Hall of Fame runner Bart Yasso coming to Grand Forks for race

A scheduling conflict has prompted the Wild Hog Half Marathon to bring a new guest speaker to Grand Forks for the race weekend in September.

The Grand Forks’ race now plans to host Bart Yasso, chief running officer for Runner’s World magazine. He is scheduled to speak at 7:45 p.m. Sept. 25.

The event, now in its fourth year, will feature a 5K starting at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 25, while the half marathon, 10K and half marathon relay begin at 8 a.m. Sept. 26.

Yasso replaces legendary marathoner Frank Shorter, who canceled due to double booking appearances on the same weekend, according to Wild Hog race officials. Despite the scheduling conflict, officials said Shorter committed to visiting Grand Forks in 2016, when the race is expected to offer the marathon, a distance of 26.2 miles, for the first time.

In 1987, Bart Yasso joined Runner's World to serve as a liaison between the magazine and race directors.

A popular ambassador, author and speaker for the sport, Yasso invented the Yasso 800s, a marathon-training schedule used by runners to accurately predict marathon finisher times. He’s been labeled as the “mayor of running,” and in 1987 joined Runner’s World as a liaison between the magazine and race directors. He also has been inducted into the Running USA Hall of Champions.

The bio on Yasso’s website states, “He is one of the few people to have completed races on all seven continents from the Antarctica Marathon to the Mt. Kilimanjaro Marathon. … He has also completed the Ironman five times and the Badwater 146 through Death Valley. He has also cycled, unsupported and by himself, across the country twice.”

As a magazine writer and author of “My Life on the Run,” Yasso has been praised as insightful and humorous. He also suffers from Lyme disease, a painful condition that makes it difficult to run.

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An extensive 2010 Runner’s World article chronicled Yasso’s attempt to run the Comrades Marathon, a 56-mile race in South Africa.

Shorter, the only U.S. man to win an Olympic gold medal, will be the guest in what could be the inaugural Wild Hog Marathon. Shorter was the men’s marathon winner at the 1972 Olympics and is credited with igniting the first running boom in the U.S., during the 1970s. He was inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame in 1984 and the USA National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1989.

Dick Beardsley, a former marathoner and record holder at Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minn., was the event’s 2014 guest speaker, while Carrie Tollefson, another Minnesota-born runner who was a member of the 2004 U.S. Olympic team, had the honor in 2013.

Dancing through the canyon

“The body does not want you to do this. As you run, it tells you to stop but the mind must be strong. You always go too far for your body. You must handle the pain with strategy… It is not age; it is not diet. It is the will to succeed.” — Jacqueline Gareau

Gobbling up chunks of real estate along the trail, my feet floated over rocks and dodged obstacles of all shapes and sizes — from proportions similar to hockey pucks, grapefruit and soccer balls. Some stones are smooth, while others have jagged edges jutting out of the hard packed dirt.

A single misstep could send a runner tumbling into a boulder or cactus along the ridgeline high above the western Valley of the Sun.

By now, the sun had beaten down on runners for more than 2 hours, slowing their pace after a massive 1,500-foot climb within a 2-mile stretch of the Mesquite Canyon trail race.

From the outset, this race would be a tough one. It serves as the championship race is the Aravaipa Running trail series and demands energy corralled from deep within each runner. The 18.6-mile event has been a staple in my training each spring.

On this Saturday, it would be even more challenging with a race start temperature of 72 degrees. By the time I reached the pinnacle, at about mile 10, the heat soared to more than 80 degrees.

My strategy was simple. For about 6 miles, my goal was to manage the pace and hit the massive rocky climb without burning out my quads and hamstrings. Survival would be the plan for the rocky ascent, and while the worst of the climb came over about a 2-mile stretch, runners scrambled up and down the trail for about another 2 miles. Any wasted energy on this stretch makes the final 8-mile push a punishing conclusion that doesn’t seem to end soon enough.

After about 10 miles, the dusty trail — with vistas over the expansive Phoenix metro — wraparound around the various peaks. The remaining gradual downhill serves as a counter to the strenuous push and pull needed to make the journey up this point.

At times, my head felt dizzy and light, and my stomach felt nauseous. Twice I had drained my water bottle, including a refill at an aid station prior to the ascent, to quench my thirst. Each drink seemed to settle my stomach, keeping me on task and marshaling my efforts to keep on the throttle.

