered in non-running clothing at The Hotel at UMD to receive the Chair’s Award from the College Park Community Foundation. Later in the year we were also honored to be nominated for a statewide award. Although we didn’t win that one, the nomination was greatly appreciated.

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They scrub up well!

Also in January, we grew alarmed as the Paint Branch Trail was literally disappearing into the Paint Branch stream, due to erosion from the many storms of 2018. We are grateful to MNCPPC, and also to Lisa Wilson, for helping to ensure that we could keep going ahead while the trail was under repair, and for the fact that the repairs came so very quickly.

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In February, on the snowiest day of the year, we celebrated a special quadruple milestone. On the same day, members of the Ridge family earned a white 10 shirt (Calvin), a red 50 shirt (Violet), a purple V25 shirt (Clark), and a black 100 shirt (Clark). Big thanks are due to Lily Ridge for coordinating an amazing cake, and to Felix Ridge for helping to create this great scene of Clark pushing a stroller through the snow.

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Also in February we welcomed Rebecca White to our community. First time out, Rebecca was able to walk a mile before turning back. Next time out she made it the whole way. She has finished or volunteered over 30 times by now. We admire Rebecca for having the courage to come join a group that has “run” in the title. And we are also proud of the many community members who have reinforced the message that EVERYBODY counts at CP parkrun, whatever their speed or fitness level. In fact, Rebecca was the one person in 3 years who led Hump to leave his marshal spot to walk the trail, as a show of support.

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One more thing in February: I had an unexpected opportunity to give a talk about the “special sauce” behind CP parkrun at the Active Living Research Conference in Charleston, SC, thanks to support from Brit Saksvig of UMD’s School of Public Health. It was so interesting to spend a couple of days mixing with people who spend their lives thinking about how to get people more active. We can learn from them, and they can also learn from our success story. One thing that was clear from this experience: CP parkrun is a successful community health initiative, and there is much interest in learning from what we all continue to do as a community.

In March we were moved by the story of one of the slowest finishers of the year. It was apparent to the tailwalker that this young woman was working hard to get around the course, but it was not clear why. The reason became clear when, shortly before Hump’s Crossing on the return, she sat down and removed both of her legs. This was somebody who had lost both legs and had recently received prosthetic limbs, and was determined to show that she could complete a 5K. It was humbling and inspiring.

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In April we teamed up with UMD and Prince George’s Parks again for Good Neighbor Day, planting trees and cleaning up the trail. Between the cleanup and the various trail renovations, we are confident that we finish 2019 with a trail that is in better shape than at the start of the year.

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In May -- well, we’re not really sure when it happened -- we got a nice upgrade to our start/finish area. One day, Joel Goldberg showed up with some tools and started digging in the dirt. He had seen us struggling to set up our flag when the ground was hard. So he designed and installed a permanent flag holder for us. Normally invisible, but perfectly positioned to mark the start/finish line. Thanks, Joel!

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Also in May we welcomed one of our favorite parkrun costumes of the year. On May 4th (“May the fourth be with you!”) Fiona Sisan completed by far her longest ever run, dressed as Rey, a young Jedi. We almost melted.

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In June we bid farewell to Nick Huang, part of the founding team of CP parkrun. Nick’s last parkrun as a local came the day after he defended his PhD at UMD, and just a few days before his wedding. So he had a lot going on. We were very happy when Nick joined us again, together with his wife Jessica and her family for our Thanksgiving event, wearing the College Park parkrun apricot shirt that we gave him as a going away gift.

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Also in June we teamed up with many different local groups as part of the first Trolley Trail Day, a day long celebration of local community connections. Some members of our community coordinated a Trolley Trail Run, that started at Acredale Park right after CP parkrun, and followed trails to end 6K later next to Franklins Brewery in Hyattsville. We enjoyed a nice alternative spot for results processing and "coffee" that day!

