By Malcolm Pascotti
Steve Prefontaine is arguably the most influential runner in history. Remembered for his thick mustache and shaggy long hair, trademark Nikes, effortless stride, and never-ending supply of cool, Pre (as his fans called him) made himself one of the fiercest athletes the world by adhering to a core set of principles for preparation and performance. These habits can still be applied on the track, in the boardroom, and in virtually any area where we strive to improve. Numerous books have been written about Pre’s life story, and some of his quotes have even made their way onto corporate inspirational posters. While his legend can’t be reduced to a cheap print hanging from the wall, much of his success can be broken down to a few basic ideas anyone can implement. We may never have whatever magic Pre had, but we can take away valuable lessons from his life and words.
Define Actions To Reach Your Goals
Often we visualize our goals, but overlook the process of defining what we need to achieve them. Pre broke down his key factors to successful running into three basic elements: diet, rest, and training. The act of putting pen to paper and defining what is essential was necessary for Pre. Notice how all of his key factors were within his control. We can apply the same concept to our own disciplines. Whether it is hitting a new PR in a workout, completing a marathon at your goal pace, or landing a job in a new field, success is easier found when you clearly determine what it will take and follow through with consistency.
Find A Mentor & Soak Up Everything (Whether You Like It Or Not)
While at the University of Oregon, Pre constantly clashed with his track coach, the legendary Bill Bowerman. His relationship with Bowerman was a constant battle, but it was instrumental to Pre’s development as an athlete. Pre ran free and never hid his opinion or personality from others and the media. Bowerman wanted Pre to run a strategic race that emphasized pace and timing, while Pre was intent on running as hard as possible and hoping he had enough in the tank to finish. Steve ran his way, but having Bowerman gave him the balanced approach he didn’t think he needed but was better off having. Surrounding yourself with like minded people is certainly good, but the value of a mentor that doesn’t always tell you what you want to hear can be instrumental in personal growth.
Your Life Is Your Canvas—Create Something Beautiful
Pre saw his contribution as a runner as something more than just an athletic feat. If his life was a canvas, then he was intent to use his body and physical gifts as the brush to create a work that was full of honesty, beauty, and passion. Every time he trained or competed on the track, his brush hit the canvas deliberately and for the purpose of enhancing his masterpiece. To the outsider, the sport of running is not a creative endeavor. Pre rejected this idea and gave greater purpose to his effort. He ran purposefully, while free to create his own style and leave his own mark. If we imagine our lives as a canvas and our actions always marking the canvas, what would our work look like? Imagine that Sunday training run after you spent half of the day on the couch watching games. Maybe that time spent on yourself seems a little more important when we look at it like Pre would have.
Take A Chance To Lay Everything On The Line
As a huge underdog in the 5,000-meter event at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Pre ran one of the greatest and most inspiring races of all time, despite finishing fourth and failing to reach the podium. And though he came up short, his effort endeared him to the many fans who only saw him compete in just that one race. He came into the race with a simple plan—run the last mile at a blistering sub four-minute pace and leave everyone behind. He stuck to his plan but came up just shy, running a 4:04 final mile. He ran out of gas in the final 150 meters and surrendered first, falling to third before slipping to fourth a mere 10 meters from the finish. At that point, it no longer mattered. Pre was running an all-out race for the gold, not to preserve a mere podium finish.
That was his type of race—an all out make-or-break test of what he was made of. He ran a race so determined and so gutsy that many viewers saw him as the true champion regardless of the place he finished. After leaving everything on the track in Munich, he returned to the University of Oregon to win a third consecutive national championship in his senior year. Pre ran hard and he ran to win. Arguably, this was both his greatest strength and weakness.
Laying it all on the line doesn’t mean you can’t come back if you come up short. It means you are striving for the best effort you can possibly give in that instance. As in Pre’s case at the Olympics, he lost the race but won everyone’s heart, and came back even stronger less than a year later.
Steve Prefontaine constantly gave his all-out best, and he worked to make his best even better up until his tragic death in a car accident in 1975 at the age of 24. He saw his own value and the significance of his contributions to the world. To him, competition and life were about more than winning and losing. They’re about working your ass off and giving it your all in preparation and in performance.
Malcolm Pascotti is a writer and photographer. Follow him on Instagram: @sweetteapapi.