Post by Susan Lacke.
“<BLEEP> that <BLEEP>ing Yasso. If I ever meet that <BLEEP> Yasso I’m gonna <BLEEP>ing give him a piece of my <BLEEP>ing mind about his <BLEEP> Yasso 800’s. <BLEEP>.”
If you had asked me at that moment, in my sweaty and out-of-breath state, I’d have told you Bart Yasso could suck it.
“The Mayor of Running”
My opinion of Yasso began to change a few months ago, after I read his book, My Life on the Run: The Wit, Wisdom, and Insight of a Road Racing Icon. In between the covers of his book, Yasso details his astonishing and full life as a runner.
His passion for running is obvious in his writing. Yasso seems to have a story appropriate for every single circumstance, whether it’s motivating a new runner, helping someone bounce back from injury, or encouraging someone to dig deep and push themselves just a little bit harder. Bart Yasso’s stories of (literally) running around the world aren’t fish tales…they’re his real, true, honest life experiences.
My respect for Yasso grew even further when I discovered that he, too, is a vegetarian. This running icon, who is seemingly unstoppable, does so on a plant-centered diet.
Even though he’s a celebrity in the running world and has a wide repertoire of experiences under his belt many of us can only dream of, Yasso remains incredibly…human. Affectionately called “The Mayor of Running,” he’s known for shaking every single hand at pre-race expos and remembering the names and faces of various runners he’s met while traveling the world. With a disarming smile and laid-back attitude, Yasso’s the type of guy you’d like to take out for a beer, just to have the opportunity to listen to him tell his stories again and again.
I recently was given the opportunity to pick his brain about his running, his vegetarianism, and, of course, those famous Yasso 800’s. Read on.
An Interview with Bart Yasso
NMA: You are an icon because of the Yasso 800’s. When you created these, did you have any idea how indispensable Yasso 800’s would become, and how you’d become such an icon?
Bart Yasso: Amby [Burfoot, Runner’s World Editor] told me that when physicists discover a new subatomic particle, they claim the right to name it. Same goes with astronomers: Locate a new star and you can call it anything you want. Amby reasoned that even skaters and gymnasts get moves named in their honor, so why not runners?
I thought it was really cool that he thought enough of me to do that, but I was secretly terrified. What if the Yasso 800s didn’t hold true for all runners? I pictured the bags of hate mail I’d receive from angry marathoners who’d thought they would qualify for Boston based on their Yasso 800 times but then fell short during the race. I thought about moving to Russia but figured that within a month or two, no one would remember the exercise that bore my name, and the Yasso 800s would disappear off the face of the earth, a mere blip in a running world that’s seen its share of fads.
Except they didn’t. They became more and more popular, and soon I couldn’t go to a race without someone coming up to me and saying, “Hey, you’re the guy who invented the 800s.” I didn’t really invent 800 meters. That distance, twice around the track, existed long before I showed up. But the Yasso 800s have become as much a part of the marathon lexicon as mile repeats.
NMA: When and why did you become a vegetarian?
BY: I become a vegetarian many years ago for ethical and environmental reasons. I love animals and love mother nature.
NMA: How do you feel it’s impacted your performance as a runner? Have you noticed other areas in your life that have been improved by vegetarianism?
BY: I can’t say if helped or hurt my performance. I can tell you I love being a vegetarian which makes me feel better and enhances every aspect of my life.
NMA: Do you ever get any “weird” questions about being a vegetarian athlete? How do you typically respond to those questions?
BY: I got yelled at in Montana for eating some of the garnish on the side of the salad bar. The salad bar had meat everywhere. They told me I was eating the decorations!
NMA: After sharing your struggle with and desire to finish Comrades, you finally did it! What was it like to realize such an awesome goal had been achieved?
BY: Comrades is the one race that still haunts my dreams. So I wonder, can this 54-year-old man with bum knees go 56 miles through the hills of South Africa? Is there another epic race left in me? Or will it go down as my greatest regret? The starting line beckons.
When I crossed the finish line last week I fulfilled my dream. Comrades is the greatest footrace on the planet and didn’t want to end my running career without completing this great race.
NMA: Your book shares so many incredible stores about your experiences as a runner. It must be so hard to pick just one as your “favorite.” With so many incredible opportunities, what criteria do you use in determining what races to run?
BY: I don’t get picky with my choice of races. I hit the big ones, small ones, and off the beaten path races. All I care about is if they have runners, I want to attend.
NMA: What do you love most about running?
BY: As a breed, runners are a pretty gutsy bunch. We constantly push ourselves to discover limitations, then push past them. We want to know how fast we can go, how much pain we can endure, and how far our bodies can carry us before collapsing in exhaustion. Moving outward is an act of courage, and in my life, running has also been a vehicle of introduction—to people, places, cultures, and animals. I have run races on all seven continents. Running may be the connective tissue, but the true essence of the sport is a passage to a bigger world.
NMA: Ryan Hall has said he’d like to have your job when you retire. But it looks like this running thing is kind of working out for him, you know? I mean, he doesn’t suck entirely.
BY: Ryan and his wife Sara are very good friends of mine. When Ryan first met me, he said, “This dude is the coolest.” He even wanted to dress like me. He got some Crocs and cargo pants to mimic my style. He liked my laid-back style but he realized I get a lot done. He was intrigued by my travels around the world. We both have the same mission using our running to make the world a better place. My desk is waiting for Ryan; as soon as his elite running career is over he can have my job.