John Morelock often uses the phrase “run gently out there.”
He said the phrase is “yet to be defined.” And it is not because he hasn’t had time to think it over. He often goes on solitary runs — long solitary runs.
At 70, most get their exercise by chasing around grand or great-grand kids and strolling down to the mail box. Not Morelock. He goes on 100-mile runs.
“I run because it is part of my life,” he said, “It is fun. It is rewarding.”
It hasn’t always been part of his life. He grew up in California and during his youth he played football and ran hurdles, but not long distance. “I never ran more than one lap,” he said. “I guess they did make me run an 880 (half mile) once.”
Morelock started running distance in 1984, in his 40s, to get over the stress of “some ugly labor negotiations.” By February of 1985 he was running his first marathon; he ran another in March and another in April.
He went on his first trail run (16.4 miles) in the Olympic Mountains in August 1985. On the way home, which was Olympia at the time, he found a magazine, UltraRunning, that led to his “downfall.” Now he rarely runs on roads.
Morelock said his first ultra run (any run, pay a fee or not, greater than the standard marathon of 26.2 miles) was in January of 1986.
He added, “I did race a few times, but mostly I just run.” So, how many “runs” has he completed? He said he quit counting in 2002; at that point he “had reached 50,000 miles and about 200 times at or beyond a marathon.”
Not all the runs blend together as some remain vivid: “We (wife Kathy runs too) look across at the Olympics and think of where we have been in there; I think of two o’clock in the morning way high in the Rockies — 72 miles down, 28 to go — beneath a sky full of stars I couldn’t quite touch; that last run I told my father about before he died; a course record a long time ago; and other stuff.”
“I don’t enter very many runs anymore,” he said. “The 12-hour in Redmond Watershed Park in May might be the only one I go to in 2013. I (we) are quite happy to go volunteer at some of the ultras in the area. I am happy to run the trails of Fort Ebey with an occasional trip to some of the trails on the peninsula or in the Cascades.”
In October he returned to Montana for the 50-mile Le Grizz at Glacier National Park’s Horse Shoe Reservoir. In 1986, he won the Masters Division of the race at 44 in 6:30; this time he clocked a 10:19, the fastest time for any runner 70 or older.
Morelock said he occasionally runs or walks with his wife, but generally he runs alone and his routine is different from most: “We are sort of retired and I can run during the day when the trails are empty. I pause to look at trees, water, things that move, distant mountains — stuff ‘serious’ runners seldom do.”
In addition to his runs, he and his wife walked the 600 miles of Europe’s el Camino de Santiago in 2004. After that they stopped to visit her parents at the Sunnyside Cemetery and settled in Coupeville with one break. They spent July 2009 to May 2010 volunteering at an Indian reservation in North Dakota.
Morelock has no plans of stopping; the miles and observations will continue.
“I expect to run tomorrow. After that will, I hope, come another tomorrow.”