Devon Yanko makes the case for listening to your gut, figuring out what excites you, and then running (fast) in that direction.
On Saturday, April 2 when I crossed the finish line at Umstead 100 mile, after just 14:23 of running, I was filled with elation, exhilaration and a profound sense of “this is exactly where I am supposed to be.”
This is not the finish line I thought I would find myself at. This is not the journey I thought I would be on. Back in 2020, coming off the Olympic Trials in February, I was laser focused on doing the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning. I had set my sights on running a golden ticket race and earning my way into Western States to take on the Slam. The Grand Slam is a huge challenge which I knew would push me in ways I couldn’t even comprehend. I would run Western States, Vermont, Leadville and Wasatch (Old Dominion is an option in the Slam as well) in one summer. Four 100 milers in a summer, when I had only completed four 100 milers in my career.
I was determined, but the pandemic had other ideas. I deferred my dream and resolved to run the slam in 2021. But then my body had other ideas. After having one of the best running years of my life in 2020, the stresses I had been under literally broke me and instead of running the Grand Slam, I was just trying to run at all. I deferred my dream again. Then, at some point, the thrill and desire to do the Grand Slam started to fade. At the same time, it was hard to let go of the idea. I felt like I should do it even if my heart was no longer in it.
Meanwhile, I was getting excited about other races. The amazing part of this sport is that there are so many cool, unique races to choose from. I have already run Western States, Vermont, and Leadville and it was fun to dream about new challenges. I applied for as many lotteries and spots as I could. By the time February 2022 rolled around, I was signed up for seven 100 milers.
I told myself I would let Black Canyon 100k, a Golden Ticket race, decide if I did the Grand Slam or if I did what was instead coming together as my very own slam. But even as I lined up to race Black Canyon, I knew deep down that I no longer wanted to do the Grand Slam. The race ultimately decided for me, as I was forced to drop out at mile 50 because of a bad fall that caused a calf cramp so bad I could barely walk. I was bummed to not finish the race, but I found myself relieved that I didn’t have to decide my racing path–it had been decided for me.
The new plan that I was so stoked on was what I soon named “The DY DIY Slam”, my own Slam challenge, my way. I had known in my gut that I was more excited about my own plan, than the Grand Slam, but I also knew by doing my own thing I was sacrificing walking (or running) a known path. I was giving up the prestige, I was taking the less popular path. However, this doesn’t bother me. I feel like I have been blazing my own trail for a long time and often bristle when forced into a conventional path. Choosing to do my own thing felt like the most authentic thing I could do.
The races I decided to do were Umstead 100, Kettle Moraine 100, High Lonesome 100, Leadville 100, and Run Rabbit 100. Just thinking about taking on these races made me motivated, nervous, and terrified all in the same breath. It is daunting to run so many miles. It is such an unknown territory. As race day approached for my first 100, Umstead, I wondered if I should be retiring and taking up 5kms instead of trying to race 500 miles in 6 months. Instead of giving into the nerves, I decided to take it one step at a time. I didn’t have to think about the other four races, I just had to think about Umstead. I found some locals who were willing to crew and pace me, packed my bags, and set off to North Carolina.
The day before the race my coach, Mario Fraioli, expressed that he thought that this race “is such a Devon race.” What he meant was, it is low key, has an amazing community, and the course itself is fast, even if not flat. And he was right. I showed up to the start line feeling like I was among friends. Umstead’s motto is “just a run in the park” and as we ran off into the dark to complete eight loops, I found myself connected to this thought. All the worries and nerves melted away and I was able to do what it is that I do best: run.
As the miles ticked off, there was one thing that was absolutely clear to me: I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I had made the right choice and because this was my authentically right choice, I was able to get out of my own way and just enjoy the day. True joy and connection to my running brings me such incredible power. It makes things feel easy. It makes me able to tap into my fitness at the highest level and get out of my own way. It makes me feel connected and in the moment, saving me from overthinking or second guessing. In other words, choosing the path that is most authentic lets me step into my power and be my best self.
How did Umstead go? It was one of the best races of my career. I finished first overall, not just first woman which is a first in the race’s 27-year history. I set a female course record and a 100-mile PR running 14:23. I felt good all day, made very few mistakes, and had a smile on my face all day long. It was deeply satisfying.
I don’t know how the rest of “The DY DIY Slam” will go. I know that not every race will be magical, but I do know that because I chose the authentic path I will not waver in my commitment to finish. I firmly believe that we all need to do more of what fuels us and never be afraid to chart our own path.