Yasso’s with Yasso: Now That’s Poetic

Bart Yasso
Bart Yasso with some fast fans! (Photo credit: JillOW)

When I met DB back in 2000, I was a solid 4+ hour marathoner.  I ran my first marathon in 4:09, and then proceeded to get slower from there, for a variety of reasons.  It wasn’t until marathon number seven that I actually dipped under the 4:00 mark.  Though I had long had dreams of qualifying for Boston, which had seemed somewhat approachable after my first (but not subsequent) marathons, dipping under that 4:00 mark got me to thinking about Boston again.  So I started running more – but just as randomly as I had in the past.  I ran a handful more of 4+ hour marathons, and finally told DB that I just needed to be comfortable being a solid 4:15 marathoner.

Or, he said, I could train smarter and harder instead of just more.  I could stop running every day at the same pace, and put some structure and speedwork behind it.  And since I hadn’t really given up, and I was also trying really hard to impress this really cool runner-guy I had been dating for the past year, I hauled out my stack of Runner’s World magazines and started doing some research.

And it was indeed the first and most scary workout I found that I chose – and that has revolutionized my own runner’s world, over and over again.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you:  Yasso 800’s.

Named by Amby Burfoot, winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon and former Runner’s World editor, Yasso 800’s were the brainchild of one Bart Yasso, who joined Runner’s World in 1987 to develop the magazine’s race sponsorship program and now serves as their “Chief Running Officer.”  Amby explains in a famous story that he once encountered Bart doing this workout, and Bart explained it as such:

“‘Bart and I were at the Portland Marathon last September when he told me about his workout. He was training for a marathon later in the fall, so two days before Portland he went to a nearby track and ran Yasso 800s. “I’m trying to build up to ten 800s in the same time as my marathon goal time,” he told me.

Huh? Half-miles in 2 or 3 hours? I didn’t get it. 

Bart saw that he’d have to do more explaining. “I’ve been doing this particular workout for about 15 years,” he continued, “and it always seems to work for me. If I can get my 800s down to 2 minutes 50 seconds, I’m in 2:50 marathon shape. If I can get down to 2:40 (minuses), I can run a 2:40 marathon. I’m shooting for a 2:37 marathon right now, so I’m running my 800s in 2:37.'”

Amby proceeded to do some “independent testing,” and was shocked to learn that the workout held up from 2:30 to 4:00 to 5:00 marathoners.  Thus proven, the workout was introduced in the pages of Runner’s World, and the rest, as they say, is history.

So in the summer of 2001, not long before I moved to Ohio, I took on my first set of Yasso 800’s at a local park.  I ran them just under a 3:40 pace.  They hurt.  I called them “stupid.”

I returned the next week and did two more.  The following week I did three.  The next week I did four.

Something crazy happened.  I started noticing that my average daily runs were getting … a little bit faster.

That year I was running the Marine Corps Marathon as a last long run before my goal qualifying race, the Tucson Marathon in December.  I was bowled over and starstruck as I walked through the Expo, a little hoodrat from the Buffalo, New York ghetto, and saw Bart Yasso at the Runner’s World booth.  I walked up and introduced myself, and asked him if the workout really … WORKED.  He was quite nice and we talked a little bit about my goal.  I walked away mildly reassured and drenched in sweat.  I was a shy little one.

That December, I qualified for the Boston Marathon for the first time, running 3:38:17.  I cried.  A lot.

Since that training period so long ago, I’ve married DB, I’ve run five sub-3:20 marathons, I’ve taken up these crazy 100-milers, and I’ve had a major career change from legal marketing to sports marketing.  When I broke 3:30, I used Yasso 800’s.  When I broke 3:25, I used Yasso 800’s.  And for three of those 3:20’s, the three that weren’t surprises – I used Yasso 800’s.  And along the way, with that little career change, I had the incredible opportunity to get know – and even become friends with – one Bart Yasso.

Regular Salty readers will recall that I recently added 800’s back into my repertoire; it was initially because I was hoping to run a double training cycle to peak for both the Rocky Raccoon 100 and then again for a sub-3:20 Boston, but even after taking a competitive Boston out of the mix to continue infertility treatments, I decided to complete the 800 build-up prior to RR100 – because hey, speed is speed, right?

