Posts Tagged ‘Steve Prefontaine Birthday’

Today Steve Prefontaine would have turned 63 years old if not for the one-car accident that claimed his life in Eugene Oregon on May 30, 1975.  He was just 24 years old at the time of his death and held every single American Middle Distance record from 2,000 meters to 10,000.

Seven distances, seven American records.

I’ve written a lot about Pre since I started blogging.  Usually on his birthday and the anniversary of his death.  Other times before or after an “A” race, sometimes after a grueling workout or just a day where the weather or another outside stressor made me reach deep to either get out the door or push through tough circumstances.

My cousin Joe and Pre were basically the same age.  One passing away on a dark road late at night more than 30 years ago.  The other just this past week.  I have often wondered just what Pre would have become had he not died on the way home from a post-race party that night in Eugene.  He of course won the three-mile earlier that day at Hayward Field.  A track where Pre was essentially unbeatable.

Would he have gone to Montreal in 1976 and won the 5000?  Given the disappointment in Munich where Pre finished 4th in one of the most talented 5000 meter fields ever assembled at the age of 22.  Yes, I believe that he would have or in Prefontaine fashion, would have just about died trying.  That was the way he ran – he as his college roommate Pat Tyson once said, “People in the 70’s had drugs, alcohol or whatever.  Pre was addicted to winning.  At everything.”

38 years have gone by and people are still talking about Pre.  I still see his image on race shirts from Austin to Boston every year.  To have that kind of impact between your High School years and age 25, that is pretty remarkable.  Pre was a remarkable runner.

By now he would most likely be a powerful voice in American Track and Field.  He as an early activist for athletes rights, and was very – sometimes to a fault – outspoken against the governing bodies of the day.  He was also a kid.  How tactful were you at 21, 22 years old when it came to something you were passionate about?  That was everything you thought about 24 hours a day?

I give Pre a pass on that one.

He would be a father and by now more than likely a grandfather.  But in my mind’s eye I still see him chiseled and fit, racing around a track with nobody remotely close to him – charging down the home stretch at Hayward field, hair on fire, simply put …. crushing it.Pre at tape

So today on Pre’s birthday I pause to say thank you.  Thank you for showing athletes that winning is one thing, but it really is about the effort you put forth, pushing your talents and abilities to their limits, getting as close as possible to your absolute best.  THAT is winning, whether you finish first, second, fourth or last.  It is what makes runners of all talent levels drawn to Pre.

He didn’t win races because of God given talent alone.  Obviously Pre had the genetics for the sport.  But he was also a small, short-striding runner with a left leg that was shorter than the right.  Pre out-worked, out-trained, out-smarted and out-hearted his competition.  Pure and simple he just put forth the maximum effort possible to make the most of his talents and abilities.

That is something that I have tried to remember whenever things have gotten tough either on the trail, on the hill or on the road race course.

I may never “Win” another event.  It has only happened once since I started this journey 7 years ago.  And as I get older and as the races I choose to compete in get larger and more difficult, the chance shrinks to virtually zero.  But the thought of not trying my best never enters my mind.

The day that happens is the day I will have run my last race.  Unable to run this morning due to my still recovering Achilles strain I hopped on the bike trainer and pedaled as hard as I could for 63 minutes.  One for every year since Pre was born.  Seemed like the right thing to do.

Go Pre.

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?

Pre's 1973 MGB at the crash scene May 1975

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:

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.

Go Pre.