Pre – Running in Famous Footsteps
One of the most successful and well know American middle distance runners ever is Steve Prefontaine. “Pre” was a legend in his time setting 14 American running records and, at the time of his early passing (he was 24), he held seven American running records from 2,000 to 10,000 meters. Over the past four years, as a newcomer to Oregon and a resident of Eugene, I have come to realize just what an inspiring and well loved figure he was. His front-running, go-for-it, approach to running races made him a crowd favorite and his contribution to the running community has continued long after his death (a Eugene jewel he initiated is the complex of bark trials known as Pre’s Trail).
Although I have run many times at the famous track at the University of Oregon (Hayward Field) where Pre won many races, it was only recently that I ventured to Pre’s hometown of Coos Bay, Oregon, to run in the annual Prefontaine Memorial Run. This 10K course was one of Pre’s favorite training runs so it was especially of interest to me to participate in this event. Having heard how hilly this course was, I also planned to do some serious focusing on my “runnable hills” ChiRunning technique (i.e. not so steep as to require switching to ChiWalking). I find that there is something different about focusing on form during a race as opposed to a casual training run.
On race day, Oregon lived up to its reputation by providing plenty of rain; consequently, my ChiRunning scanning and focusing techniques became even more critical. Maintaining control of my downhill running speed and staying aware of my footing in general took on even more importance due to the potential for slipping. Focusing on my pelvic rotation while landing with soft knee under my column was critical to staying on my feet. Luckily, I survived running the race without any problems but I can’t say I will miss the rain blowing in my face as I tried to imagine Steve Prefontaine running the same course some 40 odd years ago.
One unique and uplifting feature of the Pre’s Memorial is the preponderance of high school and college cross country running teams. With so much of Pre’s reputation based on his performance and records occuring while a student, it was fun to share in the excitement of the hundreds of young student runners participating. Pre-race activities took on antoher dimension as they and their coaches went through their physical and mental preparation routines – and, of course, the kidding around that went with it was a delight to see.
As far as my performance in the race itself was concerned, I was struck by the sizable number of older runners so I couldn’t help wonder if I would be able to enjoy the pleasure of “placing” in my age group. Luckily, I had saved enough energy to move into ChiRunning technique’s 3rd gear in the final mile thereby passing several of the gray-haired male competitors including one on the track where we finished, so I did end up with a nice Pre Memorial Second Place ribbon. I hope Pre would have been proud, even if I did have to come from behind.
P.S. The DVD “Fire on the Track: the Steve Prefontaine Story” is an accurate and touching story of Pre’s life.
The movie, “Without Limits” is an entertaining Hollywood film about Pre.
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