I want to be able to say that Bart Yasso and I go back many years because that’s what it felt like to interview him. Truth is, we’ve met once at a dinner for the Steps Foundation, beyond that, I’ve seen his photos and read his book (along with thousands of other runners). I’m lucky that Bart is so in touch with the running community, it makes it easy to be inspired by his stories.
If life were a gauntlet, then Bart has definitely been through it and emerged triumphant. Kicking it off by falling deep into habits of drug and alcohol abuse, it’s tough to connect his young life with the one he’s been living for the past few decades. Everyone goes through personal transformation, and often for runners it leads to something spectacular. When I asked Bart to reflect on his days as an alcoholic he mentioned that he “started at a young age with alcohol and drugs. It was way, way too young, and we’re talking vast amounts of alcohol. It just wasn’t the lifestyle I wanted to lead, and I don’t blame that on anyone but myself. I look back on it all the time and think, ‘what could have been different if I would have used my education to my advantage instead of being a screwup,’ but in retrospect I wouldn’t change a thing. Where I am today, and where I’ve been for the last 35 years, I’ve been happy. What I do now I absolutely love.”
Even though Bart has an occasional glass of wine, he was sober for 20 plus years, and hasn’t touched a drug since he started running. His alcohol abuse and drug related habits paired with his later passion for running could be chalked up to having an addictive personality, but he doesn’t think so. “I don’t think running is an addictive thing,” he says, “I think it’s a thing of joy! People really love it and it’s one of those sports that’s hard to explain to non-runners. You have to live it in order to experience it.”
Those 35 years have proven to be very good for Bart’s athletic career. He’s raced on all seven continents, run the Badwater Marathon, won a marathon and even a biathlon, but the greatest adventure he’s had was riding his bike across the USA… twice… solo. “Athletically, it was the most fun thing I’ve ever done,” he remembers, “it’s something I think about every day.”
Bart travels around the world every weekend attending running events as the Chief Running Officer of Runner’s World Magazine. His travels are classified as work, but to him, they’re more of an adventure. Bart’s job is to connect with runners so that he can find and tell their stories, “the Runner’s World headquarters are in a little town called Emmaus, Pennsylvania, and the running stories don’t come to Pennsylvania, we have to go out there and find them. I’m that guy willing to be out there at races, and finish lines, meeting people and finding stories. The only way to do that is to communicate with thousands of runners every weekend.” And Bart loves his job. Numerous times in our conversation he reminded me how blessed he feels that he can connect his passion with his profession and not get sick of either one.
Which brings me to this weekend. Bart will be in Boston with the thousands of other people waiting to watch the 115th running of the Boston Marathon. Bart has run the marathon a few times, and he’s been at every Boston Marathon for the last 29 years—so I thought I’d ask him a few key questions about the weekend, namely where to go to party after everyone’s done running! In true marathoner fashion, everyone goes back to their hotel rooms to wash the salt off their faces, shower, maybe take a nap, relax, eat some lunch, and rest their legs. Then throughout the afternoon, “you see people in pockets, going out to the restaurants at night to gather and tell stories.” Boston may be the most well known marathon in the USA, but even with the recent increase in registration, runners seem to want to keep the small race vibe. How do they do it? Bart thinks that “to keep boston intimate runners gather around the people that got them to the start, supported them throughout their training, and tell their stories from the race.”
Speaking of keeping running intimate, maintaining a level of camaraderie between runners no matter who you are is one of the drivers behind why Bart loves what he’s doing so much. At the end of the Boston Marathon last year, he got to put this into practice when he noticed a runner in the hotel loby of the Sheraton next to the finish line.
“He was really bummed out, I overheard a story about how he needed to change his flight so that he could leave the next day. He was upset because he wanted to go to the Bill Rogers running store the next day, and he was going to miss his opportunity to meet Bill. I walked up to him and offered to get Bill Rogers on the phone and he can congratulate you on Boston. The guy just looked up at me, so I called Billy on my cell phone, when he answered I asked him to talk to this guy who wanted to meet him. He and Billy talked for about three minutes and I don’t think he had any idea who I was, but they got to connect, and that’s the fun stuff that we get to do for our sport.”
This story encapsulates everything that Bart tries to do for running on a daily basis: connect runners and runner’s stories. I don’t know if he realizes it, but what he’s doing is infusing the sport with life, and energy by increasing the amount of personal connections for runners. Bart has climbed some of the highest peaks in the world, he’s run a race with a donkey, another one bare naked, but I believe that his greatest accomplishment in running is story telling. If you ever get a chance to meet and talk to Bart Yasso (he’s easy to get ahold of on Twitter, by the way), take advantage of it. He’ll probably tell you that “a marathon is like life, it’s not how long it is, but how good it is,” which is what he wrote in my copy of My Life on the Run, but you know you can trust him when he tells you this, he has the stories (and photos) to back it up.