Not Homeless… Just Saying Hi – Follow Up

UPDATE: 2/26/2016: I’ve kept the original article in tact below, in its entirety, so everyone who reads this can learn from it. I have since drastically changed my thoughts on privilege, and openly & adamantly declare that I am incredibly privileged.

I highly encourage everyone to read the comments by two of my good friends, NB & Janice. Both are exceptional human beings, and I can’t thank them enough for their friendship, as well as the huge knowledge & experience bombs they dropped on me. I agree with both of their comments 100%, and you should absolutely read through them in their entirety.

I also thank John, the guy on Twitter who started this whole thing by calling me out for my ignorance. I write on this blog for a few reasons:

  1. For me, to reflect back on previous life experience
  2. To help others who might have similar thoughts, or just enjoy my perspective
  3. For everyone, to learn something new, or perhaps even change their behavior for the better.

My blog is called “An Alternate Route” because I do a lot of things out of the ordinary. Some are well thought-out; others, like this one, aren’t. But it’s that unique journey by which I learn and grow. And I thank you all for being a part of that journey.


Now that 2 days have past, I’ve had time to let it sink in, and hear some reactions from friends & strangers alike, I’d like to share this with you.

Interesting Twitter Response

John (on Twitter) writes:

john-sico-twitter-homeless-experiment

I think John follows Hilary. I don’t follow him, nor do I know who he is. Nonetheless, he had something interesting to say about my experience. I’d like to add my thoughts (in more than 140 characters).

Fun?

The goal of this was never to have fun. That wasn’t my intention, nor do I think it was Hilary’s intention when she first stood on the corner. We weren’t looking for fun, nor did either of us anticipate it would be a whole lot of fun. And now that it’s over, I still can’t say I had much “fun.”

So what was the goal? I’ll be honest, I didn’t think too much about it before I did it. I knew it would be uncomfortable, and most things that challenge us out of our comfort zone, end up building character. Aside from stepping outside of my comfort zone, I just wanted to raise my sense of awareness, and take in what happened around me.

I’d also like to mention that I specifically left off the words “Not Homeless” from my sign. Some really good friends of mine thought that might be offensive, and had the potential to really hurt someone’s feelings. Extremely valid point, and thus, I decided to leave it off my sign.

I recognized what I was doing was questionable. But if we all shied away from doing questionable things, our world would remain stagnant, and life would have no purpose.

Now that it’s over, my goal (or, really, my hope) is that it:

  • made people smile
  • will make people think differently about those standing on the corner, regardless of what they look like, why they’re there, or what they may or may not be asking for
  • gives people hope that there is tons of goodness in this world, regardless of what the media throws at us day after day
  • inspires others to step outside their comfort zone & put themselves in an uncomfortable situation, on the corner or otherwise

Privileged?

I looked up the definition. Variations include:

  • belonging to a class that enjoys special privileges; favored
  • having special rights, advantages or immunities
  • not subject to the usual rules or penalties because of some special circumstance
  • having the rare opportunity to do something that brings particular pleasure (as in, “I felt privileged to be able to _____.”)

I’m not sure what John meant when he called me a “privileged white dude”—especially since we know nothing about each other, have never met, etc.—but by definition, I would certainly not consider myself to be privileged.

I was raised by two loving parents, who taught me many important life lessons, supplied food & shelter, and paid for countless extra-curricular activities growing up, not to mention helping big time with college. And I realize that, to no fault of their own, many people don’t have access to these things growing up. So, perhaps in that sense, I am privileged.

However, those same parents also taught me to work hard for things. That I had to do work in order to earn allowance. I had to eat my vegetables before I could eat ice cream. Likewise, my coaches made me earn a spot on the team, with hustle & countless hours of practice. My employers put me through stringent interview processes with many other candidates before awarding me the job.

I’m not immune from anything. I play by the same rules, and face the same consequences, as every other citizen of this country. And I challenge anyone to bring to my attention a special right or advantage that I’ve been granted because of some special circumstance that I didn’t have to work for.

