Umstead 100 Race Report

April 29, 2022

Chaski Coach Devon Yanko is a runner in every sense of the word. She runs roads, trails, mountains from distance of 5 km to 100 mile. She has run more than 50 marathons (including 36 sub 3-hour marathons) and 50 Ultras since 2006, having won and set a CR in many. She is 5-time member of the USATF 100k National Team including THE 2009 Gold Medal winning team in Belgium; 3-time RRCA Marathon National Champion; 3-time National Champion (2×50mile, 1×100K); and 2-time Olympic Trials Marathon Qualifier.

She also set the fastest known time on the Grand Canyon R2R2R trail with Krissy Moehl inApril 2011. She ranked 3rd place at the prestigious Two Oceans Marathon (56K) in Cape Town, South Africa; 5th in Comrades Marathon (89K, as well as first novice and first American); 3rd in Western States 100 (2016), and 1st in Leadville 100 mile (2017). And top ofall those, she is a 3-time gold medalist at Comrades Marathon.

She loves great food, travel, adventures, and sharing time with her friends and family.

Devon was named as the first woman to win an Umstead Race in 20 years.

I am a few days removed from Umstead. It is the time when the race starts to feel like it is fading in the rearview, that the typical post-race blues, the WTF did I even do’s, start setting in. It is predictable; I don’t fear it. Even if I wish I could ride the high of winning, of crushing for longer.

I haven’t written a race report in many years, but this journey, this plan to run 5×100 miles between now and September is different. I want to remember the little details. I want to go back, years from now, and know how capable and amazing I was on that day. Umstead was nearly a perfect race.

I say nearly because everything went exceptionally well, but there are a few improvements I could have made. I just handled everything well and never got off track. Perfection to me isn’t winning or running a time. Perfection is feeling like everything on that day came together just so. And Umstead was as close to that as I have ever come in a 100-mile race. I had no major problems.

I didn’t need to stop at all (except for about 10 pee breaks!). I had no huge mental lows. I worked on the problems that came up. I was solid all day long. After a year of injuries and a few terrible race days, it was so satisfying to just be able to do what I do best: run.

Before I dive into the race, I should probably explain what the “DY DIY Slam” is and how it came about. Way back in 2020, I was planning to do the Grand Slam of ultrarunning which includes WS, Vermont, Leadville, and Wasatch (Old Dominion is also a race in it, but not the option I was choosing).

I was very excited, but the pandemic squashed that dream. So I planned to do it in 2021, but back-to-back injuries again squashed that dream. After we moved and I was running again, I started becoming more excited about other races and other dreams. I have, after all, already done 3 out of the 4 slam races and have done quite well indeed (WS 3rd, Vermont 1st, Leadville 1st).

I persisted in trying to win a golden ticket however and neither of my attempts went as planned. Which ultimately proved to be exactly what I wanted and needed. It freed me up from feeling like I “should” do the Grand Slam just because I won my way in. It mentally allowed me not to have to have the debate of which Slam to do, the Grand Slam or my own Slam.

The race made the decision for me and I was glad about it because I really had gotten excited by my own challenging plan. It was really what I wanted to do. I decided to do Umstead 100, Kettle Moraine 100, High Lonesome 100, Leadville 100, and Run Rabbit 100.

People have asked me why I decided to do these races. Some people are puzzled. To me, it makes sense though. I have wanted to run Umstead and Kettle Moraine for a long time. They are both classic races that are very much central to their respective communities.

Umstead has been around for 27 years and Kettle for 26 years! As for the remaining three races, having recently moved to Salida, CO, I was very excited to stay around this summer and explore my own backyard.

High Lonesome is my local 100 and I was so stoked to get into the race on my first try (also stoked that they place such a high value on having equal numbers of women and men on the start line). It is a big daunting challenge, but I am filled with curiosity, resolve, and humor to get it done.

Indeed,  there are no shortcuts to any place worth going. Here’s Devon finishing the race!

Umstead 100 race stats:

Finish time: 14:23:13, Course Record, Personal best (by nearly 30 minutes)

Place: Overall 1st (first time in race history a woman has won outright!). 1st woman.

In the past, a handful of people have said that I let my emotions get in the way of my running. I’ve always bristled at this idea because to me it has sounded like a judgment. That I am a headcase who lets her emotions get in her way. It is true that I am a highly sensitive, emotional empath with a whole lot of trauma. Thus, if emotions enter the fray of a race, it is not exactly incongruent with my natural state.

I wouldn’t say that in the past, my emotions have gotten in the way, I would say my trauma/ c-PTSD has. Sometimes, the negative beliefs and patterns that I’ve developed through surviving trauma rear their ugly heads at the most inopportune times like in the middle of a long race. I have never dropped out of a race because of this, but it has made for some underperforming and definitely for some suffering.

The more I work with the right therapist and do the somatic work that is necessary to truly help me heal, the easier it is for me to recognize when my thoughts and emotions are based out of what is happening now and when it is based out of what has happened to me in the past. I was a bit worried going into Umstead that I was still a bit raw from recent life changes and struggles and just from going through the intense therapeutic work.

After having some wonderful people volunteer to crew and pace me, I warned them that I might cry, I might get in my head, and I might try to quit. I wanted them to be prepared to support me if I needed it.

Leading up to the race, I was reading a novel that a co-worker recommended to me that was extremely triggering and hard to read. I also couldn’t stop reading it. The day before the race, a few folks chatted with me about Billy Yang’s movie Life in a Day and sexual abuse. I 100% always want people to feel comfortable talking to me about things that I have shared openly.

But, I also worried about my emotional capacity. As I settled in to figure out what would motivate me and focus me for the race, I came up with two things that I would carry with me throughout the day. “This is supposed to be fun, we get to do this” (special thanks to Larissa for that reminder) and “This is not hard. What you have survived is hard, this is not hard”.

