Every American runner should know who Steve Prefontaine is; that is just something that I believe. Having learned of his legend in high school, I have been inspired by his essence, passion, tragedy, talent, whatever it is about him that is so quintessential “runner”, ever since. I am here to educate you, just a little bit because I am no expert, nor can one blog really tell the life of a man. Unless that man’s life was really uninteresting. I will not tell you which Pre movie about him is better, either “Without Limits” or “Prefontaine”.
First off, he had a mustache. It was awesome, as most mustaches are. More importantly, I suppose, were his skills on the track. In his short career, he broke 14 American records, some of those being his own. He held a total of 8 American records, every one between the 2,000 and 10,000 meter, and between the two miles and six miles. This basically means that he was a true distant runner. He competed in the 5000 meter at the Munich 1972 summer games, finishing in 4th place. In his short career he won 120 of his 153 races.
Sadly, his tragic death solidified his legendary status in running. He died at the age of 24, well before his running prime, and in the midst of battling the AAU(Amateur Athletic Union) over the rights of athletes. A little about that, any athlete who had amateur status was unpaid for track meets, and had to fund all their expenses with no help. Furthermore, these athletes could not receive free product without losing their status as amateur. Prefontaine was accepting free product from Adidas and battling the AAU about their treatment of these amateur athletes. He died in a car accident, in which he hit a rock and flipped his car. He may or may not have been under the influence of alcohol.
Ok, so now you know some facts about Prefontaine, nothing more than you would know if you had watched one of the movies or read one of the books about him. My goodness, did I just express the pointlessness of this blog? No I did not. We don’t love legends for the facts about their life. We love them for the things we suppose them to embody, whether that is true or not. And the nostalgia in me for that decade is so out of control that I just love everything about it. Bill Bowerman was making shoes for Prefontaine with a waffle iron. Running was such a niche thing to do and they did it in split shorts. Nobody ran without giving it their all, then running started to go mainstream. Then women started to be respected in the sport. Good thing. Because then I got into running. I would do my track workouts in the morning. It would be dark and freezing, and I would be trying to stay calm because I was doing more repeats at a faster pace than I ever had. I would tell myself, “I’m Steve Prefontaine” and I wouldn’t slow down on that last turn. Is that lame? Probably. But in my head it made all the difference. Knowing the epicness that has brought running to where it is lets you access the raw energy that is running.
This blog may not inspire you, no offense taken. Maybe Prefontaine’s essence doesn’t inspire you, which may very well be impossible. If split shorts, mustaches, and some weird form of 1970’s nostalgia don’t get you pumped on running then find your own thing. The world of running is bigger than ever before and goes far beyond the brand of shoes you like best, or how much electrolytes you should take. It’s a culture. Figure out how being a part of that culture can work to help define you and what you do as essentially “runner”.