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Last HIIT session before Tarawera

This past Wednesday’s HIIT session was not a fun one. It didn’t help that I wasn’t looking forward to it before I even began. It was raining, windy and stormy, you couldn’t see the hills there was so much cloud. I was tired and had gotten so used to doing my interval/speed sessions at lunch time, I didn’t feel like doing it after work! Especially not after consuming a glass of bubbles at a work function just before.

But rather than saying “It’s ok Jen just go home the weather sucks” I knew I had to say “No Jen…Tarawera is in 10 days, you can’t get complacent now, every bit counts, there is a purpose to this session and if you don’t do well on the day you will only have yourself to blame.”

So I made myself go. I guilt tripped myself.

Then Greig told us that we were doing 4x500m, with 60 seconds rest between each, followed up a run as hard as we could all the way to the top of Mount Victoria (the scenic route).  We could then cruise back down and finish with another 4x500m.

At that point I thought “I really should have gone home.”   But I couldn’t…I was there, others were there, he gave me a pat on the back and it began.

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The view of Mt Victoria from HealthFit on Wednesday night – no visibility whatsoever!

The dreaded 500m repeats – they were actually pretty great! I hadn’t run in three days, and while I had done lower body strength stuff, I had gone for a sports massage on Monday from Back To It with the Amazing Alice and she had made my legs feel incredibly refreshed and rejuvenated.  So Wednesday night my legs felt fresh and free, and the repeats were great! Funny how beforehand I was dreading them, but during them I was loving it! I probably didn’t push myself as hard as I could have…but each time running around the building I felt strong.  I also kept up with/got in front of Liz, who is an amazing runner, super speedy and great at 5km and 10km events, someone I usually keep up with to begin with then fall behind, so it was a really nice feeling to be coming ahead of her at the finish of each.  (To Liz’s credit she said she was on antibiotics…but my brain chose to ignore that on Wednesday).

My repeats ended up being 2:01, 1:50, 1:53 and 1:51 – 22 seconds per 100m, and times that I am pretty happy with given I was probably only pushing at 90%.

Looking back through my Garmin times, I did 500m repeats in August 2015, with times of 2:00, 1:54, 1:57, 1:56, 1:56, and in December 2015 (one month ago) my 500m repeats at the same spot were all between 1:57 and 2:03.  So Wednesday was great – comparatively I was flying, and it felt like it too!

But that wasn’t the end of it…our 500m repeats were over and to Mt Vic it was.  This was the bit I wasn’t looking forward to – Every time I have run up and down Mt Vic, I had calf pain, IT band pain, or needed to stop and walk portions because I didn’t feel fit enough.  But this time round, I ran the entire way.  It sucked.  I didn’t want to do it.  It was raining. I was hot. We were running essentially in the cloud.  I was thirsty.  But I thought “If you can’t do this Jen, there is no way you can do Tarawera.  Seriously, stop being a wuss!”

So I did it.  I made myself run the whole way.  Despite my brain saying “no”, “this is stupid” and “why are you doing this to me” I kept going.  And got to the top – ran to the top of Mt Vic to the lookout – to be greeted by no view whatsoever – just cloud.  But hey, I did it, as did the others.  It was great to get up there and have a rest, pat others on the back and say well done, before making our way back down the hill.  And it was a pretty solid run (Garmin data available here), average pace of 6:29 (I took it slower than normal coming down as I have had a tight IT band in the past few weeks).

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The Mount Victoria portion of Wednesday – 6.5km from HealthFit, to the lookout and back down. SO HUMID.

Lucky for me, that took us past 7pm, which meant that I was late for yoga and had no time to do another 4 500m repeats…I almost wish I had done one or two though to see how my legs were after the run up Mt Vic (an elevation gain of 207m).  I felt pretty happy after Mt Vic, because I didn’t walk, I didn’t have pain, and it reinforced in my mind that I can do this, I am ready and there has been purpose behind everything I have done to date.  Even tacking Mt Victoria on Wednesday night had a purpose – making sure I wasn’t getting too complacent with my ability, and to continue pushing myself mentally to get over the bad weather, get over my lack of drive and energy, and just push.

