Going the distance

Courtesy photo: Joel deBlonk begins a much longer race today than the one he’s pictured running in, last year’s Jack’s 15 race that begins in White and ends in Brookings. DeBlonk will run 40 miles a day to cover the roughly 415-mile stretch across the state over a 10-day period.

Local runner on 415-mile trek across South Dakota

BROOKINGS – It takes a certain level of determination to be a runner, but it takes an additional level of passion to run more than 400 miles in 10 days.

That is exactly what 36-year-old radio station host and local nomad Joel deBlonk is starting today. Beginning in Rapid City, deBlonk is running the roughly 415 miles all the way to Brookings.

“Back in 2014, I quit my job at 3M after 10 years and I lived in a van and traveled the country for three of those years. … That first year of van-life, I was living out on the East Coast and I was sitting at one of the most photogenic trails in Virginia … and I just met a guy there who was running across the entire country back then, and that’s where it started to enter my mind that something like this would be a cool idea,” deBlonk said.

“I don’t think I’m capable of running 3,000-some miles, but I think I’m plenty capable of running across my home state of South Dakota,” deBlonk said.

DeBlonk had planned for this run to happen back in 2017, but he said that a variety of things happened that required him to focus more time at home and on his family. 

He said to himself at the end of 2019 that 2020 was going to be the year he would run across the state. DeBlonk said that COVID-19 has not inhibited or deterred his will to make the run.

“It’s an endurance challenge, plus it’s an internal thing as well. I know a lot of people ask me if I’m running for a cause, and there are so many things that are happening in this world right now – like my mom passed away 10 years ago, had a brain aneurism, and that’s kind of what ignited the living free and happy thing. My stepmom, too, just recovered from cancer as well and various members of my family have had strokes and – well, I think about all of these different causes I could run for but the simplest one is just life,” deBlonk said.

“After my mom passed away, I was looking for clarity about life in general, and I just started running on a path and on the roadways (in California at the time),” deBlonk said. “But I was just like, ‘I need something more challenging,’ so I joined a trail-running group called the Santa Monica Coyotes.”

He said that ever since then he has been inspired to run as much as possible on either trails or roadways. So far, deBlonk has one 50-mile running event under his belt.

Throughout his training, deBlonk befriended a man named David Ward, a 1992 award-winning athlete who ran across the continental United States. Ward became a mentor of sorts for deBlonk, giving him advice on how to train for these types of endurance runs.

“Time on your feet is really important for training for this. So a weird way I’ve trained for this is that I took a job at the post office. … I heard there was a route open that was 14 miles for a city carrier job. So I applied to be just a part-timer, got the job … and the route I ended up getting on was called City 4 – which is 14 miles of walking all day. And that would take a minimum of eight hours a day. Sometimes when people called in sick, I was sometimes doing 21 miles just delivering mail,” deBlonk said. “It’s kind of a random way to do training, but it was great.”

Plus, it paid the bills to “train,” deBlonk said.

DeBlonk’s route is mostly on U.S. Highway 14, but there are several random asides that he will have to take when he is in the Black Hills area, running through Spearfish and Sturgis until he can get on the long stretch of 14.

DeBlonk has several compatriots tagging along in their cars to follow him on this escapade. One of them is South Dakota State University graduate and filmmaker Zeke Hanson, who will film deBlonk’s journey and convert it into a documentary. DeBlonk’s father and longtime friend will come with him, too.

He said that he’s running this the “smart way” in running downhill from Rapid City to Brookings and that he won’t be doing any trail running. DeBlonk said that his initial thought was to run the first 100 miles in a single stretch. However, he was talked down from that by another running coach-friend of his and will keep to a 40-mile-per-day pace, totaling 10 days of running.

“I asked him what the harm would be to run 100 miles in the first day, and he (his coach) said ‘a lot of things, Joel, a lot,’” joked deBlonk.

While deBlonk is not running for a charity, he does encourage his followers or those interested in his story to donate funds to Hanson to help pay for the cost of making the documentary. DeBlonk said that any funds that are donated that exceed the filmmaking cost will be donated to local charity The Kelly McGeough Foundation.

For more information, visit http://www.igg.me/at/JAdRunning. Or, to follow him on his live stories about his running and “vanlife” travels, you can find him on Facebook and on Instagram.

Contact Matthew Rhodes at [email protected]

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