Athlete for Yoga: Devon Yanko

Devon Yanko is a hugely successful runner who dominates races ranging from 5k to 100 miles. She's an an incredibly talented writer (be sure to check out her blog and guest blogs for Oiselle) and with her husband owns M.H. Bread and Butter in San Anselmo, California. We're super proud to say that she's also an Athlete for Yoga.

Devon has a stacked spring. She’s kicking it off by racing The Speed Project 3.0 on the Oiselle Bird Strike Team, followed by Two Oceans 56K in South Africa, London Marathon on April 23rd, then back to South Africa until Comrades Marathon on June 4th. After that she’ll be returning to The Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run at the end of June. 

We recently caught up with Devon to hear first-hand about what’s ahead, how she's using yoga to chase her goals, and more...

Hi Devon! First of all, where are you?
Greetings from beautiful San Anselmo, California! I am finally home after being out and about for almost the entirety of the first part of 2017.

You not only have a marathon PR of under 2:40 (2:38:55), you also own the fourth fastest trail 100 mile time for a North American. When did you realize you had this ultra range?
When I did my first marathon back in June of 2005, then followed it up three months later with another, then followed it up six months later with another, dropping my time from 3:38–3:06 in less than a year, I knew endurance was my thing. I signed up for my first ultra just a few months later because I didn’t want to get too caught up in just pursuing faster marathon times. I wanted my races to be experiences that mirror why I love to run and race: the joy and challenge!

So I ran my first 50km in 2006 at the Headlands 50k having never really trail run before. It was the national championship and a stacked field and I placed 7th. Two of the top women in the sport (and at the race) came up to me after the race and said, “Who are you? You should try and get on the US 100km team, we could use your talent." So I said, sure sounds fun! And it just built from there. I’ve now been on Team USA for ultras five times!

Photo Credit: Amos Morgan for Oiselle

Photo Credit: Amos Morgan for Oiselle

How is the training different for ultra racing than marathon racing
For me, honestly, not that different. Over the 10+ years I have been doing endurance racing, I have found that I get the most out of myself training like a pro/elite marathoner. That is higher mileage with fast workouts on the road/track, plus faster road long runs. We compliment that with trail recovery runs and my faster road efforts are usually followed by a long trail effort. It also depends on the race I am training for. We put in specific work to whatever course I am going to be facing. For instance, last year before Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, I did a lot of workouts on the most dreaded part of the course (the canyons) to get myself familiar with its unique demands. I do see in ultra that lots of different training styles work. I am a high mileage runner while many ultra runners (perhaps ironically) are not.

What are the unique demands? How is the recovery different?
I’ve found that one of the unique demands is learning how to fuel for the long races and practice that in training. Also turning around after a 20-mile hard road run and being motivated/ready to go run 20 miles or more on dirt the next day can be very hard. That means the recovery demands are higher and you are getting back on your feet and asking a lot of your body when it is still depleted.

How do you use yoga to help you achieve your goals
Yoga is something that has not come naturally to me at all. After a long hard run, my instinct is to melt into my couch, but as I get older and the miles pile up, I have found that that no longer allows my body to recover optimally. Yes, it might feel nice in the moment, but now I am looking at optimization. And that is where yoga has come in. It helps me put myself back together for the next day or see where I need some more work or how my body is really feeling.

What does being an Athlete for Yoga mean to you?
To me being an Athlete for Yoga is about seeing yoga as an integral part of my training and recovery. I have never get like yoga was "for me" as an athlete; I wasn't limber enough, it wasn't specific enough to my needs as an athlete and runner. Being an athlete for yoga means discovering there is a different way! Yoga for me is restorative, aids in recovery and helps to balance imbalances. It also helps me to slow down and be present in all aspects of my training.

What’s typical day in your life when you’re in a training block
Typical day now is such a novel concept. For so many of the past few years, I was just getting in what I could fit in wherever I could, that it is nice to start to feel like I can build a routine. And have that routine be around running. I am an early riser, so I get up, have coffee, write, and meditate. Then I do PT/activation exercises/warm-up routine, which is all new. I use to be roll out of bed, coffee, and run! I usually run before 7am. Eat. Check-in with bakery work or other work I have. Mid-day I usually deal with appointments (PT, massage, ART) then try to get in a second run or cross-training plus weights. Early dinner, early to bed.

