Category Archives: Photos

Never run in Bali after 8am…

Life has been so crazy and busy lately, some things in life have unfortunately taken a back seat. I tried my hardest to do everything at once and not compromise, but of course that isn’t how life works or how humans function. I like to think I’m no mortal human, and can do everything and anything, but that unfortunately isn’t the case.

I’ve been sick about three or four times this year. I never get sick. But that is my body telling me to slow down, stop working so hard, stop doing a hundred extra curriculars, stop running 60km a week, and sleep! I got sick quite recently, right before going on vacation, from again doing too much, trying to do everything without compromise. I had all the normal cold symptoms, plus foggy thinking (helpful at work right?). But no time for a sick day when I’m going on vacation and have a two page to do list to complete prior to departing for Bali.

The incredible thing was, once I reached Bali and slept a solid 10 hours, I had recovered. It was as if I had never been sick at all. Poster girl for perfect health. Fully rested.

The only negative part of my sleep in was that I had planned on going for a run on my first morning in Bali. Again, running had been an item that got cut when busy and sick, and I was excited about getting out and exploring and also getting the legs turning over again. But, by the time I got my act together it was 8:30am and 28 degrees. The sun was out in all its glory and not a cloud to be seen.

Still, i was determined. I am running. I will run and I will enjoy it and I will survive and it will be fun (she says with gritted teeth).

For the first 2km, that was the case. I ran from our villa down to Echo Beach. It was relatively quiet, and was nice to get a feel for the neighborhood. Villas, rice paddies, small shops…dogs and young kids, and the heat was present, but tolerable.


I made it down to Echo, and stopped to take a few photos. 



Stopping to take photos was a mistake. Within 30 seconds the heat had really hit me, I was sweating profusely, and wanted to stop. But no, I wasn’t going to give in. I turned around, turned down a side street to do a loop, and kept going. As I ran it got hotter and hotter, my legs wanted to move less and less, and I started to look less like a glamorous westerner effortlessly running in her cute lululemon gear in 28 degree heat on vacay putting all passerbyers to shame, and started to look like a deranged, dehydrated person dripping in her own sweat, a dumb westerner who thought 28 degrees was nothing, or someone who lost a bet and this was my punishment (or all three combined).


Luckily I found a road taking me back to Jl  Padang Linjong (our street) that was slightly in the shade, not too busy and which only motorbikes really used given its narrow width (though I did see one car!).


I cut my run short – I had no goal but thought 5km was just enough. I couldn’t bear to be out any longer. I got back to the villa and had never been so happy to see a swimming pool. In I went, running clothes, socks and all. I was in such a rush to cool down I even forgot to take the 40,000 or so rupiah out of my pocket that I had taken in the case of emergency. 

The water had never felt so good. And I had never felt so dumb. Don’t run after 8am on Indonesia Jen. What were you thinking? Unless you want a sure way to dehydration and heat stroke. Lucky for me I decided 5km was better than 10, and was easily able to return to the villa (I hadn’t gone too far). I still had a fresh coconut in the fridge, perfect to quench my thirst and help the body recover. And it was a wonderful start to the day, good to get my legs moving again, to run again,  even at a slower (5:17) pace than I would usually run 5km. But best not push myself too hard, that’s when the body rebels and says stop. A short run, a chance to explore the neighborhood by foot, and a opportunity to clear my head and start the day fresh 😊

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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

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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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.