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In July we came very close to canceling on 7/20, due to an extreme heatwave that covered the eastern US. We were able to go ahead thanks to some excellent brainstorming among DMV area parkrun teams, which allowed us to implement various measures to ensure safety. Foremost among these was the temporary abolition of PBs. Instead, we encouraged everybody to try for a Personal Worst (PW) time, and a lot of people were successful.

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Clark Ridge got to ring the Personal Worst bell on July 20th

Also in July we put a red 50 sash on Ken Leonard AND on the original CP barkrunner, Scout. They reached this milestone one week before Ken left for a year working in Ghana. Scout is still in College Park, but missing her running buddy. We look forward to welcoming them both back to CP parkrun sometime later in 2020.

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In August we welcomed a delegation of Scouts. The UMD campus was temporarily overrun with thousands of scouts from the UK Delegation to the World Scouting Jamboree, and some of them couldn’t resist squeezing in an extra parkrun while in the DC area. And yes, of course they were punctual, and of course they helped us to set things up at the park.

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At the end of August we saw our largest ‘regular’ Saturday parkrun of the year, on a day when we welcomed two sets of guests. First, the boys of DeMatha HS cross-country team. Second, the first responders of College Park VFD, who gave quick tutorials on CPR basics.

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In September I got to be a proud son for a day as Kath Phillips, my mom, completed her first ever 5K with us, at age 76 and with the help of two new knees. As the most regular reader of our run reports (trust me - if there are typos, I hear about it!), she knew that it would be a welcoming setting for a walker. And she was right, of course! (… And she was not going to be outdone by my mother-in-law, Lois Zukowski, who a year ago had completed CP parkrun on her 84th birthday.)

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Also in September we again had the busiest Saturday of the year at Acredale Park, thanks to the annual Muggle Quidditch Tournament. Although UMD may not be especially distinguished in football, it turns out that the Quidditch team is formidable.

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In October we made an operational change that might be invisible to most, but that has made the volunteering experience easier. We have ditched the scanners and stopwatches that we used at CP parkrun for the first 3 years, and now we rely exclusively on smartphone based apps. It helps a lot.

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Also in October we had an especially busy morning at The Board and Brew as we hosted the second meeting of the parkrun USA Ambassadors team, for a weekend spent planning the future of parkrun in the United States. The growth of CP parkrun since early 2016 has gone hand in hand with the growth of parkrun communities across the country. The number of finishers and volunteers across the country grew from 8,400 in 2015 to 105,300 in 2019. That’s about 90% growth every year. Andrea and I are very happy to have played key roles in this growth. Many other communities have been curious to know what has worked so well in College Park. But we’re equally happy to be focusing our attention on the College Park community in 2020, stepping back from our roles in nationwide development.

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In October, one week after celebrating our third birthday, we had one day with SIX milestones to celebrate. We were super happy when Steve and Cindy Feld told us that they would be joining us that day. They were regular runners and core team members at College Park before retiring to North Carolina at the start of 2019. Steve wanted to do his 100th parkrun in College Park, the place where he had done his first, on Christmas Eve 2016. Then it came as a bonus when we learned that Cindy would be reaching the 25-time volunteer milestone on the same day.

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One more thing in October, we were happy to see a great feature in The Diamondback (UMD student newspaper) about CP parkrun. It captures a lot of what we enjoy about this community.

It's like a family: How College Park's weekly 5K has brought the community together

In November we saw our busiest month ever, with *six* events in total, including our super-sized Thanksgiving event. For one day only, CP parkrun was the largest parkrun event in the whole world. We even had visitors join us from Sydney, Australia and London, UK for the fun. And with The Board and Brew closed, we enjoyed a coffee and a bagel down the street at Bagels ‘n Grinds.

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In November a big day for Andrea and me was the day when Zoe Phillips reached the 10-parkrun milestone AND the 25-time volunteering milestone on the same day. For most of the past 4 years since we started Saturday morning meetups Zoe preferred to stay at home rather than join us at parkrun. Other issues involving mental health, gender identity, and neurology made sporting activities even less appealing. But in the early Fall Zoe started volunteering regularly. And then one day in October declared that he wanted to run. Seeing the welcoming CP parkrun community in action had made him feel quite at home. A crazy turn of events since that milestone day has made it hard for Zoe to even consider running. But even while dealing with constant physical challenges, Zoe has never considered missing his CP parkrun friends on a Saturday morning, and has become a valuable member of the start/finish crew.

