After some years away, Devon Yanko returns to the IAU 100k World Championships as part of the U.S. team. In the following interview, Devon talks about her recent running pursuits, how the Comrades Marathon went for her this year, and how she’ll approach racing the 100km World Championships.
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Devon Yanko before the 2018 IAU 100k World Championships. How are you, Devon?
Devon Yanko: I’m great. How are you?
iRunFar: Alright. It’s been awhile since we’ve chatted on camera. I haven’t seen you really race too much lately. It seems like you’ve maybe shifted more toward the roads of late? Is that true?
Yanko: Well, the whole broken foot saga of the last two years held me back a little bit, and then I just ran things that you weren’t at like Leadville last year.
iRunFar: Or Comrades this year.
Yanko: Yeah, Comrades. The beginning of this year I didn’t get to race a lot, but that was coming back from the foot and a lot of health issues. I was training fine, but then would get sick right before going to races.
iRunFar: Not ideal.
Yanko: I’ve finally unraveled what’s been causing that over my career because I’ve usually been more towards sickness than towards injury, but now I know why. It’s nice because in the long future ahead of me, I can kind of not have that be a problem.
iRunFar: It’s not a problem right now?
Yanko: We’ll find out in two days, I guess. Before I got on the airplane, I woke up and was like, Wait, am I getting sick? No, it’s totally gone.
iRunFar: Taper jitters.
Yanko: Yeah, it’s like getting on an international plane, Wait, do I feel 100% right? Now I’m like, Whatever, I feel good.
iRunFar: It’s probably great to have that sorted out because a lot of people can get sick at the end of training cycles because you’re just stressed.
Yanko: Yes, and it’s weird because this summer… Comrades was in the beginning of June and Comrades was my big focus for the beginning of the year, so having a weird summer, I never felt I had that same peak mentality towards this race. My training was really good, but it was more like holding on to what I had.
iRunFar: You’re sustaining.
Yanko: Yeah, so I think that stressed my system less, so hopefully…
iRunFar: Comrades went well.
Yanko: Yeah, Comrades went… it’s like my white whale. I’ve not yet had the day I feel like I’m capable of, but that’s why I keep going back. It’s a really hard race to figure out because you have to go at such a speed over a crazy distance with a decent amount of climbing and descending and it’s really competitive and the atmosphere is crazy. I’m really satisfied with seventh. I ran really hard. My fitness range was I could have run podium speed, but you have the day you have. I’m really proud of how I pushed. For the team I run with, I was the first person on our team. That mentality really pushed me at the end where I was running right on that line down that hill where I was like, If I go one second per mile faster, I might just be on a heap on the ground. So I was really proud of making that type of effort. In ultrarunning, a lot of the time you’re trying to stay away from the line.
iRunFar: Especially on a trail 100 miler where if you’re pushing that line anywhere but the last 10 miles, you’re… there’s too much risk.
Yanko: Last year at Leadville, I was basically not caring what anyone else was doing and staying “here” because being from 0 feet and being at 10,000 feet, I was like, if I of over that line, I’m done. It showed itself in the race with people, and there I was plodding along.
iRunFar: This is no Comrades, but it’s similar in may respects and similar in distance. It’s actually not a flat course. It’s not quite as hilly as Comrades, but…
Yanko: I know, as we were driving in I was like, “Hello, hill.” It’s rolling.
iRunFar: It’s 2,500-3,000 feet of climb maybe.
Yanko: Yeah, that’s what they said. Sweet.
iRunFar: It’s something you’re used to.
Yanko: It actually makes me happier because in previous 100ks, this is my fifth time being on the team, but I’ve finished three and the last one I did in 2011 I got food poisoning. Winschoten was pancake flat. God bless Marin, but there is not more than a mile of flat to be had. Doing a flat race, I usually get in 20 miles and then I’m like,Nope, I’ve been using “that” much of my muscles.
iRunFar: How’s the hip flexor doing?
