ultrarunning

Rising Strong-American River 50 mile

Beals Point. Mile 24.31. Smiles all day long. Photo by Leigh-Ann Wendling.

Beals Point. Mile 24.31. Smiles all day long. Photo by Leigh-Ann Wendling.

Vulnerability is not winning or losing, it is having the courage to be seen when we have no control over the outcome
— Brene Brown. Rising Strong.

The month of March started off terrible and got worse from there. I missed a total of 4 races, 3 that were originally planned, then one more that I last minute entered and was unable to start. The week after the car accident, I ran myself hard. I ran because there was nothing else that even came close to easing the trauma, frustration and all of the ills of March. I ran over 120 miles that week and I decided to sign up for American River 50 mile on April 2nd. I don't know why I was so insistent on racing, why I didn't just back off, regroup. I just felt called to race, so I entered American River 50 which has always been on my bucket list, even though the course is quite different from the fast, iconic course that got it onto my list in the first place. And then I immediately got severely ill again. A week before AR 50, I was in bed all day so ill I had to miss a combo party for one of my best friend's birthdays and for another two best friend's going away party. I felt like crap. I had pushed myself too hard after the accident with too little immunity and caught the next bug that crossed my path. As I lay in bed, I thought of AR becoming another casualty of the terrible month of March. Its only hope was that it was not in fact in March. I knew just getting on the start line would be a huge victory. The illness lifted after the weekend, I ran, I felt ok. I got 10 vials of blood in two separate draws on Wednesday to begin to dig deeper into my low immunity (which I will return to in a separate blog). On Thursday, I went through the motions of packing despite not feeling great, but knew I would not decide for sure if I would start until after Friday morning's very short trot around the neighborhood. At 10 am Friday, I decided; I am doing this. And I wrote myself the following pre-race letter as become my custom over the last 6 months.

This is not the start line I thought I would be on. I am not where I thought I would be. But I am here, now and that is the only place I can be. The only place I want to be.

March was terrible. It hurt so deeply, BUT I survived. This start line is the victory because I got on it. Everything else, cake. Doesn't matter. I am not here to win or prove anything or break any records. I am here to rise strong, to have whatever day I am going to have and welcome it. Cry, laugh, yell, stop, go, sing, smile. To be my own hero, to be my own inspiration. I persevered through the dark or March and this race is my first light.

It will be hard as hell. It will be messy. But my heart will be grateful for the opportunity to be real, to be messy, be "in progress". This race neither proves or disproves my worth. My worth is inherent. I don't have to be strong or perfect. I just have to keep putting myself on the line. Wake up, show up and have my day whatever it looks like. It will be enough.

I will tell myself I am strong. I will tell myself I am worthy. The start line, the journey, the fight. I am finally up for it. And that is enough.

And I was up for it. And the day was more than enough.

The reality is that that fact is not because I won or raced amazing or had a fantastically shiny perfect day. In fact, the run itself was good. Somewhere in the middle. Unlike Javelina, Sean O'Brien or all the month of March, the run was not filled with the highest highs and lowest lows. It was straight down the middle somewhere. I felt good, not great. I felt not so good, never bad. Physically and mentally. 

As I stood there in the last lingering moments of darkness before the gun went off, I didn't feel nerves. I didn't feel pressure. I didn't feel hungry and chomping at the bit. I felt satisfied. Phew, I made it to a start line. I was relieved. I may not be able to see the dawn's light, but I knew it was coming. I am no longer face down in the arena, I am in the process of rising strong. Phew. 

Photo by I am Endorphin Dude coming into mile 20.

Photo by I am Endorphin Dude coming into mile 20.

And I knew that my day would be good. I knew I would make it to the finish line. The gun had not gone off but I knew I would make it there and that I would run free. And I did. The gun went off and I never looked back.

I enjoyed the course. With the changes since '14, it is a much slower course than before that (about 25-30 mins slower). There is a great deal of nice single track in the first half instead of a straight shot of pavement for 26 miles. The course also have 2.5 more climbing than previous (closer to 5,000 than 2,000). I ran, taking the terrain as it came at me. Speeding up on pavement, slowing down as I hopped on single track or darted under a bridge. I ran alone and I was ok with that.