In terms of the last definition, “having the rare opportunity to do something that brings particular pleasure”… there is nothing rare about the opportunity to stand out on a corner, with a cardboard sign, smile & wave. Every person who has at least one arm could do exactly what I did (heck, even if you have no arms, get someone else to write it & lean it up against your chest from your wheelchair).

That’s the beauty of this challenge. The barriers to entry are about as low as they get.

White Dude?

I found it interesting that John used the words “white dude” to describe me. He may have meant nothing by it, but I interpreted it as an assumption that a majority of homeless people are some race other than white.

While there are sources out there that show african americans are more likely to end up homeless than whites, I found the historical stats & somewhat current stats to be interesting:

  • In the 1950s & 1960s, the typical person experiencing homelessness was white, male, and in his 50s
  • As of 2000… 44% single men, 13% single women, 36% families with children, 7% unaccompanied minors
  • As of 2000… 50% African-American, 35% white, 12% Hispanic, 2% Native American, 1% Asian
  • As of 2006, families with children comprise 41% of the homeless population
  • According to a 1996 survey…
    • 44% did paid work during the past month
    • 66% have problems with alcohol, drugs or mental illness
    • 38% say someone stole money or things directly from them
    • 30% have been homeless for more than 2 years

It appears, at least from the stats I could find, that a majority of homeless people in this country are non-white. However, 35% is still a decent chunk. And it does vary greatly based on geography (big city vs. urban vs. rural).

The two things that stand out most to me are: the number of homeless families with children and the percentage whom have had things stolen from them. And to think, the homeless guy who walked past me the other day actually tried to give me money.

Take what you want from these stats, but please think twice before assuming why, what or who is standing on the corner with a sign.

They might not be who you think, and it’s possible they’ve dealt with more than you can possibly imagine.

Thanks, John Sico, for the continued discussion. And Hilary, for having my back 🙂

Not Homeless… Just Saying Hi

Well… that was extremely uncomfortable, and fantastic, all at the same time. What an interesting experiment & rewarding experience.

First off, big thanks to my friend, Hilary Corna, for the idea/dare. I would have never thought to do this otherwise.

Not Homeless Experiment - Before Heading Out
Just before heading out. I ditched the jacket when I got to the street corner.

Here’s the recap of me standing on the corner for one hour, holding a cardboard sign that read,

“Just Saying Hi. Create a great day!”

By The Numbers

Not Homeless Experiment
A quick overview of my experience, by the numbers. For more in-depth commentary, read on past the list.

  • 60 – minutes spent standing on the corner
  • 10 – sips of water before I got the courage to hold up the sign
  • 5 – huge, deep breaths before I got the courage to hold up the sign
  • 1 – minutes before the first person waved or smiled
  • 2 – people who took a picture of me from their cars (that I’m aware of)
  • ~20 – car horns that sounded
  • 19 – car horns that sounded because of the sign. One lady was too focused reading the sign, she didn’t see the light change. And someone got impatient.
  • 1 – LOL, as in, laugh out loud. Yup. I heard her across 3 lanes of traffic.
  • 1 – person who dropped their phone (mid-conversation) to wave & smile
  • 2 – people who offered me money (1 of whom was [probably?] homeless, himself. See “Spare Change” below)
  • 2 – homeless people encountered & interacted with
  • 1 – times rejected when asking someone to take a picture of me (see “The Rejection” below)

Homeless Man Interaction 1 – Spare Change

Less than 10 minutes into standing on the corner holding my sign, a young man wearing a trash bag walked by (it was raining fairly hard for 1/2 my time out there). I said hello. He said hello back, as he passed. After getting 2 steps passed me, he stopped, and reached into his pocket. It took him a while before he pulled his hand out. Neither one of us said a word. When his hand emerged, he had about 50¢ in change. He was about to hand it to me, and then he saw what the sign said.

“Oh… you’re not doing this for money?,” he said, with a look of utter confusion. “No. Just for smiles,” I replied. His confusion quickly turned into joy, as he said to me,

“That’s probably the most optimistic thing I’ve ever seen.”

We exchanged ‘Have a nice day’s, and both marched on.

