runner

Sean O'Brien 100k

Photo credit: Billy Yang

Photo credit: Billy Yang

After my performance at Javelina last year, I was naturally a little nervous lining up for my next ultra. Especially a ultra that I had one goal for: qualify for Western States 100. A goal that I had sacrificed the Trials for, a goal that I had really set my heart on. I was nervous for this race before I signed up for it, or more precisely, after Javelina, I was nervous for whatever I would do next. I had had such an incredible race there, I unlocked things in my mind that made me a more capable racer. I didn't want Javelina to be the exception, that doesn't mean breaking records every race, it means running to my full ability. So many people told me after Javelina that it was the performance of a lifetime, that I would never be able to top it, that it was above and beyond. I chose to see it as a breakthrough for me, a sign of amazing things to come. 

Yet, I have always been someone who struggles in believing in my own abilities. So I worried about holding on to that "Javelina" feeling. I wrote down lessons and strategies from it. I learned how to pump myself up, talk to myself. I want to believe in myself.

Heading into Sean O'Brien 100km, I felt good. I had recovered well from Houston Marathon. Nailed some great trail workouts and put in some good mileage in the 3 weeks in between the races. I didn't taper quite as much as a 100km might warrant, but arrived at the line feeling fresh, focused and firey. 

Early miles. Photo Cred: Billy Yang

Early miles. Photo Cred: Billy Yang

And then the race started. And my mind rebelled. It was a gremlin, demon free for all, up in there. Seriously, the things I say to myself. I would not say those things out loud to anyone, I would never say them about another person, why do I say them about myself? It was nasty. But as long as my body felt fine, I just resolved to ride it out. Maybe it would get better. I pelted my mind with mantras of "I'm awesome, I'm awesome, I'm so fucking awesome." for miles, but the gremlins wouldn't relent. It was annoying and demoralizing. And when the going started to get tough, it made my desire to fight zero.

What the hell was wrong with me? I clicked off miles, pissed. But as I ran I realized something. I was suffering from a classic case of Imposter Syndrome. 

Impostor syndrome is a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as “fraud”. Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.
— Wikipedia
All aboard the struggle bus. Photo credit: Billy Yang

All aboard the struggle bus. Photo credit: Billy Yang

Maybe Javelina was just luck. Maybe like people said, it was my once in a lifetime run. Maybe when it really matters, I wouldn't be able to rise. I struggled, I ran. It was hot, my knee hurt, the course is brutal. Gremlins fed my imposter narrative with everything they had. Everything. You are not enough, you are not worthy. Why is it so easy to believe the negatives, not the positives?

The course is unrelenting and the day was hot. About mile 26, my friend and new training partner Amelia Boone passed me on a crazy long climb and I really struggled. I wanted to stop. In fact, I had come up with a million different reasons I could drop for about the last 20 miles. I power hiked the hill and felt sorry for myself. And then I received a gift. First, my Bay Birds teammate Jessi who was running the 50 mile (which started later) was coming down the hill. She cheered, I lamented. She threw her arms around me in a hug and said, "it worked for you last time (at Javelina)". Yes, a friendly hug and words of encouragement really had saved Javelina. And my longtime friend Jess Mullen, from Seattle, gave me a hug and a no nonsense, "you'll be FINNNNNNEEEE." Then heading up towards Mile 42, I spotted a Oiselle jersey on a girl named Halley (sorry if I spell it wrong!!!) and she ran with me and gave me words of encouragement. It all helped. They held up a mirror that said, "hey Devon, you are ok."

At mile 36.3, I had been able to run well for about 3 miles, although my knee hurt. I decided to try ibuprofen at that aid station and I wanted to see if my knee was a mild irritation or injury. An injury would not have been solved by 2 ibuprofen, so I took them and decided to see if I could make it to the mile 42 aid station. Like Javelina, 2 ibuprofen and some caffeine were a game changer for me. (Please not that aspirin and ibuprofen should be used very carefully during ultras and not relied on. I do not take more than one dose. If I needed more than one, I should not continue to run!) I realized that I had simply twisted my knee awkwardly at some point, but that it wasn't injured. I left the mile 36 aid station and began to run. Really run. Like I did at Javelina at mile 60, it was like I finally found my groove. And my wings.

