Running – It’s all about Mind over Matter

 
If you are an avid runner, you begin to realize how much your mood affects your running.  How hard it can be to keep going when your brain says no.  How to shut off that little voice telling you that you can’t do it, and find the voice that says ‘you can’.  How a long day at the office can either invigorate you to push hard through your interval training, or can make you feel like giving up.  The fact that a fight with your partner can lead to you putting on your running shoes and going for a 15km run, in the cold and rain, just to listen to some music, pound the pavement and forget the world.  Or, how it can make you want to curl up in a ball and potentially interrupt your rhythm, making it difficult to imagine even going for a 5km jog.

Tonight, I had one of the most amazing runs I have done in a while.  Not because I ran extremely fast.  Nor was it because it was a beautiful warm day and I was out enjoying the sunshine.  In fact, it was a cold wintery night and I had just had an incredibly boring tedious day at the office.  The run was amazing for another reason – because for the first time in quite a while, I felt like I was winning.  From the second I started running right through till the end, I felt on top of the world, like I could do anything, and I would do anything.  It was the same feeling I experienced when I went for my first run.  And the feeling I held onto all through 2013 when I ran five half marathons and my first full marathon.  I went from high to high, race to race, constantly filled with euphoria about how amazing life was.  So tonight, it was an amazing and inspiring experience to have those same feelings and to once again remember why I started running in the first place.

And the odd thing is, I hadn’t thought I was missing this feeling.  I hadn’t been feeling the same level of euphoria when I ran, but I thought that was just because I was over the honeymoon period and was getting into a tough year of training, of working on my running technique and my running form, working on strengthening the right muscles and doing a lot of metabolic, high intensity interval training.  But tonight’s run made me realize, my shift in focus wasn’t the reason for the loss of euphoria.  Rather, I realized that I had become scared to run.

I have been scared to run fast and scared to run long distances.  Not because I am a newbie who has never run 5km in one go, I completed a total of 1000km in 2013 alone.  My fear of running stemmed from my fear of injury, a fear based on the numerous injuries and setbacks I suffered in 2014.  Knee pain, IT Band pain, TFL pain, tight glute med, tight calves, gosh you name it, I suffered through it.  Overuse.  Over training. My ITB and TFL pain kicked in at kilometer 29 of the Sydney Marathon and crushed my goal of a 3:45 marathon – a time that I was actually on track for.  After that marathon, and after all the pain I suffered through that year, I decided to get serious and take some time off to actually focus on my running form and strengthening the right muscles to make sure that all my muscles and joints worked in harmony and that I wouldn’t be prevented from reaching my goals in the future.

Unfortunately, this has meant I tiptoed around my running, stopping whenever I had any inkling of pain or strain, and stopped running distances.  I have focused on interval work and strength work, and to be honest I haven’t felt pain in my IT Band, TFL or glute med since the beginning of the year, but the fear of an injury and my preventative steps I took led to a fear of running itself.  Which, for a runner, is a scary thing to even admit to.  It’s hard.  There is this quote by Dean Karnazes, an amazing ultramarathoner, that features in numerous inspirational instagrams: “Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must, just never give up”.  I love this saying and have always strived to live by it – never give up, in running or any other part of my life.  But I was beginning to give up…to give into this fear, and struggling to find a way out of it.

Tonight, however, I found a way.  I powered through, determined that I could do it and shut out the part of my brain that said ‘stop it’s too hard’. That was why tonight’s run was so epic. Past sessions, I have chosen to give up when I know I could have (and should have) continued…should have continued by aiming for consistently faster interval times which I know I should be able to achieve, and by actually aiming to run a set distance on the weekend and not back out of it.  Tonight though, I gave it my all and I felt like I gave it my all.  We ran from Clyde Quay Wharf (the HealthFit gym), along Oriental Parade, up Maida Vale Road, then all the way up through Roseneath to Mt Victoria – a 222m elevation gain in total according to my Garmin.

Over time copyOur group split into two, the boys in front and the girls in the back.  From the start of the run, I was up ahead with Greig, and decided I wanted to keep up with the boys.  What’s more, I realized that I could keep up with the boys.  And that I would keep up with them.  And I did. We would run a portion and then jog back down to meet the girls, then run back up again.  It was tough, physically and mentally, and at several points I considered using my inhaler to give my lungs more room to breathe, but again, I felt I could do it and I would do it, and that I needed to do it by myself, to prove that I could.