Homeless Man Interaction 2 – Working The Corner

About 10 minutes later, another man walked by. He was also surprised when I told him I wasn’t doing it for money. He had a cardboard sign of his own, and was actually planning to sit at the same corner & ask for money.

He said, “You’re not asking for money? You’re just doing it to make people’s day?” After replying yes, he asked if I would mind if he set up right around the corner, adding, “I’m trying to make a few bucks so I can eat.”

I told him I didn’t mind at all. Before he completely walked away, I was wondering if me standing there would help, hurt or have no impact on his efforts to make a buck. I said this to him, and he said he didn’t think it mattered, and that he’d be around the corner, where the cars couldn’t really see my sign.

I heightened my senses a little bit with him standing right around the corner. I had placed my jacket over a railing right by the intersection, and shortly moved it closer to me, up the road a bit, so I could keep an eye on it. I got a much different vibe from this guy than I did the previous man I spoke with.

Over the next 30 minutes, there were 2 times where he left his post, and slowly walked by me, as if he was leaving. Both times he slowed right as he passed my jacket. He was between me & the jacket, and each time this occurred, I looked back at him until he passed.

The first time he didn’t say anything walking by, but got only 5 steps passed me before turning around & returning to his post, saying, “I guess I’ll keep trying…”

After another 10 minutes went by, he did the same thing, passing me slowly, between my jacket & me. After getting 5 steps passed, he turned and said, “Do you know if it’s supposed to rain like this all night?” (Where’s Andrew Friedman when you need him?) Wishing I could be more helpful, I honestly told him that I just didn’t know. He then walked back by me, slowly, as if he was wondering or lost, and returned to his post yet again.

I tried my absolute best to judge this guy not based on the fact that he was homeless (or at least I’m assuming that’s why he was asking for money), but in the same manner I would draw assumptions about anyone, anywhere, in any situation—first, with keen observation, and then my gut feeling based on those observations. And I am confident that’s what I did.

The Kids

There were 2 times where parents were driving with kids in the car (under 10-yrs-old), and the kids rolled down their windows to wave & say hello. The parents also had big smiles on their faces, but they were no match for the kids’ elation.

Something about the kids’ enjoyment of it moved me more than any of the adults who showed their appreciation. I wonder how I would’ve acted as a kid if I saw that. Should we tip our hat to the parents of those kids, for raising happy, open-minded, outgoing kids? Or do we chalk it up to kids just being kids?

I do think there’s a certain ignorance that cannot be overlooked. Those kids have probably experienced very few, if any, homeless people on the street holding cardboard signs. They don’t jump to the same conclusions that many adults do, and that some people in their cars assumed about me… that I was standing on the corner, holding a cardboard sign, for one reason, and one reason only: to ask for money.

As adults, we’ve had more time to experience life. For some of us, this experience has opened our minds to incredible things, amazing people & some of the most beautiful acts of kindness the world has ever seen. For others, unfortunately, this life experience has infected minds with fear & pessimism.

It’s the same life we’re living. The only difference is how we choose to let it affect us.

The Ups & Downs

While the entire hour was very uncomfortable, I was caught off guard by how quickly & consistently my confidence rose & fell. I would get 3 honks & a bunch of smiles in a row, and the next traffic light cycle, 4 cars stopped, easily in view of the sign, didn’t even look over at me, even after a big smile and a wave.

There were definitely more smiles, waves & honks than there were negatives. There were some people who saw the sign & showed no reaction. Others neglected to make any eye contact. But I’d venture to say, of all the people who made some kind of effort to notice me, easily more than 50% smiled/waved/honked. Probably close to 75%/25%.

The Rejection

I’ve been shot down before (by colleges, my parents, prospective employers, conference organizers, girls, you name it). But never like this.

Nearing the end of my hour on the corner, a man was walking by with a small bag of something he had just bought, and an umbrella over his head. I (made the mistake? of) didn’t clearly show him my sign before I asked him a favor.

“Excuse me, sir. Would you mind doing me a favor? Could you take a picture of me?”

His response was similar to that of millions of people around the world every day when they encounter a person on a street corner holding a cardboard sign. He barely glanced up at me, looked down to the ground & silently shook his head no.

