Running legend Bart Yasso returns to RunFest and motivates the masses
Bart Yasso will be at RunFest again this year. That makes me happy, gets me excited.
I have a ton of books about running, among them Sheehan’s “Running & Being,” Rodgers’ “Marathon Man” and Beardsley’s “Staying the Course.” Pride of place, though, goes to Bart Yasso’s “My Life on the Run: The Wit, Wisdom, and Insights of a Road Racing Icon.” On the fly-leaf, Yasso wrote: “Toby, never limit where running can take you. Bart. See you in Boston.” It’s a book that has inspired me, a mid-packer, to run Boston twice and qualify six times.
Why? Because what Yasso writes is funny and moving and memo-rable.
He’s run over 100 marathons, including a streak of six Bostons in the ’80s. When I asked him the number question in an email inter-view, he wrote: “No clue. I always say over 100. I don’t want to know.”
Well that inspires me. As a would-be Zen runner who is nerdy enough to have a spreadsheet with all my races over the last decade and more anatomized, it’s nice to know you don’t have to count. You don’t have to be a numbers guy. It’s good to know, too, that running is hard for him as well. “I don’t want to know” tells me that.
Yasso is inspiring in so many other ways. Amby Burfoot once said that Yasso is “an awkward, ungainly, knocked-kneed runner, if you must know the truth.” And yes he is, but he muscles through every time on persistence and grit. I also remember that the great Zato-pek was so awkward a runner that his “style” was once compared to someone running a race with a noose around his neck, a horror show reminiscent of Frankenstein. So, all of us can rest easy: You don’t get points for style. You get them for doing your best and for finishing.
Yasso keeps very little of his memorabilia from his years of run-ning but donates it to charity, and that must be inspirational for those of us who keep our medals and trophies and shirts and bibs safer than Fort Knox on lock down.
He doesn’t have some byzantine prerace ritual either, but simply remembers how lucky he is to be running. That will surely inspire those in the OCD crowd for whom laying out kit the night before a race and eating two bagels and never just one has taken on the sanc-tity of a religious ritual. Of course, I’m not one of those. Really.
He doesn’t listen to music when he races but thinks of “the less fortunate and how he can help them.” Take that, those of you who are cruising to the latest tunes and forget to listen first to your body and your spirit.
Oh, and he has the same racing idol as I do: Boston Billy, the run-ner who always made it look so damned effortless and beautiful in his prime. That man just floated.
Bart Yasso has built an extraordinary resumé since he first began running in 1976 to get away from a life defined by alcohol and soft drugs.
He’s battled Lyme disease not once but three times (1990, 1997 and 2002), something he talks about so memorably in the first chapter of “My Life on the Run.”
He’s the inventor of the Yasso 800s, a strategy for getting fit and predicting a runner’s marathon time. It’s simple: painfully so. Just run up to 10 800s in succession at what you think of as your marathon pace, and your average time for them will extrapolate to your finishing time for a marathon. So, if you average 3 minutes, 30 seconds for the 800 then you’ll be able to run a 3 hour 30 minute marathon (always assuming that running 10 800s at marathon pace doesn’t destroy your will to live. I mean, 20 times round an oval is, for me, like oakum picking on a chain gang in a heat wave with a really surly crew boss).
He ran Badwater back when it was the long course (145 miles) and not the short one (just 135). He didn’t win, but for Yasso it’s not win-ning that matters; it’s competing and sharing stories and finishing.
He’s run the ultra Comrades race in South Africa, a race known as the “greatest footrace on the planet” and a quirky 86.73 kilometers long. For Bart, there’s a “human spirit in the race than I never expe-rienced in any other event.”
He also ran the nudist “Bare Buns Fun Run” on Kaniksu Ranch near Spokane, Wash., back in 1997. He makes a really funny story of it in “My Life on the Run” where he talks of men and jockstraps, those “few delusional souls who fear they would suffer an injury without the confines of heavy equipment.” Priceless.
At the end of this year, Bart’s retiring from his long-term gig as Runner’s World unofficial Mayor of Running (since 2007 that maga-zine’s Chief Running Officer), a role that he has used so well to put long-distance running on the map for all of us. So his appearance at RunFest is part of a sort of farewell tour.
And what will Yasso be doing at RunFest? He’ll be trying to qualify for Boston. He’ll probably be doing a couple of morning runs with Jeff Galloway and any of us who want to tag along for the experience. He’ll have a booth at the Expo where I imagine he’ll be signing copies of his latest book: “Race Ev-erything: How to Conquer Any Race at Any Distance in Any Environment and Have Fun Doing It.” And he’ll be inspiring us all with his wit and wisdom at the pasta feed. I’ll be there listening raptly even though carbo-loading is sooo 2016. And he’ll likely be at the Kids 2K on the Saturday of race weekend even though he’s way too old at 60 to run it. But if he were to, he’d put his heart into that race, guaranteed — even though a 2K is over before it begins.
Bart Yasso reminds me of the embodiment of Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses” and that hero’s motto: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” It’s that simple.
Toby Widdicombe has been a member of the Anchorage Running Club Since 2006 and has run more than 30 marathons. He has run the Boston Marathon twice and qualified six times. Toby runs for the sheer joy of it.