“I stuck with running because I found it to be such a sanctuary, I used it as a way to work through and process difficult emotions.” -Devon
Aside from her numerous (and impressive) accolades, Devon’s persona is both amiable and indefatigable. I speak candidly when I say I’ve never met anyone like her; her energy is vibrant and her heart is so pure. A good athlete will have an impressive resume, but a great athlete will see to the success of others, and I firmly believe Devon is the latter. From winning coveted hundred milers such as Javelina Jundred and Leadville 100 to racing a 2:38 marathon and qualifying for the Olympic Trials, Devon’s athletic versatility is a true testament to her inherent elite physical talent.
Devon’s responses to my questions were both sincere and profound. Diving into subjects such as what it means to be a sponsored athlete, sexual abuse and the role of nutrition in running, I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know her better, and have no doubt you will be as inspired (if not more) by her incredible story!
If you could describe yourself in three adjectives, what would they be?
Hardworking, brave, adaptable
Take me through a typical training day, either a hard workout or an easy shakeout from the moment you wake up to getting ready for bed.
My training days are almost never typical. I usually do most of my runs in the morning, so just get up, make a cup of coffee, do some foot mobilization and go. I generally don’t take fuel on my runs, maybe a gel or two on a longer run. The rest of my day is varied but I always try to be conscious about timing nutrition to my workouts. I also do my best to include strength work (whether through CrossFit or a lighter at home workout), mobility, stretching, range of motion, PT, normatech, and naps when possible. Some days all of that is possible, some days not so much. What does stay constant though is that I do really enjoy going to bed very early!
What was the process like to become a sponsored athlete? Is it as glamorous as some would believe it to be?
In my opinion, there is nothing glamorous about the process of becoming a sponsored athlete. It’s a lot of work. Being a sponsored athlete means learning how to market and sell yourself. Mostly, it’s nothing to do with the actual running. I think a lot of people think “I am fast therefore I should get sponsorship offers” but that is definitely not the case. There are a lot of fast people out there but to get sponsorship you have to have a story to tell, be engaged in the community and be willing to do work for it.
In school, you played basketball at a highly competitive level. How did you make the transition to really honing in your passion for running?
After I gave up basketball, I took a year or so off from all physical activity. I was burned out after so many years of pushing myself intensely that my body just needed a break. Once my body healed, I was really keen to be physically active. Plus I had always loved long distance running. While I didn’t run track or cross country in high school, I did run about 25-30 miles per week on my own. It was like my mental health buoy. Though when I started running, I knew basically nothing about the running world (other than watching T&F in the Olympics on TV) and knew even less about racing so it was all trial and error, the most important thing for me was that I loved it.
Your journey is incredibly profound; having overcome sexual assault from a [basketball] coach whom you trusted deeply to having the courage to tell your story. How did this affect your relationship with running and your attitude towards competition and sport?
Running was always something I did, even in high school during the time of the abuse. I think running saved me in a lot of ways because it was completely my own. Running not only helped me work out from a physical standpoint, but also as a way to work through my emotions. When I started running as a 20-year-old, it was both physical and mental. In a way, it was taking back sport for myself since I had walked away from basketball because of the emotional burden of the abuse and the sacrifices I had made for the game. I think I stuck with running because I found it to be such a sanctuary for me and a way to work through and process difficult emotions.
If you could give your younger self a piece of advice, what would you say?
You do not need to prove your lovability or worthiness.
How have you found being an athlete in the political environment today, specifically in light of the #MeToo movement?
I’ve never shied away from talking about my abuse. I stood up against my abuser alone and put him in jail. After I worked with the Seattle Times on an article series about the widespread abuse in Washington State and as a result, it helped get state law changed. I very much think that every person that has suffered abuse or assault has a right to stand up and share their experience and be an advocate for change. Unfortunately, there is widespread abuse in sports (and not just of females) and I think it’s important for athletes to spotlight this as much as it is in any industry. I felt this way back in ’03 when I was a part of that article series and I feel that way now in the current climate of #metoo.