Realizing there were very few people walking past me, I didn’t think I’d have many opportunities to get someone to take a picture of me. After the gentleman passed, and I realized he thought I was looking for something in return, I called out, “No, no… I’m just doing something nice. I’m not asking for money.”

He did acknowledge me again, very briefly stopped, and said [something like this, it was tough to hear him], “Yeah. Is that all?” But he turned right back around & kept walking. I tried to hold my sign in his direction so he could read it, but I don’t think he gave it enough time. Or he didn’t believe me. Or he just felt uncomfortable (if it’s that last one, dude should spend an hour in my shoes & then we’ll ask him about uncomfortable).

Sociologically Speaking

Did I wave at certain types of cars over others? Did I smile more at men, women, caucasians, african americans, BMWs, pickup trucks, etc.?

Who waved back? Were the young women just waving because they thought I was cute? (Sorry. Quick tangent for a little ego boost. Hey, after spending an hour on the corner, I can understand why someone might need a pick-me-up.)

As best I could keep track in my head, here’s how I would break it down.

  • An equal number of men & women showed a positive response
  • An equal number of white & black people showed a positive response (in total, there were probably more white people, but that’s only because of the demographic of the area I was in. There were a larger percentage of white people who drove by.)
    • Of the two homeless men whom I spoke with, the one who offered me change was black, and the one whom I had a bad feeling about was white
  • Type of vehicle didn’t seem to matter. I got positive responses from old cars, new cars, luxury cars, SUVs, pickup trucks, and even the UPS guy.
  • One of the few breakdowns where I noticed a lopsided response was age. While I got positive & negative reactions from both younger & older people alike, it seemed as though more younger people showed a positive response. And even those whom didn’t show a positive response, many more younger people put an effort in to read the sign (turning their head, looking over their shoulder), regardless of their reaction.

The Hardest Part

…might actually have been holding a smile non-stop for one hour.

The Gas Station & Walk Back To My Car

Before I started walking back to my car (about 2 blocks), I thought about giving my sign to the homeless guy who was still on the adjacent corner. He had a really small cardboard sign (not sure what it said). I don’t know if mine would’ve helped, or how he would’ve used it, but it would’ve been a nice gesture. The only reason I didn’t was because I still wanted a picture of myself holding the sign. I wish I trusted the homeless man enough to ask him—and believe me, I definitely thought about it—but my gut told me not to.

I stopped at the gas station on the next block/corner, and before I could even ask someone, a woman looked up from the pump, smiled, and said hello. She saw me on the corner with the sign a few minutes prior, and asked why I was doing it. I briefly explained, and then asked if she’d take a picture. She kindly agreed.

After the photo opp, one more gentleman approached. He was just making light conversation, also curious as to why I was doing it. We talked for a minute, shook hands, and went on with our evenings.

What Did I Miss?

Looking back, there are a few things I wish I had done.

  • Walked back to offer the homeless guy my sign. It was a tiny bit out of my way to walk back to the corner, but it could’ve made a huge difference.
  • Asked the 2 homeless guys there names
  • Walked a little farther up the street, away from the intersection, closer to where the cars were stopped. I was afraid they’d think I was asking for money (dumb excuse, I know), and just really shy/nervous to interact with people.

Next Time

…and there just might be a next time. I’d be interesting to switch things up a bit & perhaps try again. If I did it again, I’d probably either:

a) Bring a boombox, a friend (preferably Ellen DeGeneres) and a sign that says “Dance Off!”, and, well… dance.

b) Offer to give people something. Perhaps, a smiley face sticker, or a hand-written card.

So… would you give this a try? How might you approach it differently?

And yes, I’d 100% recommend you try it. Please be safe, do it on a well-traveled corner, in daylight, and let others know where you’ll be & when you’re returning. Use your best judgement if & when talking to strangers (yup, the same thing mommy taught you when you were 5 still applies).

Bill Bowerman Quotes in “Without Limits”

The most comprehensive collection of Bill Bowerman quotes from the movie “Without Limits.” Includes Bowerman’s speech at Pre’s funeral.