Nathan came with me to crew me and I just cruised along for the first 20 miles until I saw him. I had a nutrition plan (Tailwind the whole way!), I had a plan for distraction (music at mile 20!), I had a pacing plan- comfortable, don't go to the well, don't stress or press. After mile 20, I got to see Nathan around mile 30 and 40 and then he ran down to meet me with 3.5 miles to go. 

It was a fascinating experience to me. As I said, I was neither high nor low, good nor bad. I was just ok. And I was ok with that. I didn't need to be at the height of unfuckwithable badassery, but neither was I at the low of being face down in the arena. Being ok is exactly where I need to be right now. Being ok is exactly what I needed to be on Saturday. I didn't need to break any records, run a killer time or even win. I needed to run and just get into the "I can do this all day mode". I knew there would never be a moment where the switch got flipped, I knew that I would not dig down into the depths to see what I could do. I even knew that I would not have to face down my darkest demon, they had taken the day off or maybe they have gotten tired of chasing me. There might not be the devious smile when it is game on, but there were also no tears. Instead, I would just be ok. Ok with myself, my in progress self. I would be ok run/walking up the last three mile climb with Nathan, even though precious seconds were ticking away. I would be ok being passed by guys and not making chase. I would even be ok falling on my face and cutting up my arm on a rock. I would be ok just running MY race and doing MY thing. I would be more than ok making it to the finish line. And I did. I made it and *bonus* I won.

I wanted to race while I am in progress because I never want to be afraid to be myself. I wanted to have courage to show up and do something that I needed to do for myself, my process, my healing and not worry how it would look, not worry if it was ugly or messy. I don't want to just show my best face to the world. I want to be real because life is real. Life is filled with more than the highest highs and the lowest lows. Saturday was a small victory for me. Hitting that finish and raising my arms in triumph was saying "March, you may have been tough. You may have hurt me and worn me down. But you did not beat me. I survived, I've even survived tougher and now I will keep rising strong".

Boom 1st place in 7:10! Photo by NorCal Ultras

Boom 1st place in 7:10! Photo by NorCal Ultras

Weakness

You have to climb the mountain to be on top of the world.

You have to climb the mountain to be on top of the world.

We all love a good success story. We love triumph, overcoming the odds, rising strong. We loved cultivated badassery, we love the moment after everything clicks and you start smiling a devious smile at mile 40. We find comfort when the story has come full circle. We find relief knowing things worked out in the end. But let's be real, we don't like the hard parts. We don't talk about when we are in the middle of things, knee deep in the shit. We don't shine a lot of light on the moment when we are face down in the arena, as far away as we can imagine from rising strong. It is difficult, it is ugly, we don't know how to reconcile. The brain craves the completion of the story. But you can't have the completion, the triumph, the overcoming without the struggle, without the hurt or loss, without the uncertainty. You can't learn the lesson with being tested. But let's be real, we don't like to talk about that part. We don't like to sit with the ugly, the uncomfortable. We want to hide that part away, we want to obscure it from view, make it private, disappear from view, gloss over it, beat it into submission with platitudes. But why? The hard parts are part of being human. Each and everyone of us struggles with something in our life at some point. Our lives ebb and flow, we fail and we triumph. Life isn't just the pretty part, it is the nasty, ugly bits too.

The month of March has been a really, really hard month for me. I am knee deep in "40 miles of suck". First, I was struck down with the really nasty flu that was going around and not only was incapacitated for more than 10 days, I had to cancel 3 races including my three week trip to Cape Town to do African X and Two Oceans. Then, as I was laying in my sick bed, I was dealt another blow. I was starting to feel like, "can a girl just get a break?". I struggled feeling worthless, as some days I could hardly get out of bed. But the illness passed, I was back on my feet and I made plans to go race this weekend at the Chuckanut 50km and support my friend Krissy in her awesome race. And then on Monday those plans went out the window after I totaled my 6 month old car in an extremely terrible and terrifying car accident. Everyone walked away thankfully, but that kind of near-death trauma affects you deeply. I was already feeling like my emotional reserves were low and the accident is a lot to handle. I do not feel strong, I do not feel badass. I feel hurt, scared, guilty, shameful, sad, and angry. I felt like this month was too much. I felt like I wanted to go hide in my closet with a jar of frosting and a bottle of whiskey and wait for March to just be over and maybe April too just to be safe. I have run myself until exhaustion, I have cried myself to sleep, I have dreamed of being chased by rabid dinosaurs. I am face down in the arena and I know I will have to work to rise strong. 