Once we reached the top, it was exhilarating to know that I was mentally strong enough to not give up, to run the entire way, not stop, and to keep up with the boys.  If I’m going to beat them, I need to run with them. Show them what I’m made of.  The run down the other side into Newtown was a great recovery, though once we got to the bottom realized we had intervals to complete on our way back to town.  Generally, this is where many people would give up – say that their legs are tired and they can’t or won’t do it.  But we went for it, and I truly went for it.  I don’t think I felt tired at all the entire way back, because I was just so focused on winning.  On doing it.  And because I attacked the running session with a positive mindset instead of a negative one, at no point did I think ‘this is too hard’ or ‘I can’t do it’.  It was always positive.

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We did sprints back of 20 seconds, 40 seconds and 60 seconds, with a 60 second recovery jog in between each, then repeated the 20,40,60.  The funny thing was that the 60 second sprints seemed easier than the 20, because you relaxed into it, but ran just as fast. And my fastest pace back into town was 3:14 min/km, a pace that two years ago I never could have or would have imagined.  And my average pace the entire session was 5:26, again a speed that given the incline, the back and forths and the recovery jogs in between our intervals, I was incredibly pleased with.  Just shows how the power of positivity and good thoughts can lead to great results.  And how incredibly important it is to build mental strength and mental endurance, because at the end of the day your body can do anything you train it to do, it is up to you to decide how you train it, what you train it for and how far you are willing to go to reach your goals.

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The week of 73 kilometers

My training has stepped up a lot in the last few weeks, with me at the exact half way point between the marathon and when I made the decision to run it. And with that comes the need for better nutrition and looking after myself. This new mentality is especially fitting given my past history with injuries and my competitive nature – I often push myself past my boundaries and find it hard to recognize when I need to stop. However, I have been doing a lot of reading lately and among other things I have discovered that nutrition is so key to recovery and prevention of injuries.

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Not only do you need to give your body the fuel it needs right before and right after you exercise – be that running, weightlifting or any kind of intense sport or activity – you need to focus on nutrition with everything you eat and drink.  By consuming the right balance of nutrients at all times, you can minimize the amount of muscle degradation and optimize your body’s rate of recovery and muscle rebuild.

So how do I fuel my body and make sure I get the right nutrients? I don’t follow a conventional diet by any means, I am a 90% vegan.  I say 90% because in New Zealand, it is just far too difficult to eat out as a vegan.  It is difficult enough to eat out as a vegetarian, let alone cutting out eggs, dairy and cheese.  I turned vegan as a bit of an experiment and a challenge as a New Year resolution.  My plan was to be vegan for one week a month.  I found it hard at first, getting used to soy milk and almond milk, to give up yoghurt (I used to LOVE yoghurt and muesli for breakfast), feta and butter. But after my first two vegan weeks, I stopped reverting back to non-vegan foods during my weeks off.  I stopped buying cheese, I learned to bake with egg substitutes, I began to find the taste of normal cows milk offputting and I avoided milk chocolate.  And I sustained the vegan week for approximately 6 months, then decided to stop being so stringent with one week, and instead focus on it holistically.  Maintain veganism on a day to day basis, with exceptions – special occasions and celebrations, travel, work functions and other times where it is impossible to be vegan.

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And I feel stronger, fitter and healthier than ever before.  Sure, some of that is to do with my personal training, focusing on my goals and running half marathons, but I believe that my diet has had a lot to do with it. 
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And now with 35 days to go….the pressure is on. I have totally radicalized my diet even more than it was before, introducing a smoothie each day as a way to get lots of nutrients, and cutting out processed carbs. No pasta, rice, noodles, bread, I only have bagels on the weekend before my long Sunday run. Salads for lunch, lots of protein and lots of extra good fats in my diet – avocados, nuts, coconut oil. And lots of food. Lots of it. My trainer has told me to eat, just eat. Healthy food of course, but lots of it. It has been hard getting used to, the idea of making myself eat, when I’ve always been conscious of what I eat to watch my weight, as girls do!
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But on a long Sunday run like today, I burn around 2000 calories. That is a lot of energy to replenish in order for my body and my muscles to recover! I have to eat immediately after, and make sure I continue eating throughout the day. Otherwise my body hurts, it hurts the next day, and for 12-24 hours my brain stops working. I can’t make decisions, so I quite often plan my Sunday and Monday meals in advance, otherwise I just don’t know what to eat, and I get really emotional. It’s interesting the effect of that much exercise on the body, so that’s why I’m focusing on my diet so much to make sure I can maintain somewhat sane during the next 5 weeks!
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So, talking about my training – Today I hit a great milestone in my training. I ran 27km and felt like I could continue going forever. I only stopped because I had to get ready for my choir concert. And I did the 27km in 2 hours 28, averaging around 5:30 per km (compared to 6 min per km on my last long run). And what’s more, I hit my peak in terms of kms for the week.

