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November 2019-Johnathan Karol

Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself. (Where you’re from, what you’re doing now…etc.)

A: I was born and raised in Whitewood, South Dakota. I lived in San Diego for about 5 years in my 20’s before moving back to the Black Hills in 2009. I now call Sturgis my home.

I have 2 older sisters and a younger brother.

My wife and I have one son, Lincoln. He is 2 years old and I love seeing him grow and learn new things…I am also glad he hasn’t pooped in the bathtub for a while or broken anything at anyone’s house recently (sorry Roger Heacock)

My early youth summer jobs included mowing lawns, and helping out on ranch outside of Sturgis.

I’ve worked in the creative design and digital industry since my early 20’s, helping businesses and organizations make a positive impact. Some projects tap into my technical skill sets and others into my design and creative skill sets. And some, both!

My hobbies align quite a bit with my profession widely due to practical and efficiency reasons. Here are a few: Photography, Video production and short films, running and biking, trail volunteering and helping at various events(Cofounded Black Hills trail 501c3 in 2013). I also enjoy watching wrestling-youth to international style.

Q: How long have you been running and how did you get started?

A: I started running formally when I was in high school. It was mostly to keep in shape for wrestling. Eventually, I learned I wasn’t big enough to play football and figured someone else could warm the bench in my place. So, I joined the Cross Country team. I had asthma back then; my performance was hit and miss at the meets. Luckily, I was able to grow out of it around 19…the asthma thing, not running. In college(NSU, Aberdeen) I transitioned more into road biking long distances. I really liked the endurance challenge. From age 24 to 29ish I went on hiatus from running, biking and really any physically healthy activity.

My first trail run on the Centennial was 8 years ago with Ryan Phillips. We ran from Alkali Creek to the Bull Dog road. I then volunteered to help at the Black Hills 100 in 2012. These 2 instances were catalysts for me wanting to run more and explore more that Black Hills had to offer. The runner’s high is a definite plus and seems to come earlier for me when running on trails.

Q: Would you rather run with a group or alone?

A:  It depends on what I want to accomplish on that particular run.

I really like the solitude of running out on the trails alone, which i do most of the time due to my work and family schedule. The way I explore and tune in to my surroundings are different than when I run with a group.  It is also a little easier for me to utilize the alone runs to plan my day, meditate, or mentally work out some particular project I am working on.

When I like group runs is if I plan to be social and want to see what everyone is up to. Or, if I am sick of running by myself I’ll say “shit, I really need to get on one of these group runs.” or “I should organize a long group run so I have some friends to suffer with”. I find it rewarding to learn about a fellow runner’s new goal and that I get to be part of, in some way, with his/her training.

The buddy runs are also rewarding. I categorize them differently than a group run. I remember when Jim Hadd and I would have our buddy runs when we were both training for the Black Hills 100 back in 2014. We used a buddy system to keep each other accountable and make sure we got some of our long runs in.

I also sometime do “weighted” runs with some of my higher end camera equipment. This sometimes involves utilizing the model Runners Club members or mountain bikers.

Q: Do you prefer roads or trails?

A: I think I somewhat answered this question above. I prefer trails more, but I didn’t always. When I first got back into running I would be focused on mileage and speed mostly as an internal confidence booster. It’s much easier to run 10 miles at 7 minute miles on a flat road or bike path. Not so much on trails.

With trails, I pay more attention to my surroundings and terrain. I enjoy having to power up a big climb. There is much more to see.

In the winter time when the snow is too deep I don’t mind hitting the country roads. Or, if I need to get a run in within an hour I’ll just go on the bike path or treadmill.

Q: What is your favorite distance or race?

A: I am definitely a fan of the longer trail races-50k to 100 miles. I actually ran the Lean Horse 50 mile before I ever participated in a marathon. I think the longer distances cater to my personality, my overall perspective on running, and what I want out of running. The excitement and commitment and planning prior to race day is different than what I would do for a 5k or 10k. I like the training and the challenge of creating agreements in my daily activities when preparing for those distances.

I have been curious about and have asked people in the past what they take from there profession into the race and visa versa. I think being able to look at the mechanics and technical side of preparing for a long race as well as the emotion and creative ideas and enhancements that come with it aligns with my profession. I also think the running helps me enhance my ability to help others on a personal and professional level.

My favorite race is my next race or challenge. Although, there are 3 main races/challenges that really stick out.

The Leadville 100 has a special place in my heart because it is the biggest 100 mile race I have ran. It is also where, when crossing the finish line, my wife held up a sign saying we were expecting my son. I like to refer to my now 2 and a half year old as Mr. Lincoln McStinkin’, This race is also where I mentioned to one of my pacers, that “My ass is chapped”…It was literally chapped the last 25 miles or so.

Black Hills 100 is by far one of the coolest races. It was the first ultra distance race I had ever volunteered at as well as the home to my first 100 mile finish. I may have never got into running longer distances and exploring local trails if it weren’t for Ryan Phillips and Chris Stores spearheading a race like this.