But here is the thing, I know I can get through it. When I stop for a moment like I did today on my run and realize that I can, in fact, choose to embrace the suck. And in embracing the suck, I know it will get better. Doesn't in this moment mean the dinosaurs stop chasing me or that when I close my eyes I no longer see the moment of impact, but it does mean that I see the potential for post-traumatic growth. I have in fact, just happened to have started reading SuperBetter this week- a book which talks about adopting a gameful mindset to deal with trauma, living a happier life and enabling post traumatic growth. I am a big fan of self-growth, I love cultivating badassery, I love self-work and self-challenge.  I do prefer, as I am sure most people do, to do this via post-ecstatic growth instead of via post-traumatic growth. Post-ecstatic growth is struggle via the challenges we take on consciously, the quests we undertake willingly whether that is running 100 miles, writing a book or starting a new business. These things challenge us and we grow. We undertake this things willingly knowing it will be hard, it will take work, but ultimately the growth and reward for the undertaking will be worth it. The hard times, the suck, the weakness, the trauma then too must be embraced. That doesn't mean glossed over, it doesn't mean made pretty, it doesn't mean it will be any easier, but it will mean that out of this time of my life, I am going to gain value, I am going to grow. It means I may not be smiling now, but that I know if I persevere through the darkness, if I allow myself space to be weak, if I seek out support and receive it from friends and love ones, if I face the pain head on, it will get better. I will come out the other side. I will make it to the mountain top, even if it means I have to climb 1,000 switchbacks through the mud to get there. Being knee deep in the suck is real life. We all find ourselves there at some point in our life. Life is not all about perfectly curated social media profiles, expertly staged photos, or even satisfyingly complete stories of overcoming. Sometimes we are weak, we are hurt, we are lost and that is ok. Being in that space is ok. But I also know that even if I don't know how I will or can right now, I will make it through this. I will choose to put my head down and grind out each painful step forward back to the light. I will gain hope from knowing that even if it doesn't feel good, if I simply choose to take another step, another breathe, I am growing, I am healing, I am rising strong. I will be patient with myself and I will remember to have faith in my power to be my own superhero. I will never let weakness convince me that I lack strength. 

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.

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. 

Javelina 100 mile

Photo by Sweet M Images. Used with permission

Photo by Sweet M Images. Used with permission

Over the past few years, I have lost my running mojo. It slipped away gradually or more, got slowly worn down over time when I wasn’t able to attend to it. Frankly, since 2012, I just haven’t been able to run or race with the focus and energy I need to maintain it. And for the most part, it has been worth it because Nathan and I have been devoting our energy into building a business and a community around that business. But that doesn’t mean it has been easy to watch the awesome development of the ultra running community and the exciting happenings of the running world. I wanted to be a part of it. I have talked about this a lot this year because I started this year thinking this would be the year that I would re-emerge in racing and start chasing down big goals again. I was hungry from the start of this year to passionate pursue races that made me excited. 


But the year didn’t unfold the way I hoped. I went back to the drawing board so many times on “where to?” in racing. My training has been great this year but my confidence in myself as a runner has been almost non-existent, my mind highly critical of myself. It wasn’t until my trip to Cape Town and running Ultra Trail Cape Town 100k four weeks ago that I even felt like half the runner I use to be (mentally). That trip renewed me and inspired me. It showed me that I could battle through the hardest race I’ve ever done and overcome. After that, I wanted more challenges like that and again went back to the drawing board for my race schedule and decided to run Javelina 100 on October 31. Just 4 weeks after running my first 100k in 4 years, I was going to run my first 100 miler in 5 years and 7 years since I last finished my only successful 100 miler. I felt excited and ready after UTCT 100km to take on the challenge.

I sit here now three days post race wondering, “did that really happen?”. I went to Javelina to get to that finish line. I went to see if I could go the distance. I went to the desert to find my mojo. I went to find my strength and courage. I went to battle my demons and face the darkness. I went to see if I could rise again like a phoenix from the ashes, if I could find a new runner me. I could have never imagined the day unfolding the way it did. 