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Looking ahead, this coming week is going to be the most intense yet, and then it’s time to taper. Which is exciting but will be hard. I’m still loving running, I haven’t burnt out, but it will be hard not running as much and forcing myself to rest. Till then, I have another 70 odd km to do this week, and am experimenting with more recipes, including chia seed coconut water gels (for energy on long runs) and a delicious almond, goji berry and chia seed protein bar….yum!

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Stepping up to a full marathon, 61 days and counting

Failure is a step to greatness

“Failure’s not an option.  It’s a step”

In my last post, I wrote about failure.  About going from feeling invincible to feeling defeated.  About not achieving a new personal best in my third half marathon this year.  The disappointment.  The frustration.

But then comes the realization that I can learn from my mistakes.  I can try harder.  I can use the failure as motivation and a push to do better.  Because really, that is what running is all about – overcoming whatever it is that’s holding you back – whether that barrier is physical or mental, running lets your mind wander and be free while your body works.

And really, the fact that I have run four half marathons this year, given I tore my meniscus in two places and had joint effusion in my left knee last year after my first 15km race (the Christchurch City 2 Surf), had Achilles tendinitis this year after the Wellington half, and was never a runner in the first place, is impressive.

half marathon

Not many people can say they have run four marathons in one year, let alone one.

However it hasn’t been easy.  Running is a solo sport.  But most of all it is a mind game.  It is a challenge to your will power, your self control, your belief in yourself and your ability.  That is why I am drawn to it – I am a competitive person, and competing against myself is the most addictive (and dangerous) sport of all.

When you do well, when you achieve a new personal best or run farther than you ever have, it is an amazing feeling.  Crossing the finish line at a race makes you feel invincible, like you have just taken on the world and can do anything.  But when you feel defeated, when you doubt yourself and doubt why you even ran in the first place, when your body hurts all over and you feel a true sense of disappointment, it takes a strong mind and a love of the sport to be able to overcome that sense of failure and do it all over again.

FeetAnd that is why I feel I can call myself a ‘runner’.  Because last Sunday, I ran my fourth half marathon.  It was hot, sunny, with no pace runners, no shade, no cloud, very few water stations and I was not in the best frame of mind.  At several points I wanted to give up, to stop, to get a taxi back to the start.  I even contemplated cheating. Or calling my trainer early on a Sunday morning to have him give me a pep talk.

But I didn’t.  I made myself persevere.  Because no one else would care if I didn’t finish.  If I stopped, I wouldn’t have let my family or friends down, I would have let myself down.  Because that half marathon was a test, to see if I could give it my all, have no energy left at the end, feel pain and completely waste myself.  So I finished, at the slow time of 1:48:03.  Sure, I was in the top 16% of female finishers, 17 out of 109. Top 35% of total finishers.  But for me, I felt defeated.  Devastated. What was the point of the pain and suffering, only to finish THAT slow.

But, as I said, running is more than exercise, it is an intense one-player mental challenge.  At the end of the day, I was able to pick myself up and turn my disappointment and devastation into something else.  Like the Nike quote above says, failure is just a step.  You have to fail in order to succeed.  If you don’t fail, how can you improve.  How can you truly achieve everything you are capable of and know true success. After Napier, I realized that I needed to feel failure to truly focus and commit myself to doing better, to analyze what I did wrong and know how to improve ad continue.

So, that afternoon, as I was lying in the sun, resting my weary body and disheartened self, I decided that I wanted to move on from half marathons. I realized that I was  getting frustrated and fixated at achieving a time of 1:40.  I wanted that 1:40 so bad I would do anything to get it.  I had planned on finishing the year with a half marathon in Jacksonville, Florida, but knew that if I did, I would either (a) achieve a new PB and seriously injure myself in the process, or (b) I would not achieve a new PB and that failure would probably make me never want to run again.