17 Bear Butte ascents with Ed Thomas: One April day a few years ago, Ed Thomas of Sioux Falls traveled to Sturgis and did 17 consecutive Bear Butte ascents with me in a little under 17 hours. We would alternate who would lead up and down each ascent. I was a little faster on the climb and he was a little faster on the descents. I am reminded that running requires friendship to help you reach your goals.

Q: How do you stay motivated when you don’t want to run?

A: I have various tactics and strategies:

  • Make my coffee stronger and wait until it kicks in.
  • Download a good audio book and plan to listen to it only when I am running. This mostly occurs when the circumstances force me to run inside.
  • Ask someone to go run with me or commit to a group run.
  • I had a roommate in San Diego who was confined to a wheel chair from Muscular Dystrophy, and my mother passed away at an early age (49) of ALS (muscular degenerative disease). Sometimes I need to draw upon the fact that I have the physical ability to run and enjoy it. People with physically disabling conditions may not have the luxury of running. This process puts me in a mental place of being grateful to have the simple ability of movement that can easily taken for granted.
  • Watch or read some inspirational video for a temporary motivation. These are sometimes running relates, but not always. These small external motivators help get me into a mental place I need to to get out the door.
  • Due to the nature of my personal and professional interest in media and design, I will sometimes have a goal of capturing a specific photo or video. I will run with some of my higher end camera equipment to my destination, such as sunrise over Deadman Mountain or “That cool waterfall”
  • I am definitely a morning person. Sometimes I have conflicts with whether I should go on a short run or work on some contract project I need to get done. Mentally, I am much more efficient in the morning. There have been times I have talked myself out of going on my early morning run because I didn’t want my morning brain power to go to waste. I have also justified running in the morning would increase my overall efficiency during the day…
  • Sign up for a race! Or, create a running challenge that requires running consistency.
  • Do the BH Runners Club Frozen Challenge. I can’t tell you how many times during the cold parts of February and March I did not want to go out on a run. The competition and team challenges are definitely great external motivators when the internal motivation is lacking!

Q: If I didn’t run, I’d …

A: Probably need to find some other endurance related activity. Other than the short hiatus from physical activity in my 20’s I have been involved in sports and consciously adjusting my ways to enhance my health.

What I learned from that hiatus in my 20’s was that without being involved in some sort of physical activity-running etc, I am denying a part of myself. That can lead to internal conflicts that, for me at least, becomes destructive to myself and people around me. I am really grateful to live in the Black Hills where there is so much support from organizations such as the Runners Club.

Q: What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about running?

A: Definitely setting goals and accomplishing them is highly rewarding. Heck, there have been runs or races that I’ve cut short of expectations and I still find that act rewarding-sometimes disappointing, but rewarding nonetheless. You gain insight into your strengths and weaknesses in a mostly low risk environment.

Q: Do you have a pre-race ritual?

A: I’d say it is mostly no different than If I prepare for a run. Drink coffee in the morning. Maybe have a small snack and a swig of my electrolyte drink. Hopefully my “number 2 has left the building”. If it is a longer race I will check all my gear.

Q: What are your running goals for the future?

A: I like to get at least one 50 or 100 mile race in a year. This year I did not. For 2020, I would definitely like to do a 100 mile.

Run the Full Centennial all at once. Improve upon the 17 consecutive Bear Butte ascents Ed Thomas and I did together a few years ago.

Q: Who inspires you most?



Other runners inspire me with their running capabilities, goals and attitudes. 2019 was a great year to see so many Local and BH Runners Club members complete longer distance races!

Support crew, trail volunteers, family, and race directors that help make awesome running goals happen!


Individuals I encounter, such as Dan Bjierke, (25+ years older than me) that continually stay active in running are great examples.

I’d have to say Jim Hadd inspires me. I met him back in 2012 when I ran my first fifty mile at Lean Horse. He was wearing a shirt with a carrot on it that eluded to the fact he was vegan. For a long time I couldn’t fathom that sort of diet. I think why he inspires me isn’t his running goals…I think ours differ. It is his continuous commitment to health in general. As of  Mid October 2019 I adjusted my diet to primarily plant based.

Finally, I am inspired by Jeremy Bradford of Colorado. He and his family comes up for the Black Hill 100 almost every year and he has ran across the country. He was also the first person I ever saw finish a 100 mile in 2012. With 3 kids he still makes time to tap into his running talent to accomplish his goals!

Q: What advice do you have for new runners?

A: Set short and long term goals to support your main reason for running. I think It is important to keep these short and long term goals to help prevent injury and running burnout. Find a friend or group that supports your goals.

VOLUNTEER! Give your time at running events or any volunteering where you are contributing growth to physical healthy activity. When volunteering you feel a sense of ownership that helps you stay consistent with your own physical health. Plus, it is a great way to meet new people.

Run fast or slow. What matters is you are out there improving your body, and hopefully your mind a little too!

There may be times where you hit a low point in your running. I know I have hit my fair share of low points. I don’t beat myself up and try not to make excuses when I hit them as much as I used to. I address them as turning points to get back on track to whatever specific goal it is.