Rediscovering Steve PREfontaine

photo-1Recently I’ve been inundated with all things Steve Prefontaine. It all started with this seriously epic Pre stop sign that our art director created for a feature in the April 2013 issue of RW (pick up a copy and read it because it’s really, really good). My coworker then interofficed me his copy of Pre with instructions to finish it before the Boston Marathon. After getting over a (teeny tiny) obsession with the TV show Friday Night Lights, I dove right in.

The book satisfied every fiber of my inner #runnerd. It covered details from his entire career, clarifying the scope of his impressive and inspirational dominance in the sport. Because I was born nearly 20 years after his death, Pre has always been quite literally the stuff of legends. Like any other runner, I know his most famous quotes by heart. And yes, I was one of those geeks that had a poster of him in my dorm room at college. (Click here to see proof. It’s above the TV.) He’s one of the most enduring running idols ever, but I never really knew why.

I learned A LOT about Pre from reading the book. But what struck me was how genuinely normal he was. Here are my three passages that struck me the most:

  • “Before any race, Pre would always say how he didn’t feel good and didn’t want to run,” teammate Steve Bence recollects. “No matter where the race was or how important it was, he was saying, ‘Aw, I wish I wasn’t running; I don’t think I’m going to run well…’ Then he’d go out and run like heck.” The self-doubt that plagues most runners–even Steve Prefontaine–quickly disappeared after the challenge had been met and conquered. – Even Pre, who won 78 percent of his outdoor track races, got pre-race anxiety. That’s something to remember when I’m freaking out before a race.
  • …it hadn’t been all that long since the time Prefontaine was out on an easy-day road run with the then-freshmen Terry Williams, Dave Taylor, and several others. It was supposed to be a relaxed 10-miler, but one runner took off and disappeared, which nettled Pre to no small degree. So near the end of the run, when Taylor and Williams started to pick it up, it was too much for Pre. He caught up with the two of them, grabbed each by the shoulder and started screaming that there was no way they would ever make it, that they were both going to burn out so fast. – He might’ve gotten up every morning at 6 a.m. for a run (often his first of two for the day), but he knew how to train in moderation. Take your easy days easy, and leave the hard efforts for workout days.    
  • Training was not always all that much fun, as Pre himself admitted. “It really gets grim until the competition begins,” he once said. “You have to wonder at times what you’re doing out there. Over the years, I’ve given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to the self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.” – Like Pre, figure out why you love to run, write it down or post it where you can see it often, and remind yourself of those reasons when you’re struggling to pull yourself out of bed for a run or hurting in the middle of a workout.
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Thanks Bart Yasso for introducing me!

What capped off the book were the parts about Pre’s relationship with Frank Shorter. [Fair warning: This will likely sound very silly/obvious/cliche/dumb, but I get pretty intrigued by weird connections like this.] I met Frank and Bill Rodgers at the Falmouth Road Race last year and watched them speak on a panel. I also ran into both of them at the hotel at the Walt Disney World Marathon. But I didn’t realize then was that Frank was Pre’s close friend and training partner. He was also the last person to see Pre alive. (Pre dropped him off right before the accident). When I finished the book, I couldn’t wrap my brain around the fact that I’d met (and spoken to, and shaken hands with) someone who knew Pre. [Cue the obvious!] Pre was very much a real person. That’s what I call crazy bonkers.

Immersing myself in the seven-time American record holder’s life added color to my previously hazy perception of Pre. I now appreciate his words that have been plastered on runners’ walls for years; they no longer seem cliche, which makes them all the more inspirational and moving.

If you’re in need of a little motivation, I’d highly recommend geeking out a bit with Pre. It’s worth it. (And yep, I’ll be watching Without Limits this weekend, and I’d bet money that I’ll be in tears at the end!)

P.S. Here’s the opening spread of the Runner’s World article. Pretty sweet, huh?

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QUOTE OF THE POST: “Some people create with words or with music or with a brush and paints. I like to make something beautiful when I run. I like to make people stop and say, ‘I’ve never seen anyone run like that before.’ It’s more than just a race, it’s a style. It’s doing something better than anyone else. It’s being creative.” – Pre

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7 Comments

  1. Love this post – I actually just grabbed my copy of this book and tossed it in my bag to read on a train ride to NYC tonight. I’ve been dying to get a chance to read it, and now am even more excited!

    Reply

  2. I’m a huge Pre fan. I absolutely understand every word you wrote. I’ll be reading the RW article today. Very much looking forward to it. (And I would LOVE to have that epic stop sign!! Let me know if they are willing to make more. I have just the spot for it!!)

    Reply

      1. I actually have a stop sign I can send if you can talk the art director into making another one for me. It’s a long shot, I know, but it can’t hurt to ask, right?

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