So, my solution?  Run the marathon instead.  The full 42.6km/26.2 miles.

Napier me

So, to the countdown.  61 days.  61 days to get my body and mind prepared.  Your body is able to run a half marathon, even on minimal training, your body can physiologically handle the stress.  A marathon is a whole different beast, that your body is not able to run without some serious commitment, physically and mentally.

So what does this new goal mean for me? Well…I ran the Napier half marathon last Sunday (2o October 2013).  A full 21.3km in one go.  Usually that would mean a full week of recovery, rest and very little exercise.  But now that I am training for a full, the Napier half was just an ordinary training run.  No different from any other Sunday to come.  So Monday (21 Oct) was rest, and Tuesday I was back into it.  This led to the below comparison on RunKeeper after my 24km run yesterday (Sunday 27 October) – the week leading up to and including the Napier half, and the training week following.

Running mileage

So what do the next 61 days (7 weeks) look like?

Mondays: Rest and yoga in the evening
Tuesday: Group personal training session (strength) in the morning and speed work/intervals in the evening
Wednesday: Long 13-19km tempo run – this will be the toughest part of the program.  I will have to learn to love the treadmill, whereas it is currently my mortal enemy.
Thursday: Personal training (strength) in the morning, maybe a 5km in the evening or at lunchtime
Friday: Rest
Saturday: 9km run on a set route with hill repeats
Sunday: My long run. Last Sunday was 21.3km.  Yesterday was 24km.  Next Sunday is 27.  Then 30.  Then 33…

MorningSo we will see what happens.  We will see how well I go with fitting it into my busy schedule.  The above photo was taken just after 5:45 in the morning on Wednesday – I didn’t have time to fit in my 9km run after work on Tuesday, so got up bright and early to fit it in before strength training at 6:30.

No doubt my friends and colleagues will get sick of me talking about my training and my nutrition.  My Instagram is going to get even more bombarded with running related shots and hashtags.  My Facebook statuses are going to get more narrow and focused on my runs and personal training.  I am going to read more and more about running and training techniques, how to overcome ‘the wall’ and various race day fueling tactics. And my diet is going to get even more controlled and set than it already is.  But you know what, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I began the year with my first half marathon in New York City, through and around Central Park.  It seems fitting that I end the year back in the United States with my first full marathon, perhaps the first of many….

1:46:16 – I can do better than that

No matter what comes my way in life, I never have regrets about anything. Because every obstacle along with every win, absolutely everything that happens to you, makes you who you are today. I truly believe that, and I know that every time I fail, I try harder. It motivates me to try harder. To do better. I learn from my mistakes, from my failings, and improve.

Most failings no one knows about, because as humans we often internalize our fears and doubts and bad days. Lots of events that could be called a regret, people do know about, due to their trivial or ridiculous nature. I wouldn’t be who I am today, I wouldn’t have overcome those obstacles and become a stronger person if I hadn’t failed in those various ways or had to overcome the obstacles that I faced.  They made me mentally stronger and able to deal with and achieve so much more.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I love my life –  so I live it with no regrets.

2013-06-02 07.39.29The only problem with this way of living, is that some days, when you do fail, it really really sucks.  And no one really gets it. When I keep doing better and better, and then I do fail, it feels like the world crashes. Because once you start doing so well, you continue to win, you get this high, a sense of euphoria, and begin to feel invincible. And when you realize you aren’t, when the façade shatters, you have to pick up the pieces, and make something out of it. View it in a positive way, to move forward, and let it motivate you to do better.  Or at least you try to…

Today I ran my third half marathon. My third half marathon in 5 months, with my second half marathon completed a mere 3 weeks ago. I completed my first half marathon in New York, the 2013 Manhattan Half Marathon on January 27 this year. I finished with a time of 1:54:13, and was stoked. My goal was to finish, run the entire way, and not have my knee act up. I had injured my knee 9 months prior, and had been recovering from two small tears in my meniscus, and patellofemoral syndrome. My first run back into it was a 5km Color Run with two of my close friends in San Diego in November 2012, 7 months after my injury, with many months of physical therapy.  It had been a long recovery, so to finish a half marathon, and to finish in under 2 hours, was a huge victory.

photo 2I was ecstatic. For days I was smiling and just couldn’t believe it. At one point in the race, I started to cry tears of joy, because I was running my first half marathon, I was running it in New York, around central park, with snow on the ground, my knee wasn’t in pain, I had magic running pants, and ‘Don’t you worry child’ had just come onto my iPod. It was the most amazing feeling running it, and crossing that finish line.