It also helped my Strava stats for January, bringing me to 139km for the month and a total elevation climb of 4,481 meters.  I have run more than 139km in a month before – when I was training for my first marathon in 2014.  Many people training for ultras will run MUCH more than 139km in a month, but remember it is my taper month, and I am also injury prone so spend more time in the gym and doing speed/strength work than just hitting the pavement.  But I don’t think I have EVER climbed 4,481 meters in a month – I used to avoid hills at all costs – hated them.  So that is epic.  That is three times the height of the Willis (Sears) Tower in Chicago! Almost as high as Mont Blanc! Now that, in itself, doing that in training (!) makes me so happy and proud.

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The start of the taper

With every event, whether it is a 10km or a 100km race, there is always a peak in training, and there is always a taper.  Or at least, that is the idea.  For those who don’t speak run lingo (and many don’t), a ‘taper’ or ‘tapering’ is the reduction of exercise before a race or an event. And it is important.

When I first started running I didn’t appreciate the importance of the taper period, and I didn’t actually taper as I was meant to (sneaking in an unplanned run or gym session when I shouldn’t have!).  I would struggle to slow down and decrease my exercise, mainly because I was doing it so routinely up to that point, it felt weird to stop.  I also always had this fear in the back of my mind that by reducing running and increasing rest, I would somehow lose my fitness and lose my ability to run that long distance.

But I know now, that is not the case.  You actually do yourself more harm than good by carrying on and not resting – you increase your risk of injury, you continue increasing muscle fatigue and creating micro tears in your muscles.  In the lead up to a race, in the ‘taper’ period, your muscles need to start resting and recovering for the big day where you will be putting it all on the line and (in my view) going out at 110%.  It’s taken me time to learn that the taper is good, it is necessary, and it will help.  It won’t make me go backwards, it will only help me go further towards my goal – a PR, a new distance, or a great day out running an event.

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Love this quote – because the journey is just as important (if not more important) than the destination

However, tapering doesn’t mean just stopping and going cold turkey – it is a gradual decrease, to condition your body and allow it to receive an adequate level (and balance) of rest and exercise over that time. For the Tarawera ultra, my taper is three weeks.  This is the same as my marathon taper, but obviously the content of those two tapers is different.

 

Many running coaches believe that for a marathon or ultra, you should decrease to 80% of your normal training volume three weeks out, 60% two weeks out and then down to 30% the week before.  Three weeks and two weeks out, the training still ‘counts’ in the sense that you are still working on keeping your fitness and your ability up, but you are also aiming to reduce accumulated fatigue and allow you to feel fresh on race day.  I keep up my workouts and my long run, but slowly decrease the duration or mileage, and decrease the frequency.  I will add back in some speed training and lighten up on those weights at the gym, so that my muscles don’t feel as tight and fatigued for days following.

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Keeping up my plyometric work – damn hurdles

I am already one and a half weeks through my taper – it is 12 days till race day.  For me, my taper period looks like the following:

  • Change my long Saturday runs (24-55km) to a shorter run at race pace (so really pushing myself during the run) followed by a tough hike (to allow for a longer duration but less impact on the knees and body)
    • Last Saturday = 20km on-road run at race pace followed by a 2.5 hour hike (three weeks out)
    • Yesterday = 15km off-road run at race pace followed by a 3 hour hike (two weeks out)
    • This coming Saturday (one week out) = no long run
  • Getting back into intervals by eliminating my Wednesday lunch threshold run (I worked my way up: 2km, 4km, 6km, 8km, 12km and 14km) and replacing that with interval training:
    • 2 1/2 weeks ago = 8x800m with 90sec rest (three weeks out)
    • Last week = 8x400m with 90sec rest (two weeks out)
    • This coming Wednesday = 10x500m with 90sec rest (one week out)
    • Next Wednesday (three days before the event) = complete rest

I am still doing my lower body strength sessions and metabolic sessions, but starting to take it easy and decrease frequency and duration. And of course this entire tapering period occurred after my main peak, my 55km run. It is the fine tuning phase some would say. The time to rest, recover and begin to mentally visualize the finish line.

