The chief running officer for Runner’s World leaves behind a legacy of inspiring runners worldwide and — yes — the dreaded Yasso 800s.
Bart Yasso — the mayor of running — is loved and revered by runners worldwide. Yasso has engaged runners at races, expos, group runs wherever his feet took him for the last several decades.
Sometimes, however, his trademark workout (the Yasso 800s) elicits gasps, groans and even curse words.
One morning he found himself in a coffee shop when a young woman approached and asked if he was indeed Bart Yasso.
“Yes,” he replied, getting ready to ask her name and about her running. “She says, ‘I curse your name every Wednesday.’ And the whole place looked at me like I was this evil person. Then she took her coffee and walked out the door. It was such a funny exchange. The whole coffee shop was staring at me.”
As the chief running officer for Runner’s World, Yasso has helped motivate countless runners — even that young woman in the coffee shop. After 30 years, he is running off into the sunset toward retirement, leaving behind an unmatched legacy of inspiration.
Yasso graciously agreed to an interview. Here are excerpts from our conversation:
Henry Howard: You are retiring as chief running officer for Runner’s World at the end of the year. What went into that decision? Why now?
Bart Yasso: I’ve been at Runner’s World for 30 years and am at retirement age. I just decided last year that I was going to retire. The main force behind my retirement is my health. I suffered from Lyme Disease and complications from it. I just can’t keep up with the rigors that I have in the last 30 years. It’s too hard. I don’t want to do my job halfway or without the passion that I have been doing it. So if there’s someone young and ambitious and wants to travel, they are going to love this job. It’s a great opportunity for somebody.
HH: Did your battle with Lyme Disease give your decision some urgency?
BY: If I were still healthy and could keep up with the rigors — I love what I do and the company I work for, the Rodale family — so yeah, I wouldn’t be thinking about retirement. It’s weird to be walking away from something you love.
HH: What are your immediate plans?
BY: Spend more time at my doctor’s office and do the things I need to do to get healthy. I’m not in a good place — it takes a lot of fun out of what I do. It takes a lot of fun out of it.
HH: You have been a public face of running for a number of years and inspired countless runners. How has that changed you personally since you started as chief running officer?
BY: When I started running over 40 years ago, I never thought I would work at Runner’s World. I never thought I would do anything like this. I just wanted to change my lifestyle and get healthy. It’s been a blessing and it’s been a joy. It wasn’t planned and it still amazes me to this day. I’ve absolutely treated it as an honor. When people come up to me and say they’ve been inspired by me, I don’t know what I do to deserve that. I’ve been working hard at it for years, being out there in the community, helping people become better runners and getting people to start running who never thought they would be a runner. To see their faces and how happy they are — that makes me proud to be the face of the running industry. It’s an honor. I’ve never taken it for granted.
HH: Most of the people you meet have finished their first 5K, or maybe their first marathon. What about someone who is physically capable of running but hasn’t started. What do you tell them about why they should start?
BY: A lot of people in our sport have faced health or other problems, and have been told that running could change their lives. They got everything lined up to be a runner. How do we get them to get out the door for the first time? That’s why I like group runs by a store or a running club, a local based 5K. If you put yourself out there for a race, you have to believe in the camaraderie in the running community. It’s not about personal bests, it’s about being out there in the community. I like to get people to take those first couple of steps to being a runner. If I can get them to start at a running club or group run at a store, then the running community takes over and I don’t have to do a thing.
HH: How do the runners you meet at a race, or an expo, inspire you?
BY: I am inspired by the running community. I feel very lucky to hear people’s stories. I ask people all the time out on a run, ‘OK, give it to me. How did you get started in this sport?’ You hear these stories of what got them into running, what they have accomplished and what their future plans are. It’s pretty cool to say that one of the things I do for a living is to hear people’s joy in the sport.
HH: What will retirement look like for Bart Yasso? What will you be doing in January 2018?
