We’ve reached a time when ultra running is actually a phrase people recognize. They may not know the precise definition of it, but at least they’ve heard of it and know that it involves ‘running really far’. John Morelock is one small reason for that.
Running ultras long before marathons had really caught on with the general public, Morelock recorded his thoughts and experiences ultra running in his 30+ year career writing a regular article for Ultra Runner Magazine called “Run Gently Out There”. His 2013 book, Run Gently Out There: Trials, Trails, and Tribulations of Running Ultramarathons, is a collaboration of his best or favorite articles from all those years.
I’m the first to admit that, despite being active in the ultra running community for a few years now, I’ve never read one of Morelock’s blogs. It doesn’t matter. Three or so pages into his book, I felt like a kid listening to my dad tell me amazing stories of his travels on foot through various forests and paths. Morelock’s conversational tone, humility, and humor drew me in. He lacks the traditional self-promoting tone many gurus adopt and shares his failures as readily as his successes, which inevitably hits home to anyone who has attempted training for distances of a marathon and longer. We all have good runs, bad runs, ugly runs, pensive runs, and ‘death marches’ as Morelock dubbed them. Morelock shares, through good humor, his experiences with them all.
In one example, Morelock described a new race that he and his wife participated in together. He writes that he finished “first (overall), set the course record, and beat my wife soundly. She, on the other hand, came in dead last—even needing assistance at the Hamma Hamma River crossing.” Whereas, his wife described the same race saying, “I finished second overall. He came in next to last.” In reality, they were the only two in the race. The ‘assistance’ Morelock’s wife received was a piggyback ride from him across a river she was too short to cross safely solo.
Morelock also exemplifies the stereotype of the old school ultra runners. He’s certainly a bit ‘odd’ by traditional standards, but that is what makes him intriguing and likeable. He describes his runs in hours rather than miles, frequently runs with his wife (also an ultra runner), and writes almost as much about the scenery as his actually running. It’s clear that Morelock runs because he loves it; nothing more, nothing less.
Being a collaboration of short articles, rather than a book with a single plot to follow, Run Gently is easy to put down and pick up multiple times throughout the day or week. I read it in my garage while peddling on the bike trainer, lying in bed before sleep, and in 5‑minute increments between mothering, appointments, and phone calls. Each time I reached the end of an article, I’d tell myself, “Okay, time to put the book away,” but then steal a glimpse at the title of the following article and inevitably give in, “Okay, just ONE more….”
In a time when it’s scarily easy to get sucked into the Internet and not come up for air for hours, it’s truly a high compliment when someone prefers a book to the screen. Run Gently created this desire within me. It not only reminded me of why books have endured so many generations, but the message within the book reminded me that life is grand, unique, unpredictable, and incredibly rewarding – so get out there and live the hell out of it.
By: Audra Rundle