When I start smiling, it means it is game on. Photo credit: Billy Yang

When I start smiling, it means it is game on. Photo credit: Billy Yang

With each step of running, I gained confidence. I moved well, felt good. I had been fueling optimally even in the heat (high 70s in February!!). I was able to run up hill. Heck, all systems were go. I was not going to back down. I was not sure I could catch Amelia. After all, by the time I got my groove back I was being told that I was 15-20 minutes back. I knew that WS spots were 1-2, so that I just had to run hard enough to not be caught. And so I pressed and pushed and gave chase.

Be patient with everyone, but above all, with yourself... Do not be disheartened by your imperfections. How are we to be patient in dealing with our neighbor’s fault if we are impatient in dealing with our own?
— -Saint Francis de Sales

Coming into Mile 42, I thought of this quote. Maybe I just took 40 miles to get warmed up and into my groove. Why was I so impatient and unforgiving? As I headed out onto the out and back section to Bulldog turn around, I chatted with Billy Yang. For the first time all day talking to him (on camera), I was happy, I felt good, I believed in myself, I smiled. I believed I could do this. I wanted that WS spot and I was not going to give it up. 

Crushing it. Photo cred: Billy Yang

Crushing it. Photo cred: Billy Yang

I opened up my heart and mind and let my inner unfuckwithable badassery come out. I ran hard and I ran free. No more gremlins, no more demons. I simply outran them.

I didn't think I would catch Amelia. She is insanely talented and while this was her "first" "runnable" ultra, I knew she was fully capable of running an insane race. I pushed downhill as hard as I thought safe and clipped along trying not to think of the ridiculously difficult climb back up the same mountain after the turn around. I was nearing the bottom, picking my way through the park when I saw her. I belted out "Circle of life" (as we both have a love of the Lion King) and ran up next to her. She was hurting, her calves were betraying her on the downhills and she was bonking. I gave her a little pep talk, reminded her to keep her eye on the WS prize (1-2) which is why she came. I reminded her to be patient, not give in, that it could and would pass. And then I pressed on.

When I regained the lead, I did not want to give it up. I had thought I only cared about getting the WS spots but I was feeling so good after the turn around at mile 49.5 that I wanted to push and see just how hard I could finish. This race is brutal, especially on a hot day. Since it was an out and back, I knew that when I passed Amelia, I moved into 3rd overall and I got hungry to keep that too. 

My mind was on board. I worked the uphill, I pushed and pressed and my mind said YES. I asked my body for more and it said, here you go. I smiled and found myself with a happy heart. Ultimately, that is what I want to find. I want to run with a happy heart, especially when I am working so so very hard to achieve a goal. It would feel like a waste to put together a solid race and not enjoy it. But I was, I was loving it. 

Mile 55.9 Almost done! Photo cred: billy yang

Mile 55.9 Almost done! Photo cred: billy yang

I came into the mile 55.9 aid station flying and smiling. I was going to do this. Not an imposter, not lucky, this was me and this was what I was capable of. I flew. Down (ok, more like up, down, up, down, down, down, creek, up, but who is counting) towards the finish line. After one little last climb just past mile 61 (thanks Ginger Runner for the heads up!), I pushed hard towards the finish. Damn. It feels good to fly that free. I crossed the finish line in 10:27. 1st woman, 3rd overall. WS ticket! 

YES, Team Lion King goes 1-2 and we are on to States! Hakuna matata. Photo cred: billy yang.

YES, Team Lion King goes 1-2 and we are on to States! Hakuna matata. Photo cred: billy yang.

I have been working very very hard to change the inner narrative I have. To change the habits of my mind. Today, I realized that I can, with patience and perseverance and strict non-indulgence. My brain tells me "you suck, you should stop.", I counter, "whatever you say" and keep going. I acknowledge it and let it go, not hold tight to it like it is truth. It is not the truth. I am worthy, I am enough. Running is an incredibly opportunity to test myself and to learn so much and I am truly grateful for it and for the small victories I can have like today in be braving and truly daring greatly.