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Practicing my finish line pose – thoughts?

Mentally visualizing the finish line is the easy part for me – I haven’t actually seen the finish line in person but I have on the website and via Instagram.  Ever since my 55km run when I realized I was both physically and mentally prepared for the ultra, I’ve just been so ready to do it. To run Tarawera. Get it over and done with. Time won’t speed up fast enough! You work and train so hard to increase your fitness and physical ability to do an event, once you get there (which should always be prior to the event itself) it is so easy to think ‘can we just get this over with already!?’ That is me right now.  Just wanting to get it done.  Which is great in some ways – feeling mentally and physically prepared for an event (I’ve gone into some events not feeling at all ready but giving it a go regardless).

But it is also bad because it means on my long training runs I am completely unmotivated – I don’t want to run 21 or 15km or go for a 3 hour hike, I just want to run the event itself, the 60km race.  I want the rush of adrenaline from race day, I want the excitement and new terrain.  Because currently I am bored.  I am even bored of the music and the podcasts I am listening to.  But I know that the taper and the decrease in running serves a purpose, and I just have to get through it.  It will help my body be sufficiently fueled, hydrated, refreshed and rested for the big day.

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On my 2.5 hour hike two weeks ago trying out all my gear together

Part of the taper has been my time to wear and re-wear my race day clothing, my shoes, my socks, my hat, to ensure that everything fits well, there is minimal chafing and that I am going to be comfortable on the day.  I lost my Nike cap on my 55km run so I purchased a new one at Lulu, so I have been wearing that during every run to ensure I am comfortable with it and to see how hot I get when I do wear it (as I may not wear it on the day!).  I’ve also been wearing my Ultimate Direction Jenny ‘Ultra Vesta’ on all my long runs to ensure I am ok wearing it and that it works with stashing my food and gear – I have been putting SOS hydration powder into the two 500ml water bottles, which are on the front of the vest for easy access, and then plain water in my 1.5L bladder in the back.  The vest fits quite a bit of food, and has a nice spot for my iPhone in the front.  I can get two gels in my sports bra, two in the back of my shorts and then two sandwiches and some frooze balls into the backpack itself – it’s amazing what you can fit in it when you try!

I have been trying different foods on my long runs that will be available on the course – chips, pop corn, ginger beer, water melon, oranges, jelly beans.  Things I don’t usually consume on a run and never would normally, things that feel odd buying at the supermarket (so much junk!) but will be there on the day if I want them.  I want to make sure I have had them in my training to ensure they sit well with my stomach in case I do want to grab a piece of watermelon or a glass of ginger beer on the day.

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Grocery shopping the night before a taper Saturday run/hike

I have also been looking after my body a lot more than I usually do.  I am getting weekly sports massages.  Rolling out.  Stretching.  In the morning, in the evening.  Warming up more before my intervals and before a gym session.  Making sure I get enough protein in me to repair my muscles.

And I’ve been trying to learn to trust myself more during the taper period – trust my instincts and trust my body.  Know when a niggle is just a distraction or when it is something more serious.  Know that while it may be tough it is all worth it.  And that there is a purpose behind doing 8 rather than 5 400m intervals, why I am doing the plyometric work at the gym, why I have to do yoga during the week – because there is a purpose and I just have to trust it.

Because that is the most important thing at the end of the day, to trust in yourself, to trust in your goals and your ability, and to trust in the process.  If you don’t trust the process, you won’t have true unfettered faith and confidence in yourself on the big day, and you won’t know that “You got this”.  But (I think) I 100% trust myself right now.  I’m at a point where even if my legs are saying no, my mind is saying “you can do this, you have to do this, don’t ask questions just go.”  Which the entire process, but also this period right now, the tapering and the rest, the cabin fever but mindfulness that comes with it, has helped me achieve. The ability to breathe, to keep going, to live in the moment, to love myself, to run like I don’t know how to stop, and trust the process.

