Steve Prefontaine #tbt Running Legends

This is the first in our series of #throwbackthursday posts, having a little nosey at runners of the past.

It’s our way of dipping our hat to people who know how to hurt themselves and, in some cases, have achieved running feats once deemed “impossible”. Some you’ll know, some you probably won’t, some you’ll already have a crush on. All will make you want to drop everything and put your running shoes on pronto.

A big thank you to Paul’s sister and founder of who let us steal her #tbt idea (she does it with great scientists, she’s much funnier then us too so we highly recommend a peruse of her blog!).

Now, finally, onwards to Steve…

Steve Prefontaine

What. A. Ledge.

Pre died at the age of 24 in a car accident. He was on the brink of greatness, training for the 1976 Olympics. So we have to ask, why is he such a running legend? Yes he held every American record from 2000m to 10,000m, but no Olympic titles, no world titles. The answer – there was even more to Pre then great running performances. There was that ‘Pre Thing’.

I’m genuinely excited writing this post!

OK I was a bit unfair there, he was a great runner with more titles for his age than you can shake a cat at. But what’s really exciting about Pre, for me, goes beyond his times. It’s about his style, his attitude and what he did for running.

Style on the Track

Pre lead from the front. Always. He had no race tactics other than utter ruination. Go hard and keep going hard. Do you see that anymore? Race tactics makes for interesting watching but there’s something so refreshing in the mentality of just going for it and not giving up.

“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. Nobody is going to win a 5,000 meter race after running an easy 2 miles. Not with me. If I lose forcing the pace all the way, well, at least I can live with myself.”

This clip from the 5000m final at the 1972 Olympics in Munich (sometimes dubbed “the most exciting race ever”) shows that perfectly:


Steve Prefontaine
Photo from

Making Running Cool

Pre ran when running wasn’t cool. Drivers threw things at runners on the roads. But he changed that!

Michael Heald from Runner’s World says:

“Pre brought the same urgent swagger to distance running that Muhammad Ali brought to boxing. When Pre talked about running, he made it sound more macho than football, more illuminating than poetry.”

There are so many quotes from Pre that show just this, my favourite is:

“Some people create with words, or with music, or with a brush and paints. I like to make something beautiful when I run. I like to make people stop and say, “I’ve never seen anyone run like that before.” It’s more than just a race, it’s a style. It’s doing something better than anyone else. It’s being creative.”

But he didn’t just talk the talk. As part of his work with Nike (before they were big) he visited high schools and colleges. “Every place we went, Pre would take time to go for a jog with the kids. He would analyze their form, and talk to them,” Geoff Hollister. He also fought against American sporting bodies at the time to help amateur athletes become sustainable, something that continued after his death and has shaped athletics today.


He was from a working class background, he had a small build, he was the underdog. He absolutely epitomised the idea that you can do anything you set your mind to. If you do it hard enough. Plus how cool is that tash!