3 Life Lessons From Steve Prefontaine

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Steve Prefontaine was an iconic American middle and long-distance runner whose all or nothing attitude, gutsy running technique, and incredible outdoor track record streak, made him a running legend.

Despite tragically dying at the young age of 24 from an automobile accident in 1975, Steve’s legacy lives on and his life philosophy continues to inspire countless runners.

Prefontaine’s legacy

  • Prefontaine once held every U.S. record in every long-distance track event from the 2,000 metres to the 10,000 metres.
  • Despite missing out on a medal, his sensational performance in the 1972 Munich Olympics made him a national treasure.
  • He was trained by legendary coach Bill Bowerman who famously disagreed with Prefontaine’s supposedly inexperienced approach to exploding off the finish line to take an early lead. Though the tactic wasn’t always successful, it serves as a testament to the determined attitude and work ethic of Prefontaine.
  • Prefontaine featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated aged 19, and became a cult figure for American, Particularly within the running community.
  • He is the subject of the feature films ‘Prefontaine’, ‘Without Limits’ and ‘Fire on the Track.’ which helped immortalize Prefontaine and his enduring legacy.
  • Of his 153 professional races, he won 120 of them and inspired millions to take up running which helped to popularise the sport. A track record of greatness, inspiration, and a powerful legacy.

What can we learn from Steve Prefontaine?

Though his life was tragically cut short, there is much we can learn from Prefontaine’s legacy to apply to our own lives. In or out of the running shoes.

Without further ado, here are 3 life lessons from Steve Prefontaine

1. Always give it your all.

“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”


Here is a man who believed in giving 100% effort, 100% of the time. No less. No excuses. What a powerful philosophy to live life by.

Steve described the abilities we have as ‘gifts’. Talents uniquely bestowed upon us from birth, which we have a duty to use in our lives. He believed his ‘gift’ was running and gave it his all 100% of the time. In warm-ups, training, cool-down, and especially in competition.

If we don’t give it our all we sacrifice our gifts

What kind of world would we live in, where talented and gifted individuals took the easy way out and denied the world their genius? Would it be anything like what it is now?

What would music sound like had The Beatles took it easy and failed to get signed through a lack of hard work?Imagine a world where Shakespeare recognised he had a talent for writing but refused to give life to his gift and not pick up a pen to write his plays?

Could you think of a world where Martin Luther King couldn’t be bothered to put his passion for public speaking into use, to inspire the civil rights movement?

Great things happen when people put 100% effort into their natural gifts.

How can I apply Prefontaine’s philosophy to my own life?

Do whatever it is you’re good at to 100% of your ability, 100% of the time. Whether you’re a chef, a musician, an artist, a sculptor, running a business, working for charity, a triathlete, or an accountant, give everything you do your all.

Easier said than done, I know, but taking the time and care to push that little further in training or practising a few minutes more can make all the difference.

Prefontaine set a high standard for himself during every aspect of life, by going all in on his running gift. A motivational way to approach whatever it is you’re good at.

What if I don’t have a gift?

Everyone has something they’re good at. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you live, what you think of yourself or what your upbringing was like. Everybody has a unique gift.

If you don’t know what you’re good at, go and experiment. Try a few things!

Go for a round of golf, write a short story, brainstorm some business ideas, try charity work for a day. You might have a few misses, but sooner or later you will come across something you have a natural gift for. When you discover it, go after it like your life depends on it.

Create a legacy for yourself and your gift. Be like Prefontaine.

2. Use competition to your advantage

“No one will ever win a 5,000-meter by running an easy two miles. Not against me.”

“Somebody may beat me, but they are going to have to bleed to do it.”

“A lot of people run a race to see who is the fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can push himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more.”

Steve recognised the importance of competition in pushing himself to achieve the high standards he is famously known for. Steve didn’t warm to the popular 5K race tactic or running a relaxed 2 miles, then going all in for the last mile. That was what his competition had been trained to do, and it’s what he was told to do.

By understanding what the competition was doing, Prefontaine used this to his advantage and pushed through all the races he competed in. He had a habit of shooting off the finish line, catching the rest of the field off guard which shook them up from their usual ‘chilled’ tactics.

Steve understood the importance of using competition to push and motivate him to greatness.