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Solitude amongst friends

We surround ourselves with friends in our day to day lives – at work, at home, out and about.  However, I have never surrounded myself with friends when it came to exercise, sport or running.

To me, running is and has always been a solo sport.  I have always trained alone for a number of reasons – because it was a way to clear my head, because I didn’t have any friends that could keep up with me, or because for the past two years I was always training for an event and had a training plan to stick to.  My Thursday night hill repeats were not overly appealing to anyone else (whether they were training for an event or otherwise) nor were my 25km Saturday runs, with 3x5km sets at faster than race pace, or my 100 minutes of aqua jogging in place of a long run when I was injured.

As a result of this, I naturally became an isolated runner.  I would put on my music, zone out and knuckle down, pumping out the Ks.  My only ‘social’ form of running was HealthFit’s Run Group twice a week, where we did drills, sprints and other forms of speed work.  However, I would turn up, run, joke around with some of the others, and then leave.  When you run alone for so long, it is very easy to become isolated in your world of running and not take opportunities to run with others. To even think that there is an ability to share your running (and your love of running) with others.

My first 'WoRM' group run

This past year though, given I am not confined by any training plan and have more often than not gone for a run just because I want to run, I have discovered the social aspect of running.  While running itself should always be a competition against yourself, not others, I found that I got lost in that self-centered focus and forgot that others existed.  That they existed and they could assist me in my own running.  I have explored new trails, met new people and been inspired by others along the way.  I crashed a stranger’s birthday run one Saturday morning and joined everyone for coffee and cake afterwards.  I met incredibly friendly people who were more than happy to share their love of running with me and share that morning’s adventure with a complete stranger.

We ran through Otari-Wilton Bush, up through Karori Cemetery, all the way up to the Skyline with the most breathtaking views.  I nearly got rushed at by a cow and got roughed up by some wild gorse but it was so worth it.

WoRM Run PanoramaI aimed to write a blog post about that run (and failed to, evidently) and have been searching for new inspiration to write about the fantastic community of runners that Wellington has.  And how difficult it has been for me to really get amongst it.  Yesterday, though, was perfect inspiration.  Several of us have started a Sunday afternoon running habit – and it has been fantastic.  Last week was Otari-Wilton, this past week was 2km repeats at Karori Park.  We are all similar(ish) speeds and incredibly competitive, so while you are pushing your own limits and racing against yourself and your abilities, we can rely on each other in a sense to push ourselves harder.  Chase each other, try to keep up, and make sure that we are keeping up a constant pace.  Not let ourselves slack off (except at the end when we had all had enough!).

The fact was that we were out there, individually running 2km at our own pace against our own physical and mental limits, but at the same time we were out there as a group, running as a unit and supporting each other.  It was partway through my 3rd rep that it hit me ‘Why have I been missing out on this? Have I been too resistant? Or has it just taken me that long to find my running family?’.

To top it all off, two others came out with us to Karori Park and it was the chance for one of those runners, Lee, to go on her first run in three months.  Following a broken metatarsal and a lot of dedication to her rehabilitation plan, she was finally allowed to go for a run.  She seemed nervous but after she set off she really got into it.  We were resting in between reps and could just see her coming around the bend, looking incredibly happy, running with fantastic form, like she was gliding over the track.  To be there and witness her running for the first time in so long was incredible and I felt touched to be able to be part of that exciting experience for her.  It reminded me of this following quote, because it is so easy to get lost in the focus of hitting your set times and keeping consistent with your interval reps, and to forget how beautiful it is just to run.

fa3c8c06b3b869bef9d1811b15e9c4cfSeeing Lee run, and finishing those tough 2km reps with Hamish and Charlie made me realise how much I had been missing out on through being a solo isolated runner.  It made those 2km reps easier and doable.  I had no question in my mind that I was able to do them, and that it would be easy to do them.  I have always viewed other runners as a form of competition, people I have to beat and be better than.  But I am learning to embrace other runners as inspiration, motivation and a challenge.  To not compete against others but to embrace and enjoy my solo sport with them.  Not only does it make the solitude of running more interesting, but I think it will make me a better runner overall.  I just wish I had discovered this running community, and my running family, sooner.