Cultivating Badassery

Mile 25.8- Head up, Wings out. Photo by Andrea Duke

Mile 25.8- Head up, Wings out. Photo by Andrea Duke

Badassery: 1. (noun) the practice of knowing one’s own accomplishments and gifts, accepting one’s own accomplishments and gifts and celebrating one’s own accomplishments and gifts; 2. (noun) the practice of living life with swagger : SWAGGER (noun or verb) a state of being that involves loving oneself, waking up “like this” and not giving a crap what anyone else thinks about you. Term first coined by William Shakespeare.
— Shonda Rhimes Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person

On the way to Houston, I started listening to Shonda Rhimes' book "Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person" which is narrated by the author herself. Listening to Shonda's journey in rumbling and rising strong was incredibly inspiring and confirming. I would have yelled "YES!" outloud numerous times if not for the embarrassment and confusion that might have caused in a crowded airplane or airport. Her work was yet another in a long line of books that have been helping my clarify, hone and amplify my vision of what I want to accomplish this year and who I am working to become. When the above quote wafted up through my headphones, it was a stop the presses moment. I listened to it over and over and over again. "Yes" I thought, "Yes to this. This is it". I immediately hit pause and pulled out my journal to revisit my 2016 goals. In big bold letters I wrote at the top of the entry "Cultivate Badassery". Those words captured everything I had been trying to describe below them. Those words are my fight song.

But the words also mean more to me than just that. "Cultivating Badassery" is also about the challenges I pursue, the way I face adversity, how I rumble with my feelings, how I rise strong. It is about pushing myself to my limits and putting myself out there. It celebrating where I am as well as putting energy and movement into where I want to be.

On Sunday, I ran the Houston marathon and didn’t run the time I set as my goal, but I was smiling until the end. I went in to run the Olympic Trials standard of 2:45, even though I had already decided not to run the Trials and instead focus on trying to qualify for Western States 100 at Sean O'Brien 100km on February 6th. I had let go of the Olympic Trials as an "A" goal when I decided to run Javelina 100mile. I knew that running 100 miles was incongruous to running a fast marathon, but I am also cheeky and decided to make a try for it 10 weeks post-100 mile anyways, 10 weeks that included 3 weeks of major sickness and the holidays which are the most incredibly hard time of the year at the bakery. But I lined up anyways, open heart, open mind. Curious to see where I am right now as I kick off the year. 

Smiling, waving and a Michael Jordan tongue wag for happiness. Rolling with the 2:45 pace group. Photo by Andrea Duke.

Smiling, waving and a Michael Jordan tongue wag for happiness. Rolling with the 2:45 pace group. Photo by Andrea Duke.

I made it 20 miles on pace, then my hamstrings decided to stop working. I cannot really be suprised by this as there is no opportunity to run on that amount of flat in the Bay Area. I wouldn't expect myself to be able to run up and down big hills in a race if I didn't train on them, so I can't expect my body to sustain a repetitive use of a single muscle group either!  But I was happy. Just to absorb the day, be there. I saw where I was and instead of beating myself up for what I wasn’t, I celebrated what I was. In progress, imperfect. A little bit extra, a little bit not enough but always actually just right for now. It is liberating to say “today was just my day to be on the road, the journey”. There is no defeat, no failure- just information, just lessons. How fascinating to live a life through the lens of curiosity instead of grasping to outcomes! Letting the experience roll over me like waves and through my fingers like water. I lifted my face to the sun even as my body failed me and smiled. The sun, the wind, the capability of a body. That moment. Not a victory, not perfect but wholly enough. Filled with badassery. I chose my framing of an imperfect experience, I chose happiness- that is badassery.

