COOS BAY — Steve Prefontaine’s reach is as long as ever. It reaches across both oceans to inspire runners from far away locales like England and Australia, as well as all across the United States who journey to Coos Bay for the annual run honoring Pre's legacy.
This year, it found Rob Pope in Liverpool, England, and Troy Beattie in Casula, New South Wales, Australia. Both ran the famous route of the Prefontaine Memorial Run in its 38th edition Saturday and were among the top performers. Pope, who is tracing Forrest Gump’s trail in a run across America three times, finished first and Beattie was third in the 20-24 male division. Sierra Brown, who raced scholastically at Hidden Valley and collegiately at Northwest Christian, won the women’s race and was seventh overall.
“Unbelievable, man,” the 38-year-old Pope said after winning the 10-kilometer race in 33 minutes and 53 seconds. “Especially because I haven’t run that fast for years.”
Pope, whose face was covered in a thick beard reminiscent of Tom Hanks in the award-winning film, hoped to run the 10k while he travels across the country and was thrilled when his schedule gave him time to do so.
Not sure of how he would do, Pope had low expectations for himself entering the race. He was outside the top three at the midway point, but felt good and found inspiration as he moved toward Marshfield's Pete Susick Stadium and the finish on Prefontaine Track.
“I was sort of making my way up and was in a solid third and thought, ‘If I get third I’m happy with this,’” Pope said. “I even thought of fourth. But I managed to catch the lead guy and felt better and better and remembered Pre’s quote, ‘To give anything less than your best (is to sacrifice the gift)’ and I thought at this pace, I could go quicker, I could go quicker.
“I was enjoying it, but I was dying inside.”
Pope still had another 26 miles to run Saturday after logging 27 miles to Bandon on Friday, so he wasn’t planning on winning.
“My original thoughts were, ‘Just get around, enjoy it,” he said. “But then I thought, ‘You’ll be sitting at a pub in 20 years and someone says, ‘Well, how did you do in the Pre race?’ And I say, ‘Well, I just jogged it.’ Well that’s ridiculous. Just figured to do my best.”
The Prefontaine Memorial Run was dubbed this year as the Oregon State 10-kilometer Championship for the Road Runners Club of America, so Pope walks — er, runs — away as the state champ in addition to the win on Pre’s home track, an achievement Pope is understandably very proud of.
“This is massive,” he said. “This is one of my most proudest achievements ever. I’m looking forward to getting the medal. It’s going on the mantel piece for sure.”
Former North Bend standout and current Southwestern Oregon Community College freshman Michael Brown was second in 34:18 while former Marshfield standout and current Western Oregon University runner Sawyer Heckard was third in 34:30 after leading at the midway point.
Beattie’s favorite runner is Prefontaine, and one of his numerous tattoos is of the Coos Bay native on his left triceps.
“I think more than anything it’s the fact that he died at such a young age, but we’re sitting here 40 years later and people still remember his name and what he did,” Beattie said. “He’s so well-respected. He died at 24. I’m 24. There’s a real linkage to how young he was when he died and what he is now.”
Like many, Beattie came to run the race in his favorite runner’s hometown, to see the stadium that’s been memorialized in movies.
It’s no trivial feat, coming from Australia to Oregon, but Beattie and his wife made the trip. They spent a week here, getting to Portland and Seattle before the run. Not only did Beattie enjoy the run and was happy with his effort, but he’s been pleased with the reception he received while on the journey. His highlight was meeting Linda Prefontaine, Steve’s sister.
“It’s a beautiful little town,” Beattie said. “Everyone’s been so welcoming. Everyone’s been so friendly.
“I’d love to come back. It’s been such a long journey to come over here. I’d come every year if I could. I’d love to come back one day with kids or come back here with my mum and dad just to show them the town and have them do the run themselves. Maybe something special like the 50th would be beautiful to come back.”
Brown ran the Pre as a high schooler at Hidden Valley but missed the last four, as she was away at school in Eugene.
Brown's time of 36:16 was seventh-best overall and a minute faster than second-place finisher Leigh Anne McCarthy of Monmouth.
"It's just a really fun race to come and do," she said. "I haven't been able to do road races in quite some time because the NNU coaches don't really want you doing road racing or during season I couldn't come do it ever. But it was fun to get back and do it again. I remember always really enjoying it because the atmosphere is just a fun thing to do."
The top local female finisher was defending women's champion Cora Wahl of Langlois, who was 34th overall in 41:47.
A total of 657 runners and walkers completed the 10-kilometer race, representing 20 states and two Canadian provinces, in addition to the visitors from the United Kingdom and Australia.