To run the trails where the swift feet of American’s most celebrated and legendary distance runner, Steve Prefontaine, once ran has always been a lifelong dream of mine. Every devoted runner who has knowledge of the phenomenal career and story of “Pre” secretly senses in their spirit that inquisitive desire that yearns to someday experience the mystique of Pre’s trails. Regardless of one’s age or running ability, to run the trails he once trod is the Mecca pilgrimage for the zealous runner.
The winding mulched trails lie near the Willamette River in Eugene, Oregon, not far from the campus of the University of Oregon. Before Prefontaine met with an untimely death on May 30, 1975 at age twenty-four, every Saturday his graceful stride would travel over the many connecting trails that rest amidst a magnificent cathedral of trees and beautiful forestry.
During my recent visit to Eugene my dream of running in the invisible footsteps of Pre became a reality. It was May 29, forty years to the day Pre ran his last race at the historic Hayward Field, which is located only a couple of miles away from his beloved trails. I had visited the trails on Thursday, May 28, and vowed to be back early the next morning. My excited anticipation of running on Pre’s Trails made for a sleepless night. I was up at 5 a.m.
After donning my running attire and eagerly lacing-up my running shoes, I ventured out of my motel room into the early morn. The sky was cloudless and the air crisp. The trail was only a short walk from where I was staying. The coolness of the morning helped chase the sleepiness from my eyes.
As I began walking across the bridge that spanned the Willamette River, I was in awe as my eyes beheld a view no artist could adequately paint. The symphonic sound of the rushing water over the rocks below filled the silence of the early morning. As the sun made its first appearance on the new day, the last traces of darkness fled away. The rays of the glowing sun painted the horizon in a breathtaking reddish-orange. The mountains in the background rose to the heavens with majestic beauty. I was overwhelmed at the sight I was privileged to behold.
After crossing the bridge, as I neared the beginning of the winding trails, I was greeted by a rabbit that was peaceably nibbling in the grass. The trees were filled with cheerfully chirping birds singing praise to their Creator. As I gingerly took the first steps of my 55 minute run, I heard overhead a flock of geese happily honking. As I passed a creek the fog was mystically rising from it like smoke from a smoldering fire. Looking with more than physical eyes, it was easy to see all creation around me throbbed with the presence of God. In classical Greek sights of beauty that brought joy and delight to the beholder was said to be a “grace.” As I ambled along I was fully aware the sights and sounds I was experiencing was a “grace” from the Divine Artist. It was easy to see why Prefontaine loved running these trails.
As I hypnotically ran along it was hard for me to believe I was actually running the trails once run by the legendary Prefontaine. As my run progressed my steps became quicker and my breathing more rhythmic and in my mind I could hear the echoing footsteps of the countless runners whose feet have traveled over the trails through the years. It was as if the God who created the surrounding wondrous sights of nature and the consciousness of very runner were inter-connected in a commonality that transcends time, age or ability.
The beauty and the intrinsic mystique contained in Pre’s Trails that has drawn untold numbers of runners over the years to experience its magic, is a testimony to his life of dedication, commitment, perseverance and aberrance to excellence. Those are the qualities we should all strive for in every area of our lives. As Prefontaine once said, “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”
The living of life is about leaving behind a legacy of inspiration, purpose and perseverance that live on long after we have departed this earth. The spirit of Pre lives on in the trails he once faithfully ran. Whatever trail in life we find ourselves on, let us live in such a way that the influence of our lives continues to impact others long after we have run our last earthly race. Let us strive in all our endeavors, regardless of our ages and abilities, with the Good Lord’s help, to always give nothing less than our best. To do otherwise is to sacrifice the gift.