Manhattan half collageSo once I finished, I set my sights high, decided to do a second half marathon, the Wellington one in June 2013. I wanted to improve my time, and finally decided on 1:45 as a good goal. I honestly didn’t think it was something I could achieve, but I wanted to push myself. And push myself I did.

Chch half marathon gear - night before June 1 2013Three weeks ago, I completed the Christchurch half marathon in 1:43:35 – a time that completely blew me away, especially because my calves were tiring and in pain from the 14th to 19th kilometer. But I beat my goal, and felt amazing. I was number 76 out of 925 female finishers – the top 9%.  The top 25% of all male and female finishers.  I felt awesome. I was awesome. It made me feel addicted. Addicted to running. That rush of crossing the finish line.  I wanted to run another half marathon, right then on the spot. Keep going. The feeling of being invincible began to set in…

C1 post chch half marathon 2013And today, I ran the Wellington half marathon. New Zealand has had all kinds of crazy weather this week, with a big storm hitting Wellington on Thursday – trees falling, power out to 30,000 homes, rain, 130 km/h winds (around 80 mph) – just insane. This morning it all cleared, but it was still very cold (not nearly as cold as New York in winter though, or Boston, where I went for a half hour run when it was -15 degrees Celsius!). In addition, we still had 30 km/h wind, and as the route was around the Wellington bays, it was very very exposed. My calves didn’t hurt, I didn’t run out of breath or out of steam, but in the first 2km I had to stop and massage my knee, as it felt like it was starting to act up. Then, the wind didn’t help. And when I approached the stadium, was 1.5km out, my iPhone told me that I had run for 1:40 – I knew I wasn’t going to beat my 1:43. My mind gave up, despite wanting to still make sub-1:45, knowing that I wasn’t going to achieve a personal best meant that my body subconsciously stopped trying as hard.

Night before wellington half marathon june 23, 2013I still did it in 1:46:16. Which honestly, is a good time. Top 15% of female finishers and top 30% of all female and male finishers. I should be happy. I should be thrilled. I ran 21km today. I have done three 21km races in the last five months. I did that. I ran that today. That is awesome. Not many people I know can say they have achieved that. As the signs on the road said, I am an athlete.

But still, my heart sank when I crossed the finish line. Knowing I didn’t run fast enough. I should have run faster. I could have run faster. And that is the problem with goals – when you don’t achieve them, it sucks. You look for excuses – my knee, the wind, the cold. But really, all I feel is that I didn’t do enough.  I wasn’t focused enough.  I didn’t run hard enough.  Because when I run a race, all I think about is finishing.  I listen to music, and think about the run – think about finishing, achieving my goal, my goal is what gets me through.  So to not finish, it feels like the last two hours was a waste.  Like I should have just stayed in bed.

Wellington half marathon - 23 June 2013

I can at least take solace in the fact that, upon comparing the Wellington half times with the Christchurch Airport half times, the Chch times were on average 3 minutes and 30 seconds faster than the Wellington times.  So I guess with Wellington having 30 km/h wind, and Christchurch being very still, the wind had a negative impact of around 200 seconds on people’s times.  At some points, the wind was actually horrendous.  Especially at the 15th kilometer when you have already run so far, and know you still have to run 6km, and you want those 6km to be epic.  So if I take off 00:03:30 off of my 1:46:16, that gives me 1:42:46 – faster than my Christchurch time, and a new personal best – but it still doesn’t feel like I really achieved that.

So where am I going with this?  I ran 21km today.  I ran the entire way, with an average pace of around 5 minutes per kilometer.  I didn’t stop.  I kept going.  Sure, I didn’t achieve a new personal best.  But you know what?  The Taupo half is only 6 weeks away.  The Napier one is soon after.  There are plenty of chances for me to achieve under 1:40:00.  I wanted to achieve 1:45:00 before I stopped training hard for a while – take a break.  I achieved that three weeks ago.  And I don’t feel satisfied – I want to do better.  See what I mean – failing makes me try harder.  It also makes me crazy – most people can’t believe I put myself through this.  But it is a physical challenge and a mental challenge.  A huge accomplishment.  Only once you have run a half marathon yourself can you really understand what it is like to run that distance and accomplish it.  So I apologize body – you thought you were going to get a break.  You aren’t.  Six more weeks…then maybe, maybe, you will get a break.

