Interview with Bart Yasso
Bart Yasso is running. In addition to being host of the San Francisco Marathon (look for Bart at the Expo and related events), he has traveled the world over to running events. Bart’s book, My Life on the Run is popular in the running community and beyond. He has been inducted into the Running USA Hall of Champions. He has ridden solo across the USA two times, competed in the Ironman five times and completed races on all seven continents. He is Mr. Running USA, and it was a pleasure to catch up with him in Colorado for an interview about the San Francisco Marathon.
Thomas: It is great to host you here in Denver, Colorado as you head to Colorado Springs for yet another race. So Bart, lots to catch up on– Wipro as you know is the title sponsor for the SF Marathon. Can you talk a little about how you got involved with the race and maybe as a follow up what makes San Francisco unique out of all of the races you travel to in the world.
Bart Yasso: Yeah sure. I am at a race every weekend. I travel basically nonstop. San Francisco had approached me about being a host for the race along with Dean Karnazes (an ultra runner) a few years ago. And I just jumped on the opportunity. It’s really just a a great weekend. We do a lot of clinics, seminars and just hang out with the race director and race committee. And then of course on race day I try to engage as much as I can with as many runners as possible. Whether they are doing the half marathon, marathon, 5k or munchkin run. There are so many races to choose from. It’s the only race I go to where you get a choice of the half marathon, and you can run either the first half, or the second half of the course which is so unusual. So yeah that is such a pretty location first off. It’s always perfect weather to do a race in. Summertime in July, in California! San Francisco has such cool mornings and that is so hard to find in the summertime for a marathon. It seems like its always about 55 degrees and cool-just ideal for running at the start of the race. And even when the last person comes in it’s about 55 degrees and cool.
Thomas: You mentioned how much you travel-it’s literally a new location and new race every weekend. So here were are less than two months before the SF race. And there are so many runners (25,000 plus) all with different goals- Some may just want to finish, others maybe want to hit a time, or compete in an age group. What should training should runners be mindful of as we get closer to the event?
Bart Yasso: Oh yeah, there is plenty to work on. First off, if you are doing SF as your first marathon, I applaud you. It’s a tough course, it’s just not the easiest marathon course out there. So I admire runners who have the guts to say hey I’m going to run San Francisco! But you know the first thing is that when you are running a first marathon or half marathon, those first couple of races are more about having to establish yourself—just getting a realistic time about what you can do in one of the distances and then go from there. And try to improve. The first few races should just be about finishing and getting hooked on this great sport, and then hopefully you will be doing this for many years. For those runners who have more experience, just know this is a tough course. I would be training for the course, the hills especially if you are in San Francisco and can run them. For folks who are not in California, well they should be running hills if at all possible. I feel sorry for some of the runners who don’t have hills to train on because it will be a lot tougher. But if you have some hills to train on, now is the time to train on them. And now is really a good time to speed work for either the marathon or the half. This is a great time to really ramp up the speed work. Work those speed sessions and try to peak for the event about 15-20 days before the event. Then you have to start that taper and really focus on storing that energy for race day.
Thomas: Great stuff. We have lots of hills here in Colorado to practice on. Let’s talk about the event again and getting ready for the start, eating properly, and even resting. For folks coming from different time zones the 5:30 am start time might pose some challenges. What do you recommend for runners so they arrive rested, stocked up with calories and ready to go?
Bart Yasso: It is an early start, 5:30. But you know if you are coming from the East coast, you are probably going to awake anyway. But there is still that simulation…if I was training for San Francisco I would be doing my long runs at 5:30 in the morning, or at least as close to that as possible so it feels normal to you on race day. It does complicate things when you are talking about eating some breakfast, especially for the marathon. I would suggest people eat a light breakfast. I suggest about two and half hours prior to race time. So that will really get you up early. So that does throw a little monkey wrench in there. But you know there are so many products you can eat on the course with the gels, and blocks and all of the nutritional stuff-that is really great about an event like this—but remember you should practice what you plan on eating—practice in your training. You need to find out what really works for you. What makes you feel good when you run. That is the key. So then race day and race weekend is nothing new. And then I would eat my dinner a little bit later, because I probably wouldn’t have too much breakfast if I was in one of those early morning starts. I’d use the gels and blocks on the course. You just want things to be a close to normal as possible with some adjustments here and there.
Thomas: Final question: You have run all over the world, been chased by a Rhino in Africa, and have stories that fill a book. Every runner has so many things that cross their mind during a marathon or half marathon due to the time and energy it take to complete them. But your story is really special-the illness that almost ended your career, racing on seven continents and all of the thousands of runners you have met. That’s a lot. What advice would you give those first timers, or those just beginning to experiment with the full or half marathon?
Bart Yasso: Yeah, sure…you know I’ve had a lot of highs and lows in my career. I’ve been doing this for 35 years and I’ve had a lot of good years. I was very lucky to get very few running injuries. I had practically zero running injuries. But then I got lime disease twice and it really beat me up pretty badly. I mean, I think I said one time it destroyed my running career…but I mean it added on the marathon distance it was like two minutes per mile to my time…just overnight. Sighs…but I don’t say it destroyed my running career. It altered my running career. It slowed me down a lot. It made me appreciate more what I did have before. Its so easy to take these things for granted. You out there training and everything is working fine, and you do races at the drop of a hat. But then when I got sick it brought back to home how lucky we are physically to do what we do, and I always remind new runners how lucky we are culturally to do these things. That there are races in every big city in America and you can pretty much do a race every weekend if you want to. And that doesn’t happen everywhere. And think about the difference in our sport from other sports. In running we really are accepting of people of all abilities. We are accepting of all cultures, religions and whatever—but we are really accepting of all abilities. Think about it a lot of sports simply don’t do that. And I think that is what is so special about running. And for people new to the sport—they are at it at the height of running. There are more people running now than ever. The percentage of women running races is just unbelievable! Sometimes its as high as 70% in a given race. As a travel around the world and do races, you know there are many societies where people are suppressed from even doing races. Remember this—you can go to a race where there are maybe 70% of the runners are women and I bet maybe 90% of them probably don’t even know that less than 40 years ago women were not even allowed to run in the Boston Marathon. The first gender box for the Boston Marathon did not happen until 1972. Think about that. When I was at the Comrades Marathon in South Africa, (they call it a marathon but it’s actually 56 miles) that race has been since 1921. Between the years of 1921 and 1975 they did not allow the black citizens of South Africa to run the race. And the country is 60% black citizens. So you can just imagine some of the suppression that gone on over the years. And those days are gone we are now accepting of everyone, and that just makes this sport so special. In the end its just you against the clock. There are no shortcuts, you can lie, you can’t fake anything. It’s just you pushing yourself. And then of course, if you are lucky enough to be an elite runner, or elite age group runner you can push for some of these times and be competitive. And try to win. But the majority of runners it’s just them against the clock. And that is the beauty of the sport—no judgments involved-you get paid back for all the work you put in.