Don't get me wrong I fought like hell to run faster, to hold pace. I said YES, MORE, GO when my legs resisted. I fought and fought, until I knew it was not my mind’s willingness, just my body’s lack of adaptation to flat. I accepted it. I embraced my experience and smiled on. I passed many women in those last 6 miles and as I did, I noticed the looks on their faces- sad, disappointed, angry. I encouraged them, invited them to run with me. Seeing their faces, their pain and disappointed just confirmed to me that on this day, I would choose joy. I've been in their shoes, I struggled with my running for 2.5 years while getting the bakery going, never satisfied with where I was, always wanting to be somewhere else. It is a terrible way to live and this year, I chose acceptance. Of myself, of where I am.

Smile! Photo by Jorge Maravilla

Smile! Photo by Jorge Maravilla

Accepting where I am doesn’t mean I am not excited to continue to move towards where I want to be. Better, fitter, faster, wholehearted, contented, full. But I can relish the steps I take in life and realize that I didn’t need to get somewhere to be myself. Feeling like a badass doesn’t mean I am perfected, it means I can lean into my flaws and say, yep, I have wrinkles and that’s ok. It means saying, I don’t know where to start or where to go. And that’s ok. It’s enough to be ok. OK is still whole, not broken, not incomplete.

A work in progress that is showing amazing potential. Lament not what is left to do, improve, become, embrace, face or walk, it is all steps on the journey. And the journey is imperfect and that is enough. We are enough, we are badasses just as we are, wherever we are in our own journey. 

I want to be that girl

Post race cozy in my yeti. With my trophy. I'm on top of the world!

Post race cozy in my yeti. With my trophy. I'm on top of the world!

I met a girl somewhere around mile 65 of Javelina, not a fellow competitor, crew or spectator. No, she was a version of myself that I have never ever met before. She was Devon 2.0. She was brave, she was confident, she had a steel-resolve and the heart of a lion. She was unafraid. It wasn't because of how I was performing that she came about, it was because she was there that this performance was possible. She was all the things I strive to be, she embodied all the mental hard work I have done throughout my life. She was an integration of the person I want to be. And I want to be that girl. I do not want her to retreat back into the recesses of my mind. I do not want her to shrink back and be dominated by uncertainty, lack of self-confidence, and fear. I don't want Devon 2.0 to be an optional self, an occasion self. I want to be that girl.

After the race, it was easy to be that version of myself. I was brimming with confidence, feeling that my performance was not "once in a lifetime" but instead, a turning point, a breakthrough. I felt I better understood myself and what it took to draw out my best. I for once in my life was able to give myself the credit I deserve for what I accomplished. I was happy and content. I felt capable, worthy and enough. I was also keenly aware that, although I knew the post-race glow would dissipate, I didn't want the self I had experienced during that race to disappear too.  But how do I hold on? 

I want to be all the things that I want my niece Audrey to grow up to be: strong, confident, emotionally intelligent and with a strong sense of self-worth.

I want to be all the things that I want my niece Audrey to grow up to be: strong, confident, emotionally intelligent and with a strong sense of self-worth.

It's been almost 6 weeks since Javelina. And I enjoyed my victory throughly. I enjoyed 5 weeks of unstructured training and running just to run (and running plenty!). But the time has worn away at me too. I have battled with 7 different health issues over the past three weeks. I have tried to establish a new sense of normalcy for myself now that I am not on the night baking shift. I've thrown most things up in the air and tried to make sense of them all. It has mentally and emotionally been a lot. And Devon 2.0 stopped being the strongest voice. I noticed as I have transitioned back into training and worked through all these things that my old default Devon mode has reasserted its dominance. I may exude to the world strength, bravery and confidence, but often the way I talk and treat myself is very unkind. I don't give myself the benefit of the doubt. I don't feel unafraid. I question my worthiness, loveability and if I am enough. My negative self-talk is not some new phenomenon, it is a demon I have battled for years that is deeply rooted in several issues that I have fought tooth and nail to face, resolve and heal from. But those habits stick.

