Book Review: PRE The Story of America’s Greatest Running Legend, Steve Prefontaine

I cannot believe I have never read this book. If you’re a runner or a competitor, you will love it.

Tom Jordan tells the story of Pre’s life from his beginnings in Coos Bay, a mill town on the coast of Oregon through his brilliant, but short career. As a runner, I’ve always known who Pre was and obviously heard the stories about how great he was and how his life was tragically cut short in a car accident. I honestly didn’t know much more than that though and loved every page of this book.

Jordan details Pre’s career from high school through college at the University of Oregon to the Olympics, running overseas and his run-ins with the AAU. He talks about his training, his interaction with teammates and others, and his races. There are brief blurbs throughout from people whose lives Pre touched that give you a fuller picture of who Pre was. His work ethic, drive and intensity were unbelievable and unmatched. What really stood out for me was his connection to “his people” in Oregon.

A few of my favorite excerpts:

Bill Dellinger, University of Oregon assistant cross country and track coach at that time, remembers his first glimpse of Pre at that meet. ‘I was standing on a hill. I had my binoculars, and I was probably a good half-mile or 700 yards away from the start. And I saw this guy that had the start position, but it was the look in his eyes, from a half-mile distance, the intensity in his face as the gun went off. I thought That’s got to be Pre.'”

Training was not always all that much fun, as Pre himself admitted. ‘It really gets grim until the competition begins,’ he once said. ‘You have to wonder at times what you’re doing out there. Over the years, I’ve given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.'”

‘It seemed,’ said Rick Riley, ‘that those of us running in the meet were only minor performers and that any minute the Star would appear and the crowds would roar to life, athlete and spectator giving and taking whatever it I that each needs and wants. I stood there on the track near the finish but he did not appear. The magic was gone forever.'”

Seriously, read this book – you won’t regret it.


“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the Gift.” -PRE