Racing Everything with Lyme Disease: An Interview with Bart Yasso - Part I
Photo credit: Miriam Diaz-Gilbert
Bart Yasso’s new book, Race Everything (with Erin Strout) is jam-packed with advice and tips for running from 5K runs to ultramarathons to relay races. Bart’s conversational writing style makes Race Everything an engaging page-turner. The book is a mix of race anecdotes, runner friendly and uncomplicated training schedules, tips for all race distances, the Yasso 800s workout, and much more. Bart also shares some of his favorite races and his most meaningful race – the 2010 Comrades Marathon, a 56-mile ultramarathon in South Africa. He made the 12-hour time limit and crossed the finish in 11:33:38. He was not in good health on race day. He was suffering from Lyme disease which he contracted in1990. While the disease may have slowed him down, it did not stop him from running the last twenty-seven years.
Race Everything is a must have for all runners, especially those who are entering the wonderful world of running. As I read Race Everything, I was moved by Bart’s compelling struggle with Lyme disease, a chronic disease that shuts down his body making walking and running difficult. As an ultrarunner and a sufferer of three chronic diseases (you can read more here), I empathized with Bart's chronic struggle. I was also fascinated by Bart’s running all over the world, from Antarctica, to Africa, to India, and to many more lands, despite his debilitating Lyme.
Photo courtesy: Bart Yasso
I recently interviewed Bart, who is retiring as Chief Running Officer (CRO) at Runner's World after almost 30 year. We talked about running with Lyme disease, running all over the world, and the lessons he has learned from both. Part one of the interview is dedicated to his life of running with Lyme. Part two (here) is devoted to the cultural insights he's gained from running all over the world, and his plans after retirement.
HOW DO YOU COPE WITH LYME DISEASE?
I’ve been battling a long time. It has certainly affected my running in a negative way but
I look at it two ways. I feel I was lucky. I got a lot of running in before I contracted the disease. I feel lucky in that sense. I had years of running before I got sick. And I just listen to my body. I can’t train a lot. I can’t run a lot. I just make the adjustments. I don’t want to be any sicker than I already am. I deal with it.
Some days it bothers me more than other days but I still feel very lucky to be connected with the running community. If I didn’t work at Runner's World then I wouldn’t be running. Working at Runner's World, I’m still connecting with the running community. I am inspired, motivated by the running community so I stay involved but I think that if I didn’t worked at Runner's World, I would have walked away from running when I got really sick because running and Lyme disease is not a good connection.
HOW HAS LYME DISEASE SHUT YOU DOWN, SLOWED YOU DOWN, AND KEPT YOU RUNNING?
I did completely stopped running for a while. I didn’t feel any better. Actually, I felt worse some days. But then I’d run a little bit. It helps me out. You run this fine line not to run too much because of the side effects. But if I run a little bit, I actually feel a little bit better. I’ve run twice in the last 6 weeks. That’s not a lot of running. I’ve totaled six miles of running in the last 6 weeks. That’s not a fun thing to have but I don’t have a choice. If I try to run. I don’t even think about running when I’m in so much pain. I struggle running.
But I have good stretches and bad stretches. I just have to ride through the bad stretches and hope there’s a good stretch down the road and I can run a couple of days a week and feel a little bit better. You can’t change it so, do the best you can. And I really watch what I eat. That helps me a lot. Doing the proper nutrition. And trying to get as much sleep as I can. Things like that help out a little bit.
WHAT HAS LIVING WITH LYME DISEASE TAUGHT YOU?
I took my health for granted. I thought I was going to do this running stuff for a long, long time. Lyme disease put a different perspective on that for me. I readjusted how I looked at my running. I I wanted to be a runner for life so, I needed to be cautious when I ran and took a lot of days off to let me body heal. Also, really being in the discipline to think in the long term and look at other aspects to help my running, like nutrition and things like that. I do that to help my Lyme disease. It also helps my running. The best lesson was that I took my health for granted. I could always run and do the long distance stuff but that’s not the case. It really made me put things in perspective.
WHAT KIND OF RUNNER WOULD YOU HAVE BEEN IF YOU HAD NOT BEEN AFFLICTED WITH LYME?
I don’t know for sure but obviously I would not have slowed down as much as I did. I slowed down tremendously because I can’t train. I feel if I could train, I could still run pretty well. I don’t have a base. I can’t put in the mileage. I take whatever running I can do. I just try to do the best with the fitness level I have. I use to do the Ironman and rode my bike across the US. I also cross trained and cross training really helped me out. I commute by bike to work. I enjoy it. It’s a lot easier on my body.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS LIVING WITH LYME OR ANY OTHER CHRONIC DISEASE WHO MIGHT BE FEELING OVERWHELMED AND WANT THROW IN THE TOWEL?
Don’t throw in the towel is the number one thing. I always listen to my doctors and take their advice but I also I make the decisions myself on some things. A lot of doctors told me I shouldn’t run at all. But I feel better if I do a little running. I certainly listen but I also make adjustments based on my own personal experience and how I feel and what I want to get out of life. There are people so much worse off than me. I never do that "pity me" thing. I never have my personal pity party.
There are people worse off than me. I get emails every day from people suffering from Lyme disease, and ask me advice and want to know a little bit about my experience with Lyme. One of the things I always say is make sure you treat it aggressively if you can handle treating it aggressively. That’s one of the things I have done and it's helped me. Listen to your doctor but do what you think is best personally for you because we know ourselves, we know our own body, and what works and what doesn’t work.
Lyme disease has affected Bart's running and gait, but never his upbeat spirit. "It has never affected my passion and love for the running community and the sport itself."
Seven years after his diagnosis and suffering from Lyme, Bart climbs Mt. Kilimanjaro in 1997
Photo courtesy: Bart Yasso
Part II of our interview: Racing The World
Follow Bart on Twitter: @BartYasso
Visit his website: Bart Yasso