Bowerman was the track coach at the University of Oregon for 24 seasons, during which he coached running legend Steve Prefontaine. Bowerman quotes on running, war and the Olympics, relationships, resistance to change, limits and many more.

The most comprehensive collection of Bill Bowerman quotes from the movie “Without Limits.” Also includes Bill Bowerman’s speech in the movie (at Steve Prefontaine’s funeral). Bowerman was the track coach at the University of Oregon for 24 seasons, during which he coached running legend Steve Prefontaine.

Jump to:  Bowerman’s speech/eulogy  •  Citius. Altius. Fortius.  •  The meaning of running  •  War & Olympics speech  •  Bill & Barbara  •  Meeting at 7:27  •  Resistance to change  •  Asking permission  •  Human body’s limits

You might also enjoy my collection of Steve Prefontaine quotes from “Without Limits.”

Citius. Altius. Fortius. (Faster. Higher. Stronger.)

“Citius. Altius. Fortius. It means Faster. Higher. Stronger. It’s been the motto for the Olympics for the last 2500 years. But it doesn’t mean faster, higher and stronger than who you are competing against. Just Faster. Higher. Stronger.

One runner brought this home to me. From the beginning, I tried to change him. And from the beginning, he tried not to change. That was our relationship, and even that never changed. He couldn’t stand a crowd. Always wanted to race out front, from the start, like he was trying to get away from something. Just where and when this compulsion came from, no one can say for sure so like Plato and his tale of the world’s creation, I will not say absolutely. This is the truth. But I will say, it is a likely story.”
– Bill Bowerman

Bill Bowerman’s war & Olympics speech

“This killing of Israel athletes is an act of war. And if there’s one place that war doesn’t belong, it’s here. 1200 years. From 776 B.C. to 393 A.D., your fellow Olympians laid down their arms to take part in these games. They understood there was more honor in out running a man than in killing him. I hope the competition will resume, and if it does, you must not think that running… or throwing… or jumping… is frivelous. The games were once your fellow Olympians answer to war – competition, not conquest. Now, they must be your answer.
– Bill Bowerman

Bowerman’s speech on the meaning of running

“Men of Oregon, I invite you to become students of your events. Running, one might say, is basically an absurd past-time upon which to be exhausting ourselves. But if you can find meaning, in the kind of running you have to do to stay on this team, chances are you will be able to find meaning in another absurd past-time: life.”
– Bill Bowerman

Bowerman calls a meeting at 7:27

“7:27 provokes the question, ‘Why 7:27?’ and everybody gets here at 7:27 to find out why.”
– Bill Bowerman

Bowerman on relationships

Steve Prefontaine: I’d like to ask you something.
Bill Bowerman: OK.
Pre: It’s personal.
Bill: Sit down.
Pre: How do you and Barbara–uh–how do you and Barbara–I mean, uh, you uh, you pretty much believe in the same things?
Bill: Pre, I have no idea. The woman’s a complete mystery to me.
Pre: Well, how do you get along so well?
Bill: I don’t have to know what she believes in. I believe in her.

Bill Bowerman’s speech at Prefontaine’s funeral

You can read the full eulogy here (includes Frank Shorter). Below is 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.]”

Bowerman on asking permission

“It’s easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission.”
– Bill Bowerman

Bill Bowerman on resistance to change

Bill Bowerman: Pretentious little rube, isn’t he?
Steve Prefontaine: Ya fuck. I can’t believe you would sit back there, not say anything, and then be that dismissive about this.
Bill: I’ve been battling those freeloaders all your life and then so, Pre, and guess what? You and the AAU have a lot in common.
Pre: Bullshit. In what way?
Bill: Resistance to change. They don’t want to stop shitting on you any more than you want to change the way you run, because it hurts to change, doesn’t it, Pre?
Pre: I wouldn’t know.
Bill: Doesn’t it hurt to change?