Yanko: This much of my hamstring hurts. This actually bodes well for the type of training that I’ve done.
iRunFar: Nice. Are you excited to be back on the team after such a long break?
Yanko: I was pleasantly surprised when I got selected. My time at Comrades, as the alternate, moved me up the list. At Comrades, I will say, it’s the first time in my ultrarunning career where I was like, “Done. I don’t need to do this anymore.” I’ve been doing it for 12 years which, these days, that’s starting to get up there.
iRunFar: You’ve been doing it for awhile.
Yanko: Yeah, considering I’m only 36, that’s saying something. As soon as I got that spot, I was like, It’s in Croatia. I’ve never been there. What I like about this race is the team aspect. I don’t think… that just doesn’t exist in a lot of the events. I’ve run and had so much fun in the past with my teammates some of whom like Meghan Laws. We’ve been on all these teams together. That’s so awesome!
iRunFar: That is cool… and the new members of the team as well.
Yanko: Yeah, exactly. I love that aspect. I think we have 42 countries here. I walked in and the entire South African team was like, “Devon!” This is what I love. I love my South Africans.
iRunFar:Meghan [Hicks] wrote the women’s preview, so I haven’t checked it out in depth, but the men’s team is incredible. On paper, I’d say they (South Africa) can’t lose, but the Japanese team is also awesome.
Yanko: Yeah, I read the women’s preview because I know nothing about the women who run the 100k. It’s one of those things where it’s like, Wow, that’s a really fast PR. Wait, was I even alive when that was run? You’re trying to figure it out, and honestly, it doesn’t change how I race. I don’t know… the people who have Comrades times listed, I have a metric for that. Other people, I’m just like… again, even at races like Western States—that’s the last time you and I talked on camera, 2016 Western States—where it’s like, the idea of competition, but that’s not what I’m focused on. It’s not basketball. They can’t block my shot. They can trip me, but… there’s not like… so focusing on my own effort is how I get through it rather than wondering how other people are going to do.
iRunFar: There are people in the field you’ve raced against in the past. Are there people you gauge off? I imagine running independently for 100k on the road is going to be kind of mind-numbing.
Yanko: In the past what I’ve one is try to sync up with a teammate who is going to go in a relative range. I think there are at least one or two American teammates who are wanting to go in the range I’m looking for, but I don’t want to get locked into that, “I must run x:xx per kilometer,” because that also a hundred times over gets really mind numbing. So it’s like, How about we work together for 50k and see where we are? In the past, my best performance came from, actually I wasn’t feeling well, so I did with Meghan Laws and another teammate, I was like, “I’ll just keep you guys going, and then when I need to die, you guys keep going.” Then at a certain point in that race I was running backwards, “You guys are doing great!” They were like, “You need to go.” That was when I came in fourth.
iRunFar: But it was not because you were sitting on them.
Yanko: It was the mentality of pulling my team. I think we were in podium position. I don’t remember if it was gold or silver. But that mentality of doing something for your team as opposed to for yourself, but it worked out.
iRunFar: Even if you lose five minutes because you’re with a teammate, that mental ease is probably priceless.
Yanko: Exactly. Having discovered this course is more hilly, the idea of going after a PR, I don’t know how to gauge that. It’s silly to be committed to a pace when you don’t actually know how it’s going to run. I’m sure when we go out for our morning jog we’ll be like, “Oh, ok.”
iRunFar: Ratchet that back another five minutes.
Yanko: Yeah, here’s our hike hill for five feet. Also, with the experience at Comrades which is so hilly either direction—don’t get it twisted, the downhill is not…yeah—it actually works to that benefit but also it only works if you’re not overly zealous about a pace number because you’re going to have that range.
iRunFar: It’s effort.
Yanko: Yes, ease is the name of the game out here.
iRunFar: Well, Devon, I hope you have an “ease-y” day out there. Enjoy it.
Yanko: Thank you.
Results from the 2020 Western States 100 lottery.
An essay about how good and bad days are natural in a lifetime of running.