BY: (Chuckles) What will retirement look like for Bart Yasso? That’s still out there. I have a few ideas. I’ll still have to work a little bit to pay some bills and health insurance. But I have to back off on the travel; I’ve been traveling literally for 33 years. Cutting back on the travel is paramount for me. I hope to do a little run each day, maybe a bike ride. I like the idea that I don’t have to rush. I won’t have to hurry my morning run to get to the office and get to these meetings. But the truth is that I don’t know exactly what’s ahead. But I am excited about the opportunity and to see what comes.
HH: Besides being an advocate and inspiration to runners, you will probably be most remembered for Yasso 800s. Tell me about the origin of those.
BY: Yeah, being remembered for Yasso 800s (laughs) … it’s funny to have half the people curse at me. It’s kind of fun and interesting. Amby Burfoot was the genius behind the Yasso 800s. He recognized that the correlation between my workout — doing 10 800s — and average marathon finishing times. It really showed me what kind of shape I was in. Amby wanted to do something on the pages of Runner’s World and named them after me. Amby was brilliant. He knew that my last name was so unusual that the name itself would stick and that the workout itself would work for a lot of people.
HH: Back 20-25 years ago, was this something that you created or did you have other workouts that eventually led to the Yasso 800s?
BY: I did every kind of workout — ladders, 20 x 400 — I did all kinds of workouts. I personally believe that it (Yasso 800s) works — 3 easy miles before the workout, then the 10 800s, then 3 easy miles at the end. If you want to be fast, you have to go out there and do the workouts.
HH: When did you first correlate the times in the 800s to the marathon finishing times?
BY: My first marathon was in 1980. And between ‘80 and ‘83, when I looked back at my training log and marathon finishing times. It was really glaring what I had in the 800s and the marathon times. That jumped out.
HH: On your calendar, it looks like the Route 66 Marathon in Tulsa, Okla., will be your last public appearance. Is that true or are you considering any more races this year?
BY: Right now, that’s the last race I plan to travel to. But we’ll see if something else comes up. It will probably be Route 66, which is a pretty special race for me. The couple that puts on the Route 66 Marathon — Kimi Hann and Chris Lieberman — are good friends of mine. Chris suffered a serious brain injury last year. But he’s coming around. He wasn’t able to be at the race last year. This year, he’s recovered enough that he will be there, maybe in a wheelchair. I won’t be running the race. That will be my last public appearance and it will be pretty special for me.
HH: Let’s pretend that Bart Yasso never put on running shoes and never went out for a run. Describe who 60-year-old Bart Yasso would be now.
BY: Wow! You know that’s a great question. I hate to say it, but I don’t think I would be alive to be quite honest. I lived such a poor lifestyle until I made that change. I know through Facebook that I looked back at people I associated with 45 years ago. And none of them are alive any more — none of them. They died of drug overdoses or suicide, or causes related to alcohol. Maybe I would have changed and improved my lifestyle. But I am not sure. The way I look at it is that I thank my lucky stars that I found running and tried to be the best runner I could be. It’s opened so many doors. Thank God I made that change. I can’t answer that — Where would I be? — but I don’t think it would be a good place.
HH: It looks like you are working on a new book. Tell me about that.
BY: I have a book launch in October. It’s called Race Everything. It’s about everything from a mile race to Badwater, a 146-mile race in Death Valley (since Yasso ran it, the race has been shortened to 135 miles). It’s really about how to do all this stuff, how to do it correctly and how to enjoy the journey. That’s really the concept behind Race Everything. I am really excited about it. It was a lot of fun.
HH: How would you want to be remembered by the running community?
BY: I hope the running community enjoyed my presence. What I want people to remember the most is that they inspired me. That’s where I found my passion and kept it up all these years. I was able to keep the joy in the sport thanks to the people I met. It’s been a fun ride.
Hometown: Bethlehem, Pa.
Number of years running: 40
How many miles a week do you typically run: Due to Lyme Disease I only a few miles per week. If I have a good week 20 miles per week.
Point of pride: I love my job as chief running officer at Runner's World.
Favorite race distance: 50 miles
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Coffee
Favorite piece of gear: I don't have a fav
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: Gonna Fly Now from Rocky
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: I always remind myself before every run how lucky I am to have the physical ability to run.
Where can other runners connect or follow you: bartyasso.com, Twitter @bartyasso, Instagram bartyasso and Facebook, bartyasso.