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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Halong Bay Beauty

 

Below are my favorite photos from the Halong Bay cruise Elle and I embarked upon in May. We were on a 2 day and 1 night Dragon Pearl cruise organized through Tonkin Travel. It was absolutely breathtaking – the photos below are barely photoshopped, the colors are completely natural. I just edited contrast and saturation. The pink sky was actually visible with the naked eye. It was totally unbelievable.

 

SoCal Girl

I haven’t had your typical expected upbringing. Meeting new people here in San Diego is rather entertaining – because I will start talking, and then after a sentence or so, the person I am talking to will make a weird confused thinking face as they try to work out my accent. So, if they don’t ask where I am from, I throw into the mix “oh and I am studying abroad from New Zealand this trimester.” “Ohhhhhhhhh cool!” they say. That is then followed by one of the following: “But you don’t sound like you are from New Zealand?”, “But you sound so American!?” or another confused look as they wait for me to fill in the blanks.

So I then go on to tell them that I was born in LA, lived in Texas until I was 5, moved to Indonesia and was there until I was 12, my family then moved to New Zealand where I went to school in Christchurch, moved to Wellington (the capital city of NZ) when I was 18 for college to escape my parents (don’t take offense Mom and Dad, love you!), and am now here in the sunny city of San Diego. Quite a mouthful I know!! In college I worked at a Mexican restaurant three summers in a row, and I would just tell customers I was from Texas, because it was sooooooooooo much easier to pretend I lived there all through high school and moved to NZ for university. The other option was to tell them the real story, and spend 5 minutes talking about my life with them when all they really want to do is order a margarita.

So, once I get that story out, more often than not people will then say “oh so you are international”. Or I have had one or two say “well then technically you are an expat?” So yes. I am not a kiwi nor am I an American. I am in between. I don’t quite belong to either, yet I belong to both. I am an “International”. Expat doesn’t sound right, as I was an expat in Indonesia, but America I do consider my homeland, so I am not technically away from it. I am away from my place of residence, NZ, but not from home. And home is where the heart is right? And my heart belongs to Texas, despite only spending 5 out of my 23 years there. Though maybe by the end of the year I will have rediscovered my Californian roots and be a true Californian. That is definitely going to complicate the story, adding in “then I studied ‘abroad’ in San Diego for 6 months, so this is now why I sound like a Southern Californian.”

You see, it has already started to happen. Perfect example, look above, where I stated my reason for being in the States. “Studying abroad”. That is what Americans call it. In New Zealand, it is an “exchange”. I am “on exchange” as an “exchange student”. But that requires explanation of how I can attend school in the States. If I say I am studying abroad, everyone here understands how it works. That my courses I take here will cross credit back to my New Zealand degree. I will then graduate from my New Zealand law school, not from CWSL. The only negative part about that is the States is pretty strict on who can sit the bar exam. So in order to come live and work in California as an attorney (see, attorney, not lawyer, I’m getting it!) I have to work for 3 years as a lawyer outside the US, come do my masters at a US law school, and then I can study for and sit the bar. Or work for 5 years. But I would prefer to work for a shorter time and then do my masters in law over here. 4 years instead of 5.

Another aspect of rediscovering my Californian roots is that I am learning more of the lingo – so on the weekend, before you go out to town or a party, you “pre game”. Like with football (American, not soccer), before the game there is a pre game drinking sesh. In New Zealand, we have “pre drinks”. No one would have a clue what “pre game” was. Especially if you weren’t going to a rugby game. Even if I was going to a rugby game, I wouldn’t say “pre game”. Another weird term is a “dive bar”. Cheap scummy bars are called “dive bars”. I don’t know the reason, but I am trying to get into it. I am also involuntarily getting into the accent here. Due to living overseas and attending an international school with over 30 nationalities, my accent is very mixed. It is also very pliable.