I know that I have incredible mental strength, I know I can survive unimaginable things, it is important for me to remind myself that running, even 100 miles, does not require that. It is quite simple and beautiful, and sometimes I have to remind myself that the struggling we experience during racing is something I am more than capable of handling. And sometimes, I just need to remind myself extra of that.

I was nervous about Umstead, especially after I realized that I have not run farther than 50 miles in a race since 2018. I had run 80 miles at once and some other crazy adventures during 2020, but it feels different when you are pinning on a bib. I was fortunate enough to have found some amazing strangers to crew me.

Liz and Cassie stepped up when I put out a call on social media for help. I also was able to find Jon who was willing to pace and who convinced 3 of his friends (Michael, Josh, and Ellie) to also pace me, meaning I would have company for the entire second half. They were an all-star crew and I couldn’t have had the day that I did without them.

My training had gone well all year and I felt fit and ready. I feel like I’ve been at altitude long enough to have gotten a good benefit and hoped that coming down to sea level wouldn’t make me feel off like it had earlier on when we first moved. Thankfully on my shake out run the day before the race, I felt pretty effortless. By the time the start went off at 6 AM on Saturday, I felt calm and ready, committed to making it to the finish line.

I found myself upfront early, running easily with Lance and Will. I knew Lance from the bay area and Will I had met at Black Canyon. It was nice to have company. We had only one guy ahead of us and we worked together to not run too fast, throwing on the brakes when we’d accidentally run a 7:30 mile.

The course is eight loops of 12.5 miles and so for the first loop I just framed it as “getting to know the loop”. I focused on sipping my drink and taking in my gels, although I probably can point to this as an area of improvement since I probably only took in 200 calories on the entire first loop. Part of this was because I was worried that my body wouldn’t be able to handle a lot of fueling.

Given how cold the winter is here, I had not been doing a great job fueling during runs. Because my fuel was constantly freezing on my runs. I wanted to make sure I was being smart but erring on the side of not overwhelming my system. I made it half a lap with the guys but soon found myself alone as I stopped at the aid station 2 to use the bathroom but still left ahead of Lance and Will.

I had broken the race up into a few parts. I ran loops 1 and 2 without music, then switched to music for loops 3 and 4. This gave me such a boost when I put my headphones on that I accidentally ran the loop 5 minutes faster than the previous two. I put the brakes on for lap 4 as I knew I had a long way to go and didn’t want to crash and burn.

I came through mile 50 in 6:46, which is well ahead of the 7 hours I had planned. But I didn’t panic, I knew I would slow down in the second half as things got warm (but thankfully not humid, a miracle) and as I got tired. I was able to catch up with first place overall just after the 50-mile mark and by the time I was at mile 52, I was nearly a mile ahead of him.

Despite physical and emotional hurdles, Devon was persistent to finish the race, knowing very well that this was her shot of proving that women can do it, too.

I picked up my first pacer, Michael and we came out on the loop a touch too hot, hitting paces in the 7:30s. I had a mini-bonk and was forced to walk a little hill while I recovered and got some fueling in. We picked up running again and my energy returned. I could tell that I was no longer tolerating sports nutrition and so I began to drink Pepsi and grab a handful or so of potato chips at the aid station.

I know I can go a very long way on just soda, so I wasn’t concerned. I just knew I was walking a fine line and wanted to stay on the right side of it. I could wish that my body had tolerated things longer but that just wasn’t the case so I didn’t panic.

We kept cruising, although now I was deliberately walking the “rat jaw” section of the course. A series of short steep hills that really bite hard towards the end of the race. I resolved from then on that I wanted to walk because I was choosing, not because I was forced to. Michael and I made good progress, and I continued to march toward the finish.

The remaining loops passed with a new company on each loop. I quizzed Jon, Josh, and Ellie on their lives and kept pressing forward. I knew with two loops to go that I had 4.5 hours to go the distance and break the record. I felt confident in my body, I felt confident in my mind. I was not worried that I would hold up.

On the last loop, Ellie’s enthusiastic energy made the final miles feel like a party. As we passed people, she would exclaim, “she’s making history”! I was on my way to becoming the first woman in the 27-year race history to win outright. I felt elated and in the zone, as Ellie told me, “this loop is just a celebration”. With just 4 miles to the finish, we finally had to turn our headlamps on which is crazy to think about. I barely had to run in the dark.

When we hit the turn to head back to the start/finish, I told Ellie I was going to take off and run as hard as I could. She told me to “get it girl” and I sprinted away from her, using every last ounce of energy to push to the finish. The most fun part about the race setup is that you get to run through the crewing area en route to the finish line so I got cheered on by all the other runners' crews. I felt like I was flying. I bopped my way up the little hill to the finish, secretly wondering if anyone was even going to be there to watch me finish (you laugh, but it has happened even when I’ve won races!).

I was popped over the edge of the hill and was greeted by the biggest crowd I’ve ever had at a 100 finish line. It was a wall of people including the Co-RD Rhonda and all of my crew. I finished in 14:23, almost a 30-minute PR, broke the CR by 44 minutes, and was the outright winner, winning by over 90 minutes.

What a feeling. I almost don’t even know what to say about the day. It was truly special. It is a great feeling when your mind, body, and spirit align to have a great day. I am so grateful to the race organization for putting on such a spectacular event. I am so grateful for my crew and pacers, Liz, Cassie, Jon, Michael, Josh, and Ellie. I couldn’t have done it without them. I don’t want the feeling I had on that day to fade, although I know it will. But the best part about my big plan for this year is that I get to go out and chase that feeling again soon!

Devon proved that great things never came from comfort zones as she remarkably finished the race strong and headed on.

Devon Yanko

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