The greatest lesson from Bart Yasso
As Bart Yasso winds down his illustrious running career and role as Chief Running Officer at Runner’s World, it was only natural that he write a book. In “Race Everything,” he dishes on his favorite races, training tips, memorable races and more from his 33 years as a runner.
PAST INTERVIEW: Click here to read 'Bart Yasso runs off into the sunset'
Yasso recalls regularly being asked by fans about where he grew up. Many of his running groupies think he has lived all over the world. In actuality, Yasso has always lived near Bethlehem, Pa., even though running has taken him to races all over the world — from Comrades in South Africa to Badwater in California to the Arctic Circle Marathon to small-town 5Ks.
“People think I have lived all over the world but I have lived my entire life within a 40-mile radius around where I live now, Bethlehem,” he says. “I’ve always lived here and I love it. It’s kind of cool living in an old house.”
He’s referring to his historic, old stone home, built in 1749 — before the United States was actually a country. “There are some downsides to living in an old house, though,” he admits. “Not everything works all the time. I could tinker with something every day and never get everything fixed. There are some challenges but it is really fun.”
Upon retirement Yasso may finally have time to attend to house issues seeking attention. But for now he is still attending to runners seeking inspiration.
In “Race Everything,” Yasso reveals his favorites in the 5K, 10K, half, full and ultra distances.
During our interview, he admits “it’s impossible to pick your favorite race. But for the book I had to do it; it’s a tough task. There are so many great races out there.”
So instead, I asked him, “If you could run only one more race at each one of those distances, which would you select?”
Yasso’s answers revolved around tributes, especially to his late brother, George, who was instrumental in getting his younger brother into running. Around 2000, George told Bart he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. George died In 2003, at age 51.
Saying he might actually do some of these races in retirement, Yasso picked out:
5K: “There was a 5K in memory of my brother, George, in the town where we grew up outside of Bethlehem, called Fountain Hill. If I could get that race resurrected, that would be fun to do and have it remain in my brother’s name. I just couldn’t keep putting the race on with all the other races I do and all the crazy travel I do.”
10K: “I would like to go back and run the first 10K I ever did, which was the first road race that I ever did, over 37 years ago. The race doesn’t exist anymore but I am pretty sure if I went back to that location, I could figure out the course. I may just go back there and run that course. It would be a cool memory and bring back memories of my brother, who passed away. He was the one who convinced me to run. He picked that race and that’s the one we did.”
Half: “I remember doing one in Wilmington, Del., called the Caesar Rodney Half Marathon. I remember how brutal it was. I would love to go back — I know the race still goes off, for 54 years now. That would be a cool one to do. I did it once, in 1981, and haven’t been back since. I don’t live that far from Wilmington so I don’t know why I never did it again.”
Full: “Very similar to the 10K. I thought about this a couple of weeks ago. I would like to go back out and run the first marathon I ever did, called the Prevention Marathon (sponsored by the magazine). It hasn’t been run since 1983. That course is another course I could simulate. I know that course really well. I have really thought about doing it on the anniversary next March. I was thinking that if I get healthy enough, I could go out on that old course and run 26.2 miles.”
Ultra: “It would be my dream to go back and run Comrades. But I just haven’t been healthy enough to do that, unfortunately. Comrades switches directions every year. The year I did it was supposed to be an ‘up’ year, but they changed it to a ‘down’ year because of World Cup soccer. I was excited to do what they call an ‘up’ year. Somehow, if I could get healthy enough to run Comrades in an ‘up’ year, that would be a dream. It would be cool to do the 100th anniversary of the Comrades marathon, which will be in 2021. That would be pretty special.”
When pressed, however, Yasso does have a favorite race.
“I get asked that a lot — What’s your favorite race? — and it’s easy for me, Comrades,” Yasso says. “It’s the human spirit that lives in that race. I never get the connection — to the race, to the race director, to the community, to the other runners to the country — at any race other than Comrades. When you run New York or Boston or other big races, they are great spectators and courses but at Comrades it’s like a spirit that is out there. When I tell people about the human spirit, those who have run the race before all say the same thing. There is something about Comrades.”
While Comrades is a well-known ultra, it is actually easier to enter than some of the more famous ones in America. There are qualification standards that most experienced marathon runners can meet.
“I would say that people who are intimidated by an ultra, they should consider Comrades,” says Yasso. “If you are only going to do one ultra in your life, Comrades is the one to do.”
Still teaching and encouraging
The book prompted Yasso to divulge another secret. Its cover art is of the race bibs that adorn his office door at Runner’s World.
“I’ll give you the skinny on the cover — I never told anyone this until the book came out,” he says, adding the bibs were just handy when the idea struck. “Everyone who comes to my office, they always want to get a picture by the office. There are bib numbers on my door — not because they are artsy or I thought it was cool —but so that I could change into running stuff and head out the door quickly. I thought if I could cover the door, I could change real fast and go out to get my run in. That’s the only reason I did it.”
From cover to cover, the book is filled with inspiration from Yasso. Among the notable lines that caught my attention was a common refrain from the beloved running ambassador — The greatest lesson you can glean from me is to never limit where your running can take you.
“That’s how I sign books — Never limit where running can take you,” he says. “Geographically, physically, emotionally, spiritually. I say that to runners because I was complacent with my life. When I got out of that mood that’s when all of this started with running all over the world, and Runner’s World sending me all over the world.
“I also tell people I start out just like everyone else. I started out to run one mile. And look where it took me. I always want people to take it to another level and get more out of it than they think is possible. And that’s why I say, never limit where running can take you.”
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.