(C) Copyright – 2009 – Christopher Kelsall
I read the book “My Life on the Run” by Bart Yasso, the Mayor of Running, for clues to its relevance to his public image as defacto race ambassador at Runner’s World Magazine. I am happy I did, because, in many ways, the memoirs are a constant reminder echoing his life’s transition from misdirected youth to sub-elite runner and adventurer, to the present in how far he has come as a person. According to Bart, life’s journey is about how far we have come, not in how fast we run through it.
For those who haven’t read My Life on the Run here is a truncated synopsis:
Bart begins with his childhood set in the small town of Fountain Hill, Pennsylvania, just outside of Bethlehem. In the Yasso’s small family home his existence was crowded by a set of six other siblings who over-shadowed any accomplishments Bart may have managed if he wasn’t too misdirected and under-appreciated by his sport-loving father. A possible manifestation of the emotional chasm between them is demonstrated in one backyard photo where the senior Yasso and Bart stand apart from each other. The distance between them was perhaps too great a gap even when Bart began to accomplish in running, what he clearly lacked as a stick and ball athlete during his teens.
Soon Bart was warming the cracked leather stool at his favorite establishment, drowning his sorrows with cheap beer because that’s what he could afford and boredom, which was supplied a plenty. Bart does not share any dreams at this point. You would not be alone if you assume that Bart, a pharmaceuticals delivery driver by day and an apparent self-loathing wobbly-pop drinker by night, believed dreams were only for people who possess hope.
One day while walking his girlfriend’s Collie, ‘Brandy’ Bart began to recognize (and envy) the dog’s ability to get lost in the pure joy of running free-by taking off like a rocket when they came upon a clearing. Yasso tried this ‘expression of freedom’ himself and found over time, he began to love to run too. Slowly but surely he became fit enough to take on his elder brother George in a road race, eventually beating him and discovering something important about himself: he was good at something.
From there Bart shares with us his life story on the run. The memoirs take on a rhythm moving the reader through time, event-by-event. The roller coaster ride begins in Fountain Hill; hand holds us over the threshold of Runner’s World Magazine’s front doors, which are a portal to his life on the run. The memoirs take the reader around the world providing laughs and life lessons in a candid, open and honest fashion.
The book is an extension of his slideshow that he entertains race participants with at pasta dinners everywhere. Bart calls the slideshow “Never Limit Where Running Can Take You”. If you have enjoyed his slideshows, you will definitely want to read the book.
Catching up with Bart Yasso
I catch Bart on his cell phone, he is traveling by taxi to the San Diego International Airport. He has just landed from the annual cruise that Runner’s World Magazine puts on, called Cruise to Run, The Ultimate Runner’s Vacation. He explains to me that he is going to take a plane home to Pennsylvania, then back to Austin in two days. Sounds like he is playing single A ball on a farm team. ‘Put your hands together for Bart Yasso, designated hitter for the Rodale Press Compression Socks’ (the crowd goes wild).
“Bart, you are heading back to Austin, the next day”?
“Yeah got to do some laundry, pay some bills and repack for the Austin Marathon.”
Definite single A.
We talk for a few moments about the cruise he has just come back from, a working cruise, where they stop off at 5 ports in 5 days and run at each exotic locale.
“Is the cruiseship big enough to run Yasso 800s on”?
“Not sure, I have been running at all the destinations, so haven’t had a chance to find out”.
In the book, he does mention a few times that he has the best job in the world. Of course I never heard of minor league ball players smacking taters off the stern of a Holland America Cruise ship.
Shipmate, Dick Beardsley
“Bart is a true ambassador of running, I don’t know a person that doesn’t like Bart, he is an inspiration to me and so many others!”
Amby Burfoot, Editor at Large, Runner’s World Magazine wrote the Foreward to My Life on the Run, in it he writes of his 20 year history with Bart:
Indeed Bart is a friend and coworker first and a cardio champ second. He’s fun to be around. He’s fun to work with. He’s not just the Mayor of Running and Chief Running Officer at Runner’s World; these days we don’t always think highly of politicians and corporate mavens and don’t always trust them. But Bart you can trust, form first step to last. He’s got the marathon mentality combined with the good-neighbor helpfullness.
A few questions with Bart
CK: Bart, nice work on the book. Was writing it a cathartic experience for you?
BY: It was arduous. There was a lot of work involved in compiling and researching and writing the book. Now after I wrote it and it started selling, I received and am still receiving so many emails and comments from people, who come from everywhere. There is just so much inspiration. Never anticipated and never banked on such a great reaction. At all the expos people come up and talk to me about the book, it’s all very rewarding, after all the work that it took putting it together.
The running stuff was easy and fun to write, but revisiting my lyme disease, a lot of my childhood – especially my relationship with my dad, and my mistakes – those chapters were hard. I can’t say writing about them was cathartic, but when I hear feedback from folks who read my book who tell me they were inspired or shared in my struggles I then realize it was definitely worth writing about those tough times. I have a special affinity for those who struggled in their youth because I’ve been there.
CK: How is the book selling?