You travel often, what are your life hacks for making travel as easy on your body as possible
For maintaining (or adapting) training while on the go? I carry a lacrosse ball and a voodoo band around with me in my backpack or purse. I use them at every opportunity to keep things moving. I also have no shame in my game, I will do Legs Up the Wall in an airport and have no problem using lay-overs as yoga or mobility breaks, or as opportunities to walk and shake the legs out. In terms of training, I tend to try and plan ahead to mitigate potential loses during short trips. So if I know that I will be traveling from 6am–6pm on one day, I will plan ahead to have that be my rest day and adapt my schedule to that. Or if I know that I will have a specific demand on a day (like a photoshoot), I know to maneuver my training to days that would be most ideal. Honestly, being flexible BUT committed has been working for me. And seriously, a few 4am workouts NEVER KILLED ANYONE, so if that is what you have to do, do it.

What is your go-to Jasyoga video when you need to #hitreset?
I am all about the Couch Reset and the Optimal Hip Reset (also couch based). These help me come to stillness and rest will also optimizing recovery. The whole recovery series feels accessible to someone like me who isn’t an expert yogi.

What imbalances do you deal with? What is your go-to routine to encourage them back to balance? 
I am coming back from an injury to my foot/ankle right now, which is part of a lifelong issue/imbalance on my left side (short leg!). It has been a process to get my left side to engage properly. I do a lot of hip and ankle/foot work. I have done the 5-Minute Foot Reset so many times over the last four months I could do it in my sleep!

What role does meditation, visualization, mantras… play in your training and racing? 
Meditation is a new one for me. I started to do my morning meditation about five months ago and it really has been amazing to help me focus and steady myself as well as control my emotions. Visualization and mantras have always been big for me. I tend to use them to think through a workout or race before hand (visualization) then come back to my goals, my control or my inner direction through mantras.

Your handle is @fastfoodie AND you own a bakery… so we have to ask, what is your go-to recovery food? Pre-workout fuel? And how do you keep up with the caloric demands of your training? 
I love food, obviously. But I am also a special needs eater, so balancing it all has been something I have put a lot of time and energy into refining over the years. My go-to recovery food is definitely a great burger and sweet potato fries. I am gluten intolerant, so I tend to just lettuce wrap my burgers and am good to go. I have found that a burger and sweet potato fries meets my nutritional needs and caloric needs from big training or racing. Some people see burgers as indulgences, but I think with a bit of effort it is easy to put a burger on a healthy training plate. Pre-workout/pre-race fuel my go to the night before hand is steak/chicken, sweet potato, and salad. Simple and balanced. Right before I run, I might drink a Vitargo or have a banana w/sunbutter. My favorite pre-run “treat” is a GU-energy stroopwaffel (they have gluten-free salted chocolate which are delicious!). I am a good eater, but am always working to optimize my training nutrition. For me, this year it has been learning to eat MORE earlier in the day, being super on top of nutrition around my workouts (protein shake immediately following harder/longer efforts), not getting too hungry or going to long without eating. I feel like I am always learning!

Photo Credit: Amos Morgan for Oiselle

Photo Credit: Amos Morgan for Oiselle

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned over the years of competition? 
I said this to a friend a few days ago and it really stuck with me as something I need to hold closely for myself too: You have nothing to lose and nothing to prove. Ultimately, running is a way in which we challenge ourselves and our limits and our capabilities, but it is not a definer of who we are. For every race you put everything into, there will be its finish line — so we can’t ultimately assign too much to one race. Because before we know it we will be on to the next race, the next mountain, the next goal, or struggle.

What’s the next goal? 
Right now 100% healthy recovery from my injury. It is my first major injury in my 14 years of running, so I want to get back to my durable self. In terms of racing, I am targeting first Two Oceans, then Comrades in South Africa as my goals.

Advice for anyone looking to go ultra? 
It’s not about the miles, its about the mind. You already have all the tools you need to go the distance.

Keep up with Devon's adventure in ultra and beyond at! And keep sharing your own journey with #athletesforyoga!