Running Your Own Race in Sales: Lessons from Steve Prefontaine

Jan 22, 2024 | Sales

The world of sales is fiercely competitive. It’s easy to get lost in the noise, to constantly glance sideways to see what the competition is doing, what new strategy they’re employing, or what pricing they’re offering. Yet, the secret to long-term success isn’t merely in outdoing your competitors; it’s about focusing on your own performance. Steve Prefontaine, the iconic long-distance runner who tragically passed away in 1975, once said, “I may not win the race, but the man that beats me is going to get bloody doing it.” This mentality offers invaluable lessons for sales professionals.

The Prefontaine Philosophy: It’s Your Own Effort That Matters

Steve Prefontaine, or “Pre” as he was affectionately known, was not just a runner; he was a beacon of relentless effort and indomitable spirit. Prefontaine’s perspective was unique. He focused less on the competition and more on maximizing his own performance. “It’s my own effort that matters,” he would often say. This is a critical viewpoint for sales professionals to adopt.

When you find yourself worried about a competitor landing a big client, remember that the only elements you can control are your strategy, your service, and your delivery. Put in your best performance, and let the results follow.

The Finish Line is Important, But So is the Journey

In long-distance running, as in sales, there is a finish line—quarterly targets, annual revenue goals, and so on. It’s essential to have those goals, but if you’re constantly looking ahead or behind, you’ll miss the necessary steps to get there. Run your own race and focus on each stride, each cold call, each meeting, and each close.

Make the Competition Work to Beat You

Taking a page out of Prefontaine’s playbook, the idea is not necessarily to win every deal but to make your competitors work exceptionally hard to beat you. Work with such intention and commitment that anyone trying to outdo you will have to go to extraordinary lengths. In other words, make them “get bloody” trying to beat you. Whether it’s your level of service, your product knowledge, or your unique selling proposition, let these be so formidable that you set the bar high.

Know Your Competitors, But Don’t Obsess Over Them

It’s professional due diligence to know your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses. But that’s table stakes. Your real power comes when you can honestly say you’ve done everything you can to maximize your own performance. In the heat of the race—when you’re on that sales call, or in that meeting—your focus should be on running your best possible race.


Sales is less about the competition than it is about you and your performance. Just like Steve Prefontaine, your focus should be on maximizing your effort, concentrating on the journey, and making it incredibly challenging for anyone else to beat you. Remember, the most satisfying wins come not from merely crossing the finish line but from knowing you gave it everything to get there. Keep an eye on your ultimate goals, but let your immediate focus be on your effort and execution. That’s how you run your own race in the high-stakes world of sales.