Woman Up: Q&A With Devon Yanko Pre-Western States 100
This Saturday, Devon Yanko will take on the Western States 100! The world’s oldest 100 mile trail race starting in Squaw Valley, California and ending in Auburn — representing one of the ultimate tests of endurance, perseverance, and human ability in the world.
We had the opportunity to catch up with Devon, Oiselle athlete and ultra marathoner, as she prepares to run the WS100. Devon talks to us about how she'll woman up, go fast, and take chances in this historic, 100-mile race.
Also, see below for: 1. how to follow as we live tweet from the event 2. how to #ultrawithdevon wherever you are, and 3. get a free Mesh Cap, Devon's favorite, in your order through Saturday!
Megan: With the race coming up, how are you feeling?
Devon: I had my last long run yesterday. When you're still in training, it's easy to stay pumped up. Tapering can feel like this terrible dark forest you have to wander through to get to the starting line. It's going to take a lot of focus to get to the beginning of this race with the mentality I had leaving training. All in all, I'm coming into the race with a good head on my shoulders, good perspective, and strong training -- I have to feel good about that. I put in the work.
M: We've been loving our talks with you about "woman-ing up" - reclaiming this idiom, "man-up", and redefining it with a new set of attributes that come from our community. What does "woman up" mean to you?
D: When we think about "man up" we think about being tough or strong. To me, "woman-up" is far more complicated and deep. It's about being gritty and persevering - appreciating a multifaceted ability to get to a certain outcome. You have to be smart, you have to be strong, you have to navigate a world where you're not always at an advantage. A world where the door isn't always open. It’s fighting in a different way. It’s where patience, perseverance, and grit all come together. That’s what woman up means to me."
M: Grit is having a moment in culture right now. I can imagine it means something different to an ultra runner. What does it mean to you?
D: During a race like this, you experience a lifetime of emotions in a single run. There are physical and mental highs and lows. I had some of my lowest moments emotionally during Javelina and Sean O'Brien. Grittiness to me is not about ignoring those moments, it's about finding a way to claw my way out of those moments on my own. In the last 40 miles of Javelina, I was running my fastest miles of the day.
M: Getting out of those low-moments...what does that sound like in your head?
D: It's about finding your way out of those moments by having the patience to know it will pass - embracing the peaks and valleys.
"Work The Problem" has been a mantra for me. A lot of problems in an ultra can feel emotional. Sometimes it's actually physical. It requires being proactive, staying ahead of your nutrition and hydration. Setting yourself up with the people around you is also really important. I've told my crew, "I'm not stopping." Closing that door by letting your crew into your headspace is critical.
All the time, people say to me - "I can't imagine running 100 miles." I can't either! You can't wrap your head around running that distance. I think about my crew, I think about getting to a specific part of the course. That's how I approach that mentally.
M: Let's talk about your team. How do you think about your team's role in this experience?
D: I come from a team sports background. I found my people playing sports. When I took up running, I had this idea of a running community that existed somewhere, but had trouble finding it. When I did my first ultra and I crossed the finish line, two well-known ultra runners immediately congratulated me at the finish line.
It's how I ultimately came to Oiselle as a brand. I started seeing this community come together and I wanted to go toward that. That team support is what makes my experience so rich. I know I'm not alone in this. Some of the Volée made a video for me after Javelina to congratulate me. It was the coolest thing!
You know, there's all this build up and pressure, and then a mile into the race you're out there in the woods by yourself. It's amazing to know I have a team and community behind me while I run, offering that strength, passion, and mutual support.
At Sean O'Brien, where I got my ticket to run Western States, I was having a pretty bad race, and I came around the corner and see a woman in a Oiselle singlet - running a different distance but sharing the course with me. It totally changed my day. She sped up so she could run a portion of the race with me. We didn't even know each other but since we share these values and this team, we were both immediately connected, energized, and supporting each other.
M: You've told us your favorite trail styles! What are you wearing these days?
D: Roga Shorts. I even slid down a snow-field in them last Sunday! They have the perfect combination of being lightweight and really dealing with the terrain. I don't lose my car keys because of the pockets. My latest go-to.
I also wore the Spandos last Friday! They made me feel fast and awesome. Clothing affects how you take on the run. When I choose apparel, I take the things I'm trying to feel about myself and choose products that help me feel that way. That's why I love Oiselle.
M: How do you fuel your body during a race like this? When training for a race like this? How do you feed the machine?
D: I'm not immune from self-doubt and feelings. I'm 6 feet tall, I feel like a giant on the starting line of a race. My philosophy is to do the work. Fuel your body. You will naturally get to where your body is most efficient if you do those two things efficiently. You have to find that balance ultimately.
M: We know you're a bookworm. What are you reading these days to get your head primed and ready for a race like this?
- Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. A lot of her books focus on female relationships between family and friends. There's a little bit of magic in there too. Really fun to read.
- Brene Brown (all titles). I've read all of her books!
- Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. A really great read about how to transform your life with a single choice.
- Superbetter by Jane McGonigal. March was a rough month of me. Jane McGonical helped me get through it. It's about how games can apply to your broader life.
M: What does trail running offer that a runner can't get anywhere else?
D: Freedom. I do find joy in the roads, but I'm able to find more joy on the trails because when I'm out there, I have no expectations. Look at where I can take myself. Where I can go, under my own power, is amazing. It really connects you with a more fundamental state of running.
M: What would you tell your audience who's about to watch you run this race? What do you want them to take away from this endeavor?
D: Be true to yourself. I'm not running Western States to prove anything to anyone. This is my third attempt at this race. First year it was a fire year, so it was cancelled. Second year I dropped out at mile 56 when I had kidney failure.
No matter what happens, I want running to be a positive in my life. I want to have a relationship with the trails, the journey, my team, and the distance - that's what's important to me.
I'm excited to see what I can do on this course, on this day. I want this to be an expression of who I am. Whatever the day holds for me, I want to give myself an opportunity to celebrate all the work I've put into this, all the people who support me, and all the passion I have for this sport when I get to the finish line.
HOW TO FOLLOW
We're lucky enough to be a part of Devon's crew on race day, so we'll be able to keep you close to the action. Here's how you can be a part of Devon's team and support her as she takes on this challenge.
Share Your Support
Let her know you're cheering for her by sending a message to her @Fast_Foodie on Twitter.
Run With Devon: #ultrawithdevon
Many members of Devon's team will be running a portion of the race with her on Saturday 6/25. You can join her in spirit by posting a photo of your run throughout this week and on Saturday on Twitter or Instagram using #ultrawithdevon.
GET DEVON'S FAVE MESH CAP (FOR FREE!)
Because ultra's are all about going big...get Devon's favorite Mesh Cap free with any purchase 6/22 through Saturday, 6/25 while supplies last. Hats off to Devon! (automatically added to every order)