Happy Birthday Pre

Posted: January 25, 2011 in Training
Tags: , , , , ,

60 years ago today a baby boy was welcomed into the world. 

Steve Roland Prefontaine.

Born into a blue-collar family in the blue-collar town of Coos Bay Oregon, in just 24 years Pre would develop into perhaps the finest American born distance runner of his generation.  Because of a tragic and rather foolish accident in 1975 we were all robbed of the chance to see just the kind of impact on the running world Pre would have made during the running boom of the 1980’s.

At one time Pre held every American distance record from the mile up through 6 miles.

In fact for five years no American runner ever beat him in a race over a mile in length.

For Five Years.


For not having won an Olympic medal or holding a world record why do so many still remember Pre?  In fact, some of his greatest accomplishments were achieved at yard distances that are no long run. 

His story however is more than just a talented athlete who died too young.

Unfortunately there are far too many of those stories.

In the case of Pre there is a rather mystical element surrounding his accomplishments on and off the track.  Many University of Oregon graduates recall that the sun always seemed to break through the clouds whenever he first stepped onto the Hayward Field Track.

They talk about how Pre wore a black singlet in a race for the very first time in his career on the night he died.

How at the 1976 Olympics, which would have been Pre’s second Olympiad, just then entering his peak years, two torch bearers by complete coincidence had the name Stephen Prefontaine.

Or how a young female runner named Mary Slaney who Pre took an interest in coaching when she was just 15 years old would go on to become one of the most successful American Distance Runners of all time.  On May 30, 1986 ten years to the day of Pre’s death, Mary Slaney and her husband became parents of a baby girl.

For all of us out there with a pair of Nikes lying around the house, Pre was a driving force behind that Corporate Colossus ever taking flight. 

Pre ran with courage and determination that very few runners have demonstrated either before or after his death.

His goal was not just to win, but to truly run his best. 

Always.  Every time.

Losing to a runner who went out and simply beat him was acceptable, as long as the race unfolded as it should.  Pre detested the races where runners hung back, took it easy and kicked to the end.  He went hard from the start and carried other runners along with him.  If you were going to beat him, you were going to have to earn it. 

Automatically you have to admire someone like that.

As I prepare to race this weekend and again at the Austin Marathon in a little less than 4 weeks I find myself thinking a lot about another scrappy “little kid” from a blue-collar family in a blue-collar town.  Dom was the same kind of guy Pre was.  he was small in stature, but huge in heart.

Never the most talented athlete, he was willing to work hard to achieve all that he could.

Anyone who ever met Dom remembers him.  He simply had a way about him that made an impression.  He was 100% real and genuine.  No false pretenses.  What you saw was what you got.  Those of us who knew Dom were also cheated by a life cut far too short.  There is no telling how much more an impact Dom would have made had he survived his cancer.

Sadly, we’ll never know.

So as I got back to it on Tuesday morning, still licking my wounds from Sunday’s failed attempt at my final 20-mile training run for Austin – it seemed a fitting day for a run.

8 miles on the schedule, 8 in the books.  Nothing fancy, just a recovery run as we get ready for Sunday’s 3M half-marathon.

These are the runs I think about when it comes to “putting in the work” to prepare for race day.  No hoopla, no attaboys or congratulations.  Just the runner, alone, feet crushing stone along a running trail two hours before sunrise.  The only person in the world who would know whether those 8 miles were covered this morning or not is the runner himself.

A blue-collar run on a blue-collar day.

It felt great to be back out there.

Go Pre.

  1. Beautiful Joe, just beautiful. I saw the film just this summer and it was so inspiring!

  2. Ann says:

    Well it is almost as hard to type and cry as it is to talk and cry so this will be quick. This a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for your comparison to Dom. What a great tribute to your friend.

  3. onelittlejill says:

    So true Joe that we only know ourselves what we really do. I guess you can say that running teaches about honesty as much as anything, huh?

    Pre is a legend. In his own right, so is Dom. I mean, aren’t we all here to leave some type of legacy?

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