John Morelock, whose writing graced the pages of UltraRunning for more than six years, died on February 5. He was diagnosed with a rare and incurable abdominal cancer in November, and succumbed three months later. He was 74.
He was the muse of our sport, his “Run Gently Out There” columns – later compiled into a highly-acclaimed book – reminded us all to savor our time on the trails, to not be in too much of a hurry, to appreciate the many fine details found in nature. He could get distracted by a fallen log, a woodpecker, or the mist shrouding a lake and somehow turn that distraction into a thousand finely-honed words forwarding his philosophy.
He took up running in 1984, “on a Thursday at 4:30 in the afternoon” and quickly blossomed into a competitive ultra runner, usually placing near the front of the pack and even winning a couple of races. After many years one of his non-running friends heard about 100-mile runs and asked if he had run one. He had not; saying no bruised his ego, he wrote, and so he entered Leadville and finished it at age 57. His favorite race was Le Grizz 50 Mile in Montana, a run he completed at age 70 and harbored secret thoughts of running one more time. Of course, in his inimitable style, it wasn’t really a secret since it was the subject of one of his columns. But he wrote about it in such a way that it seemed like you, the reader, were the only other person he shared that notion with.
He lived on Whidbey Island in Washington state with his wife of more than 40 years, Kathy. He worked as a mathematician in data base management and after retirement as a volunteer teacher for a year on a Chippewa Reservation in North Dakota. “Everyone should have one winter in North Dakota” was his bemused recollection.
One reader described him as the poet laureate of trail running. His writing had a huge impact and influenced countless people, runners and non-runners alike. He had a wry, self-deprecating sense of humor and a kind and, yes, gentle demeanor; he would likely be a bit embarrassed by the emotion and praise generated by his untimely passing. Honestly, what he would really want is for all of us to simply run gently out there.