Officially Jen Howes, LLB(Hons) BA

So I graduated this week.

20130515-214748.jpgIt is odd. I studied for 5 1/2 years. At the beginning, never thought I would be finished.  The end was so far away it didn’t seem like I would ever reach it. Yet once I finally neared the end, it wasn’t magical or special or ‘wow I am finally done’, it kind of just happened.

20130515-214931.jpgAnd because I finished in December but didn’t walk across the stage then, wear the graduation gown or hold that expensive piece of paper, it didn’t feel real.

20130515-215406.jpgInstead I traveled, and upon my return to NZ, started work and started my professional studies course to become admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand.

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Graduation didn’t seem like such a big deal to me. Until I tried on my gown, hood and cap for the first time.

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It finally sunk in. I am graduating. Graduating. Walking across that stage. Dressing up. Getting my name called out. Wearing the full regalia. Receiving not one but two pieces of paper. With my name on it. Me. Done with university. Done with law school. Wow.

20130515-220507.jpgIt is a big deal. I had downplayed it obviously. But it is a big deal. And I am still very excited about it. Even though it has already been and gone. I am excited not just because I graduated, am done with university, now have a BA and LLB(Hons), but because my family and those I love and who have supported me through it were either there to celebrate or sent their congratulations to me.

20130515-220247.jpgSupported me throughout and on graduation day. And told me how proud they are of me. Which honestly is weird, because when you study you never think of how other people believe in you and root for you to succeed. But they do.

And at a time like this, when you actually achieve something big like this, you realize just how much support everyone around you has given you, how you took it for granted, but how you wouldn’t have made it had it not been for them.

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So thank you so much to my friends who put up with going through cue cards with me late at night, from the start when I couldn’t answer a single one, to the end where I knew the answers word for word. Thanks to my non-law school friends for putting up with my ridiculous legal rants and trying to teach you and always be right. For understanding when I couldn’t come out or be social. For helping me through mini breakdowns I had when I decided I had just had enough. And to my San Diego friends, you made the last semester of my law degree the best. I got first class honors based on my CWSL grades. The friendships I made there, the countless late nights in the library, endless iced lattes, and numerous 8 tracks playlists courtesy of Lauren Foley helped me through. I wore my Phi Alpha Delta pin on my graduation gown to have part of San Diego with me during the ceremony.

Thank you to my family for supporting me financially and emotionally. To my dad for the endless proof reading he helped me with, though I’m happy to say that in my last semester, I didn’t send him a single paper, and I did incredibly well grades wise. I sent him a paper after I handed it in for help writing an abstract, and he had a look through my paper as well, barely any corrections or comments. Contrast that with my first university paper I sent him, where over half of it had red pen…!

20130515-220010.jpgThank you to my mom for dealing with my emotional breakdowns and telling me to suck it up and keep going, for being so proud of me and making me feel like no matter what, I would be a success in her eyes. And thank you to my sister for not only being a wonderful friend who I can always rely on, but also putting up with my occasional inadvertent bragging and gloating. And last but not least, thanks to my classmates, we went through the process together, struggled together, and somehow made it to the end somewhat together. It was wonderful walking down Lambton Quay in the parade with law school friends, because they truly know what you went through, as they went through it also. And somehow, we came out at the other end, with a piece of paper in hand, a job, and (hopefully) most of our sanity.

We did it!!

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Where is home?

“Where is home?”

This is a question that I have been asked many times throughout my life. By friends and family alike. To most, it is a simple question. “Where is home?” However for me, it has always been complicated. Being born in Texas, growing up in Indonesia and living in New Zealand for half of my life, means that I have several places to choose from. Throw San Diego into the mix, things just get crazy. This leads to questions such as “Do you not consider New Zealand home?”, “Where do you identify yourself with most thought?”, and “Where do you want to live the rest of your life?”

I have never truly known the answer. Honestly, home has been scattered for me. I have never truly had a place to call home. I have never felt like I quite fit in any one place. I leave parts of me everywhere I live, and in a lot of places that I travel. Part of me always viewed Texas as home, and I had always planned on returning there in the future. Indonesia could never be a home that I could return to, due to citizenship requirements, and so much has changed since I left at the age of 12, but it still has a special place in my heart. And although I have lived in New Zealand for 12 years, I have never felt truly settled there. I have never truly fit into one place.

