Steve Prefontaine Quotes in “Without Limits”

The most comprehensive collection of Steve Prefontaine quotes from the movie “Without Limits.” The “Without Limits” movie is a Steve Prefontaine biography, and Pre’s quotes in this movie to tell his amazing story.

Jump to: Pre’s eulogy •  Bowerman’s speech •  Pure guts race •  Believing in something •  Winning & chicken-shit •  Pre at the Munich Olympics •  Pre quotes on pain •  Pre quotes on the art of running •  Set the pace

My favorite Pre quote not in the movie

To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the Gift.

Steve Prefontaine quotes from “Without Limits”

Pre on guts

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“I’d like to work it out so that in the end, it comes down to a pure guts race. If it is, I’m the only one who can win it.”
– Steve Prefontaine

“You can’t catch me. You’ll never catch me. You don’t have the guts.”

– Steve Prefontaine

Pre on believing in something

Steve Prefontaine: Are you Catholic?
Mary Marckx: Lots of people are.
Pre: Lots of people say they are, but I bet you really are.
Mary: I’m not sure I understand what you mean… am I being flattered or insulted.
Pre: No, no. I wasn’t insulting you. It’s the hardest thing in the world to believe in something. If you do, it’s a miracle.

Pre on believing in himself

Steve Prefontaine: There’s always someone trying to talk you out of what you believe in. Anybody. Everybody. Your own mother.
Mary Marckx: Why is that, do you think?
Pre: All I know, is that if you do believe in something, you tend to make people very, very nervous.
Mary: Do you believe in God?
Pre: I believe in myself.

Prefontaine quotes on pain

Mary Marckx: You don’t really believe you can do anything.
Steve Prefontaine: Absolutely.
Mary: Fly a plane?
Pre: Well, sure. If I wanted, you read the manual and get the best teaching and… take off.
Mary: Steve, not everything can be learned, ya know, I mean, some things take talent.
Pre: Whoa. Let me tell you something. Talent is a myth, Mary. There’s a dozen guys on the team with more talent in their little finger.
Mary: Then how come you can beat them?
Pre: A little secret I learned a long time ago, in Coos Bay, in the woods.
Mary: So what’s your little secret? The one you learned a long time ago.
Pre: I can endure more pain than anyone you’ve ever met. That’s why I can beat anyone I’ve ever met. You don’t believe me?
Mary: I do. Steve, what happens if you don’t win in Munich?
Pre: Hey. Hey. That’s just not possible.

Pre on greatness & coming in fourth

Mary Marckx: You were great in Munich.
Steve Prefontaine: Viren was great. I was fourth.
Mary: You can beat Viren.
Pre: Really? Who told you that?
Mary: You did, Steve.
Pre: Well, I guess you shouldn’t believe everything you hear.

Pre’s quest for Olympic gold

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Bill Bowerman: How’d you like ’em?
Steve Prefontaine: You know me, Bill. I’ve always been kind of an Adidas freak. But, uh, they’re not bad.
Bill: Not bad?
Pre: Yeah. You think you could make me a couple pair.
Bill: What the hell for?
Pre: Montreal.
Bill: Yeah. Yeah, I think I could probably manage a couple. I’ll never understand you, Pre.
Pre: Who the hell says you have to?

Prefontaine on winning & chicken-shit

Bill Bowerman: 13:12 for the 3-mile. You satisfied?
Steve Prefontaine: I’m satisfied I did the best I could on Saturday.
Bill: I think you could’ve gone 6 seconds better. The first quarter cost you.
Pre: How do you figure?
Bill: 4:18 was too quick for the first mile so you dropped to 4:27s for the last two. If you’d have gone out slower, say a 4:24, you could’ve repeated the 4:24 and then come home in 4:18. Made your last lap your fastest. That would’ve added up to 13:06 compared with the 13:12 you ran, your need to take the lead from the start cost you a good 6 seconds.
Pre: OK.
Bill: Pre, the Olympics are in two years – the blink of an eye. You’ll face the best middle distance runners in any games I can recall. Ian Stewart…
Pre: … Yeah, Kip Kano, Goumoodi…
Bill: They all have strong kicks. Any one of them been near you on Saturday they’d a had you dead to rights.
Pre: Well maybe on Saturday, Bill, but not two years from now.
Bill: Pre, can I ask you a question off the record?
Pre: Were we on the record, Bill?
Bill: Where does this compulsion come from?
Pre: What compulsion?
Bill: Front running.
Pre: Look, Bill. Running any other way is just plain chicken-shit.
Bill: Chicken-shit?
Pre: Chicken-shit. What else do you call laying back for 2 1/2 miles and then stealing a race in the last 200 yards.
Bill: Winning!
Pre: Well I don’t want to do that.
Bill: You don’t want to win?
Pre: I don’t want to win unless I know I’ve done my best and the only way I know to do that is to run out front, flat out, until I have nothing left. Winning any other way is chicken-shit.
Bill: What do you think a track coach does, Pre?
Pre: He teaches you how to run.
Bill: Run what? A factory? A bowling alley?
Pre: A race.
Bill: In order to?
Pre: Win it.
Bill: Yeah… yeah. That’s pretty much what I thought too. I don’t understand you, Pre.
Pre: Well, if it’s any help, Bill, I don’t understand you either.

Prefontaine quote on the art of running

Steve Prefontaine: What? You don’t think I can beat George Young?
Bill Bowerman: He has one hell of a finishing kick. Now you’re not going to run away from George Young, not by running out in front, flat out.
Pre: Ohhh, shit. We’re back to front running again?
Bill: Nothing would please George Young more, or the crowd, you’ll be giving the crowd the performance they want and him the one he expects.
Pre: Well, you can call a race any God Damn thing you want, but I wouldn’t call it a performance.
Bill: What would you call it?
Pre: A work of art.

