Her feet looked like cereal left in milk too long, previously hardened runner callouses bloated and whitish from 62 miles trapped in sweat-filled shoes. Her shoes and socks had been stripped off and discarded.
“Get the one on my right heel,” Devon said, her staccato words rapidly tapping out like Morse Code, “No the inside part yes that one pop that one.”
“It’s already done, it popped already,” said Kristin calmly, our crew captain, holding Devon’s mutilated feet unphased, like a mother of toddlers. Devon slid forward on the camp chair just long enough for visual proof, and continued to issue instructions and information so the crew could help her.
While her husband rubbed her shoulders, I awkwardly attempted to tie an ice-filled bandana around her neck as Nu-skin was sprayed liberally on all surfaces of her mangled feet, and two new socks were slid on expertly by two different sets of hands. Devon’s charged body language and rattled-off updates bordered on mania when suddenly she noticed the crew struggling to get her dry shoes on. “Let me do it,” she said, and tied them on deftly, hands steady, as her crew leaned back to make room. Within the blink of an eye, she was up and moving, the sea parting around her, and all I could do was stand there in the blazing sun, rooted to the spot, as her jersey disappeared down the road.
To watch Devon Yanko race 100 miles is to witness a storm in the middle of the sea. She is sideways rain from swirling clouds colliding with 50 foot waves to form one body of water; She is a thousand powerful currents gently moving all the sea life beneath. She is frightening, and beautiful, and exactly as she should be.
An ultra is like a lifetime in a bottle, with the extremes of emotion and physical limits on display. She would have to come to a complete stop for 20 minutes of medical help due to dehydration and still have 67 miles ahead. She would come alive with 50 to go and hunt with the focus on a lion. She would run 38 more miles after the foot-pacolypse. She would feel invincible. She would chat about philosophy with her pacers. She would feel alone in the universe. She would stop on the side of the trail to cry. She would be lifted by strong words. And in the final mile she would be lifted by love.
The sweat on her shoulders would shine under the street lights as she approached us through the dark neighborhoods of Auburn at midnight. When she saw us waiting at Robie Point, her shuffle turned into a run, and we joined her. She lifted us out of our concern with her jokes and picked up the pace. After 99 miles, Devon was taking care of us. When the lights of the Placer High School track first became visible, the crack in her voice revealed the weight of the moment, and tears came to my eyes. With stride unbroken, she entered the stadium, ¾ of a lap on the track away from the finish line. The plan was to run around the final bend with her, as far as crew was permitted, but halfway down the first straightaway I pulled over onto the infield and stopped, as did everyone else but her pacer. I watched her as she ran under the lights, bringing a new kind of story to a place so familiar to me, her feet writing a beautiful ending that was only hers.
Third place finish in 19 hours, 10 minutes, 8 seconds!
Thank you Devon for inviting me and Sally to be part of your crew! It was a privilege! Thank you Oiselle for creating a space that encourages us to show up for one another. Thank you to everyone who joined us in this epic event. Your messages via #ultrawithdevon (see the feed here) and #WS100 buoyed us through some long miles and dark hours. Thank you to Nathan, Kristin, Sarah, Amelia, Larisa, Hollis, and Chrissy for being so welcoming and inclusive to total rookies. And thanks to the ultra community there. What you do with your body and mind is no doubt inspiring, but it is who you are to one another that moved me most of all.