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Training Tips: Yasso 800s

by Karl Gruber
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When I ran my 52 marathons in 52 weeks back in 1996 – 1997, I traveled all over North America, including Hawaii. During those 52 weeks, I had the great privilege of getting to know one of the most high profile running personalities in America – Bart Yasso, the Race Services Manager/Running Ambassador from Runner’s World. Bart, who recently retired from Runner’s World, is the real deal. A true representative of the running world. One who runs the run he talks. 
 
After my year of marathoning, I later read about an incredible workout that Bart had devised that pretty reliably predicts what your marathon finishing time will be – the Yasso 800’s. I’ll let Boston Marathon Champion and former editor of Runner’s World, Amby Burfoot, explain…
 
“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. 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."
 
Not ever having run track myself and focusing almost strictly on my long training runs, when I first heard about the Yasso 800s, I found it quite intriguing. Sure enough, I soon found myself at my local track one afternoon and gave it a go. After my first couple reps of running 800 meters – or two full laps on a track – I thought I was going to die, if not at the least throw up! I learned quickly you have to keep at it for a few weeks toslowly build up your reps until you hit 10 full 800-meter repetitions. 
 
Here’s what Bart recommends for a successful Yasso 800 program to build up to your marathon race day…
 
  • Begin running your Yasso 800s a couple months out from your goal marathon
  • Run 4 X 800 meter reps your first time on the track
  • Each additional week of your Yasso 800 workouts, add another repetition until you reach 10
  • Do a slow cool-down jog between each 800 rep in the same amount of time it took you to run your 800
  • Make sure to run your last Yasso 800 workout of 10 reps at least 10 days before your marathon
It may seem ludicrous that this 800 meter track workout can actually predict what your marathon finishing time will be, but according to Amby Burfoot, his research stood up to what Bart Yasso says the workout should do for you. When Burfoot found out about Bart’s workout, it peaked his curiosity.
 
“But would the same workout apply to a three-hour marathoner? A four-hour marathoner? A five-hour marathoner? It didn't seem very likely. In the next couple of weeks, I decided to check it out. I played around with lots of mathematical equations and talked to about 100 runners of widely differing abilities (from a 2:09 marathoner to several well over four hours), and darn if the Yasso 800s didn't hold up all the way down the line.”
 
Of course, you continue your long, slow distance runs on the weekends during your training to build your base fitness level and aerobic capacity. The Yasso 800s, on the other hand, will provide the toughness you need, plus the ability to run faster during 26.2 miles. 
 
Running a hard 800 meters on the track vastly increases your ability to intake much needed oxygen to the point of going anaerobic. Once race day rolls around, not only do you have the toughness to complete 26.2 miles, but your fitness level has increased from running a few weeks of hard 800 meter repetitions. Plus, running 800s teaches you how to run harder for longer periods of time without bonking.
 
On a funny note, the last time I followed the Yasso 800 training regimen, I came home from a particularly tough day on the track. Once I recovered, I emailed Bart and told him, “Bart, your Yasso 800s are kicking my butt!” He emailed me back a simple reply, “Yeah, they kick my butt, too!”
 
Here’s a link to an excellent video from former Olympic runner, Carrie Tollefson, on just how to do a Yasso 800 workout.
 
As Amby Burfoot so succinctly states about the Yasso 800s…“Training doesn't get any simpler than this, not on this planet or anywhere else in the solar system.”

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