Last Thursday I was due for eight of the suckers, and I was so excited to finally get on a track after two weeks of being stuck on a treadmill for them.  Unfortunately, the kids’ races were on the track at Disney (I was there for work), so I found myself – again – on a treadmill.  Everything that could go wrong with the workout did.  I had had a terribly stressful day, running around the Disney World Marathon Expo trying to put out fires.  The shuttles back to my hotel were running late, I was exhausted, and I was admittedly pissed that I was stuck on a treadmill – again.  My iPod was dead so I was stuck with the hotel gym’s piped in muzak, I couldn’t find the correct emergency stop button on the treadmill (which is kind of important when you’re gutting out 3 minute repeats at 6-minute mile pace), my legs were shot from the past two 100-mile training weeks, and the belt on the treadmill just felt “different” than the one at home.  I actually stopped after the first repeat and tried to bail on the workout, but I managed to look myself in the eye in a mirror, and after a self-administered Jillian Michaels style beatdown, I hauled my ragged butt back on that dreadmill.

DB came in to check on me as I completed the third one, and then left for the pool.  I was so lonely in there, staring at the blue wall and listening to “Maneater.”  But there was nothing to be done about it, so I started the next one.

“FOUR,” I shouted out, as I pulled the emergency stop button that I had finally found.  I jumped off the treadmill panting to pace around for my two minute rest period, and went to apologize to the guy who had just walked in for my bizarre shouting, as I had been alone in the gym until then.

Yeah, it was Bart.  Bart Yasso.

“Bart.  Yasso,” I panted, bright red and dripping freakishly with sweat.  “Well.  (breath).  Isn’t.  (breath)  That.  (breath)  Poetic.”

“Huh?” he said.

“Never mind,” I panted, jumping back on the treadmill.

Three minutes later, number five complete, he said from behind me “damn, girl, you can move!”

“Yeah,” I panted.  “It’s this little workout called Yasso 800’s.  By the way, I hate you.”

He laughed, tried to make some small talk.  About then, I put my finger to my lips to indicate quiet, jumped on, and got in number 6.

“Man, that’s something,” he said, moving over to the treadmill next to me.

I told him that having him on the treadmill next to me gave cursing his name a whole new meaning.

Bart was there next to me as I finished numbers seven and eight, and rather appreciative of the workout.  DB, it turns out, had been watching from outside because he knew I was struggling, and came in as soon as eight was done to congratulate me and run my cool-down with me (outside).  He and Bart greeted each other jovially; there is, in fact, a running gag between them since Bart spoke in Ohio not too long ago, and they were both mistaken for the other.  One runner congratulated Bart on the success of the Columbus Marathon and what a great job he’s done with it; another runner asked Darris to sign his book, which was, of course, Bart’s book.

So yeah, I ran Yasso’s with Yasso, and I have a really cool job, and it’s pretty crazy that when it comes to the running world, I run with the cool people, literally and figuratively.

Clove with her buddy, Bart Yasso. I didn’t have my camera with me in the gym, so we had to catch up for a photo a couple days later at the pool.

But Salty Readers, that is not the point of this blog post!  As Nutmeg and Mace try to increase mileage, as Coriander tries to break 4:00 for the first time and as Cilantro embarks herself upon that Boston qualifying goal, I offer you this.  Not that Clove is cool and ran Yassos with Yasso, but that this journey can take you anywhere.  Anywhere.

After all, I was just a hoodrat from Buffalo, drenched in sweat and starstruck the first time I met Bart Yasso, praying that the weeks of torture I endured in his name would finally pay off.

Wait.

Last week, I was still just a hoodrat from Buffalo, a few fast marathons and a couple 100-milers under my belt.  Drenched in sweat and starstruck that Bart Yasso was running next to me as I prayed that the weeks of torture I endured in his name would finally pay off.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Enjoy the journey.

Have you ever used Yasso 800s? After you were done with them, what did you want to scream at Bart?

Trail and adventure enthusiast. Girl who swears like a sailor but not when she's teaching Sunday School. Survived infertility without a successful pregnancy. Self-employed, primarily working for Clif Bar and Company. Thirteen 100-mile race finishes with seven top 3 placements. An original Saltine.

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5 comments

  1. Great story! I love Bart–got to meet him at a blogger event at RW headquarters this fall at the RW half weekend. Great guy. And I’ve used his 800s many times over. Sometimes they have worked, other times not. My thinking, though, is that they are a great indicator as to whether or not you can run your goal pace. The rest comes down to the day and what it has in store for you. (or you for it)

  2. What I love about the Yasso 800’s is the simplicity. There are no difficult computations. I’ve used a measured 1/2 mile of linear park to run these. They are hard and they hurt and they build speed – and confidence.