BY: Very well! It is interesting that the sales continue to happen, as people will come to see my slide show at pasta dinners and expos and end up buying the book. I keep selling out of the ones I take to races. And of course while I am there I can sign them as well. So the book just continues to sell well that way.
CK: Reading your book, I thought your honesty was refreshing, especially about your youth. Too many times I have read a book by someone and you can tell the corporation in the picture censored the writer.
BY: I didn’t want to write all that stuff about my wayward youth to begin with. I thought at some point the bosses from Rodale would read this and come walking in to fire me (laughing). But the point is I made mistakes in the past, learned from them and moved on to embrace my new life as a runner. And the reward is, I have the best job in the world.
CK: And how long have you been in this new life as a runner?
BY: 32 years! 22 years with Runner’s World Magazine and 32 years as a runner.
CK: You mentioned the television show, Mutual of Omaha’s, Wild Kingdom as one of your favorites growing up – mine too. And Captain Jacques Cousteaus’ specials; I can still hear Jacques’ monotone narration. Have you watched Wes Anderson’s, The Life Aquatic with Bill Murray and Owen Wilson? A very funny dedication to Cousteau!
BY: No, I haven’t seen The Life Aquatic I have to put it on my list. When I see a movie I like I tend to see it again and again like, Slumdog Millionaire and Caddyshack.
CK: In regards to your choice of leaving aimlessness behind and choosing the running path, you quote Joseph Campbell in your book: “If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all along, waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors for you”.
You also urge readers to ‘test the boundaries of life, not just your physical prowess’ and ‘running may be the connective tissues, but the true essense of the sport is passage to a bigger world’.
This is all a tad poetic; does your next threshold of bliss have the spirit of Dr. George Sheehan holding the door open for you?
BY: I worked with Sheehan from the late-80s until his passing in ’93. I definitely was a pupil of the man – all ears. Old and new runners still ask me to this day if I ever worked with Sheehan. The man’s legacy is lasting. I may not have been able to post the incredibly fast times that Sheehan did as a senior runner but I still take great joy in the sport that has given me so much and being able to share that with others – even non-runners – is very cool.
CK: As you wrote after your induction into the USA Hall of Champions, ‘running celebrates our commonality…making the human condition more tolerable’. I cannot agree more.
You also wrote that the sport is on an uptick who knows how high its popularity will climb. Well despite the fact that there are now up to 50, 000 or so participants in some marathons, (which is great) this is a tiny percentage of the population who actually do run, so it can become bigger than anything, while celebrating the human condition, don’t you think?
BY: Some folks ask me what it was like being a runner in the glory days of the first running boom. I tell them the glory days of our sport are right now. This is the greatest time ever for running and racing especially distance running. More women are running – in fact at some marathons more than 50% of the entrants are female. Every weekend I watch runners of all ages, abilities and our challenged athletes cross the magical Marathon Finish Line. With marathon finish lines at many races open past six hours, newbie’s, young and old, can participate in the same race as the best runners in the world. It truly is mind-boggling.
CK: Who are your personal heroes, are you inspired by the likes of Percy Cerruty, Arthur Lydiard, Joe Vigil, Bill Bowerman, people like that?
BY: Sure all of them of course. I get the most from the stories of the race participants. You know the guy who comes up to me at a race and tells me his story about how he has lost 150 pounds through running. Or a story where someone was on their deathbed and saved himself or herself by getting out there and running. I meet them at races and race expos and the stories I get to hear are the real inspiration.
I do want to mention that people I personally know and are close to me inspire me more than greats who I don’t know that well. Amby Burfoot, who is a great runner, great guy to work with and a greater friend is inspiring. Budd Coates is another; he was a prolific runner, and an Olympian of course. Working at Runner’s World Magazine all these years there are some pretty good people there to associate with.
CK: How is the Lyme disease?
BY: Not very good at the moment. The right side is bothering me a bit right now, but if I run in moderation and don’t get too serious it doesn’t pose too much of a problem. I just came back from a cruise, where we had 5 stops in 5 days with a run at each location. It was beautiful and a good time there were many nice people and the likes of Frank Shorter, John Bingham, Dick Beardsley and Lisa Bentley.
Anyway, as long as I keep the runs short enough I am ok.
CK: Is your wife still running?
BY: Yes she still takes in ultra marathons and we continue to run together when we can.
CK: So this weekend you are in Austin for the marathon and half marathon. Who is going to win?
BY: I don’t know yet, I will have to get back to the expo and take a close look at who is running the event. I am not up on who is running for sure, but watch for a local Austin, Texas, guy named Gilbert Tuhaboyne, who should finish first or second with a time of 2:31/2.
That’s the thing with Austin; it is the running mecca of North America. There are many great places to run. Also there are many different groups in town, cycling, mountain biking, rowing, running and triathlon. I have always liked Austin. If you don’t exercise in Austin, they tell you to leave town (laughing).
Locally they have natural springs to go swimming, like Barton Springs and public outdoor pools everywhere. The culture is about exercise.
You gotta’ like a town where their motto is ‘Keep Austin Weird’ and ‘collaborative fission of coordinated individualism’ is written on the city’s coat of arms.
CK: Yes one must. Have a weird race and continued success with the book.