Bowerman on the human body’s limits

Bill Bowerman: You know the greatest race I ever saw you run? Munich. I was never prouder of anything than the effort you made that day. You couldn’t have done more than you did.
Steve Prefontaine: Bil–
Bill: Rube. You won the trials in 13:22, five seconds faster than Viren at Munich. That would’ve beaten him by 30 yards. It’s hard to believe you never even thought about it.
Pre: OK. So, um, if I had gone out faster, I wouldn’t have gotten boxed. Then I might have–
Bill: Then blame me.
Pre: Do you blame yourself?
Bill: That’s a constant, Pre. At your level of competition anyone can win on any given day, and not necessarily the best man. Losing a race isn’t your problem, Pre. Front running isn’t your problem.
Pre: OK. So what’s my problem, Bill.
Bill: Vanity.
Pre: Vanity?
Bill: Your insistance that you have no talent is the ultimate vanity. If you have no talent, you have no limits. It’s all an act of will, right Pre?
Pre: I couldn’t do what I thought I could. Can we just leave it at that?
Bill: I got news for you. All the will and hard work in the world isn’t going to get one person in a million to run a 3:54 mile. That takes talent. And talent in a runner is tied to very specific physical attributes. Your heart can probably pump more blood than anyone else’s on this planet, and that’s the fuel for your talent. Your bones in your feet – it’d take a sledgehammer to hurt them. And that’s the foundation of your talent. So your talent, Pre, is not some disembodied act of will, it’s literally in your bones, so it’s got its limits. Be thankful for your limits, Pre, they’re about as limitless as they get in this life. Goodnight.
Pre: Just a minute… Bill, just a fucking minute. Do you… Do you really believe you know everything there is to know about me? Does it ever occur to you that I might know something about myself that you don’t? You vain, inflexible, son-of-a-bitch. You don’t know me any better than you know yourself. And you’re never going to change you, Bill.

Bowerman on competing against one’s self

“Now to explore the limits of the one competitor above everyone else you’ve always loved to face: Steve Prefontaine.”
– Bill Bowerman

Steve Prefontaine Quotes in “Without Limits”

The most comprehensive collection of Steve Prefontaine quotes from the movie “Without Limits.”

Pre on running, winning, coming in fourth, believing in something, enduring pain, talent vs. guts, chicken-shit and many more. Right after you check out the quotes, go rent the movie. It’s worth every second.

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

“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

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.

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.]”

Dean Karnazes’ quotes from Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an all-night runner

A collection of my favorite Dean Karnazes’ quotes from Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an all-night runner.

Topics include: school vs. running, his high school track coach, fortune cookies, blowing off the President, corporate life, being a champion, pain & suffering, the impossible and more.

This is a collection of my favorite Dean Karnazes’ quotes from his book, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an all-night runner.

Many of the Dean Karnazes’ quotes from this book inspired me to run my first ultramarathon. I’ll highlight my favorite quotes and briefly discuss what they mean to me.

Buy the book on Amazon »

Dean Karnazes’ quotes from Ultramarathon Man

The difference between school & running – and why Dean chose running.

School was about sitting still and trying to behave as someone explained what the world was like. Running was about going out and experiencing it firsthand.

School brainwashes you to think certain thoughts, act a certain way, and conform to societal norms. School allows for no freedom, no creativity. Running sets me free.

Dean Karnazes quote on running as inspiration

For a kid my age to do what I had just done was almost unthinkable, and I could feel the power in it, the ability to inspire.

This is in reference to a 40+ mile bike ride – without directions – that Dean rode to his grandparents’ house on his twelfth birthday. Although I’ve never done anything that extreme, I do understand the ability to inspire.

Dean’s track coach on how it feels to run hard

If it felt good, you didn’t push hard enough. It’s supposed to hurt like hell.

We all get motivation from somewhere. Dean got some from his track coach.

A fortune cookie once told me…

He who suffers remembers.

I couldn’t agree more. I’m a firm believer in learning from mistakes, and learning the hard way. Whenever I take the easy path, do things the simple way, and make it through unscathed, it just doesn’t have meaning. When I suffer – when it’s difficult – that’s when I get something from the experience.

Blowing off the President of the United States

When ex-president Nixon would pass Dean & friends on the beach, and ask about the water, Dean would respond, “Good, Mr. President,” and leave it at that. Dean thought:

No need to shoot the breeze with Nixon when the surfing was so great.