However right now, I am sitting on a train, and reflecting. I am currently obsessed with a travel writer, Paul Theroux, and in a book of his that I am currently enthralled by, he writes that “You go away for a long time and return a different person – you never come all the way back.” And today this is exactly how I feel.

I left Wellington one year ago. I left New Zealand 9 months ago. And today I return.

I return, but I am definitely not the same person as when I left. Today I leave my heart in San Diego.

San Diego. Bridge to Coronado.

Who knew that 6 months could make such an impact on someone’s life? I sure didn’t. Not until now. My entire trip, throughout my travels in Asia, Europe and Africa, and even recently through the East Coast and Midwest of the States, I found that the best memories are those that you don’t expect to make. That you don’t have photos of. Instead, you have mental images, stories to tell, and memories that will last a lifetime. It is not the tourist sites you see, museums you visit or Broadway shows you see. It is the people you meet along the way. The people who make an impact on your life. That is the true difference between a tourist and a traveler. A tourist sees a city. They don’t experience the city.

Baseball game - Padres v Giants. Phi Alpha Delta.

And I definitely experienced San Diego. I had no expectations about San Diego. No tourist sites to see. I didn’t even know if I would make a single friend, or do well in any of my law school classes. So to leave my heart behind in this city, after only 6 months, truly amazes me.

San Diego Mission Beach

The people who I met, who I became friends with, and who I saw at least once a week if not every single day, are the reason that San Diego is now the place that I call ‘my home’. So, those in San Diego who made an impact on my life, this blog post is for you.

My amazing San Diego friends, you made me never want to leave. I extended my trip by two months so I could spend time with you. And even now, I am not viewing my trip back to NZ as ‘returning home’. My trip to New Zealand is a vacation. A very long vacation, where I will be starting a career at a law firm, but a vacation nonetheless.

Because, to everyone who I know from San Diego, you have truly touched my heart and changed my life. I am not an overly emotional person, but the very thought of leaving San Diego, and leaving you, made me so upset that I refused to acknowledge it. Because once I acknowledged it, it was real, I was leaving. I was leaving all of you. I cried more on my last night in this city, saying farewell to you all, than I cried when my first serious boyfriend and I broke up. When everyone was avoiding the topic, saying ‘see you later’ or just ‘see you soon’, and Jon straight up says ‘Good bye Jen’, I lost it. I couldn’t hold it together, hearing the words ‘good bye’. Good bye is final. It means no returns. I am still shedding tears, on a train to LA, probably making everyone around me incredibly uncomfortable. I will most likely cry until there are no more tears left. But that just goes to show how much you all truly mean to me, and how much San Diego means to me.

Because in San Diego, somehow, just somehow, I found a place to call home. This is not to say that I am not excited to return to New Zealand. I am. I can’t wait to see my friends and family. To eat a crumpet, have a flat white and enjoy a Monteith’s Summer Ale in the sun. See sheep, snowy mountains, and beautiful New Zealand landscape. Go for a run around Hagley Park. But it is no longer my home. I don’t think it ever was, but it was the closest place I had to a home. I truly cherish the past six months, the experiences I had, and all the wonderful memories. The good times, the bad times, and the absolutely ridiculous times. There were many firsts, things on a kind of reverse bucket list of things I never knew I wanted to do, until I did them. I don’t regret a single day, and I wish I could re-live every single day I was there. But alas, I am getting emotional, and I have a long journey ahead of me. Time for another glass of wine.

You stay classy San Diego.

Four States Down, Four to Go

I am half way into my big east coast trip, and I am definitely getting back into the swing is travel again. I forgot how much I loved getting on a plane, knowing that soon you will be in a totally different place. What’s more, an unknown place yet to be explored by you. Sadly, in exactly two weeks, I leave the USA and return to New Zealand. I am excited to return, see family and friends, and start work as a real lawyer, but I am sad to say goodbye to America me. To California. And to this life. I left New Zealand nine months ago, and returning means the end of travel for a while. So I am definitely appreciating it while I can, doing lots, sleeping little, and visiting as many places as possible.

