Life is about going the distance, endurance. For two Utah County men that includes running.
Stan Lockhart, former Utah GOP chair and one-time Provo City councilmember and his buddy Mike McKell, attorney and current Utah state senator from Spanish Fork, either run or talk about running every day.
On Tuesday, they will begin a journey that will include the 55-kilometer Iceland UltraMarathon and will finish with the Boston Marathon. In between those events, the two will run marathons in London on Oct. 3, Chicago on Oct. 10 and New York on Nov. 7, all in a period of five weeks, but three of them within eight days of each other.
While Lockhart is building to the Boston run he will make, McKell will miss the Boston Marathon, but says his mind will be in the race and he’ll be back next year.
As part of his trip to Iceland, McKell will have private meetings with Icelandic government officials. While not Icelandic himself, McKell has adopted the country and its people. His great-grandfather was The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints bishop to the Icelandic church ward in Spanish Fork where many Icelanders originally settled. Not only are the meetings with officials private, but McKell wants folks to know that not one dime is coming from campaign or government coffers for the trip.
McKell noted that Spanish Fork has a sister city from the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar) in Iceland. The main island is called Heimaey and has a population of around 4,300.
These two friends have run other marathons together and they are already looking into some outrageous extreme ultimate sports marathons that would take them to all of the continents on Earth in a sort of marathon sprint that would see them in a marathon a day.
According to Lockhart, a while back he and McKell agreed to take up the challenges each one gave the other. This has become much more than a “double-dog dare you” thing. How they got to this point is the compelling story, each one very different.
“Six and a half years ago, my beautiful wife Becky died at 46 years old. She contracted a rare neurological disease and in 60 days went from healthy to dead,” Lockhart said. “Shock, pain, fog, numbness, heartbreak, ambivalence and even some depression comes from losing your spouse. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever dealt with.”
Lockhart notes that when Becky was first elected speaker of the House, one of her colleagues asked her to run his town’s first half-marathon.
“We had a training schedule on our kitchen wall for 10 months. I don’t think anyone ever read it, let alone followed it. I wasn’t a part of it and was a happy couch potato,” Lockhart said.
“The morning of the race, I awoke to Becky shaking me awake. ‘What?’ I said. ‘Get up and drive me to the race,’ she told me. ‘Am I running?’ I asked. ‘I don’t think so, but you had better dress like you are just in case,’” she replied. “Next thing I knew, I was driving our car on the freeway wondering how I had gotten roped into this.”
Long story short, Lockhart ran the race in cross trainers, basketball shorts and a T-shirt. He finished and over the next four years ran a handful of half-marathons.
“When Becky died, I kept running. It’s not like there is a handbook how to cope with grief. For each person it is a deeply personal journey. Running each day seemed to help,” Lockhart said. “Someone challenged me to run a full marathon. Soon I was running a handful of marathons each year.”
Four and a half years ago, Lockhart met his new wife, Michelle. She is a registered nurse, and a health and wellness coach.
“Just living in her world helped me train better. Eating what she ate. More intentional training. Better stress management. Recovery strategies,” Lockhart said. “My marathon times rapidly improved, and soon I was qualifying for big races.”
Lockhart said running has been remarkable therapy for his grief. While he will always miss Becky, the intensity and frequency of his grief lessens with each day.
“The truth is that almost every married couple will have one go and one stay. We think it will happen when we are old. The truth is that it can happen at any time,” Lockhart said.
“In my Facebook grief support group, we have widows in their early 20s to those in their 80s. No matter what age we are never ready for it to happen.”
Lockhart found his running buddy in McKell. It was McKell that told him about the Iceland UltraMarathon.
“It is some of the most picturesque scenery in the world,” Lockhart said. “We got accepted last year and COVID shut us down. We tried again and got accepted again this year for the July 17 race. I’ve never run that far. There are days when I’m not sure I can do it. Mike and I encourage each other.” Lockhart said the two share training successes and failures. “We plan for the race.”