Bill: If you can’t beat George Young, you can’t win at Munich. Beating George Young is going to take some kind of time.
Pre: OK. What kind of time? (Bill holds up the time) 13:23? 13:23? That’s 7 seconds faster than the American Record – my American record.
Bill: Your American record.
Pre: How do I do that?

Pre being stubborn

Bill Bowerman: 3 miles of pounding on a hard, asphalt track could tear your foot in two.
Steve Prefontaine: It won’t.
Bill: Rube, you’re in my care.
Pre: You don’t know what it’ll do to my foot if I do run. But you know what it’ll do to me if I don’t. You gotta let me try, Bill.

Pre on setting the pace

Steve Prefontaine: I hate those people back there sucking on me.
Bill Bowerman: Well then why do you let them?
Pre: Bill, when you set the pace, you control the race.

Pre being Pre

Steve Prefontaine: So, how about an easy 10?
Roscoe Divine: We left our running shoes in the car.
Pre: Well, OK. Do you want me to go get ’em for you?

Steve Prefontaine’s eulogy in “Without Limits”

Although this isn’t a Steve Prefontaine quote, it’s hard to find anything that more closely represents what Pre was all about. So for that reason, I’ve included it here.

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Frank Shorter:
“Pre did everything on a track, just about, everything on a track, that a runner can do. One thing that Pre cherished the most in the world, he never got. That was the world record at 3 miles. The last thing that Pre said to me, was that the next time he would run 3 miles, he would do it in 12 minutes and 36 seconds, beating the existing world record by 12 seconds.

We’re timing the eulogy. We’ll deliver it in 12 minutes, 36 seconds, and then we’ll stop the clock, and as far as we’re concerned, Pre will have his record.”

Bill Bowerman’s Speech:
“All of my life – man and boy – I’ve operated under the assumption that the main idea in running was to win the damn race. Actually, when I became a coach I tried to teach people how to do that. I tried to teach Pre how to do that. I tried like Hell to teach Pre to do that… and Pre taught me – taught me I was wrong.

Pre, you see, was troubled by knowing that a mediocre effort could win a race, and a magnificent effort can lose one. Winning a race wouldn’t necessarily demand that he give it everything he had from start to finish. He never ran any other way. I tried to get him to. God knows I tried.

But Pre was stubborn. He insisted on holding himself to a higher standard than victory.

A race is a work of art. That’s what he said. That’s what he believed. And he was out to make it one every step of the way.

Of course, he wanted to win. Those who saw him compete and those who competed against him were never in any doubt about how much he wanted to win. But how he won mattered to him more.

Pre thought I was a hard case. But he finally got it through my head that the real purpose of running isn’t to win a race. It’s to test the limits of the human heart. And that he did. Nobody did it more often. Nobody did it better.

[And we stopped the clock at 12 minutes and 36 seconds – a world record time – with which Steve Prefontaine would have been well satisfied.]”

5 thoughts on “Steve Prefontaine Quotes in “Without Limits””

  1. To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the Gift.

    That is one of my favorite quotes (though, every quote is almost my favorite). But, I think that it is so great because it can carry into so many other aspects of life as well. Not to mention, Pre is such a bad ass (swearing is allowed when talking about him). This was a great post…loved it!

  2. I appreciate this post, because Steve Prefontaine was the best man that I can think of. Sure, he has flaws, cussing(who doesn’t?), along with others. But who gives a damn? He gave his all at everyting and that’s what counts. Having the guts…

  3. Every person in this world is different. God made us that way. Sadly, so many people “live afraid”, unwilling to accept the “it” that makes them “special” is, actually a responsibility that must accept, and have to “courage” to be, with all the “good” and all the “flaws” that come from living an “authentic life”.

    “Pre” was’nt afraid to live life as “himself”. His attitude of “I am who I am; deal with it” , resonates with people, not just because of his running prowess, but, because so many of “us”, are really afraid to be our “true selves”. I’d rather people “hate me”, for being “me”, then, “like me” for being someone I am not. I think that is the lesson of “Pre’s” life.

  4. I think this is a true inspiration to all runners because it’s hard to understand why we run and be you and not let any one stop you from doing you. I understand pre because I’ve had similar events in my life, I’m back to running after ten years and I’m still in game. I look for words and answers but there is none it’s all up to the person inside, you may pray to the lord for strength and train to run but theirs this little feeling that comes over a person that makes them do special things. I say nobody can run for someone else it’s all up to the person in that race and if they believe it’s all positive from there.

  5. Steve Prefontaine is the inspiration of my life. He is literally like a part of me, and my personality now. I couldn’t think of anybody else in the world who ran a race better, or had more guts than Pre himself. Sure, he is not the fastest runner. There is Lasse Viren, and plenty more who have set records, but there was something different about Pre. He had more guts than anybody else to walk this globe, and he was able to break his mental barrier every single race he ran, every time he created a work of art. Steve Prefontaine was more than a runner. He was a rebel. He was told he was too small, too short, to give up his foolish dream. But the main thing about him, was that he didn’t cop crap from anyone. If he wanted something, he would get it. And he would work harder than anybody else to achieve it. He would emotionally and physically break himself when he ran. Not just to win, but to achieve. To get from A to B the way he wanted to. He never believed in finishing in front of other people, he believed in finishing in front of himself. In front of every fear, every voice telling him he wasn’t good enough, he couldn’t win. And that’s exactly what he did. He ran, and he finished his work of art the way he intended to finish it, and not stopping when it hurt, but pushing himself harder.

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