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In December we were super happy to welcome Hump 2.0. Through much of the year Hump Plotts, our ever present golf course marshal, had been struggling with heart health issues. There were a number of weeks when it wasn’t clear that he would be able to volunteer, and we arranged for stunt doubles to support him in his regular spot. But after surgery at the start of the month he is refurbished and ready for action!

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Safety

One area that we take very seriously is safety. We love that we offer a free, friendly, low-key experience. But we do not want to cut corners on safety. We want to ensure that everybody who takes part in CP parkrun is as safe as possible, and can enjoy the warm, supportive community with no more than minimal risk. So what have we learned in 2019?

Every week we report to parkrun HQ on whether there were any “incidents” at CP parkrun. Most weeks there is nothing to report. But sometimes there are issues. By keeping track, we’re able to spot patterns. Roughly, we encounter health-related incidents once per 2,000 finishes. And more often than not they involve seniors. We are very happy that more and more seniors are taking part in our events. But we are mindful that this means that we all need to be on the lookout, to make sure that all parkrunners and parkwalkers are ok.

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Another key safety issue involves children. We ask that all under 11s stay with a designated adult, in the interest of safety. We are very happy to welcome a lot of under 11 parkrunners, and we are just as grateful to see that parents are so good at staying with their young charges. We know that many different sporting activities compete for families’ Saturday morning attention, and we are so pleased to see families getting active TOGETHER at CP parkrun.

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One other safety issue that we’ll need to keep an eye on is trail crowding. With typical turnouts of 130-150/week the trail has ample capacity. On days with ~250 it gets a bit more crowded, especially with two way traffic. We do not see an imminent risk of the Paint Branch Trail being overfull -- and we are immensely grateful to Prince George’s County Parks & Recreation for their support -- but we may need to be increasingly mindful of risks on busy days. This applies especially to exuberant dogs, and to pinch points along the course when there is snow or flooding. We had one unpleasant collision in two-way traffic in 2019. As we continue to grow we may need to be more proactive in managing the two-way traffic in the upper part of the trail, beyond the bridges. And we may need to take additional steps to direct participants to overflow parking.

Digging Deeper

Beyond the shiny numbers and stories, we are always interested in whether we’re succeeding in creating an inclusive, healthy community.

We don’t just want to provide a low-cost experience for seasoned runners. We want to help more people from more backgrounds to get active. And we want to help more people to be more connected to a wider range of people than they would otherwise.

The overall trends are encouraging. They show that if we make an effort we can make a difference.

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Speed

Walkers and walk-runners may be the group that we can benefit the most. We are glad that around 25% of finishers at CP parkrun every week complete the 5K in longer than 40:00 minutes, and that proportion is increasing.

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One simple generalization from our research. Walkers are more likely to return when there are more walkers. Surprise! Walking with company is fun. So, the best thing that you can do to make a difference: encourage walkers to come along. And then join them for a walk. Or head back out to meet them after your run. When runners join the walkers it really notices, and it is greatly appreciated!

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Gender

Did you know that more men than women come to College Park parkrun, pretty much EVERY SINGLE WEEK? We were surprised when we first learned this. It’s not like parkrun is a testosterone-fueled experience.

More women than men register for CP parkrun. But slightly more men show up. And more men come back more often. Why is this? Many different reasons, relating to family commitments, male obsessiveness, and historical trends (current septuagenarians who were runners in their youth are more likely to be male - Xander's great grandma Ellie is a notable exception to this). In any case, if you’re a man who can do something to help a woman in your life be active on a Saturday morning, we’re cheering for you all the way.