Starting the downhill, I saw a few runners far ahead on the trail.

In previous races at White Tank Mountain Regional Park, my thoughts were singularly focused on catching those ahead of me. This year, though, my concentration focused on the trail and the experience, embracing the challenge and discovering truth about myself.

It is about this time when I noticed my feet floating over the trail and dancing through the canyon.

During the next several miles, without really noticing, I began reeling in the runners ahead of me. By the time I pull into the aid station at mile 14, I’ve caught several who had reached and climbed the mountain well before me. Graciously, the volunteers help me refill my water bottle and give a helpful reminder: there’s one more water stop, at mile 16, before the end.

One runner’s hand is bloodied. A couple others appear disoriented from exerting themselves in the heat. Without hesitation, I return to the trail, seemingly pulling closer to those in front of me with each step. At one point, I chop up my steps because a misstep on the descent could be disastrous.

Passing hikers and runners alike, I quickly reach the bottom of the mountain and pull into the final aid station, just more than 2 miles from the finish. A couple small cups of water and I push on.

It seems like I’m about to wilt.

Despite being a flatlander from a place with winters ranking among the coldest in the world, I’ve always considered myself a strong heat runner. For a few moments, I question this assessment. And I question my own belief that I’d do better than most at Badwater, the legendary run through Death Valley.

Somehow, on this day, I continued to push one foot in front of another. After reaching a dry riverbed, I allowed myself to walk up the other side and drink the last remaining drops of water in my bottle. It wouldn’t be long now.

Along the way, my steps carried me past other competitors, most of whom were competing in a shorter distance event. There would be no sprint to the finish for me. Just simple elation at crossing the timing mat, an anti-climatic end to the sufferfest.

Quickly, I downed a couple small cups of lemonade, wandered around like I had been wounded, and chatted for a few minutes with other runners beneath a picnic shelter. It was good to be done and hear their stories.

Ten minutes later, I excused myself and ran through the parking lot and along a road to my vehicle so I could the drive across the valley to catch a plane bound for Fargo.  In blue numerals, the temperature reading displayed 85.

Lending a hand

“Life is a gift, and it offers us the privilege, opportunity, and responsibility to give something back by becoming more.” — Tony Robbins

Just more than a year ago, Jason Boutwell received the news. He suffered a ruptured appendix, and doctors discovered he also had cancer.

The necessary surgeries were daunting and afterward Jason planned to undergo chemotherapy. This wasn’t going to be an easy journey, even for someone with a big heart, unwavering humor and an undeniably radiant personality.

A public benefit on his behalf turned out hundreds, including autographed memorabilia from several North Dakota State University notable athletes — Brock Jensen, Billy Turner and Ben Woodside among them — and a personal video message from Coach Chris Kleiman for Jason, a former Bison football player. Numerous generous gifts were offered up for auction, including an amazing gift from Mark Knutson and the Fargo Marathon.

Early into his diagnosis, Jason had vowed to run the 2015 Fargo Marathon. This year’s marathon will mark a year since he underwent cancer treatments, and he will be running the half marathon.

Physically, Jason responded well to chemotherapy. Moved by the benefit on his behalf, he began seeking out other people’s benefits to attend. He shared encouragement, hope and words of support. And just after his final chemo treatment, Jason flew to New York City in support of my New York City Marathon effort.

As part of his half marathon this year, Jason is raising money for the Dakota Medical Foundation’s Lend-A-Hand program, a Fargo-based organization that provides funds for those facing medical emergencies.

To further the program and his attempt to give back, Jason has set up a Lend-A-Hand fundraising website. Nearly two dozen people have donated so far. In a personal statement to donors, Jason wrote: “Since my own benefit in 2014, I have attended many benefits that were at successful partially because of the guidance and matching funds from Lend -A-Hand. I was so impressed with Lend-A-Hand that I now serve as a LAH ambassador and proudly trumpet their cause.”

Jason is a terrific friend, and I’m proud to call him among my closest. It’s humbling and inspiring to know he understands and embraces the idea that running provides an avenue to help others. My personal donation wasn’t much, but if a lot of people give a little, the impact can be profound on the people who need our help. To visit Jason’s page to learn more about his endeavor, or make a donation, visit his Lend-A-Hand fundraising site.