Category Archives: Aotearoa

Back to where it all began

Autumn Hagley Park

Scientific studies have shown that our brain has an ability to create ‘geotags’ for our memories – fusing together our memories about places and our memories about events.   This means that thinking about an event reminds us of the place where the event took place, or returning to a place will remind you of a particular event.  Being home for Christmas is a perfect example – when you fly home, specific memories and emotions surface, linked to previous times you have been home for the holidays. For me, I also have this experience when I run.  Running in a particular place for me can bring back memories – memories about what I was thinking when I ran the same route previously, memories about what was happening in my life at that time, or memories about the exact run that I completed – did I do it well, was I exhausted, ecstatic, slow, fast…you get the idea.

This weekend I experienced one of these moments…returning to a place and being reminded of a particular event.

The event I was reminded of? My first run.

Hagley Park Running - Legs

170 weeks ago I went for my first run ever.  170 weeks – that is three years, three months and five days.  Seems like a long time, but for most runners, it is a very short period of time.  Most runners have been running their entire life – not me.  I went for my first run 170 weeks ago.

Perhaps I am overstating things by saying this was my FIRST run ever – I mean I recall running down the street at age eight towards the ice cream man to make sure that I got there before he left, age nine chasing my little sister around Target and then running to my Mom to tell on her because we were having a fight and I even remember running up and down the court playing basketball through elementary school, middle school and part of high school.  However, in those three scenarios there was a reason behind the run – ice cream, getting my sister in trouble, or victory – something that motivated me to pick my feet up just a little bit faster and run.  There was some tangible reward at the end.

But, 170 weeks ago, on a sunny Monday evening in Christchurch I went for the first run in my life where there was not a tangible reward at the end.  I went for a run because I wanted to, not because I had to.  I went down to Hagley Park (I actually drove the 1km to the park because I didn’t know how long I would be able to last running and I didn’t want to run from home in one direction, then die, and have to make my way all the way home limping or having an asthma attack or feeling fatigued and overwhelmed…I decided that because Hagley Park is essentially a circle, if I failed early on, the car wouldn’t be far away).  I nervously got out of the car, walked over to the path, put my headphones on, pressed play, then started to walk.  After a few steps I started to pick it up and put one foot in front of the other faster and faster.  Before I knew it, I was ‘running’.

Forty minutes later I stopped.  I was alive.  I had survived.  I wasn’t injured, out of breathe or hating life.  I made it through and returned to the car in one piece.  That day I ran 7.1km non stop.  It felt great.  The next evening, Tuesday, I ran 4km. Wednesday I took the day off, but Thursday I ran 6.5km and Friday I did 7.5km.  I was hooked. I couldn’t believe the feeling I got from such a simple activity that I used to loathe. How had I never discovered this before?  And what’s more, how on earth could I think that I was incapable of running?

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Since then, Hagley Park has held a special place in my heart.  Running is such a huge part of my life and Hagley Park is where I discovered it.  Where I discovered that I could run, that I wanted to run, and that I loved to run. Christchurch itself is the city where I ran my first ‘race’, one month after that fateful Monday evening in Hagley Park.  It is also the city where I ran my first sub-1:45 half marathon (June 2013, 1:43:35).

Hagley Park itself is just such a beautiful place to run, especially in the autumn time, when the trees change color, the leaves fall to the ground and the air has a nice crisp chill to it – it is a truly magical feeling on a cold Christchurch morning to put on my running shoes, put on some music and jog down to Hagley to escape the world for an hour or two.

Autumn leaves

The scenery itself inspires me to run – how could you not want to explore!

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While I have run in Hagley numerous times, this past weekend felt even more special because the Christchurch marathon had returned to the city for the first time in three years, and as I ran around Hagley, I was joined by marathoners completing the last 15 km of the marathon. I was inspired by them, and in awe of them, as well as partly jealous.  I cheered them on, but partly wishing that I too was completing a marathon in that beautiful city.  My fastest half marathon was in that exactly race, two years ago.  I entered again last year, but had IT band issues so couldn’t run it.  You will have noted from my comments above about when I first started running – I ran 7.1km, 4.5, 6.5 and 7.5 all in week 1 – I tend to overdo things, to overtrain, to overcommit, and therefore I tend to get injured.

This year, I thought I would be back into it again but I had made an executive decision not to enter any of the events this weekend (not even the 10km).  This was partly because I wanted to enjoy my visit (my first visit in a year) and if I enter a race, it affects what I eat and drink and my social life for the week prior.  I wanted to see friends, try new restaurants and bars and have a flexible schedule.

But the key reason was that this year, I want to make sure that I don’t overtrain, overcommit and overwork my body.  When I began running 170 weeks ago, I gave it 100%.  I didn’t do the recommended 10% increase in mileage per week, I didn’t do any complimentary strength work or stretching or yoga.  I didn’t know that there was a particular technique or form to running nor did I follow any particular training program.  I just ran.  I ran fast.  I ran hard. And I ran 25km in my first week.  Looking back, with all I know now, no wonder I tore my left meniscus a week after the 15km City 2 Surf.

So, for the first time since I started running, I have decided to focus on my running form and technique. I have learned from my mistakes and want to continue to create new memories running, geotagging my way around the world.  In particular, I want to transform and improve my form, get the functional strength I  need and work up my speed before I begin training for an event again. I want to kill my next event, smoke my previous PBs and feel that exhilaration of crossing the finish line 100% proud of myself.  I don’t want to run for 21km and then be disappointed, or feel pain in the last 5km, or wish I had completed more training in the lead up.  I also want to save my knees and preserve my body so that I can continue running for the next thirty to forty years.  In order to do that, I need to fix my flaws, understand my weaknesses and focus on improving my form so that when I enter my next race, I feel 110% prepared.  110% committed, focused and ready to just give it my all, physically and mentally.

Until then, as I hope these photos show, I am enjoying running again, remembering my roots and reminiscing on why I started running in the first place.  Stopping to take photos, to smell the roses, to take in the scenery and breathe the crisp fresh winter air.  Using this period to refocus, to learn from my mistakes and start training smart. Or, failing that, I hope that by taking this year off, my renewed sense of focus will at least give my body the running form, technique and strength that I will need when I (inevitably) fall back into my old habits of overtraining and overworking my body in the future.  Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself…

Panorama Hagley Park

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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.

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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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