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Bart Yasso speaks at University of Florida

“Was I scared when I ran in Africa? Never. Disney was the scariest place I ever ran…”

{Note: this article was originally published here on Elephant Journal}


 Bart Yasso spoke at the Florida Track Club meeting last night, held at the University of Florida. Who is Bart Yasso? Yasso’s a runner famous for a workout someone coined the Yasso 800. Basically, Yasso noticed that if he ran 800 meters in 2 minutes 50 seconds, he’d finish a marathon in 2 hours 50 minutes.

Yasso joined us from Pennsylvania via the Internet. It was as if he was right there with us. In a way, he was, because we could see him and hear him just fine. He could hear a pin drop on our end. And, all that happened with no more than a little white Mac computer, a couple of cheap speakers and a projector.

Yasso said he often got asked what two words best described running for him. He said you’d think they might be interval training or negative splits. Nope. Yasso loves running because of community and inclusion.

Yasso talked about running in East Africa. He said it was fun for him to think about running with Tanzanians, Ethiopians and Kenyans, who are some of the fastest runners in the world. Was he ever scared running in Africa? He said he was more scared running at Disney. Such a controlled environment. I wish I could recall the phrase, but he said the African crowd shouted something in Swahili at him repeatedly as he ran by. He wasn’t sure what it meant, but they were always smiling. He later found out it meant something like “Look at that white man run so slow!” He said in Tanzania there wasn’t a big color thing going on, and he always felt fine about being there. This wasn’t about racism. This was about contrast, because a slow white guy just stuck out in a field of fast black guys. But, he digressed and began talking about color and gender issues.

Yasso began to talk about how, in South Africa, it wasn’t until recently that blacks were allowed to run the marathons. Funny thing, since South Africa is something like 85% black. Funny, indeed. He mentioned how Mandela sometimes handed out medals at the finish line. So, what’s this color gender stuff got to do with running? What’s it got to do with Yasso 800′s? Yasso brought up that running is a sport where women and men compete for the same money. He mentioned golf and tennis as comparisons where the prize money for men is far greater than for women. So, there’s the cultural aspect in running, too. It’s all interconnected. There’s even a race you may have heard of called the Comrades Marathon in Durban. 56 miles of interconnectedness!

Someone asked Yasso what his favorite gimme prizes were. He said he got a lot of them and he liked getting gifts. That he felt like if someone gave him a gift, he should take it. He said one of his favorite things to do was give kids his medals, because they loved bling.

Biking? Yep, Yasso’s into biking, too. He’s biked across America. And, he said biking from Seattle to NYC is the best way to see “this great country, 15MPH at a time”. He spoke about seeing the subtle differences from big cities to little communities.

Bart Yasso speaks at University of Florida

(photo by Michael Levin)

He talked about technicalities, which we all get caught up in don’t we? There’s the case of Ryan Hall finishing the Boston Marathon 40 seconds faster than Khalid Khannouchi but it not qualifying as a world’s record because the Boston Marathon is not certified as a record quality course by the International Federation of Athletics Federations or the United States Track and Field Association. What’s his point? Well, is there really just one winner? You see a bunch of legs cross the finish line, seconds apart time-wise. It’s a feat that they made it to the finish at all. One person gets the medal. The next few in line might be fractions of a percent time behind. Credit? Do we need that stinkin’ credit? You tell me. Why do you do what you do out there? Why do you do yoga at the gym or meditate in a studio? You could be sitting in your yard. Why do you hang that certificate on your wall? It’s all about community. It’s all about acceptance. It’s like Yasso says – inclusion.

Yasso talked about barefoot running. It’s becoming popular to the point that you can approach it with some shoes that fit your feet like gloves. If you’re not actually barefoot, you feel like it. Imagine the poop. Oh, the imagery. But, now I’m digressing. Anyhoo, Yasso said there was a drive in running to constantly run faster. He said until people started winning races barefoot, he didn’t see barefoot running catching on.

Yasso talked about running naked. He’d just attended a naked race. He said it was amazing seeing a herd of people wearing running t-shirts and no shorts all coming at you. And, he mentioned giving a talk and looking for a podium that unfortunately wasn’t there.

Someone asked where the coldest place he ever ran was. He said it was probably Disney, again! No, he corrected himself, it was probably Antarctica. But, what is it that’s taken Yasso to so many countries for so many years? Is it community? Yep. Is it inclusion? You bet.

He also talked about how his body was changing as he got older. How it might take him twice as long to run the same distance now as it did when he was 20. He’s still running. You can hear the energy in his voice. We could see the smile on his face and the happiness in his laugh as he said those Swahili words. Look at that white man run so slow! And, he loves us. That’s for sure.

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Michael Levin created this Ning Network.

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