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In the wake of the attack at the Boston Marathon, legends Frank Shorter, Bart Yasso and Bill Rodgers team up to take on the brutal 26.2-mile course, "going back to do what you do."
KYLE GREEN | The Roanoke Times
Bart Yasso, chief running officer for Runners World Magazine (center), leads a pack of runners on a fun run at Wasena Park on Friday morning. Yasso, along with running legends Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers, will be running as part of a relay team in the Blue Ridge Marathon today.
KYLE GREEN | The Roanoke Times
Bill Rodgers (from left), Bart Yasso and Frank Shorter pose for a picture at the top of Roanoke Mountain — “a good spot to put the Bill Rodgers memorial plaque,” Yasso quipped.
Friday, April 19, 2013
Nearly a full day ahead of the Blue Ridge Marathon, the race’s brutal course claimed its first victim.
“John,” Bart Yasso said to race co-chair John Carlin late Friday morning. “Your car is smoking.”
Carlin had just parked in the shadow of the Mill Mountain Star, midway through giving Yasso, Bill Rodgers and Frank Shorter a tour of the course.
The crew had already climbed Roanoke Mountain in Carlin’s mini-van when the van — a radiator hose, actually — decided it had enough.
The casualty provided a little more emphasis on the difficulty of the course for Rodgers, Shorter and Yasso, running legends who have been around the world and seen plenty of tough courses.
The three are in Roanoke for the race, participating as part of a five-runner relay organized by race title sponsor Foot Levelers.
The other two spots are held by runners who won an online contest, one for the most inspiring story and another for the most creative use of the race’s logo.
While the tour gave the runners a chance to crack jokes, the levity was often tempered by talk of the bombings at the Boston Marathon, an event all three men attended.
Shorter and Yasso were both near the site of the bombings, hearing the blasts.
Yasso, the chief running officer for Runner’s World magazine, was eating pizza in a nearby restaurant when he heard the explosions.
“When I heard the first noise I was like, ‘Wow,’” he said.
Yasso wondered if a transformer might have blown, or if a truck had run into a building.
“Then the second one went off and there was no doubt,” he said.
A nearby policeman drew his sidearm, jumped a table and headed toward the street. Yasso eventually made his way to the course.
“There wasn’t a runner anywhere,” he said. “Just policemen.”
Shorter, who lives in Boulder, Colo., was in the Lord and Taylor department store, even closer to the blast. He had only recently left the set where he had been working as part of the Universal Sports crew broadcasting the race.
He immediately made his way to his hotel, caught a shuttle and got to the airport. He was able to get a seat on an earlier flight than planned.
“I wanted to get home,” Shorter said. “Home is where you feel safe.”
Shorter, who won Olympic gold in the marathon in Munich in 1972, and a silver four years later in Montreal, said it has been an emotional week for him.
“Every time you see another face added to the story it sort of takes you back,” he said.
Rodgers, who lives in Boston and had already returned home from the race before the bombings, said he has been buoyed by the response in his hometown.
“The response from the runners, spectators, city, volunteers and the [Boston Athletic Association] has been phenomenal,” said Rodgers, a 65-year-old who won the Boston and New York marathons a combined six times during the peak of his career.
If there is a positive to be found, he said, it is in the way the running community has mobilized, providing a picture more accurate than the one some painted the community with after Hurricane Sandy forced the cancellation of the New York Marathon this past fall.
“Runners were portrayed as selfish people,” Rodger said. “That’s not true. They want to help.
“Running is a positive thing.”
The bump in interest in the Blue Ridge Marathon, from runners, fans and spectators, is an example, Rodgers said.
Staying away from races would be the wrong answer, Shorter said.
“You want go back to doing what you do,” he said.
And what they have been doing for years is running, though the miles and years have taken their toll.
Shorter estimates he has 170,000 running miles on his legs, and Rodgers is in that neighborhood.
“We’re like 100-year-olds,” Rodgers laughed, before nodding toward the 57-year-old Yasso. “And Bart is 72.”
Shorter, also 65, will run the first leg of the relay, covering roughly 5 miles that will include a long climb up Mill Mountain, then to the Blue Ridge Parkway on the Fishburn Parkway spur road.
“Frank, how many years do you think this will take you?” Rodgers kidded.
Rodgers, whose second leg includes the 2-mile climb — and 2-mile descent — of Roanoke Mountain, was the next target.
“Billy, you’re screwed,” Yasso warned. “This looks like a good spot to put the Bill Rodgers memorial plaque.”
“I can see cramps on the airplane,” Rodgers admitted, with a chuckle. “We would have loved this in our youth, but now we have question marks.”
In truth, years and miles have a way of easing expectations.
Shorter thought some about his route and put things into perspective.
“As long as it doesn’t look like I’m walking,” he said. “I’ll be OK.”
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