I am thrilled that runners that I have been coaching will be competing this weekend in two prominent 5 K’s in Chicago and Full Marathons in Champaign, Illinois, Cincinnati, Ohio, Lincoln, Nebraska, Big Sur, California and a Full and Half Marathon in the running capital of the U.S. – Eugene, Oregon. As I have been reviewing the course map in Eugene, I have been reminded of my many visits to Eugene for Cross Country and Track & Field competitions. Going to Eugene has always felt to me like a running pilgrimage. The history and lore of running in Eugene has been kept alive by the powerful commitment to Track and Field and Cross Country by The University of Oregon, the passionate Eugene Track and Field Officials Association and the passionate Track and Field fans of Eugene and strong financial support by Nike.
My last visit to Eugene has remained memorable. This was to attend an NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championship event several years ago. During that visit, I stayed in Bed and Breakfast lodging, that overlooked a beautiful canyon, just a few miles East of Hayward Field – the historic Track and Field stadium on the U of O campus. At the beginning of a run on a Friday morning, I trotted down a road, winding Southward and Westward and turned right onto a side road that appeared to head toward an adjoining canyon. As the road curved to my left, a very large boulder bordered the road to my left. A glance at the boulder to my left revealed the following, crudely hand painted inscription, on the face of the large boulder – “Pre May 30, 1975 RIP”. I was stunned! I had gone for a run near the epicenter of US running and accidentally discovered the site of the tragic auto crash that resulted in the death of Steve Prefontaine, a true icon in the history of U.S. running!
I am recalling that Pre, in his short, 24 year life, rose to celebrity status, in an era that preceded our current level of intense interest in running. Pre was a winner! He won over Cross Country, on the Track and in life! I was privileged to have met Pre briefly and to have watched him run at several national Cross Country and Track and Field Championships. His passion for running, life and worthy social causes won the hearts of Track and Field and running fans around the world. He was a tireless advocate for running in the community of Eugene. The “Pre Trails” in and around Eugene, began as a vision of Pre, and became a model for communities in search of healthy running venues. Because of Pre’s relentless pressure, the completion of the trails ultimately became a remarkable collaboration by the city of Eugene, The University of Oregon and local Eugene and Springfield, Oregon Logging Mills. Steve also fought many intense battles with the former AAU, for the rights of athletes to exert greater control over their running careers. He was a major force in the movement toward openly professional running in the U.S. and around the world. Before Pre’s fight for athlete’s rights, runners were unable to openly receive financial compensation, as post collegiate runners and Track and Field athletes can today.
Pre’s legacy remains as one of the most influential personalities in the development of the culture of running as a way of life in the U.S. and around the world.
I am proud that 6 runners that I have been coaching will be running in The Eugene Full and Half Marathons on Sunday, May 1. I expect them to enjoy the culture of running in Eugene, including the Pre Trails and I hope that they can also experience a bit of the spirit of Pre that continues to thrive in Eugene and beyond.
coach bill Leach