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.]”