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And this trip is also full of many firsts. The first time to many American states – Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Illinois, and Washington, D.C. (Although not technically a state). I am half way through, on a bus en route to Philly. I am also doing things a bit differently, I am couch surfing my way through all these places. Yes, I stay at a strangers house, though hopefully by the time I leave we will be friends. So far I have slept in the living room of a house, on a couch, in a private room on a loft bed, and shared a studio on an air bed. All experiences, all part of my trip, and it has led to unique things I wouldn’t have done otherwise.

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And to me, that is what travel is all about. Going outside your comfort zone, leaving your mark, and taking part of a place away with you. Keeping memories of every single destination in your heart. And being a traveller, not a tourist. Tourists observe from the outside, and never truly immerse themselves. Travelers, however, experience a place in all it’s glory. I have been reading a book by Paul Theroux, called ‘The Tao of Travel’ and in it he states that ‘In Mumbai: A tourist would have been in a temple or a museum. I had been in a slum.’ Of course I did museums, and there were no slums to be found in Boston or New York. However I love this quote and can relate to it. Because travel not only holds the possibility of excitement, but also reinvention and discovery of ones self. And the possibility that you may fall in love with a place, be for the museums, skyscrapers, food, culture or even it’s slums, and never want to leave.

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When I arrived in Boston, I stayed out in Cambridge. My first evening was spent at a birthday celebration, at a bar on the other side of town near the end of the subway (“T”) line. I tried local brews, and socialized with people i had never met, in a bar I would have never been to otherwise. I fit right in, and by the end of the evening knew all the gossip of the group, and got back to Cambridge at 4am. Tuesday night was bluegrass at a local bar, and Wednesday drinks at the Cambridge brewing Company with couch surfing hosts and surfers. In New York, I stayed in Hell’s Kitchen and Inwood (end of the A line, up at 207th street). I went to the Brooklyn flea market and Hell’s Kitchen flea market, neither in the lonely planet. Had the most amazing grilled cheese from this deli on 10th and west 47th. Took the bus to New Jersey for lunch (no normal sane tourist would ever do that!!) And went to a movie on my last night with my host and her friend. All these people whom I had never met, taking me into their homes, sharing their lives. This human interaction, for me, is what travel is about. You can move through a city totally alone and invisible, as if people see through you. Once you leave, no one notices. It is as if you were never there, apart from the pictures on your camera. But if you interact with people there, your absence is noted. As was your presence. And these moments are not on your camera, they instead last as memories, in your head and heart.

Of course I have done tourist things. In Boston I did the freedom trail, had chowda and explored Harvard and MIT. It snowed, and I experienced some very very cold weather (-16 degrees C one day! I went for a 5km run around Harvard when it was -12). I had a martini at the Top of the Hub, 52nd floor of the Provincial building. In New York I went to the Met, MoMA, and the museum of natural history. I saw Chicago, went to the opera, and explored the Chelsea markets. However I also achieved another first while in New York – I ran my first half marathon.

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As many know, I injured my knee last April. I had been in recovery all last year and only was able to run again as of October 2012. I decided to do the half marathon 6 weeks prior to it taking place. I semi trained, and my goal was to finish. Not be constrained by my knee, or my asthma. No goal for time. If I had properly trained and planned months in advance, my goal would have been 2:15. 13.1 miles. Two hours fifteen seemed like a reasonable first marathon goal, had that been my goal.

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I completed it in 1:54. 1:54. I still can’t believe it. It was the hardest half marathon of all NY ones, as many runners after told me, and probably one of the hardest half marathons in my life, according to some. There was snow on the ground, it was -6 degrees Celsius, and the course was two loops around and through Central Park, which included one very steep and difficult hill – the Harlem Hill.

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I woke at 6, had a bagel with peanut butter, a banana, Gatorade, and put on my many layers. Stretched, made sure I had my inhaler, and took the subway two stops uptown to the park. Told myself ‘you can do this’. I kept thinking positive. Thought ‘You can totally do this.’ And I did. In under two hours. I still can’t believe it. I was in the top 2/5th of finishers. Number 60 in my age and gender group. My first half marathon, in New York, in the middle of Central Park, with snow on the ground. That, is a traveler story, I will never forget. The whole trip could be a failure, but it would still be my best visit to NYC, because of that achievement.

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And as I write this, I am on a bus to Philadelphia. Taking in the sights of the countryside, on this cloudy cold winter day. Moving south onwards to DC. More sights to see, more people to meet (and couches to sleep on!), more fun to be had. Hell if I have to leave America, put away my passport and say goodbye to traveling for a while, I am going out with a bang.