When you’d rather do something you love than talk to the President, you have big things of your own to accomplish. This is a great indicator of success.

Karnazes quote on human body vs. human spirit

When Dean Karnazes told his coach his legs felt weird, his coach replied, “Don’t run with your legs. Run with your heart.”

The human body has limitations; the human spirit is boundless.

Most ultrarunners understand this well. For me, running ultramarathons is not just physical & mental, but spiritual as well.

Dean Karnazes on his early corporate lifestyle

I was moving fast, that was for sure, but was I moving forward? I needed a sense of purpose and clarity—and, perhaps, adventure.

I was moving fast at my job for 2.5 years. But when I finally stopped moving forward, I quit. Everyone needs purpose & clarity. Ultrarunners also need adventure.

Karnazes on life’s lessons

As I limped around my office, trying to appear natural, I reminded myself that pain and suffering are often catalysts for life’s most profound lessons.

Dean on being a champion

…that the Western States Endurance Run would be primarily about one thing: not giving up. It really didn’t matter how long it took to get the job done; what mattered was getting it done. This was an exploration into the possibilities of self. Being a champion meant not quitting, no matter how tough the situation became, and no matter how badly the odds seemed stacked against you. If you had the courage, stamina, and persistence to cross the finish line, you were a champion.

Many ultrarunners, myself included, run against the course. Time isn’t important. It’s the journey to the finish that matters.

Dean Karnazes on the simplicity of running

I’d also come to recognize that the simplicity of running was quite liberating…“Things” don’t bring happiness…A runner doesn’t need much…Perhaps in needing less, you’re actually getting more.

This is why I still struggle to get on the bike. The simplicity of running is one of it’s greatest attractions.

Karnazes quote on lifes’ goals being so clearly defined

…at least I knew what was expected of me. There would be a starting line, and 100 miles from that a finish line…the rules of engagement were clear…no hidden meanings or mixed messages. Just run, and don’t stop. If I made it 100 miles, I’d succeed. If I didn’t, I’d fail.

Again with the simplicity. Time isn’t important. Just go out and get a job done.

Dean Karnazes on the moment he became a changed man

It struck me in the space of a few steps that my past as I knew it had suddenly ceased to exist. Nothing would ever be the same to me from this point on. I’d been profoundly transformed by this journey, in ways I had yet to understand…I was more capable than I imagined, better than I ever thought I could be.

Dean Karnazes & his hunger for adventure

If it required strength, stamina, and a lack of better judgment, I was game.

Karnazes on the impossible

When asked what kept him going during the South Pole Marathon, Dean replied:

Easy. It is what I lived for. The adventure. The challenge of pushing the human body beyond reality. Not only had a marathon to the South Pole never been run before, but plenty of people doubted it could be done, said it would be impossible. I was out to prove that it could be done, regardless of how irrational, how improbable, how dangerous the effort was.

Dean truly believes that nothing is impossible. You can’t not respect that.

Dean on pain & suffering

People think I’m crazy to put myself through such torture, though I would argue otherwise. Somewhere along the line we seem to have confused comfort with happiness. I’ve now come to believe that quite the opposite is the case. Never are my senses more engaged than when the pain sets in. There is magic in misery. Just ask any runner.

Well, he’s asking you. What do you think?

Dean Karnazes on the pursuit of a passion

Running has taught me that the pursuit of a passion matters more than the passion itself. Immerse yourself in something deeply and with heartfelt intensity – continually improve, never give up – this is fulfillment, this is success.

I’m not sure I understand the pursuit mattering more than the passion itself, but there is no better way to find fulfillment than immersing yourself in something deeply. Any passionate runner person can testify.

Why Dean Karnazes runs

I’m not giving it all away. You should buy the book for a more complete answer, but he does say this:

I run because long after my footprints fade away, maybe I will have inspired a few to reject the easy path…and come to the same conclusion I did: I run because it always takes me where I want to go.

If I missed any of your favorite Ultramarathon Man quotes, I’d love to hear them. You can post them in the comments.

Visit Dean’s official site or check him out on Wikipedia.