Steve Prefontaine idolized Ron Clarke— king of the front runners, the sacrificial lambs. He so idolized Clark that he copied his racing methods, simultaneously succumbing to the same tragic fate and singlehandedly transforming track into an exciting spectator sport. 

Pre revolutionized running not with his training, which was remarkable, but with his attitude, which was relentless. He ran every race like a prizefight, ran every workout like a race, partied as hard as we worked out, and mouthed off a much as he partied. “Envision a satyr,” explained Frank Shorter.

Each morning, Pre rose at six am— no matter how hungover, sleep deprived or full of pizza— and stumbled out the door at ten miles an hour or quicker for five to ten miles.  In the afternoons he’d run again, either another five to ten at ten miles an hour or an interval session, which he did three times a week. He raced workouts, refusing to let others finish first. On the rare occasion they did, he’d sulk for days before the next workout, returning with a vengeance to assert his dominance. 

On Tuesdays he’d run four to six hundred meter repeats. On Thursdays he ran two to three hundred meter repeats, often with a tempo. On Saturdays he ran longer intervals— up to a mile and a half— or he raced. He charged to the front of every race, loudly shouting his strategy for all to hear, calling his shots in the manner of Muhammed Ali and Babe Ruth. “No one will ever win a five thousand meter race by running an easy first two miles. Not against me,” he’d proclaim to the press. Like Clarke, he considered it his moral obligation, both to everyone running the race and everyone watching the race. “A race,” he famously stated, “is a work of art that people can look at and be affected by in as many ways as they are capable of understanding.”

His art– front-running for all to see, laying bare his suffering–pierced the hearts of track fans everywhere; they loved him. His home crowd screamed so hard for him that he went utterly undefeated on his home track in anything over a mile. In the most famously selfish of sports, where athletes chase personal bests and individual accolades, Pre ran selflessly, to bring joy to others. 

At the end of his career, cut short by his death, he held every American record from two to ten kilometers. His tactics, like his hero’s, had cost him an Olympic medal but earned him an eternal spot in the pantheon of legendary runners. While some revolutionized running through their training— introducing intervals or fartleks or long runs— and some revolutionize through their racing— winning more gold medals or setting more world records— Pre irrevocably altered the sport through the sheer force of his personality, his words echoing in the ears of runners forevermore.