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. 

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