Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Book Review: My Life on the Run by Bart Yasso

To check out the book on Amazon, click here
For the past two weeks I have been sick with the worst cold I have had in many years. While that kept me from my favorite pastime (running, obviously), it gave me plenty of time for my second favorite pastime, reading about running.  Fortunately, just a week or so before I got sick, I had ordered a book I had come across while perusing Amazon.  It was titled My Life on the Run:The Wit, Wisdom, and Insights of a Road Racing Icon by Bart Yasso.  It arrived just as I was feeling well enough to be bored out of my mind.

If the author's name sounds familiar, it may be because of the fairly well known “Yasso 800” workouts that many training for marathons are familiar with. Yes, it is that Bart Yasso.

What many people don’t know about the originator of the Yasso 800s is that he is the “Chief Running Officer” for Runner’s World magazine and has been for many years. In that capacity he has had the opportunity to run around the world in many unusual places and meet many interesting people. Basically when an opportunity to cover some unusual event for Runner’s World magazine came up, they sent Bart.  This book is his chance to share some of those stories with fellow runners.

The book is mostly memoir style. It opens with a gripping story of how he discovered that he had Lyme Disease while on a running expedition to Mt. Kilimanjaro, then backtracks to discuss how he got into the sport of running after a youth of “cigarettes, booze, and dope.”  With characteristic Yasso humor, he quips “I only got high once in my life: from 1970 to 1977.”  The bulk of the book is his running adventures in various places, including Antarctica, the Arctic, India, and Italy, as well as some unique (and funny) U.S. races, including a burro run and a bare buns run.  

Bart also shares his experience with ultra-endurance events, such as the Badwater Ultramarathon and a solo cross country bike ride. In addition to the inherent interest of these events, Bart is a master story teller with a great sense of humor, but he also has an ability to reflect on the experiences in a meaningful way. A great example of this a chapter in which he talks about some of the inspiring runners he has met over the years.

The final section of the book, and the shortest part, addresses training.  Bart is a proponent of a 10 day training cycle rather than the 7 day training cycle that most people use. I have been interested in this idea for several years and have used it successfully in the past. The idea behind it is that to get in all the workouts one needs to develop well in distance running there are not enough days in the week to allow proper rest and recovery between hard workouts, leading many runners to become injured when they up the intensity and/or mileage.  I find that this is true for me as I am getting older. To make the 10 day cycle, though, I have typically had to alter and adapt traditional 7 day schedules because there just aren’t a lot of 10 day cycle programs available.  

This is where this portion of Bart’s book fills an important niche. Bart explains the idea of the 10 day schedule that he calls “The Perfect 10,” and then offers a set of training plans for 5k/10k, half marathon, and marathon based on a 10 day training cycle. There are three levels available for each distance: newbie, seasoned, and hard-core. 

The programs are simple and easy to follow. The various workouts are explained briefly (and yes Yasso 800s are part of all the programs). The Perfect 10 programs include all the key workout types a runner needs to develop: distance, tempo runs, hills, speedwork, race pace runs, as well as rest and cross-training. The basics of each workout are explained briefly.  He presents just enough information for readers to know what to do, but not so much that a runner would be overwhelmed with information.

Here is one typical 10 day cycle in the newbie marathon program:

Day 1
Tempo run: 15 min warmup/30 min at half marathon pace, 10 min cooldown
Rest day or cross-train
4 mi easy
Speedwork: 4x Yasso 800s
3 mi easy
5 mi easy
LSD: 8-10 miles
Rest day
4 mi easy

Just in case you aren’t sold on the 10 day schedule, Bart also includes a section of the more traditional 7 day training plans. He says that they are similar to the plans he emails out to participants in the Lehigh Valley Half Marathon (of which he is the race director). These are also sound programs but nothing that different from what can be found in other training books or web sites. I think the strongest aspect of the book in this section is the Perfect 10 idea and plans.

