PROFILE--Bart Yasso has been running for 44 years

1981 Long Island Marathon
(10-18) Bart Yasso, the retired Chief Running Officer at Runner’s World, has traveled to races around the world from Pennsylvania to Africa, and into the hearts of countless runners he met at race expos and running lectures.  He is one of a few people to have completed races on all seven continents, including the Mount Kilimanjaro marathon. But more importantly to Bart, “It's not the details of the races I recall, it's the people I met.”  To thousands of runners, he is their mayor of running, their guru, their go-to person for advice or simply to say, “Thank you for the encouragement to get out and run.” In his years at Runner’s World, he’s received marriage proposals and many more interesting emails. Now retired, he is still in demand as a speaker but is trying to carve out some time to relax at home in Bethlehem, PA, a rare moment for the Mayor of Running.

Started running: December, 1977. I’m 62 and feel great.

Why did you start running? I was 22 at the time and needed a lifestyle change to get in shape. I was leading a kind of risky life, smoking, drinking and other
not so great stuff.  I wasn’t thinking this would lead to a lifelong passion, just did it to get in shape. I ran before work and have kept that routine forever. It’s my favorite time of day to run.

I did my first race, a 10K, in 1980 egged on by my older brother George. He challenged me to it and said he could beat me. Little did I know he was training hard the whole time of his boasting and I thought this was just a lark so didn’t train. Needless to say, he beat me. But after that I got serious about my running so I guess I have to thank him for beating me. And he never beat me again!

Did you have an early inspiration or person who motivated you? That would be George. He saw the dormant running talent I had before I did and pushed me to do better. Sadly, he died of prostate cancer in 2003 at the young age of 52. We hold a memorial golf outing as a fundraiser for him every year.

How much did you run per week in your peak years? Now? I ran 100 miles a week back in the day because every other good runner did. It was probably too much but I just followed Budd Coates and some of the other RW runners.  I never got injured so something was working right. Now, I get in 20 miles in a good week and I’m happy with that. 
At Bermuda Marathon weekend

What were some of your better/memorable races? I did some amazing runs in East Africa. I’m an animal lover and loved running alongside (sometimes too close!) the animals. I kept those runs short just in case. Others are:
1)    Comrades, South Africa 2010: I made it before the gate came down. Ran it in 11:32. I was just diagnosed with Lyme so that race is very personal to me. I wasn’t sure I could run 56 miles with Lyme and arrived in South Africa sick. 
2)     Badwater (146 miles), 1989: This one was more for fun if you can call it that. I ran it when the finish line was atop Mount Whitney so did extra duty. I was 146 pounds at the time and looked it.
3)    I also completed six Ironmans and biked across the USA twice (1992/94).

How did you train differently in your younger years? Now? In my younger years I pushed myself. Did a lot of track workouts and hill repeats. I ran with some fast guys and we had fun pushing each other to go faster.  It was really fun but I did it at an age when I could.  I don’t do track workouts. Maybe I’ll sneak in a tempo run if I am having a good day but the Lyme really put an end to my racing days. The sport pays you back for the work you put in and there are no shortcuts. Now, when I go for a run the first thing I say to myself is, “Don’t hurt yourself!” I’m willing to walk and enjoy every step. I never push it. I like being out in nature and I’ve learned to let go of everything else. 

Has your diet changed through the years? I’ve been a vegetarian for 30 years. I’ve tried going vegan but that’s a difficult diet to stick to when you are traveling a lot on the road. My philosophy is to just eat well – incorporate lots of salads, grains, fruits, nuts and smoothies. It’s not a chore to be a vegetarian. I really love the food.

Cross training: I’ve always biked and swam. For 40 years, I commuted to work on my bike. I used to swim a lot when I was doing Ironmans but have cut back on the swimming. I really believe in cross training as part of your routine so you don’t get injured. I preach that at all my running seminars. I also go to the gym and do strength training and flexibility exercises. I also walk nine holes on the golf course. Not a well-known cross training sport but I get in 3-4 miles. It’s good exercise. I forgo the cart and the beer.

How important is social running to you? If you were/are a competitive runner, can you adapt to the slower times and enjoy a social run? Social running is very important to me. I love group runs and have done hundreds of them with runners at events and expos. There’s no pressure to go fast or show off. You just have fun. When I was at RW, I started the Shake Out run the day before a big race. I’ve done hundreds of them and it’s so much fun – takes the pressure off the big day. Social running is all about keeping it positive – time is not a factor. And I love seeing new and old friends at races and events. That’s another beauty of our sport. We might only see each other once a year but we bond and support one another. And if I can’t run, I enjoy cheering for all the runners on the course and giving high-fives.

I certainly have slowed down due to age and the Lyme but I don’t fret about that. It happens. I just keep positive and am happy to be running at all. When the numbers on the finish line clock get bigger, so what. It’s no biggie.

Obstacles along the way? I’ve been infected with Lyme disease four times starting in 1990. The last infection was 2017. I take all the precautions but I still get it. Those little buggers aren’t bigger than a pepper flake and manage to find me. It really has derailed my running and as I mentioned above, almost kept me from Comrades but I saw a doctor the day before the race and he helped me get through it. I’m not going to live in a bubble.

A favorite quote: “Never take a finish line for granted.” I attribute that to Sarah Reinertsen, an above the knee amputee paratriathlete and former Paralympic track athlete who was the first female to complete the Ironman World Championship in Kona. I also consistently repeat a mantra at the start of a race. I remind myself how lucky I am to do this sport I love so much both physically and culturally. There are places all over the world that don’t encourage or allow people to run and we tend to forget that. 

Running – training philosophy: Stay injury free! It drives me crazy when runners get injured because there is no real reason to get injured. It just shouldn’t be. Why over train and get injured? Why push it and not take a day off? The goal is to run forever, not until you get injured.

I also get crazed about runners who rely on their gadgets and have forgotten how to run free. They’ve become victims of their electronic devices and won’t start a run without their GPS multi-functional watch. And when that darn beep goes off at the end, that’s when they stop running. Not back to the car or their group of friends, but where their watch tells them to stop. It’s amazing to me. They’ve forgotten the simplicity of running.  

How has running helped you with the aging process? People tell me I look younger than my age, but is that cruel? Is that telling me that I looked older younger? Did I look that bad at 30? Not sure, but I feel great. I think running adds a lot of perspective to our lives. The amount of time we have on this earth is short – so enjoy every day. Make the best of every day. Tomorrow is a blessing. I hope I see tomorrow but I never take it for granted.

What are the biggest lessons (life and running) you have learned from running? I never thought that running would be a vehicle that changed my life, became my profession for more than 30 years, and took me around the world and introduced me to thousands of wonderful people. I just went out for that mile run 41 years ago and here I am. My tag line is: Never limit where running can take you.

When I retired from RW, the only thing I kept from my office were favorite emails that really touched me or inspired me. Like one from parents of a young child who has a brain disorder and struggles in the real world but can run. He would send me hand-written letters that took him days to write and tell me about his run.  I had no idea when I started at RW that I would touch so many people through running and that they in turn would inspire me.  The big take-away for me is that you have no idea who you will connect with in life or how they will change you so keep the door open.

What do you know about running/fitness now that you didn’t know way back when? I’m not sure I know any more than I did. In this sport, you keep learning every day.  I guess one thing I learned is that I want to be a lifelong runner, and not just to be fit like the reason I started to run.  Back in 1977 I didn’t see my running as a lifestyle and I don’t know where I would be without it. I truly am blessed.