Then I became a runner.
And Bart Yasso's name became as ubiquitous to me as the names of Michelle Kwan and Midori Ito back when I was a competitive figure skater.
His name first became apparent to me when I really got into the running and subscribed to Runner's World. He holds the coolest job title in the world as "Chief Running Officer" of the magazine.
Yasso himself describes the job as "getting paid to go to races every weekend." He explains that he's only home for about 4-5 weekends out of the entire year, because every other weekend he's at an event (like the one I'm about to talk about) or spectating or participating in a race.
He doesn't just have the coolest job in the world. He's also an incredible inspiration. He has run a competitive race on every continent on Earth (yes, including a marathon in Antarctica). He has run a 146-mile race in Death Valley in the middle of summer. He has run a marathon on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro while struggling with yet-undiagnosed Lyme Disease. He's won one U.S. National Biathlon and one marathon (1998 Smoky Mountain). He has an entire marathon training/predictor system named after him. Oh, and he only started running when he was 21 years old. And he suffers from Lyme Disease, which has neuromuscular side effects similar to Bell's palsy (which was the incorrect diagnosis Yasso first received at symptom onset in Africa in 1997).
Needless to say, Bart Yasso is an inspiration and a major public figure within the sport of running. When I saw that Runner's World was co-hosting a running form clinic with Newton shoes in Chicago with Bart Yasso this past weekend, I jumped at the chance to participate.
I arrived at Fleet Feet Old Town in plenty of time to receive a nice goodie bag, which included some back issues of Runner's World (which, as a subscriber, I already had) but also a free copy of Yasso's memoir, which I incidentally had put on my Amazon wish list just a few hours prior to arriving at Fleet Feet.
I'd been communicating with Bart on Twitter up until the morning of the event, and he asked me to introduce myself to him when I got there. The second I walked in to the lecture area Bart was 6 inches from me but was talking to someone so I did not bother him. I signed in and sat, and then Bart walked past me. I stepped up and said, "I just wanted to catch you when I could, I'm Erika..." Bart looked at me before I even finished that I was Fat Girl Run and said "Yes! Erika! So nice to meet you!" while hugging me. I am getting hugged by Bart Yasso right now, oh my god, I was thinking.
The clinic itself was very helpful. First, Bart spoke about his experience and told some of his, er, gritty race experiences. Paula Newby-Fraser was also in on the clinic. Newby-Fraser is a South African woman who has won the Ironman Triathlon (the Kona World Championships) 8 times. She qualified while in South Africa and once she traveled to Kona, she realized she did not want to go back to South Africa because she would not have the opportunity to be a professional triathlete in South Africa. Instead of going back to South Africa after her first Kona Ironman, she relocated to San Diego. She then, you know, won Ironman 8 times.
We got a quick overview from the Newton shoes Chicago rep and were invited to demo shoes on our expedition, so I took advantage, because, why not? Try a pair of shoes I never had before. So I put on some Newton Gravitys for the run.
We jogged about a half mile to Lincoln Park so we could do some drills. But before we left, Yasso put me on blast. He was talking to someone outside before we left about how running saved his life (he was deep into alcohol and drugs before he turned to running) and I walked out and he pointed to me and said I told him that running saved my life on Twitter about two days prior (true).
"What was your previous weight?"
"How much do you weigh now?"
I went into a little more detail about how I lost on Jenny and then went off it and gained it all back and then lost it on my own again and added in running when I was about 180.
Bart just thought that was amazing.
We jogged on back to Fleet Feet and Paula had to leave during the drills we did in the park, but Bart remained. Since we'd received his book in our goodie bags, I took the advantage to have him sign it and also to get a picture with him.
Bart's motto is, "Never limit where running can take you." Geographically, physically, emotionally, mentally, he means all of that when he says that. And you know what? When I was struggling majorly through my Sunday long run, I was sitting in the gym locker room midway through in a come to Jesus pep talk moment and I thought to myself, "What would Bart Yasso say if you gave up on this long run for no reason right now?"
I got back up on that treadmill and finished my long run, not matter how crappy and how long it took me.