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Age, ethnicity, and background

We are happy that we see people from a wide range of ages and backgrounds at CP parkrun. We see lots of under 11s and more and more community members in their 70s and 80s. The fact that we are free helps to remove some barriers to taking part. And the regular runners, walkers, and volunteers is somewhat diverse. But we also know that our Saturday morning community could be more representative of the surrounding community, including the many twenty-somethings who live here, and we hope to continue efforts to that end in 2020.

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Welcoming new people

The growth in the community is strikingly regular. If we break out finishers into ‘novices’ (1-9 timers) and ‘regulars’ (10+ timers), there’s a clear contrast.

  • “Novices” (1-9 timers)
    2017: 2,820
    2018: 2,908
    2019: 2,890
  • “Regulars” (10+ timers)
    2017: 1,233
    2018: 2,800
    2019: 4,184

The number of finishes by “novices”  is almost identical from one year to the next. The influx of newcomers to the CP parkrun community is fairly constant. The same pattern seems to hold however you slice the data: registrations (about 1,000 per year), second-timers (about 400 more each year), and so on. We’re not sure why that is, but it’s true.

Meanwhile, the number of finishes by “regulars” is growing from one year to the next. That’s because a steady number of newcomers find that CP parkrun fits well with their Saturday schedules and so become regulars who keep coming back.

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This pattern has a couple of consequences for the community. Most people who come to CP parkrun are relative newcomers. Probably about three quarters of the individuals who took part in 2019 are in the “novice” group. But on any given Saturday, most people at the park are regulars. That’s because the regulars are, well, regulars. Duane Rosenberg, our most frequent finisher in 2019, was 1 of 1,354 (registered) individuals who took part this year. But with his 54 finishes he accounted for 1 in 131 finishes at CP parkrun.

In 2017 regulars were about 30% of the people on the trail in any week. By 2019 that number had risen to 60%.

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This means that it’s easier for newcomers to get lost in the crowd, and so we need to keep an eye out to help them to feel that they belong in the community. Cheering along the trail helps. As does striking up a conversation before the start or after the finish with somebody who you don’t yet know.

These trends also mean that it’s not so difficult to project how many people are likely to join us in 2020 and even in 2021. If the current trend continues, we'll be welcoming around 10,000 finishers in 2021. The park and the trail can handle the additional people, but we’ll likely need to tighten up a few things.

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And what about CP parkrun #170?

Oh right, we almost forgot! Thanks for asking. It was lovely, of course! A chilly morning quickly warmed up, and we welcomed around 130 finishers and volunteers to the park.

Russell Dickerson wore the black sash on his 100th parkrun. We are grateful to Russell for his support of our event, which goes well beyond what meets the eye.

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More than half of the first-timers this week came from Team Groeschel: that’s Merritt, Armin, Anders, Amelie, Benji, and Nate. Merritt is the president of Solutions for Hometown Connections, a local non-profit that supports refugees and immigrants in becoming more confident and connected in their new community. We’re looking forward to learning more about SHC’s work in the coming months. Welcome!

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One of our favorite stories of the day was characteristically one that we could not have predicted ahead of time. Guangxiao Hu set out for a quiet run on the Paint Branch Trail, and happened to reach Acredale Park shortly after we started. She asked what was going on, and of course found herself being charmed by Andrea. Before she knew it she was signed up and taking part in CP parkrun. Welcome, Guangxiao!

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It was also the last parkrun in a while for Steve Hendrix, a regular CP parkrunner who has joined us over 50 times. Steve recently took on the role of Jerusalem bureau chief for the Washington Post, from where he’s already filing stories most days. Steve enjoyed his parkrun with friends Maria and Jim. We wish him well, and hope that he’ll join us whenever he’s in town.

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We are very grateful to the final volunteer crew of 2019: Andrea Zukowski, Lisa Wilson, Hump Plotts, Ellen Oberholtzer, Trace Huard, Michael Cohen, Frank Snyder, Zoe Phillips, Lori Dominick, Katie Hirsche, Valerie Silensky, Rebecca White, and Colin Phillips.

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And we are looking forward to seeing many of you on New Year’s Day to start of 2020 in (free, low-key) style.

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