Four years ago I spent a week in New York. By the end of the week, I was saying “coffee” like the locals with that drawl. And I have made a friend here who is from New Jersey. I notice that my voice and accent changes when I am around her. It is really odd but I can’t help it. So here, my accent is already changing, although my friends will say that I have little bits of kiwi accent on some words that I say. Still. But I don’t think they know what they are talking about – I called up National Bank the other day and nearly died of laughter because the Auckland accent was so different from anything I have heard in months, I couldn’t handle it. I do not have that accent. If you don’t believe me, watch this YouTube video. I don’t even have a HINT of that accent. (Or at least I really really hope I don’t!)

At least tourists don’t think I am foreign. I have given directions to tourists on two occasions in San Diego! That’s right. Twice!! I asked if they needed help and was able to point them in the right direction, as well as give them tips on the different areas of downtown San Diego. That was a defining moment. I was late for dinner, but I didn’t care. I told this family that we were on the corner of Kettner and A, and exactly how to get to the Hard Rock Hotel. Boom! Local!!

I really owe most of my knowingness of San Diego (knowingness is not a word, but I can’t think of the correct one, so it is a word for the purpose of this post) to the new friends I have made. Today is my 2 month anniversary with San Diego. I arrived here 2 months ago, drove down from LA on a sunny afternoon, with no idea exactly what to expect. One month later was my first day at CWSL. I didn’t know anyone. I was nervous as hell, hoping I would fit in, find my classrooms and not make an absolute fool of myself in one way or another. And now, a month after my first day, I have met so many awesome people. I have really had to put myself out there, introduce myself and make myself go be social, but it has paid off. I am reinventing myself. It is rather fun. Figuring out exactly who you are, with no preconceptions or high school dramas holding you back. And along the way, I have been to different restaurants, bars and cafes, and seen great San Diego sights.

Last week involved beer and frozen yogurt on Monday night (interesting combination I know), with Thursday night being a big one beginning with sushi happy hour, Ghirardelli ice cream and shopping with the girls, then due to my friend Spencer’s concern for my social life (See look you are mentioned! I hope you feel special), the night evolved into drinks at the most hipster bar around (reminding me SO much of Wellington), bringing a huge lovable dog into the bar, drinks at the Waterfront where 4 Kiwi guys were on a stag do, a house party, climbing over a fence into the “Roman bath” (jacuzzi) when the gate actually opened but no one realized, old school Super Mario, and arriving home at 5am. Friday was wine and dessert at Extraordinary Desserts (so very extraordinary), and Saturday was yum cha, dinner and cocktails at Katsuya, followed by drinks at other various bars, including one where at 11pm girls came in and danced on the bar. Not customers. Girls whose job it was to dance on the bar. And it wasn’t a strip club. It was an Irish pub. I was confused at the time, and I still am. So very confused.

However there are two things I have not yet tried, which I think are mandatory before I can call myself a Californian girl. Numero uno = a California burrito. In the rest of the US, apart from California, if something is “Californian” style, it has avocado in it. Think California roll. In California, it means it has french fries in it. I mean how confusing is that? Although apparently one must be careful when trying a California burrito, because it has to be done just right. The french fries (yes french fries, not chips!) must be crisp and well done because otherwise they go soggy in the burrito and it is just not worth your time. And french fries bring me to the second thing I need to try: In and Out. It is a burger joint that people are mad about. Insane about. But in my mind, it is just a burger right? A fast food place! So I need to see what all the hype is about and try it for myself!

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Life at a ‘Real’ Law School

I apologize for my lack of relevant blog posts. But I just haven’t really known what to write. Or how to sum up things here. I have also been busy with school and getting back into real life – goodbye travel and sightseeing and photography. For now. So this blog post is about school, then hopefully the next one will be a bit more fun.