How can I apply Prefontaine’s philosophy on competition to my own life?

Remembering that there is competition in life, is a powerful tool for pushing yourself to put in hard work and stop procrastinating when it’s most important. It sounds harsh, but it’s true for the most part.

Whether you’re going for a job, playing in a band, trying to impress someone you fancy, run a business, write novels or run professionally, there will always be others competing with you.

There will always be someone else trying to get the job, get the recording contract, catch the attention of your possible partner, trying to finish the race quicker than you. Competition is everywhere in life, and it is not to be feared. It is to be used to your advantage to achieve greatness and become the best version of yourself you can possibly be.

Knowing there are others competing for the same prize, what you want, can motivate you to train harder and put in more work than you would have done otherwise.

Like Prefontaine said ‘no one will ever win a 5,000-meter by running an easy two miles.’ Living by his philosophy, he’d push himself to the absolute limit and ensure he would not be beaten by relaxed and laid-back running tactics. He would use the competition to his advantage, inspiring his fierce running style to spark a reaction from his competitors to tire them out and win.

If you don’t win, somebody else will

Remember, if you don’t put the effort in then somebody else will. That means somebody else will win and claim what you want to achieve. Sitting back casually, taking the easy route, and watching somebody else win when you know you could have done is not a good feeling. Trust me.

Examples of how you can use competition to your advantage

If you’re a chef, don’t practice the recipe twice. Cook it five times or more until you’ve completely mastered it.
When you’re practising a song on an instrument, play it so many times you don’t need to look at the instrument.
When you’re auditioning for a part in a play or movie, practice the lines so much you don’t even have to think about them. Practice them until they’re ingrained into you.

When going for a job interview, research the company and the role relentlessly. Read everything about the company you can get your hands on, study their website, watch their YouTube channel, message their employees on LinkedIn. Go the extra mile.

If you’re a 5,000 KM runner, put an extra few miles into your training sessions instead of going home to chill and watch Netflix.

It may seem over the top, but if you don’t put the work in and win then somebody else will. Use competition to your advantage, be like Prefontaine.

3. Be passionate about what you do

“A race is a work of art that people can look at and be affected in as many ways as they’re capable of understanding.”

“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 everyone else. It’s being creative.”

Steve advocated his love for the sport which he committed his life too. He made no secret that he’d fallen in love with running and went far enough to say his running was an art form. He loved the sport that much.

How can I apply Steve’s philosophy to my own life?

Being passionate about what you do is an important point to pick up from Steve’s powerful life philosophy. It’s a known fact that when you’re passionate about what you do, you will be motivated to do it well and create something incredible with your work.

Mozart and Beethoven felt inspired to write the music they did because playing and composing music was part of their souls.

Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos created behemoths companies like Apple and Amazon because they were attracted to their visions for a better future for the world with their companies work.

Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver have risen to the top of the chef personality world because of their passion and appreciation for every aspect of cooking. Whether it’s learning about the history of food, teaching healthy cooking, or saving a failing restaurant, you don’t need to watch these chefs in action for too long until you realise their sheer respect for cooking.

If you don’t do what you’re passionate about, you won’t be as satisfied with your life

Doing what you love is incredibly valuable to your life. If you don’t love something, there’s a high probability you won’t stick to it or do it very often, meaning you’re not likely to achieve the results you want.

If you’re working in a job you hate, hang out with people you don’t share values with, or keep going to, or keep holding yourself back even though you can achieve more, then you will be unfulfilled in life. You won’t be passionate and animated with the spark of enjoyment, you’ll probably do things in a half-hearted fashion. You will feel like you’re not the best version of yourself. Not a fun place to be.

Explore what you’re passionate about for maximum fulfilment

For fulfilment in life, find what it is you love to do and explore it in all its detail. Get creative with new ways to paint, discover the history of classical musicians, delve into the unknown works of novelists you admire, read up on proper running form, join a steering group for a local charity. Put in some extra time and effort. You’ll enjoy yourself a lot more.

Whatever it is you like to do, get involved with it in new ways and be creative. Steve Prefontaine was incredibly passionate about running, trying to make it an art form, and was filled with enjoyment and fulfilment in life. Why not try and get some fulfilment for yourself?

Be like Steve Fontaine during his short but inspiring life. Be passionate about what you do.


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