I always hopped that I would do something that would finally once and for all change the narrative. I thought that if I could accomplish something so great it would be the tipping point for my brain to finally flip the switch to a positive stream of consciousness instead of a negative one. I make an excellent effort to CONSCIOUSLY be positive, forgiving with myself and strong, but I want that to be what I believe through and through on every level. Those last 40 miles of Javelina were absolutely thrilling for me. Not just because of how I was able to run, but more because in those miles I felt a way for myself that I don't know if I ever have. I deeply, genuinely embraced myself, loved myself, forgave myself and understood that I was worthy. It was a breakthrough in my own sense of self, one that years and years of self-work, therapy, reading and research has lead to. 

I hoped, there in the dark, pushing myself, that the switch had been thrown magically. I realize now that that is unreasonable and unattainable. There is no switch. There is nothing I could ever accomplish that would magically tip the scales. Instead what I see now that is just like running, which takes constant and consistent effort, so does embracing and being the person that you want to be. Just like in running, where there is not a single one workout that will magically make the race easy and perfect, there is not one single moment or thought that will magically change who we are. It requires work. It requires effort. It require patience. It requires vigilance. It requires wading in. 

Today I went out for a workout and the negative thoughts were strong. My workout was just work. But as I ran, I realized something. Devon 2.0 is not gone. She is a part of me. She is the light side of me, always there but often dominated by my dark side. And as I ran, I made room for her, I gave her space to have a voice. And suddenly, she was there to beat back the dark. The workout didn't really get any better, but in the end, I did the work and felt good about my effort. I fought, I gave myself credit, I showed up and said, "today this is enough, I am enough". 

I see now that Javelina was a true breakthrough for me. Yes, because of the run I put together but more because of the version of myself that emerged and I have become. The dark and the light will always be a part of each of us, but now I see that I have a choice of which I let carry water. I don't want to be that girl I met that night; I am that girl: brave, strong, confident, enough. 

Best laid plans

Killer workouts make me happy!

Killer workouts make me happy!

I have been dreaming about Comrades for a year. It has been a big goal of mine to return and strive to better my race from 2012. This past year has had its share of continued ups and downs, false starts and disappointments. I have made many plans and been humbled deeply when I have been forced to change them. When I began this year, I was fun of hope, optimism and an incredibly insane bucket list schedule of goals including qualifying for the Olympic Trials, Comrades and Leadville. And now, as the summer begins, I am having to re-evaluate the way forward.

The disappointing reality is that I haven't qualified for the Trials yet and I didn't even make it to the start line at Comrades. Not making it to Comrades broke my heart, but despite having great fitness and training leading up to the race, I couldn't get on the plane when the days leading up to my flight saw me unable to even put my heel on the ground without extraordinary pain. Unfortunately what had been a manageable niggle, blew up just at the wrong time. And with it, blew up a lot my plans. Suddenly, I was not only forced to deal with the disappointment of missing Comrades, but also with figuring out the way forward with my racing. 

The mountains provide a great deal of perspective and peace. View from Snow Valley Peak over Marlette Lake and Tahoe beyond.

The mountains provide a great deal of perspective and peace. View from Snow Valley Peak over Marlette Lake and Tahoe beyond.

The first step in moving forward was getting my injury under control. I have been working hard at this and know that not going to Comrades prevented a much more serious and long term injury. I have been diligently trying to get healed. I also took so time away, went away to the mountains, to think, reflect, be sad about the way things have gone this year. I had to allow myself to feel disappointed and try and let go of the fact that this year hasn't shaped up the way I want it to. 

But that is also life. We make plans, we do our best to ensure they happen and sometimes despite our best efforts we fall short of our goals. One thing I have realized over the past week is that my goals are not gone, I have not failed, they have just been deferred for a time. I know I will do everything in my power to be on that Comrades start line next year. Just as I know now that I will do everything I can to be on the startline of the 2016 Olympic Trials Marathon. That is my goal now and I will put everything in to it. Does it change other plans, sure! Does it mean sacrificing other things I want, of course! But I have realized that when it comes to having great big dreams, sometimes the biggest test in reaching them is patience.

I look forward to the next year and the continued pursuit of all of my dreams.