The final section of the book is called “Must-Do Races Near and Abroad.” This is a list of some of Bart’s favorite races, with short explanations of where they are, what they are about, and why they are special. While I was familiar with many of these races, and my number one bucket list race, the Western States 100 miler, is on the list, I was amazed to see that I had not run a single one of the races listed.  If you are a runner who loves to travel (like I am) this will certainly have you pulling out your calendar trying to figure out how to fit in a few of these.  

All in all, I loved this book. It is an easy read that is really enjoyable. If you have a runner on your Christmas list who loves to travel, this would be a great gift. If you are a little bored with typical road races and want to expand your horizons, this book will definitely give you some inspiration. Plus, if you have never considered a 10 day training cycle, this aspect alone is worth a look, especially if you are a master’s runner. I am planning to give his half marathon plan a try.

If you want to read more about Bart, he has a web site. It is  He travels to many races and is often a pre-marathon speaker. I would love to have the chance to hear one of his presentations.  There is a calendar on the site that lists races and appearances. Check it out. He may be coming to a marathon near you. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Proud to Be a Runner: New York Marathon Runners Volunteer to Help

After Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, there was a lot of debate in the media and on runner’s social network about whether or not the marathon should go on or be canceled. There was a lot of ill will related to the idea that people would consider running a race when so many people were suffering, diverting resources that might better have been used on recovery efforts.

On the social networks, there were also a lot of runners upset at the money that had been spent to enter and make travel arrangements to the marathon, as well as the time spent training that would be wasted. While I understand both of those concerns. Destination marathons are definitely not cheap, and New York is one of the most expensive of the bunch. I had written about the exorbitant cost of the New York Marathon in an earlier post on “How Much is Too Much?” for race entries. Most runners would probably have invested close to $1000 (many even more) in entry, travel expenses, etc., some of which might not be refundable.

However, to many people, myself included, it seemed a little selfish and shallow to have that as a primary concern in light of the devastation that had occurred to so many people.  I thought the organizers made the right decision in canceling the marathon, but the whole issue I felt left people with a negative impression of runners as being insensitive to the needs of others in the selfish pursuit of their sport.

That is why I was so happy when I came across the much lesser publicized news story about the runners who organized themselves into a volunteer effort to help the victims in the most hard-hit area, Staten Island. You may not have heard the story because it did not get nearly as much coverage as the debate over whether or not to cancel the marathon. In case you hadn’t heard, take a look at this:

Whether or not you agreed with the decision to cancel the marathon, it would be difficult not to be impressed by the actions of these runners. The video showed the side of runners that I was more familiar with, compassionate and socially responsible, willing to pitch in and help where help is needed. I have seen that side over and over in little ways in all of the running communities I have been a part of. Seeing that video made me proud to be a runner.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Meeting a Running Legend: Lynn Jennings

Let me start by saying that besides being a runner, I am a huge running geek and fan of the sport. I have books and videos of great runners and their performances that I draw inspiration from over and over again. I am also guilty of a fair amount of hero worship, so spend a lot of time idolizing and in awe of the greats in our sport. 

Last Sunday I had a wonderful opportunity to attend a presentation by Lynn Jennings. For those of you who may not be familiar with Lynn, she is one of the best American distance runners ever. She was at the height of her career in the late 1980s and 1990s. She excelled in cross country, road, and track. She was a three time World Cross Country Champion. She competed in three Olympics, at 3,000, 5,000, and 10,000 meters, and won a bronze medal in the 10,000m in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona (setting an American record). She won 39 national titles at a range of distances and held 10 American records. (Oh, and for all my MI readers, she ran a 52:53 at Crim!) This barely scratches the surface of her accomplishments. (A really nice and more complete bio is available at the Ivy Women in Sports site) She is just an amazing runner and an amazing person.  

The opportunity to hear her speak was courtesy of a local running store (that I am not naming here because they continually delete my posts from their team board). I am very fortunate to live close to such a resource. They do a lot to bring in speakers for the local running community. Since I have been here, I have met Dick Beardsley, Scott Jurek, and Lynn Jennings. What amazing and motivational experiences these have been. One thing that has really impressed me about these runners is how really down-to-earth they were and also how passionate. Each one of them has been inspiring, but Lynn was by far the most so for me, probably because she was a woman and close to my own age.  Also the range of her accomplishments appealed to me, as well as her competitive spirit.

