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Posted on Tue. Jan. 21, 2014 - 12:17 am EDT

Going the distance

Marathon icon to share inspiration with local runners

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What: “Never Limit Where Running Can Take You” by Bart Yasso, chief running officer of Runner’s World at annual banquet of Fort Wayne Track Club

When: 5 p.m. Sunday

Where: Hotel Fort Wayne, 305 E. Washington Center Road

Tickets: $20 for track club members and $25 for nonmembers; deadline Wednesday

Info and registration: 496-8000 or www.fwtc.org

Associated event: Free running clinic on injury prevention and recovery care with Yasso; Todd Sullivan, physical therapist; Dr. Lisa Falotico, sports-medicine physician; and Tom Seifert, sports massage therapist

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For years, Bart Yasso has been CRO of the company he works for.

Yes, that’s right. Not CEO, chief executive officer. Not CFO, chief financial officer. He’s the CRO, chief running officer.

That’s not so unusual, given that since 1987 Yasso has worked for Runner’s World, a national magazine devoted to fitness and competitive running.

But sometimes, he says, he thinks he ought to be CIO instead – chief inspiration officer.

That’s because as he travels to running events around the world in the name of promoting the magazine and its role in the sport, many runners tell him that he has inspired them.

But, he says, he has been even more inspired by the people he has met.

“The power of the sport – that’s what I witness every weekend, when I see people overcome so much just to be out there,” says the 57-year-old, one of the few people in the world who can say they have finished distance races on all seven continents.

“People say they’ve got chemo on Friday, and they’re out running a marathon on Sunday. They tell me they time their chemo so they can run. I mean, it’s tough enough running 26.2 miles, let alone on chemo,” he says.

“I don’t think I’d be as active as I am without these people. Yeah, it inspires me. It blows me away.”

Yasso will be in Fort Wayne on Sunday as a guest of the Fort Wayne Track Club. He will speak during its annual open-to-the-public banquet at 5 p.m. at Hotel Fort Wayne; the topic of his talk is “Never Limit Where Running Can Take You.”

Yasso certainly hasn’t.

In his younger days, he was all about pushing himself to the limit – he ran the Badwater 146-miler through Death Valley, won the U.S. National Biathlon Long Course championship in 1987, completed Ironman competitions and won the Smoky Mountain Marathon in 1998 when he was 43.

One of his favorite tales is about running the Himalayan 100, a five-day race with rest breaks, back “when I was in my 30s and in really good shape,” he says.

The vehicle carrying gear for the runners broke an axle, leaving them “way up in the mountains” – he estimates about 15,000 feet – “in skimpy running clothes.”

“Boy, were we cold,” he says. “We were ready to pile up holding on to each other to stay alive. When it started to get really scary, the yaks and the sherpas showed up with our stuff. I remember I ran back down the mountain just to meet those yaks.”

Then there was the Antarctica half-marathon on King George Island, where his companions were glorious vistas, penguins and whales but he was running on rocks, glacier ice and something he hadn’t anticipated.

“Thick mud,” he says, adding it was summertime in Antarctica but about as cold as wintertime in Pennsylvania, where he lives. “That mud was so thick every time you took a step it practically sucked your shoes off.”

But the experiences have brought him character, in addition to making him one. “Whenever things go wrong, I try to put a good spin on it,” he says. “It makes for good stories.”

So he’s not been shy about sharing what some might consider failures.

Known as the inventor of the Yasso 800s marathon training technique, he finished in 2010 the Comrades Marathon in South Africa less than 30 minutes under its 12-hour cutoff point. He was grateful, he says. The race has a tougher-than-nails reputation.

Much earlier, he dropped out of the Boston Marathon at mile 24. He was feeling just awful in what turned out to be a serious relapse of Lyme disease that landed him in the hospital and on intravenous antibiotics for months.

“I didn’t know how bad it was until I stopped and decided to live to see another day,” he says of his Boston DNF, running-speak for the dreaded “did not finish.”

The tick-borne Lyme disease has dogged Yasso for more than two decades, leading to arthritis and a heart problem that have curbed his punishing impulses. Another bout with the disease sent him home from Africa and a group trek up Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro with Bell’s palsy, which paralyzed one side of his face and made him blind in one eye.

Both conditions were debilitating but temporary, he says.

These days, Yasso doesn’t run super-long distances anymore, and he doesn’t run races as frequently. “I only do a couple of races a year – well, a handful – maybe five to 10. Nothing like the old days,” he says. “And I’ve slowed down quite a bit.”

But as CRO, he’s still encouraging others at about 50 races a year.

In just the first three months of 2014, he’s scheduled for the Disney Marathon, the San Diego Half-Marathon and marathons in Bermuda, the Dominican Republic and Jerusalem.

“Most of what I do now is more ceremonial – race announcing, clinics, speaking at dinners, that sort of thing. I still like the shorter distances – half-marathons. That way I can do a race and be ready to do the others things,” he says.

“And when I do do a race,” Yasso adds, “I still get excited about it.”

rsalter@jg.net


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