Before the race, I wrote a letter to myself. In that letter I wrote: “Be led by passion, love and perseverance. I will rise to a new level and see what I am capable of. Yes, it is going to be hard as hell. But don’t back down. Walk across the fire and let it burn. You can handle this.”. I didn’t merely handle it, I instead put together the performance of a lifetime. I truly went to a new level and not only found that I was capable of running on the level that I use to, but that I was in fact capable of so much more. I have never run like I did on Saturday, I have never pursued my limits so hard, run with so much guts and found moment after moment that I had more to give. I not only finished, I crushed it. First woman, second overall, new course record in 14:52 in the 6th fastest time ever in the 100 miler for a North American resident and 3rd fastest trail 100 mile time ever. I ran the last 41 miles faster than anyone including faster than the male winner (besting him by 6 mins, he finished in 13:49). People have asked, “where did that come from” since and I truly believe that this kind of race has been a long time coming. I have had the physical tools for a long time, the combination of speed and endurance. But mentally, I have worked very hard to get to the place where when I ask myself “How bad do you want it?”, the answer is “MORE”.

I am truly grateful for Aravaipa Running and the amazing race they put on. Top notch event with incredible organization. I am beyond words with gratitude for my crew and pacer, Hollis and Yiou. I could not have put together this day without them. I am so thankful for my husband, although he couldn’t be at the race, has been extraordinarily supportive of me trying to find my runner self again. Thank you to my awesome sponsors and supporters: Oiselle, HOKA One One, Julbo, Psoas Massage and Bodywork, Stance Socks and San Francisco Running Company, as well as all my awesome friends and training partners especially my girls Yiou, Liz and Maddy K! And my incredible coach, Ian Torrence!

Photo by UltraSportsLive

Photo by UltraSportsLive

You can stop reading here if you like, I know race reports can get long and boring and all sound the same. But for myself, I am going to keep going. I want to remember this race. I want to remember how it felt, I want to revisit it over and over and over again to say to myself: this race, I saw who I really am as a runner. It was a game changer for me and I feel now, that it is just the beginning.

Javelina Hundred (Oct 31, 2015) 6am

I wanted to do this race because I wanted to “do things that scare me” and challenge myself in a new way. After signing up for the race 3 weeks ago, that feeling slid from scared to terrified to feeling on the inside like the cowardly lion being pushed toward the Wizard by his companions. I stood on the line more nervous than I ever have been before. I kept wondering “can I do this?” and then the gun went off and I shrugged my shoulders, started running and thought “guess I will find out!”.

Photo by Sweet M Images. Used with permission.

Photo by Sweet M Images. Used with permission.

Work the problem (Loops 1 & 2)

The day before the race I did a run through of all my crewing stuff with Hollis and Yiou. I told them that things would come up, challenges would arise and we would have to find a way to keep going. We would have to find a solution to problems, a work around for obstacles. Yiou pronounced, we needed to “work the problem”. I liked this, it gave me a mantra to hold up for myself when difficulties arose. When she said it, I naturally thought it would be helpful in the second half. But given my starting line apprehensions, I actually had to utilize it quite early. 

I headed out into the desert with 458 other runners and settled in to a nice comfortable pace. I planned to run on the easy side of comfortable and not press at all. The Javelina course is very runnable, but that is also dangerous early on because it is very tempting to run too fast. I wanted to be smart, but I also accepted that my first two laps would be on the faster side since I was fresh, it was the cool of the morning, etc. I clipped along hoping for the nervous energy and “can I do this?” monkey mind to slip away. I tried to NOT focus on the distance and instead just focus on that moment and that loop and getting into a groove. I excepted to face demons in the race, but I didn’t think they would attack from the start. But within 5 miles, my mind had already slipped into a very pessimistic place. Every bad thing I could think about myself, I did. I listened to the demons tell me every reason I would fail, every reason I wasn’t good enough, every reason I was not enough. And then I heard Yiou’s voice saying, “Work the problem”. What was the problem? I was being negative, I was indulging the demons, I was giving them a voice. And then, out in the desert as the sun rose and a pack of coyotes raised their voices and howled, I exclaimed, “shut up brain!”. I started pelting the demons with every positive phrase and mantra I could think of. I pushed them back, beat them away with a stick. They didn’t belong here. I had barely even started running for goodness sake!

