Recently we had the pleasure of talking with Bart Yasso, dubbed the Mayor of Running, and Runner’s World’s Chief Running Officer. He shared with us his running experiences around the world. His professional resume is every bit as impressive as his spirit. But what he really loves about the travel is the impression the people have left on him.
Running Denver: You’ve traveled all over the world, literally. How did you get into this role?
Bart Yasso: When Runner’s World hired me in 1987, it wasn’t the goal. I was hired to handle their sponsorship program and be live at big events in the US, like the New York Marathon and Boston. But my job morphed over the years and I started going to international races like the Rome Marathon, the Arctic Circle and Mt. Everest. Most of my travel is still domestic. I just love it! I love the travel, hearing inspiring stories. The finish line of a race is a sacred place to be. You’re watching dreams come true in front of your eyes. That’s special.
RD: What is the most interesting or memorable place you’ve been?
BY: I love Tanzania. I’m an animal lover. The big cats and elephants. It’s just beautiful there. But I think the number one place would be South Africa, for the Comrades Marathon. It’s the oldest and largest ultra. And it’s 56 miles of a lovely hilly race. In their books, that’s a marathon. I think it’s the greatest footrace on the planet. It’s not the prettiest but it’s the greatest. It goes from Durban and Pietermaritzburg. It’s really the people that make it special. The entire country embraces the event. Everyone knows about it. There’s nothing else like it. And seeing the changes that have happened in that country since the abolition of Apartheid is amazing. South Africa has flourished. It’s amazing how one leader can change a country like that. It’s pretty cool to see the physical changes. Their history is so current. That’s why I’d put it first.
RD: What’s one place you’d want to go that you’ve never been?
BY: Basically I’ve covered the globe. I don’t have a bucket list anymore. I’ve gotten to see it all. But hopefully something will come along. I’ll have new experiences. Meet new people, experience new cultures.
RD: You’ve said that it’s not the places but the people you remember the most. What is the story behind the most fascinating person you’ve met along the way?
BY: I didn’t get to meet him, but if there was one person I could walk with, it would be Nelson Mandela. He’s the strongest leader in my lifetime. I’d just pick his brain. He was able to get people to follow him and listen to his message. He believed that you have to be where the people are. So he’d go into a school, a business, a restaurant. He believed people had to see him to believe his message. So I try to make a connection to people as a speaker. I try to make a connection with a spouse or a friend who isn’t a runner and try my best to get people to believe that you should never limit where running can take you. That’s physically, emotionally, every way. Running is about the journey, not the time on the clock. You open yourself up. Push yourself.
RD: What has affected you most about the people and places you’ve been?
BY: One moment where I was awestruck was on Robben Island off Cape Town. I stood in Nelson Mandela’s jail cell. There are no words to describe it. He spent 19 years in that cell, fighting for his people. It was an incredible experience. I’ll never forget it.
RD: What’s your best advice for people who are traveling to a race?
BY: Destination races have gotten very popular. I call them Run-cations. It’s not a vacation till you sign a waiver! So when you go, travel smart. Compression is important. I always use compression on a plane — either sleeves or socks. They’ll leave you feeling better. It’s important to hydrate on the flight. Don’t over hydrate, but make sure you’re having water. Once you’re there, adjust to the time zone. Have meals in the time zone you’re in. Go to sleep in that time zone. Adjust and think about the time you’re in not what’s going on back home. It’s best if you can get there early and adjust to sleep. You’ll feel pretty good. It’s a good vacation with a race. If it’s a big city or remote. You can run free. For the Rome Marathon, they close the roads. You run on the streets of Rome. You could never do that normally because of the traffic and tourists. It’s pretty special.
RD: Many people look up to you as a leader in our sport. Who do you look up to?
BY: I was at the finish line when Meb Keflezighi won Boston this year. I was in tears. It was unbelievable. I was at the finish line when he won New York in 2009 and I was glued to the TV when he won his Olympic medal for the marathon. He has overcome such adversity. There was civil war in his home country of Eritrea. They tried to kill him and his family. He was able to come to the US and become a citizen and he’s honored to be! It’s so special that he can express himself through running. He’s not only a friend of mine, but a leader in our sport. I also admire the running community. Running is a sport for all ages and abilities. Many people overcome great adversity to be there crossing the finish line and break down in tears. It’s powerful. So many of these people I see with prosthetic limbs weren’t runners prior to losing a limb. That amazes me. How do you lose a limb and say, “I want to run a marathon!” ? That’s what makes our sport different. We are not only accepting, we embrace people.
RD: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?
BY: I have one rule in life that I’ve borrowed from The Most Interesting Man in the World: Find out what you don’t do well. And don’t do it! People think you should work on something you’re not good at, but life’s too short! If you don’t do something well, don’t focus on it. Do what you’re good at.