Devon Yanko took third at the 2016 Western States 100, but she had to ‘work the problem’ in order to do so. In the following interview, Devon talks about what happened that set her back so much in the race’s first third and how she got through it, how her close race with second place Amy Sproston played out, and what she’s learned from this race so far.
We’ve also got video of Devon finishing the race.
For more on the race, read our 2016 Western States 100 results article.
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Devon Yanko Post-2016 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Devon Yanko after her third-place finish at the 2016 Western States 100. How are you, Devon?
Devon Yanko: Excellent. How are you?
iRunFar: Pretty good. Aside from a little wear and tear on your neck and feet?
Yanko: Just a little rubbing.
iRunFar: Just a flesh wound?
Yanko: Just a flesh wound. Yeah, my legs feel great. It’s the… yeah. As long as I don’t take a shower for the next three days, I’ll be fine.
iRunFar: You can just lounge around and relax for that time. You kind of had to “work the problem” yesterday fairly early on, didn’t you?
Yanko: Yes. At the time I kind of changed it to “work the catastrophe” because most things that happen in ultras, there’s a set of circumstances that you have expectations like your stomach goes, blah-blah-blah, your muscles go out. Missing or having a crew member not make it part of the plan, that was not even in my universe of thought, especially the person that it is who is super dependable and then they weren’t there. I come into the aid station and they weren’t there. I spent three minutes, Maybe they’re here, there are so many people. I ended up… I had a bladder leading up to Duncan, and I didn’t want to take that out. It takes forever. It was not something I wanted to do.
iRunFar: So you were just swapping out packs, that was the plan?
Yanko: Exactly. At Robinson, she was supposed to give me two flasks to make it up, but I only had one flask with me. So they filled it up with water, but I had no fuel. So they gave me some gels, but I ran out half way up to Robinson. So I spent a good 45 minutes without anything. So then I… pretty exposed section… that really set me back, getting dehydrated early. I started going out of Robinson and my crew is going, “You’re fine,” and started NASCAR-ing me. I’m just like “not really a unicorn, puppies, and kittens.” When I left Robinson, I could tell I was just in this hole. Going down to Last Chance I was just going to be really careful. I drank a whole bottle of water. But the backs of my legs started cramping and then I made it through and saw Meghan and she’s like, “You’re fine. You’re doing great.” My crew was there. Same person I’d missed. I was super mad. I made it through that aid station and going into Last Chance I started shivering. I was like, “It is most definitely not cold out here,” and getting kind of loopy. The cramps were setting in. It’s like, Okay, what do I do in this situation? Zach [Violett], Stephanie’s [Howe Violett] husband, he caught up to me and tells me about this time when he sat in this aid station for five minutes and drank a full liter of coke. “You just need to do that!” So I kind of had this, “sit down and kind of regroup.” So I sat down and they checked me out. The med guys came over because I was feeling bad enough that I was actually kind of worried about it. I don’t really know how to work that problem. So I was like… you talked about that. “What do you do at Devil’s Thumb?” I wasn’t at Devil’s Thumb. They got me some potato chips. Billy Yang and Craig Thornley were there. They were like, “You’re going to come back from this.” I was like, “I don’t know.” It’s a hard thing. I just had to reset. I tried to get back some puppies and kittens.
iRunFar: Did you find some there?
Yanko: It took me awhile. Just getting out of that to being like having that faith and having them… when you don’t have faith in yourself, having someone be like, “We’ve seen you do this. Come on, you’re just giving everyone else a chance.” That was kind of funny. I was like, Okay, I’m kind of doing this not for myself. I have this faithful crew out there. The whole Oiselle universe is following along. People are running with me all over the country. People all over the world are backing me up. I’m going to keep going because they have faith that I can do this. Going down into the canyons, that time really helped me reset. I’ve done the canyons a bunch of times, and it was actually… it’s always sucked… and it was actually easier than it’s ever been. I think it was because I had the right… I’m not going to run up to Devil’s Thumb. I’m just going to hike. I’m not worried about that, because that’s what I always do. By the time I got to Devil’s Thumb, I was actually feeling pretty good.
iRunFar: When did you switch from trying to survive to going back to—maybe not making the final chase—but when do you go back to running a race?
Yanko: After getting out of Last Chance and starting down the canyon. I had a little cry thinking about my niece and nephew—they don’t care as they are three and one years old—I want them to be proud and to kind of have that motivation. Then Taylor Swift came on, “Shake it off,” and I was like, Okay! I started to feel better. So I took my time going down that. When I was in the aid station, three people passed me. I was like, Alright, you know. After Devil’s Thumb, when I got to Devil’s Thumb, I came up to that feeling so good that I was like, Okay, I know I’m going to make it through Michigan Bluff. That was the big obstacle for me. That has been my wall. I’ve never made it past there. After I went down and I started… I was right behind Alyssa [St. Laurent], not Aliza [LaPierre], I got right behind her and we caught up with YiOu [Wang]. She’d been way ahead of me, and she was having a hard time. I stopped and was like, “Just pull it together.” To see that and how quickly it could change and kind of return that favor, because she had been, “You’ll be fine,” when she had passed me. I gave her my sleeves because she was sick, and I thought she’d be better if she was cooling off. Coming out of Eldorado Creek, I was feeling really strong. You do that in training so many times that you know exactly how long it should take you on race day. I just felt so strong that it was kind of that self-perpetuating thing. Seeing how good my legs felt, the other stuff was subsiding. They told me this, that it would just take time to catch up. So, my stomach was all good, so I was hammering the calories, hammering the drink. So it’s kind of like all signs point to this could be good. So when I came into Michigan Bluff, I was like, “Tell Krissy [Moehl] and Larissa [Dannis] that I have legs.” Getting through Volcano was what it was, but it was right around there where I was like, Alright…
iRunFar: When did it sort of at least externally seem to turn into a race for second with Amy Sproston?
Yanko: Coming out of Foresthill, I knew I was in fourth. Larissa, epic downhiller, so it was a perfect combination and we just flowed on that trail. Somebody at the aid station had told us that third was six minutes ahead. She told me, “I’m not going to tell you, but they’re really close.” So we just kept doing what we were doing, and when I passed her, I passed her with such momentum, and I had passed so many guys, I was like, Alright… and then I get to the river and they said Amy was 11 minutes ahead. I felt so strong, I was like, “Let’s try. Hunt as long as I can and I have legs.” By Brown’s Bar, right before Brown’s Bar, we started seeing her light. They told us we were two or three minutes back. I was having a little bit of shin pain. I was able to run. Form was good, but on slight downhills, there was this really excruciating pain. It felt muscular. I changed my form a little bit, but you don’t want to change your form too much. I was making a really strong push. You can also see other people’s lights. She knew that we were there. She saw Nathan [Yanko]. She had asked Nathan how I was doing. I think in her mind she knows how I can close, so she’s not going to go lightly. She has the experience. She had an amazing race. Coming into Highway 49, they told me again I was three minutes back, but at that point I was like, I just didn’t have that dun-dun-dun-duhhhhh that I had at Javelina. I was like, she would have to falter for me to catch her. It was more me like trying to mitigate the shin circumstance. Uphill was great. I ran most of the uphill to Robie Point. That downhill to No Hands Bridge where I was like uhhhhhhhhhhhh. I felt bad for Krissy because I was crying, snotting, and grunting.
iRunFar: But knowing you’re going to finish… you know it’s pain but not a blow up.
Yanko: Exactly. So it was like, just finishing as strong as possible and being okay that I fought the good fight. I came back from a catastrophe. When I was coming across No Hands Bridge I was still in that weird painful gripping, and then I was like puppies and kittens and unicorns. I want to… I didn’t want to miss that moment.
iRunFar: What did you come out of it with—redemption from your previous run? Bouncing back? What made yesterday special? What will you think about later?
Yanko: Really, like just the support and having people rally around me. That really made it for me—to have people believe in me and be behind me and so excited. The whole way, just everybody all along the course was like, “We believe in you.” Having that is so cool. Yeah, it is redemption. I got in with one ticket in the fire year, right? It was supposed to be my first 100. Then I dropped. To come back from something that I’m sitting there thinking, This course is going to get the best of me. To go from that and how Gina [Lucrezi] and Pam Smith just walked it in, and trying to find that place, but I’m really proud of being able to turn around and be so strong. Ultimately, the finish place doesn’t matter. It’s the fact that I came back from something like that and then was still able to enjoy the experience. Like I told you, I didn’t want to miss that.
iRunFar: Did almost having that… being at Highway 49 with two or three minutes and knowing you’re not going to catch her allow you to almost enjoy that final couple hours more?
Yanko: Yeah, I think when I got to No Hands and knowing that I’m not… I would have had to have caught her by then, and she was inspired. It allowed me on that climb to come up and meet my crew at Robie… “I’m not going to cry. Just kidding.” I knew I was going to cry. But having them there, and I felt really good once I hit the road, and you’re like, That’s what it’s all about—relishing that.
iRunFar: What’s up next for you? Do you have any other plans?
Yanko: I do, but it’s kind of a… we have to see how the feet shake out. I’m signed up for Leadville.
iRunFar: Okay. So it’s a couple months away. It’s feet. They don’t look so good, but…
Yanko: Up next is I’m going to the Olympic Trials to watch other people run next week.
iRunFar: That’s a great idea.
Yanko: Yeah, so 10 days up in Eugene. That should be pretty awesome.
iRunFar: Alright, Devon, well congratulations on a great run out there.
Yanko: Thank you!