Photo by Sweet M Images. Used with permission.

Photo by Sweet M Images. Used with permission.

And so I settled in and just focused on this lap, this moment. Being within myself and letting the miles pass. I had set my watch on “OK” setting so that I would have battery life for the whole race. This meant though that the GPS accuracy was pretty poor and before I knew it I was back at Javelina headquarters (the start/finish line/party). My watch had me at 14 miles, but the loop in actually closer to 15.5. I was under 2 hours for the loop and kind of sheepishly entered the headquarters knowing that was way way faster than even my fastest projected split that I had give my crew. I had given them (even) splits for 15 hrs, CR pace (15:40), 16:30 and 17:30. I was well under 15 hour pace, but I also knew I was running easy and comfortable. I knew I would back off more in the heat of the day but was fine with being a touch fast early on. Hollis shook his head and told me, “Dev you are running way too fast!”. I set out on loop 2 and just continued to run comfortable. I was joined by Brian Tinder for a few miles who had been ahead of me on the first loop, but fell behind when he did a wardrobe change just outside of HQ (if you don’t know what I am talking about, you must find out!). It was nice to have the distraction and we passed the uphill miles to Jackass Junction which is the “middle” of the loop. The course is uphill to the midway point and is done in machine washer style, so loop 2 was novel since it was seeing the trail and terrain from a different perspective. The first two loops had a novelty to them that I knew would wear off. I could tell I was going to get really tired of running giant loops in the desert. 

I didn’t really slow much on the second loop and was greeted coming into HQ by Karl Meltzer who has more 100 mile wins than anyone on earth ever (35 wins). He is a smart runner and knows his way around a 100miler. He was heading out on his 3rd loop and took the time to stop me and say, “Devon, you need to slow down!”. I said, I know I know. And I knew I would since now, exactly 4 hours and 50k into the race, it was starting to get hot. I got in to the HQ, grabbed my stuff from Hollis including doubling up on bottles and taking my headphones for distraction, and headed back into the desert ready to battle the heat and take my time.

I needed a hug. Thanks Laura for providing one. Photo by UltraSportsLive

I needed a hug. Thanks Laura for providing one. Photo by UltraSportsLive

What do you mean?

I was not looking forward to the heat of the day. The high was projected for mid 80s. But in the desert that feels much hotter. There is no shade, the heat reflects off the ground and bakes you from the ground up. I have been running in the heat of the day this summer here in San Anselmo, days reaching up into the high 90s, so I felt at least moderately prepared. I knew I would have to keep myself cool and calm. 

Through the first two laps, I had only taken in liquid calories in the form of Tailwind. I was doing 200 calories of Tailwind per hour and my energy, hydration and electrolytes felt solid. Hollis had encouraged me to try and gel on loop 3 and about half way I tried to take one and immediately threw it back up. Uh oh. My biggest trepidation coming into this race was the heat effect since my last 100 mile start in 2010 ended with me in the med tent with 3 IVs. I knew things could go south fast and if I couldn’t stomach calories or liquid I would be done. I was able to continue to get in small sips of tailwind, but my head was not in a good place now. I was focused on not feeling good and by the end of the loop, after a few more rejections of sips of water, my mind amassed a good list of all the reasons I wanted to drop right then and there at 45. I came into HQ in a negative place, ready to be done. I dramatically described my issues straight in front of the Ultrasports Live live feed camera and friend Laura Bello who was part of their team, just said, “you look like you could use a hug”. She gave me a hug and I walked over to Hollis and sat down in the chair. I told him, “my stomach isn’t good. my foot hurts. my colds not gone. I am not having fun”. To me, it all seemed so clear that I was done. I had run the whole loop still and Hollis pointed out that even after running 2:30 for that lap that I was still well under even my fastest projected split. My response? A very snappy “I don’t care”. He cooled me off. Listened to my complaints and indulged me for a minute. After 5 or so minutes in the chair, I got up, resolved that I would do one more loop and then quit. After all, my legs really were fine and I was still running quite well. 

I headed out on loop feeling cooler with a nice ice bandana around my next and started running again. Since I had resolved to stop at the 100km in my head, every time I felt bad from there on, I just told myself, well at least I’ll be done at the end of this loop. It wasn’t a fun loop. Nothing really changed. In that 30 miles of running, I hated all but about 2 miles. I just listened to my music and kept going. I was running in 5th place overall and was first woman, but I just wanted to be done. It didn’t matter to me anymore. I just wanted to stop.

My pacer Yiou had arrived and I complained to her all my various problems that made me want to quit. She pointed out that my running form looked great and that I looked comfortable. I responded that yes, I was able to run but ick, I was just done. It was like the Justin Bieber song that I had listened to at least 5 times on that loop, “what do you mean?”. I was saying one thing and doing another. I was nodding yes and running, but I wanted to say no and stop.

I again took the chair and Hollis and Yiou went to work trying to get me to get going again. My foot was still hurting and I was worried that 41 more miles might injury it since I had some issues since UTCT 100k because of all the rocks. My stomach was same as it had been, fine but not great. Yiou gave me my iced coffee and I asked for asprin. Maybe, just maybe I could caffeinated my way into another loop. I had been careful to avoid caffeine up until that point so I wouldn’t have a terrible caffeine crash late in the race. Meanwhile, Yiou got ready to start running with me. I had planned to have her from 75-finish, but she knew that I might quit right then if she didn’t tease me out of the chair. It worked. I got up. I finished my coffee and ate a handful of gummies.

#runlikeagirl

I had yet to walk in the race at all and still 10 mins ahead of even my fastest projected split. I told Yiou I would have to walk to the road crossing of loop 5 which is about 1/3 mile from HQ. I didn’t want to throw up my coffee and gummies. We made it about 1/3 of that distance before I started running, walking was boring. I still had legs and screw it, I was going to use them. Both the coffee and the aspirin kicked in and I had Yiou to pick up the pace and distract me. Slowly, the overwhelming desire to drop diminished, then disappeared. For the first time all day, I heard a whisper in my mind “you can do this”. And I believed it.

Yiou and I settled into a fast pace and she reminded me to take gels (which I finally was able to stomach) and told me how strong I looked. We run together FAST a lot. And part of why I was excited to have her as my pacer was because she is so fast and that our natural pace together tends to be very quick. At this point, I was astonished how good my legs felt. They didn't feel like legs that had more than 60 miles on them. They felt like legs that could run. The heat of the day had been survived and I had legs. I began to push. Not too much, but I inched the pace up and my mind opened up to the idea of not just surviving the race, but crushing the race. Just like that I was ready to see what I could do. We pushed and pushed. I knew I opened myself up to a massive meltdown at some point, but I just felt so good, I didn’t want to be afraid of what might happen or some potential later crash, I just wanted to break down barriers and push my limits. At the end of loop 4, I had been behind Karl, Michael Carson and Jon Olson (who has run a stagger 11:59 100 miler!) by more than 30 mins. By the end of loop 5, I was behind them by less than 10 mins. I had just completed a loop in 2:16 and flew threw headquarters, eager to get out onto my final full loop. The sun was going to be setting soon and I grabbed my headlamp, and we set off to chase down the boys.

Photo by Aravaipa running.

Photo by Aravaipa running.

I was running so well at this point. Smooth and comfortable. I had Yiou give me 15-20 min reminders to take gels and focused on making sure that we didn’t make any nutrition or hydrate mistakes. My legs felt amazing. Within 3 miles back out on the loop, we started to catch the guys. Now, if you don’t know them, they are all incredibly fantastic runners. All very strong and accomplished. To be catching them was an insane boost to my confidence. I first caught Jon Olsen, he smiled at me and said, “So happy to see you bounce back Devon!”. I thanked him and encouraged him on and hoped he too would come back to life. I set my sights on Karl, whom I could see up ahead. We caught and passed him easily minutes later. As I passed, he exclaimed, surprised, “Devon, WHAT are you DOING?!” “Running!” I responded, to which he said, “well, I will see you later” indicating he would catch me when I cracked and slowed down. But in that moment, I said to myself, no you won’t. And I doubled my resolved to run the remaining 21 miles of the race as hard as I freaking could. 

