Steve Prefontaine would be 61 years old today.
On my run this morning I thought a lot about Pre. Over the past few years I’ve met Bill Rogers, Bart Yasso, Joan Benoit Samuelson … would I have ever met Pre? If I did what would he think of the sport today? What would he think of an aging Marathoner and his quest at running a sub 3 hour marathon?
My final thought as I came down off of the dam and let gravity pull me downhill over the final mile of my workout was if he had lived, rather than died in that fateful night in May 1975 – would I even be a runner today?
I’m not really sure. I like a lot of people were fascinated by the story of Pre when I was exposed to it through the 1998 film Without Limits. Up until that point I remember references to Pre when I was a young child growing up in suburban Philadelphia. I was only 8 years old at the time of his death, and my first real memories of an Olympiad was the Montreal games in 1976.
The games that Pre was really gunning for after his heartbreaking fourth place finish in Munich 1972.
I remember seeing Bruce Jenner on Wheaties boxes while I shopped with my Mom at the A & P. Had Pre competed in ’76, Would I have been bitten by the track bug back in Middle School and become a runner 25 years earlier? Who can say. But in 1998 I became a fan of Pre’s and by 2005 when it was time to do something about the onset of age and “out-of-shapedness” I turned to running.
At some point a runner becomes a “racer” and that arrived for me in 2009 as I trained for the Pittsburgh Marathon in May of that year. I was going to pour my heart and soul into training for my second marathon in the hopes of running a Boston Time. As that training cycle evolved I began to race a bit more often, and I started to understand what it meant to really give maximum effort on race day.
It’s a level that is difficult to summon, difficult to describe to those who have never been there.
But as I approached that race I came across perhaps the most well-known of “Steve Prefontaineisms” -
“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”
It is a quote that adorns the back of one of my favorite long-sleeve running shirts, and one that at least a few times a year I will see at races. Each time I think about the small kid from Coos Bay Oregon who at the time of his death held every single American Record from 2,000 to 10,000 meters.
Every. Single. One.
The fact of the matter is that I am not a particularly talented runner. There are very few races out there where I would be considered a threat to finish any better than the top 5-10%. There is nothing wrong with that of course, I am very proud of my accomplishments and my individual PR’s that I have set all after the age of 43 or 44. But I am no Steve Prefontaine or anything close to it.
The one thing I do think about however is whether or not I have what it takes to “race” like Pre. He also was never the biggest, strongest or fastest. He did not have elite speed or a tremendous finishing kick.
What he did have was more heart than his competitors and he was willing to go places during a race that others were afraid to go.
In his words:
“A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more.”
That was the way that Pre ran, if you have never seen the actual footage of the 1972 Olympic 5,000 Meter Final - you should really take a look at it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFty7To8oQk
Watching him thunder away over the final two laps of the race, running not to medal, not to finish in the top 3, but to run to the absolute edge of his abilities is something to witness. He left it all out there – win, lose or draw – that is all any of us can really hope to do.
So as Saturday’s race approaches, with off days scheduled for Thursday and Friday, I wrapped up my final pre-race workout on Pre’s birthday.
You can never predict who will show up on race-day. Looking at previous results from past Texas Half Marathons I should have a decent chance of running in the top 10-20 overall, possibly win an age group award.
But frankly, I’m not worried about any of that to be completely honest.
I’m not running for any other reason than to take myself to a place I have never been before in the half-marathon. I want to push things as far as I can and test my limits. Saturday is just another opportunity to prove my metal prior to Boston.
I am going to give my absolute best effort. Afterall, anything less would be to sacrifice the gift.