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Is "Pre" Fading Away?

Updated: Apr 5, 2023

We have some long bus rides in South Dakota, as the two major population centers (where the bigger track meets or cross country races take place) are 5+ hours apart, so there's plenty of time for movies. I've seen it my civic duty to show running-related movies, one of which has always been, "Prefontaine".

If you're unfamiliar with the movie, "Prefontaine" is a biographical film that tells the story of Steve Prefontaine, a legendary American distance runner who competed in the 1972 Olympics. The film chronicles Prefontaine's rise to fame as a young athlete in high school and college to the Olympics and his untimely death at the age of 24 in a car accident.

The film is based on the book, "Pre" by Tom Jordan and it's my personal favorite in the Prefontaine vs Without Limits battle.

As much as I loved the Pre movies and books, I don't know if the story resonates with the current crop of young runners like it did me. In my high school days, I used to be so motivated and inspired by watching Prefontaine (or Without Limits or Fire on the Track) the night before races that I could barely sleep. I was ready to make people bleed and run my last mile in under four minutes.

Now, I don't know if Pre is fading away, but to play it safe, here are some examples of propaganda to help keep Pre alive with the current generation of runners,

  1. Prefontaine (1997) - Directed by Steve James, starring Jared Leto, R. Lee Ermey, and Ed O'Neill.

  2. Without Limits (1998) - Directed by Robert Towne, starring Billy Crudup, Donald Sutherland, and Monica Potter.

  3. Fire on the Track: The Steve Prefontaine Story (1995) - Directed by Erich Lyttle and Bill Siegel.


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One the reasons I wrote The River Road is because young runners I was coaching not only had not heard of Prefontaine but also knew little to nothing about great runners who had trained in the same place we train. They had no running heroes. The Prefontaine books and movies came out before they were born or when they were too small to notice. Also, much of the technology that now spreads all manner of running information was in its infancy and not on their radar. To me, imagination is one of the best training tools. Once they start to see it in their mind they will start to do it with body and believe it in their heart. But…

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