The Half Marathoner
The Half Marathoner
Bart Yasso on coming out of a funk + running's bright future (no matter when races come back)

Bart Yasso on coming out of a funk + running's bright future (no matter when races come back)


Good morning, my friends! ☀️

Wherever you are in the world, I hope you’re waking up to a peaceful morning, one where the sun is shining and you’re getting out for a run sometime very soon.

As I write this, here in Atlanta we’re waking up after a night of curfew, and after a few days that have changed our city (and the country) forever. Last night was calmer than the night before, but I know there are many whose voices we still need to hear.

Back in March, when we went into quarantine for the first time, I was struck by how clean the air was in my city, where some 6 million people live and drive every day. Seen from the air, Atlanta is usually shrouded in a brownish dome of car exhaust fumes. But when we all had to stay home, that dome dissipated (very quickly, in fact).

What surprised me wasn’t just that it happened; it was how quickly the air freshened when we stopped pumping pollutants into it.

I bring this up not to make some facile analogy between the environment and racism in the human heart. But, as bad as things often seem — and they seem bad now, I acknowledge — nothing is set in stone. We create our world anew every day.

My hope and prayer is that we can begin, as soon as possible, repairing what has been broken and making right what has been wrong. There’s no better day to start doing that than today.

The man I interviewed for this morning’s conversation needs no introduction, of course — Bart Yasso, the unofficial “mayor of running” and the chief running officer at Runner’s World magazine for nearly three decades, who’s completed marathons on all seven continents as well as races like the Ironman triathlon and the Badwater Ultramarathon.

I was a little stunned when he agreed to talk with me, but that just shows you what a friendly, outgoing guy Bart is — he’s willing and enthusiastic about talking to anyone about running, how passionate he is about it, how excited he is that so many people have gotten into it lately, and what he thinks the future might hold.

I hope you enjoy hearing from him as much as I did talking with him!

A big milestone for us

In all likelihood you didn’t know this, but yesterday was an important milestone for our newsletter and the community we’ve built here together — it’s the start of our third year together.

It’s incredibly heart-warming and gratifying to see so many of you who became paid subscribers at the end of May two years ago stick around for another year. And, it’s incredibly motivating for me to keep making it worth your while to be a part of this community.

It wouldn’t be what it is without each and every one of you, the contributions you make and the things you write, both directly to me and in our discussions here.

Please know that I love hearing from you, hearing your stories, and plan on making them a bigger part of this going forward over the next year.

Keep in touch, let me know how you are, and what you’re doing with your running now — and thank you SO much for sticking with us!

— Terrell

Here are some highlights from our interview:

On why running has been difficult for him lately:

“There are people running more than ever because they have the time and, but there's people like me that just aren’t running. I just don't... it just has me in a funk, you know? I’m just not cool with the whole thing and I just can't... I’ve probably run three, four times in the past five, six weeks.

I'm a social animal. And so this has got [to] me. You know, even if I don't get to run with people, I'm out there going for a run so I can run with a group and that stuff is all, not around. I'm starting to come out of it a little bit. I did a little run this morning. I just ran like a mile, but just felt good to be out there. But it just was enough to like jump-start me. I'm going to get serious about getting back out there.”

On why to have fun with your running:

“I always say, don't look at training as you were only doing it for this race. If you're in good shape, be happy you're trained for that race [even if] the race isn't going to happen. You're still in good shape. So don't look at it as a negative.

There's people like me that have been doing this stuff for 43 years and you know, it has me in a little funk. So it's probably a good time to take a break. And that's what I've really been doing. Whichever way you go is fine. But it bums me out when I see people say, ‘oh, I wasted all this training.’

You never waste training. Training should be fun and you should be wanting to do this. I never went out for a run and said, you know, I hope this benefits this race or whatever. I just liked to do it and that's why I really want people to keep it fun.”

On the difficulty of bringing big races back before a vaccine is widely available:

“I can see smaller races coming back. Right now most areas are saying no more than gathering of 10 people — at some point it'll go to 50 people and maybe it'll go to a hundred people and someone can do a race.

But big races, I just cannot see it happening. Take New York, Chicago, Boston — it's not only the amount of runners, it's the amount of spectators. I mean, it's a massive deal. The last two miles of the Boston marathon, besides all the runners going through on the streets, the roads on both sides are packed.

In the New York, the [marathon] course goes right through New York City. There's millions of people that live there. You can't tell everyone, today you can't come out of your house and watch the marathon. Baseball, football may happen without crowds, but they have a contained venue, in a stadium [where] they can control who walks in the door. [For races] you can't do that...

Once things do start happening and the smaller races can happen, I think they're really gonna try to figure out how not to gather everyone at the same place. Say there's 500 people on the race — maybe these 200 people start at 8:00 and the next 200 start at 9:00 and the next 200 start at 10:00. Do something like that, to alleviate mass groups of people at the start and finish.”

On how virtual running has been surprisingly fun for him (and why it might play a big role in our future):

“Some of these ideas that are going to come out — I just saw one called the broken ladder, [where] they started out with like, everyone runs three miles and then the next day you add on a mile and everyone runs four miles. And then the next day it's five miles. And I think they're up to 32 miles and there's like two runners left. So yeah, someone has to crack.

They've already got to really stick with it and I, you know, that kind of stuff is pretty cool. So I think a lot of those, you know, uh, there's a lot of runners out there, a lot of race directors have some cool ideas. So I think they’re going to put their thinking caps on and come up with some cool virtual races and not just your traditional races.”

On why not to take things for granted now:

“I always remind people, if you can get out there, get out there. Don’t wait. I’ve got to take that lesson myself because I've been in a funk over all this stuff. So I’ve really got to get out there and just be thankful that we still can do this.

Because the people [in some European countries] that were quarantined really hard, it was illegal to leave your home. They were running in stairwells — one guy did a marathon on his balcony! Another guy did one in his hallway. They were just thinking of something to do so they didn't go crazy. Well, there's ways you can motivate yourself and I think that's a key to thing to do.

Read a good running book that, uh, you know, somebody that's overcome a lot and uh, that'll get you get you fired up and realize, ‘hey, we've got it pretty good, let's go out there.’ I always remind people, there's some people that live under suppression all the time. We're pretty lucky.”

On why he waits at finish lines to greet every runner:

“When the gun goes off, we all follow the same path to the finish line. But each of us has taken a unique path to get to the starting line. In running, if there's 5,000 people in the race, there's 5,000 stories out there.

You're not born a marathoner and say, ‘oh this is a marathon.’ Something gets you going. And you know, a lot of people use the sport to overcome so much. Just to make themselves feel good and to realize what they can do if they put their mind to it. That's what makes our sport very special.

That's why I'm always at the finish line until there's nobody left. That last runner that comes in, no matter how long it takes them, they put that bib number on and went out there, and I'm going to stay at that finish line to like cross the line. Cause there's a lot of stories that come in late in the race.”

More about Bart Yasso

Learn more about Bart at:

And listen to more of our audio series with running coaches: