I was born 16 years after a fatal car crash took the life of Steve Prefontaine, one of the most legendary runners in the history of the sport. And while I was never fortunate enough to live during the running boom of the 1970s or see "Pre" race, I was fortunate to attend the same school at the University of Oregon in Eugene. While Pre may be gone, his spirt has never left the town where he became a superstar.
I remember the first time I went to Pre's Rock. It's located on Skyline Boulevard just a short (but steep) walk from campus. It was at this spot on May 30, 1975 that Pre lost control of his orange 1973 MGB convertible as it swerved off the road and overturned, pinning Pre underneath. A local resident found Pre still alive, but by the time the medics arrived, he was gone. Pre was only 24 when he died.
When I came to Pre's Rock for the first time, I immediately became overwhelmed with emotion, knowing I was standing at the exact spot where we lost perhaps the greatest runner we'll ever see. And when I say greatest, I'm not just talking about how fast he ran the races, but how he ran the races.
Pre was a frontrunner. He hated getting boxed in and as a result, always led races from the front. What any "logical" runner will tell you is the way to win a race is to tuck in behind your competition, let them handle the hardest workload from the front, and when it's time, swing around and out-kick them to the finish. But that wasn't Pre's style. In part, it was because Pre didn't have the strongest finishing kick out there. But more so, he led from the front because he ran every race like it would be his last.
"A lot of people run a race to see who is the fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, push himself even more."
This was how Pre ran. "The best pace is a suicide pace, and today seems like a good day to die," Pre once said. When that gun went off, Pre pushed the pace from the start and dared anyone brave enough to come with him. It was a style of running the world had never seen before. And what makes Pre so special is that his style is one we might never see again.
Pre's spirt lives on in Eugene today. Whether it's a visit to Pre's Rock, or a run on Pre's trail, or doing a workout on the same track at Hayward Field as Pre did, it's impossible to forget him. Whenever I would head out for a run to any of these spots, I felt Pre's spirit with me, lifting me up on difficult runs and reminding me to always give my best. Because according to Pre, "To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift." Running is a gift. I am lucky enough to be good enough at running where it is enjoyable to me. Anytime things get hard and I want to quit, I just remember those words from Pre that the joy of running is a gift, and giving anything less than my best would be wasting that gift. That's what Pre means to me today, to always give your best and never settle for anything less.
Today, the best track athletes in the world come to Hayward Field to participate in the Prefontaine Classic. It's a day of world class performances with each runner giving nothing less than their best, exactly as Pre would have wanted it. It's the most fitting way to mark the anniversary of his passing. We remember Pre by doing exactly what he loved. We run.