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The worst thing I can imagine has already come true…

October 30, 2022

...and in that, comes freedom!

Before Coach Devon's win at Javelina 100, she had put into words everything she felt while preparing for Hennepin 100M Endurance Run (happened 1st of October 2022). Coach Devon Yanko has been thinking (wildly) of stopping at Mile 50 for the last two weeks. Following her Lupus diagnosis, she shared that crushing the race was NEVER an easy task. And she quotes,

"Now, I have a fit self that could show up on race day, I have a sick self that could too... Despite how crap my plans turned out, I’m still having one of the more successful seasons of anyone competing at the top of the sport. But I don’t want to shut it down. I don’t want to walk away, I want to go down fighting."

Originally published on Coach Devon Yanko's blog on October 24th, 2022

If you had asked me at the beginning of the year or really at any point in my career what my worst nightmare of a racing year would look like, I probably would have described a year that looks an awful like my 2022. I should have taken it as a sign of things to come in January when, by the end of the month, I had already DNS two races: Bandera 100k and Goldwater Rumble 52km. I did manage a win at Arches 50k in January, but it was of little consolation.

In February, I DNF’d Black Canyon 100k after I fought back from a major panic attack only to fall and have a debilitating and race-ending cramp. In March, I opted to clear my travel schedule (thus taking Napa Marathon and Chuckanut off my race schedule) and stay local. I had a good race at Run Through Time Marathon in Salida and finished second woman while deep in 100 mile training.

I formulated a grand plan for my summer (the DY DIY Slam) and kicked it off in amazing style by running 14:23 at Umstead, winning overall and setting the course record. I was feeling fit and excited to take on the remaining four 100s I had planned. I had to DNS Collegiate Peaks 50 at the beginning of May because of house buying stress and instead raced Ram Party 54 mile the following weekend, which I won. But I could tell something was off. I was starting to really struggle with energy, the fatigue was starting to pull me under and my stress was out of control. I nearly didn’t start Kettle Moraine 100 and in hindsight I should have trusted my instinct not to. I made it 7 miles before stopping, knowing something was seriously wrong. I knew my iron was low, but this didn’t feel like just that. I have fought low iron before and this felt 1000x worse than that. This felt more like a flare of my autoimmune conditions. So I scrambled and saw doctors and tried to get myself back together. But to no avail.

I managed to run High Lonesome and finish a respectable 4th place even though the experience amounted to just about the worst race experience I’ve ever had. Not only did I have the extreme fatigue from my autoimmune flares (and I didn’t even know at the time the extent/diagnosis), I still had extremely low iron and had such bad PMS it felt like my body was operating at 10%. It felt like overnight my fitness was reduced by over 75%. And then halfway through the race the bottoms of my feet came detached. It was not a fun experience AND I am extremely proud of my perseverance. Things did not get better from there.

I DNS’d Leadville because despite getting treatment for low iron the week of the race, the body doesn’t respond that quickly. In late August/ early September, I started to feel somewhat better and was able to start doing workouts again. I set two FKTs including blazing the Rio Grande Trail, a 42 mile path from Aspen to Glenwood Springs, at 7:15/mile pace. I turned around and raced a 50k in Steamboat Springs, but ultimately decided not to do Run Rabbit 100 because racing with so little actual training did not feel right. I put inthe work and set my sights on Hennepin 100. I made it to that race feeling really fit and ready. I knew it would mostly be a solo time trial but I was mentally ready. The only thing that had me worried was the slight pain and tightness I had under the edges of my ribs. I figured it was the stress I continued to be under, I told myself I just needed to stop holding my breathe so much.

At Hennepin, I was flying and then came the extreme cramping under my ribs. I tried to battle them and get them to calm down for 20 miles to no avail. I stopped at mile 50, operating under the false delusion that I might get a 50 mile finish instead (I did run 6:23for 50 miles!). I was worried I had a more serious issue and couldn’t force myself to hobby jog in the second half. I was not wrong that I had a more serious issue, but it really did notsalve the pain of having another race go to shit.

And then I was diagnosed with Lupus. This did remove some of the shame and guilt I felt over my year being such a clusterf**k. It helped me give myself grace because trying to run five 100 milers while in an active flare of a disease like Lupus is impossible. Perhaps itwould have been possible to walk all the races in, but that is not what I had in mind when I set this challenge for myself. I wanted to compete in each and every race that I toed the line at. I felt that if the stars aligned and I stayed healthy, I could compete to win in each race. Instead, I am just face down in the arena, covered in mud, having seen all my plans fall apart and my nightmares come true.

I’m a few days away from Javelina and for a few weeks post-Lupus diagnosis, I was completely unsure if I could get my head into the game. I was steeped in fear that everything that had already gone wrong would go wrong again. And it could. But that’s thething, my worst nightmares have already happened. I have already had everything fall apart. I have already lost everything I wanted and planned for. And so really, I have nothingleft to lose. In that is freedom.

I was reading Ryan Holiday’s book Discipline is Destiny and in the afterword, he mentions a conversation he had with Manu Ginobili, a former NBA basketball star. Manu talks about missing what could have been the series winning shot in the NBA finals (he actually didn’t even get the shot as he had the ball stolen en route to the basket). He and his team went on to lose the series.

This is a nightmare for all basketball players, I can attest to that. I can still summon the visceral feeling of watching my teammate miss a shot that would have kept us in the playoffs my senior year. Manu came back and played beautifully in subsequent seasons including helping his team to the NBA championship. In this talk with Ryan, he says that he moped and ruminated but that a thought struck him “I just played in the NBA finals, how am I not having any fun?”. Manu had taken the actualizing of his greatest fear and turned it into a clarifying force. He won those subsequent championships because he wasnot angry, afraid or bent on revenge, he was just enjoying himself. This for me is exactly it.

I could go into Javelina with a chip on my shoulder. But what is that going to do but make me feel stressed, pressure and narrowly focused on a single outcome: winning. Of course Iwould love to have a performance worthy of a win. Also, if I don’t, I would also like to be able to enjoy the thing I love the most: running. That’s what it really comes down to. I can put so much pressure on myself that I forget: this is only for me and this is supposed to be fun. Especially as I proceed forward under the specter of Lupus, I know that I cannot hold too tightly to performing to my fitness level all the time. I have a new and different set of circumstances that are a part of my reality but not my competitors. If I focus too much only on still being a competitor, I fear I will miss out on the experience of simply enjoying the running.

I am going into Javelina very fit, I know this. Last week, I had some of the best running I’ve had all year. Last week, I also thought I was getting ill and wouldn’t even be able to race, having been exposed to someone with COVID. It is likely the reality is, I was extremely stressed last week and my body responded by flaring up. That experience really cementedfor me that I MUST do this only for myself, not matter what it looks like. I MUST focus only on trying to experiencing the race fully and openly with as much joy as I can. I have nothing left to lose and I feel free.

Coach Devon Yanko winning Javelina 100 after a week of writing this blog piece

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