Now he said it’s “ready or not here we come.”
“Our bodies can do far more than we think. It truly is all in the mind,” Lockhart said. “You can do anything you decide to do.”
When life is over, Lockhart said he wants to come to a screeching halt right at the casket and not before.
“I want to finish this mortal experience. It’s why I run.”
Call it a midlife crisis or series of unique physical challenges, but since 2017, McKell’s life and what gives him meaning has been quite different.
“Today, I love to run and challenge myself in ways that are difficult. The difficulty gives me meaning and has helped me learn more about who I am,” McKell said.
“In the beginning of 2017, I would consider myself a typical middle-aged guy. I had three main focuses including my family, my business and my legislative efforts,” McKell said. “I had not given much thought to my overall personal fitness in years. I found myself overweight, out of shape and lacking energy to take on life’s challenges.”
It all started with a mountain goat hunt in 2017. McKell said he was excited to book a hunt in Canada, but soon realized he would be using a guide as required by Canadian law.
“The thought of having a guide pushing me up a mountain made me uncomfortable, so I started to train,” McKell said. “My goal was to lose weight and make sure I kept up with the guide no matter the condition.”
McKell said his training was fun. He worked with a personal trainer and climbed different peaks on the Wasatch Range with his son almost every weekend.
“Over the next four months, I lost weight quickly and drastically improved my conditioning. I wasn’t ready to run marathons, but I was 100% all in,” McKell said.
“Ultimately, I had a successful mountain goat hunt. I’m not sure we could have found a bigger mountain to climb on the day I harvested my goat,” McKell said. “At the end of the evening, on top of the Canadian Rockies, I made the mistake of looking into my soul and asking what comes next. In a previous life, I loved to run and that was my answer: run marathons.”
With every bad idea in life, misery loves company, according to McKell. That is where Stan Lockhart came into the picture.
“Stan was always somewhat of a runner, but after Becky died, I believe running gave Stan new meaning and a better outlook on life. We had been friends for several years, but I guess it clicked at this point.”
By 2018, the two men started to scheme, both with the goal of running the Boston Marathon.
“In the end of 2018, I ran my first marathon with Stan, and it didn’t end well for me,” McKell said.
It was the Huntsville Marathon. At mile 6, McKell stepped into a hole on the course and tore his plantar fascia.
“By mile 19 I could not walk and dropped out. The next day, the bottom of my foot was black and blue. I worked with many great medical professionals and rehabbed my foot,” McKell said.
“In the spring of 2019, I was ready to run my next marathon. I convinced Stan to run the Mt. Charleston Marathon with me,” McKell said. “It’s a fast course and a Boston Marathon qualifier.”
Running is contagious and the two men recruited a group of friends to run as well. For several it was their first marathon.
“Stan and I both trained hard. I worked with a coach. Ultimately, we both ran well, and both qualified for the Boston Marathon,” McKell said. “At that point, I convinced Stan to run the Berlin Marathon with me in the fall.”
Unfortunately, McKell’s injury problems persisted, and he sustained several injuries through the summer of 2019 including two stress fractures.
“Despite these injuries, Stan and I were both able to complete the Berlin Marathon. However, after the marathon, I eventually underwent surgery to repair a couple nerves in my right leg,” McKell said.
Both men were accepted into the Boston Marathon in 2020. Unfortunately, COVID-19 had a different plan. They were also accepted into the Chicago and New York marathons. These marathons were all canceled in 2020. They did, however, complete the virtual Boston Marathon in 2020.
McKell said while COVID caused cancellations and injuries that just about did him in during 2020, the current year has been a very good one for him.
“I am finally healthy,” McKell said.
The two will fly out Tuesday for what Lockhart expects to be a wonderful but whirlwind trip. The two say they are prepared, have ultimately trained for this and are prepared for the challenge.