On the days where everything feels difficult, what do you do or say to yourself to stay motivated?
I’ve been doing this a long time so I’m able to see the difference between a day just being difficult and actually needing a day off. That knowledge comes from experience, and a lot of trial and error. When I need to muscle through I use different tactics depending on the source of difficulty: sometimes I bargain, sometimes I compromise, sometimes I just tell myself to stop being a baby, sometimes I use pump up music, sometimes I have friends help motivate me. I think the best thing a runner can have is an arsenal of ways to work through problems.
Switching gears a bit, you and your husband own the divine, M.H Bread and Butter! How much of a role does nutrition play in your training and everyday life?
I went to culinary school in ’07 to study how to make nutritious food also delicious. So I would say that nutrition is very important to me. I love good food but don’t want to sacrifice nutrition and health either. Also, because I am a “special needs” eater, I know that the quality of nutrition is incredibly important to the proper functioning of my body.
** If you’re ever in Northern California, you MUST stop by their bakery. The avocado toast will change your life**
In one of your blog posts, you open up about being diagnosed with, Hashimoto’s, Thyroiditis, Hypothyroid Syndrome, as well as celiac disease. Is this what you mean by being a, “special needs,” eater?
Yes, I currently am on the Autoimmune Protocol, which is not a diet per se because it’s meant to be a limited amount of time to help heal problems. I have always had to avoid gluten, dairy, eggs, and soy.
The current diet culture seems to be riddled with people “claiming,” to have certain food intolerances as a means of eliminating whole food groups. What advice would you give to athletes about how to make healthy decisions when it comes to nutrition and fueling?
That’s a great question. Honestly, I think people should try and figure out what works for them. My advice would be to really dig in to how you feel when you consume different styles of food. I don’t think eating in moderation and healthfully is too difficult, I just think that people don’t want to accept that that’s the answer. They want a magic pill that will allow them to eat ice cream for breakfast every day. I think “food rules” end up setting people up for unhealthy relationships with food. Eating healthfully and indulging in moderation isn’t difficult, it just isn’t that fun.
How do you deal with some of the perceived grievances you may experience when you do need to make accommodations at restaurants or eating out?
When, “being gluten-free,” became trendy, it was the bane of my existence. I mean, I’ve been gluten free for over 11 years, and certainly not by choice! It’s aggravating when diet culture uses scape-goats as a means of, “making healthy eating easy.” It was only a few years ago that I first ever was asked at a restaurant if my dietary requests were “preference or allergy/intolerance.” I think limiting or controlling food that you don’t have to is not a healthy behavior. I know plenty of runners who are vegetarian or follow other specific diets to avoid calories and control their intake instead of environmental health concerns or other reasons and I just don’t see that as being positive for their performance.
Lastly, if you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be, and what would you have, starter, main and dessert?
Brene Brown and Oprah. Yeah, that would be a fun meal! I probably would opt to have someone like Rene Redzepi or Magnus Nilsson come up with a surprise menu.
Favorite place to run? Cape Town South Africa
Favorite time to run (AM or PM)? AM
Salty or sweet (food)? Salty and sweet
Last book you read and couldn’t put down? Chasing Excellence by Ben Bergeron
Trails or road? Depends on my mood honestly
Favorite distance to compete in? 50 mile
What’s next for you!! Comrades and at some point this year running the OTQ standard (sub 2:45 for 26.2 miles!)
**Since publishing this article, Devon won the Comrades UltraMarathon in a fantastic 6:44:47 to place 7th.
Loved getting to know Devon? Follower her on;
Personal website: www.devonyanko.com
Devon is sponsored by, Oiselle, Hoka One One, NATHAN, NUUN, Inside Tracker, Marin Natural Medicine Clinic and Psoas Massage and Body Work.