Yiou and I moved like a bullet train in the night. We gathered more and more momentum as darkness descended over the desert. I ran silent, pushing myself, not backing off, but trying to give a little bit more, a little bit more each mile. I told Yiou that I didn’t want to have anything left at the line. I wanted to see what I was made of. We made it to the top of the loop and gathered more speed, Yiou yelling out “on your left, on your left” as we sped past all the runners that were out on course, some of them multiple loops behind me. All the other runners, whooped and cheered when they saw me coming. “Yeah girl!” “Woman you are amazing”. I fed off it. I chased down the next headlamp after next headlamp. I exclaimed at one point, “Sorry Karl, you ain’t catching me today.” And Yiou and I started yelling, “Run like a girl! Run like a girl!” It was thrilling to be there in that moment flying along, feeling so strong with such a good friend at my side. 

We were nearly to the aid station that is 2.1 miles from HQ when I said to Yiou, “I just wanted to say that I really appreciate you jumping in a loop early. I could not have gotten here without you. It changed the game. That said, I know that this was more distance than you had planned and am not going to ask you to run 41 miles with me instead of 24 as planned. You don’t need to go out on Loop 7(a smaller loop) with me.” She said, “ok! Because you would drop me anyways”. It was a proud moment, she had done her job beautifully and would let me fly on my own. We crushed it back to Headquarters, smiling and laughing. I sprinted through the start/finish area and headed back out as quickly as possible.

Photo by Sweet M Images. Used with permission.

Photo by Sweet M Images. Used with permission.

Next level

I was alone then. My legs churning up with gradual hill, my path illuminated only by a small light, just the sound of my breathing and the stillness of the desert. I pushed. Yiou had told me before the loop that I could run the next loop in 2 hours and still break the course record. I thought the loop was just under 9 miles, so I set my sights on running closer to 1:20. I arrived back at the 2.1 mile aid station, grabbed a coke and thanked all the volunteers for being out there. I pushed onward and made my way towards the Loop 7 cutoff, a teasing sign I had seen all day that said Mile 97.3 —->. About a mile later, I crossed paths with Karl again. He saw me and said, “simply awesome Devon”. I was on fire. I felt so good and I wanted to see how much I could push. I finally made the turn towards home and came into the water stop at the turn. The volunteer said, “your on your final loop?!?!”. I responded yes I was and he said, “wow you are in second place!”. I had no idea I had passed Michael at any point and I got a boost. Then he continued, “4 miles to the finish line.” My water bottle filled, I took off. Wait, 4 miles? I thought there was only 2.7 miles to go! Doh. I am such an idiot, I just assumed the race was perfectly 100 miles for some reason, I hadn’t even bothered to loop at how far it actually was since trail races are rarely exactly on. Turns out the course was 101 miles. Having digested this information, I realized that I was really going to have to hustle to get in under 15 hours. I was on target for a low 14:40, but with the extra 1.3 miles, I knew I would have to go as hard as I could to get under 15. The trail was runnable, I felt fresh. I yelled into the night the Oiselle mantras, “head up, wings out” and "go fast, take chances". And I flew. I pushed and with each pushed discovered I had a little more to give. I tried to find my limit and with each step discovered that I had more to give, more to push. I have never run that hard. Hollis once told me that I needed to run “eyeballs out” in a marathon and in that moment I finally understood how that felt. To go to the next level, you have to push in a way that risks everything, holds nothing back. And for the first time, I was going to leave nothing out on course.

Coming into HQs, I was flying. Yiou and Hollis were with me and running me in (or trying to keep up). I dropped my headlamp, bottle and waist pack where my crew station had been and turned the final two corners to the finish line. 14:52:06. Holy Shit, what did I just do. First woman, 2nd overall, CR by 50 mins, sub 15. That is 8:46 per mile pace, even with sitting in my chair for 10+ mins. 

I had just put together the best run of my career. I had come back from the dead. I had pushed myself harder than I have ever in a race. I asked myself for more and continually found another gear, another level.

I came to Javelina to do something that scared me. To do something that challenged me and pushed me. I did that but I realize now that I also came away having discovered the runner that I can be, the runner that I am. This is me and this was my day.

Photo by UltraSportsLive.

Photo by UltraSportsLive.

Full results here: http://aravaiparunning.com/results/2015JJResults100Mile.htm

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.