Ok. So I have survived 3 full weeks of law school and am already into week 4. I am finally settled in, have made some friends and am getting into my assignments. I also may have had a super social week last week and weekend, getting home at midnight on a Tuesday night, and drinking all weekend – including endless Mimosas on Sunday morning. (I am so glad that people aren’t so serious in law school that they don’t party!). So I feel like I am getting to know San Diego better and I am definitely beginning to love it here. Unlike many people who go on exchange, I didn’t have the initial culture shock arriving in a new country. I am American by birth and have visited over two dozen times with family. So I know how lots of things are done here. Yet there are still things I don’t know, words I don’t understand or things that completely blow my mind because they are so different.

There are a few times where someone hasn’t understood a word I have used (like “capsicum” or “gutted”), or they have used a completely ridiculous word – such as “root”. You “root” for your team. New Zealanders and British will know that you do not root for your team…I will leave it at that and say no more. This is a PG blog. And an example of things that are totally weird and totally American – you can buy pre-cooked ribs at the supermarket. You just heat it up. Insane. And you can even get a bucket of pre-cooked fried chicken. At the supermarket. For Americans that won’t seem weird, but it is. It just is.

And things are so huge here. You can buy a gallon milk = 4 liters. Four!! And HUGE jars of pickles and jalapenos and whatnot. And alcohol is so cheap – a bottle of Sauza tequila is like $15 NZD. That would set you back $45 back home. And there is far too much choice – the example I have used so far is that there are over 30 types of margarine in the supermarket here. I couldn’t decide, it was too overwhelming so I just walked away. I couldn’t do it. Too much. Then, the first night club I went to, we got in an elevator to take us to the rooftop bar, with views of the stadium and fireworks!! The club itself was about 4 stories high. I felt like I was on The Hills or some unreal TV show like that. I am definitely not in NZ anymore.

Apart from all that ridiculousness, I am actually doing something serious and worthwhile here. For those who don’t know, I am attending California Western School of Law. It is a private law school in downtown San Diego. And it has a stained glass window.

California Western School of Law, San DiegoThere are approximately 900 students and the average age of a student is 27. Well, in New Zealand a law degree is an undergrad degree. And my law faculty in NZ had probably 2,000 students. Most people were fresh out of high school, so most would graduate with a law degree by the age of 23. “Mature students” were an irregularity. Here, I am younger than most in my class as I am the age of 1Ls (first year law students) who already have a college degree. Most my friends are at least 25. And there are a lot of “mature students” – you don’t think anything of it.

The school itself is beautiful. It is downtown, consists of three buildings, and is always thriving. The law library is not quite as regal as the one back in Wellington (just because I love the historic building that Vic Law School is located in) but it is 4 stories high, with so many books. Federal and state – law books from all the states. So 50 times as many books as in NZ. (PS the below photo was taken against my will – when Mom and I looked around the school for the first time she was snapping pictures of me left right and center. But I approve the one below…)

The thing I love most about CWSL is that it is a real law school in the US. I love that. Attending a real law school. Victoria University School of Law is a university with a law department. It was great, I loved it, but it definitely does not feel the same as here. There is so much pressure on students here and it rubs off on you – in a good way. You feel serious and more focused. People are in internships in first year, already working on networking and having job experiences (though mostly unpaid). The school is really focused on helping you be successful in your future. And everyone wants to work in the law – you wouldn’t pay so much money and so much time in further study otherwise!!

I also love my classes – there are so many different courses available here. I am doing Entertainment Law, E-Commerce, Employment Law and the Law Relating to Natural Disasters. The Professors are brilliant and knowledgeable, and students really know what they want to do with their lives. Some want to be entertainment lawyers and work for MTV, others want to work for art galleries. One 2L I met even worked as an intern for an American Football team helping negotiate player contracts. These are jobs I would never even think of existing for lawyers. But they do! It has really made me start to rethink my goals and dreams and what I am really interested in – however New Zealand doesn’t have a huge basis for entertainment law or e-commerce law. So we shall see. I may be returning – I love San Diego, especially the weather. It is 28 degrees C every day basically. So warm. And sunny. It hasn’t rained in the whole 2 months I have been here – very different from what I am used to in Wellington!! People are also telling me that I should just stay. And I can, because I am a citizen. So, who knows?