Lynn spoke about her life and her beginnings in distance running as a freshman in high school, the only girl on the boys’ cross country team, running alone in practices and always at the back of the pack in races, with the goal of beating just one poor hapless boy in each race. It was in what happened the next that her true nature is revealed. During the off-season she decided to keep running and began running with a club. By the time she came back for her sophomore year she was again running alone again, but this time at the front of the pack. The boys could not keep up with her.

She was on a remarkable trajectory by the end of her high school years, but then she told a story that I am sure many of those in the room could relate to: she ran a marathon and got injured. She decided (against her coach’s wishes) to run the Boston Marathon. She was too young to officially enter (17) so she ran as a bandit. She came in 3rd.  In the process, though, she became injured and went through a period that lasted through her college years where she could not regain her previous level. It was in her adult, post college, career when she reconnected with her original coach and was able to recognize her full potential.

As Lynn talked about her adult running career, I was reminded of something a swimming coach I knew was fond of telling his kids: “tough as nails, be tough as nails.” Lynn is truly a tough-as-nails competitor. Lynn put together a wonderful presentation that included video clips of various races to illustrate her points. It was in these videos that her physical and mental toughness were apparent, from her blazing finishing kick to the mental games she played with her competition. It was fascinating and inspiring. I wanted to cheer right there in the room when she won the races. I know that is silly, but that is how into it I was.

In terms of information that runners could take away and apply to their own life, Lynn had several good pieces of information:

  • ·       Don’t wait for motivation to strike, just get out there and do it: That was really a golden piece of information for me. I sometimes tend to procrastinate on workouts, waiting for the perfect temperature or mood to come over me. If I really want to excel, I have to do it regardless of the external situation or my internal level of motivation in the moment.

  • ·       Build a repertoire of running skills: This was one of my favorite parts of the presentation, just because this one had some great video footage. She spoke about her natural talent as a runner with a strong finishing kick, which served her very well in most races. However, to be a well-rounded runner and a fiercer competitor, she also needed to be able to run from the front. She showed video of her practicing these skills in races. It reminded us as runners to work on a range of skills, even and especially those that are not comfortable or our natural areas of strength. It is through this that we can further develop as runners.

  • ·       Her last point was one that also struck a chord with me because this is an area where I sometimes falter:  train for the mental side of racing as well as the physical. Again she had some really great video to go with this. She had some footage from the Freihofer’s Run for Women. She was sitting off the shoulder of her competition (I think Anna Marie Letko/Lauck). She played a mental game where she moved from one shoulder to the other to keep her competitor off balance before finally putting on that blazing and brutal finishing kick to win the race. She also showed footage from the Barcelona Olympics and talked about how her mental composure and smart race tactics allowed her to win the bronze medal in that race.

One of the most memorable parts of the experience for me surrounded her Olympic medal. She had brought it with her and pulled it out to pass around the group. I thought it was just amazing that she was willing to share such a rare and precious symbol of her achievements with all of us. How many people get to actually hold and touch an Olympic medal? 

However, what happened after the presentation really blew me away. I had waited in line to talk to her and hopefully get a picture. I was telling her how jealous my son, a coach in California (whom I had texted), was that I had gotten to actually hold and touch an Olympic medal. Just a minute or so before that, someone had handed her back the medal. She said well “let’s get a picture with you wearing the medal” and slipped the medal over my head. It was awesome!!

While Lynn is not running competitively any more, she still runs regularly. She also has branched out into other sports and activities. One of her new hobbies is competitive rowing (which, of course, she excels at). She is also Running Program Director and Coach at the Craftsbury Running Camp in Vermont. You can see her passion coming through when she talks about all of her activities. Having the opportunity to meet her and hear her presentation was definitely an opportunity I will cherish. If you ever have a chance to attend one of her presentations, do it!!