by Devon Yanko
Growing up I played team sports, I loved team sports. When I was playing team sports, I felt like my real self. No longer was I a social awkward or a tomboy with a lot of enthusiasm, I was a teammate, I was normal, I was accepted. There was a place for me on the team, there was a place for my quirks and extroverted introversion. Off the field or court, I never felt like I fit in quite right, but throw on some sneakers and give me a ball and I was just one of the girls. I was accepted, I was counted in, I was valued. The older I got and the more serious the games got for me and my teammates, the more the friendships and camaraderie deepened. When I was in high school, my select basketball teammates were like my family. They were a support network, a social network, they were my people. Even though each of us were striving towards our own dreams, stretching our own wings and trying to take flight, we worked together to push each other towards those goals. Together we all could win.
When I stopped playing basketball after my freshman year of college, I felt a great sense of loss. No longer did I have my teammates, no longer did I have the people who knew me best. Yes, some of the friendships persisted, but college and life had scattered us in the wind. I longed to find my people, my tribe as an adult.
I had always loved to run, but always saw it as training for my team sports. I had seen it as a solitary thing I did in high school and college to get my thoughts together and get my head on right. It was my own thing and I saw running as a solitary pursuit, “loneliness of the long distance runner” and all. I didn’t have running friends, except my sister and the deeper I went into the sport, the more I longed for them. I longed for the feeling I had when I did team sports. In those early days before I had run an ultra or a trail race, when I found out someone was a runner, my enthusiasm would spill out and I would be like an excited puppy about to get a treat. “My people!” I would think and try to make a connection. But it didn’t stick. The road running world then (circa 2005) felt very much like a place where you go to be alone together, where you go to compete, not connect. It is hard making friends as an adult, especially in new places, like the many I have lived, and I had hoped that sport could once again be a unifying force for me.
It wasn’t until I ran my first ultra in 2006 that I found my people. I showed up to a race where I knew no one, and to do a race that I knew nothing about (hills? trails? 50km???), but by the end of the race I knew I had found my people. When I crossed the finish line, tongue wagging like a happy dog, Connie Gardner and Nikki Kimball were there waiting for me. The welcomed me with open arms and enthusiastically encouraged me to try and get on the 100km national team with them. Team? I thought, heck yeah! But what I realized that day, was that I didn’t need to be on a team to find my people. I had found them, out there on the trail.
Over the past ten years since that first race, I have formed some of the deepest and most beautiful friendships through trail and ultra running. There is something unique and special about venturing out into the wild together. I have been my real self and found people who love me just as I am. I have found training partners and running buddies. I have found my best friends and the love of my life out on the trail.
To me, the trail and ultra community is one where we can train side by side, share fun and casual miles together, go on adventures, and then line up to compete against one another. And after the race is run, we rejoice in each others accomplishments. We celebrate the first, fifth and last place person because we have all shared an epic journey together. We sit around and share stories and delight in others. It is a beautiful thing. It is deep and true and wonderful to connect with others like this.
Trail running gives us many things, physically, mentally, and emotionally. It can fill us up and help us discover our real selves. It can help us become the people that we want to be. Now, after 10 years in this sport, I realize that trail running also gives us the very place to be ourselves, the people to accept us, it is in a word: home.
Devon is a runner, all sorts of distances, all sorts of terrain. She is also the co-owner of M.H. Bread and Butter bakery/cafe and formerly a librarian. Devon came to running after a successful basketball career and ran her first marathon in 2005 (Edinburgh Marathon) and her first ultra in 2006 (Headlands 50k). She has competed for the 100k Road National Team 4x and won 2 National Championships. She has run the third fastest 100 mile time for a North American woman ever (2015 Javelina Jundred). But mostly she just loves to run and challenge herself with different races and goals. She also enjoys writing, reading, gardening, cooking and drinking whiskey.