Running Gently Out There: Remembering John Morelock

AJW's TaproomIt was two years ago this week that ultrarunning lost one of its great ones. John Morelock, author of the 2013 book Run Gently Out There: Trials, Trails, and Tribulations of Running Ultramarathons, passed away on February 5, 2017. He was 74. A talented runner and writer for over three decades, John inspired a generation of ultrarunners with his monthly column which ran for six years in UltraRunning magazine. Known for his love of nature and his passion for his beloved Pacific Northwest, John had a soul that was as deep and rich as his home soil of Whidbey Island, Washington.

I first got to know John as a newbie ultrarunner in about 1993. Around then and long before the advent of Facebook, Twitter, and iRunFar, the epicenter of the ultrarunning online universe was the ULTRA listserv. On this rudimentary email message board, people posted race reports, asked for advice, exchanged trail information, and even listed lottery results! There were several prolific posters on the ULTRA listerv who represented the elder statesmen of the sport. Guys like Stan Jensen, Gary Cantrell, Al Howie, Matt Mahoney, Dan Baglione, and John Medinger regularly shared wisdom and expertise to the hungry newbie masses like me. One of the most generous and frequent posters was John Morelock.

Always concluding his comments with his signature tagline, ‘Run Gently Out There’ or ‘RGOT’ for those in the know, John was a level-headed presence on the sometimes contentious message board. Always willing to dispense advice to a rookie as well as to call out a cantankerous curmudgeon, John carried himself with an air of civility and genuine kindness which is all too rare. While it wasn’t until years later that I actually met John at a race out in Oregon, due to the resonance of his words, he felt to me like a dear old friend.

On one occasion, in particular, during the first years of my ultramarathon career, I came to realize the power of John’s wisdom. In one of my first posts to the list in 1994, I queried the group about how you know when to walk in an ultra. As was often the case back then, my innocent question turned into a heated debate as people weighed in across the spectrum from “walk whenever you feel like it” to “run every step.” After the discussion went on for a few days John calmly chimed in and reminded us all of an old adage that quickly quieted the debate:

“If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, walk anyway.”

This simple declaration, at once whimsical and true, was a perfect example of John Morelock’s grace.

I have thought often of John over the two years since his passing and I really wish his voice was still here. At a time of ever-increasing polarization among people and groups and a seemingly endless string of often pointless arguments, I have to think that were John here now he would skillfully bring us back into a state of equilibrium and re-focus us on what often matters most, simply running gently out there.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

John Morelock’s island of Whidbey is home to a handful of small breweries that hold true to the United States Pacific Northwest tradition of small batch beers crafted with natural ingredients. Penn Cove Brewing Company is one of the best on the island and their Madrona Way IPA is a slightly sweet, amber-colored IPA that tests the limits of the variety in a unique and creative way. Balanced and not overly hoppy, Madrona Way is, dare I say, a wonderfully gentle beer.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

Would you like to share a memory of running with John Morelock, chatting with him on the ULTRA listserv, reading his writing about nature and running, or something else? Leave a comment so that we can help carry our shared memory of him forward.

John Morelock. Photo: Glenn Tachiyama