All In, All Out
By Kristen Roach Thompson, Associate Coordinator, Bluegrass Writers Studio
Writers aren't usually famous for their fitness routines. At least, I don't know of any (besides our very own Jen Parks). But, before I committed myself to my thesis and this corner of the couch with pen, paper, and laptop, I used to run. My longest distance was a half marathon, and after that I swore I would never do a whole one. It was probably an empty promise from my ego; my body would not have cooperated anyway.
Writers are famous for good stories, and one of the best I know is about the runner Steve Prefontaine. Pre grew up in Oregon, and, if you believe what you see in movies (Without Limits), he got his start running from bullies in the Coos Bay woods. He was a talented long-distance runner who was known for running flat-out from start to finish. He didn’t play the politics of drafting off another runner—one who spent much more energy to part the heavy air. He didn’t save up strength or ration endurance. He became a legend of the power of sheer will.
Pre was picked up by the University of Oregon and coached there by Bill Bowerman, who went on to found Nike. But Pre was uncoachable. He knew no other way, refused all other ways, than to do his absolute best from the starting block.
With that philosophy backing him, Steve made the US Olympic running team and went to Munich in 1972. After leading 4,850 meters of the 5,000 meter race, he was passed by three other runners and finished fourth. Off-podium. Nowheresville.
What I love most about Pre is that he didn’t change his mind after that. He didn’t adopt all of the “strategies” of the day, although Bowerman tried. Pre retired; some would say hid. But he stuck by his convictions. He would not run any other way than his best at every minute.
He spent the next few years advocating to close the gap between amateur and professional athletes, so that he could have friendly competitions with his international peers. The rules were eventually changed in his favor. He was a moody, stubborn pioneer in his field.
And that, as Billy Crudup (who played Pre in Without Limits) would say in a VISA commercial, is priceless.
As a writer, I want to be Prefontaine. I don’t want to bow to current “wisdom” or bend to some popular technique. I want to hit the ground running and go flat-out until I can’t run anymore. Strategies and podiums be damned.
Published on September 10, 2014