Thoughts of swimming two and a half miles in open water, or biking 112 miles in hilly terrain, or running a 26.2-mile marathon jolt the minds and bodies of even the most fit athletes.
Combine all three and you have an Ironman Triathlon, one of the most grueling competitive athletic events available. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has sidelined all sanctioned Ironman events since March, including the Wisconsin Ironman in September.
However, those obstacles fail to dissuade Hillary Luke and former Tooele County Citizen of the Year Sandra Hadlock from completing an Ironman race.
When the planned Wisconsin event was canceled, the two lifetime friends tossed the “wait ’til next year” adage into the wind.
The strong-willed triathletes compete in their own unofficial Ironman on Saturday. It includes swimming 2.4 miles in Stansbury Lake and cycling two 50+-mile loops in Tooele Valley and Rush Valley, before running a marathon on four different neighborhood loops through Stansbury and Erda.
That’s a total of 140.6 miles, about the distance from Stansbury Park to Bear Lake. The pair enter the waters of Stansbury Lake at 6:30 a.m. and plan to finish sometime past bedtime Saturday night.
As with all endurance races, consistent training and fighting through unexpected obstacles are the keys to success.
“For me, keeping up my confidence – the mental part — is the most difficult,” Luke said. “Sometimes it is hard to stay upbeat.”
Hadlock said her biggest challenge came when she moved from Stansbury to northern Utah County three years ago and lost her training partner.
“I had to learn to do these training blocks on my own,” Hadlock said. “Hillary and I had been a team for nearly a decade and complement each other really well.”
Along with the myriad of challenges, the pair also have some humorous moments stored in permanent memory after two years of consistent training.
“One Saturday, Sandra met me in Salt Lake for a long bike ride,” Luke said. “But she brought her 11-year old’s helmet.”
They headed to a nearby Walmart, only to find locked doors. “We thought that was really strange since it was on a Saturday morning,” Luke said. “All of a sudden this lady came up to us and said, ‘You need to leave! There is a guy in there running around with a gun!’”
The persistent pair then traveled to northern Utah County and biked on what Luke said was one of the most beautiful rides of their training.
“Sandra is the brains and I’m the heart of our little team,” Luke said. “She does all the planning, preparing maps, taking care of the details, and those type of things.”
Luke is the hardcore, no excuses, get-it-done, and get-it-done now partner. She competed on the high school swim team in Taylorsville as a junior and senior.
“I was the worst swimmer in the slowest lane,” she said.
Although she never climbed the medal podium, Luke learned the value of never quitting. On a regular basis, she was the last swimmer out of the water at practice because she completed all her sets every workout.
“My high school peers would be totally surprised to find out I was doing a full Ironman,” she said.
When asked if she ever considered throwing in the training towel, Hadlock emphatically responded, “All. The. Time.”
“The key is to get up the next day and just do it,” she added.
Hadlock is the mother of three children between the ages of eight and 15 and Luke has six children, all 19 years and younger.
Obviously, children’s homework, extra-curricular activities, graduation, summer jobs, dinner preparation, housework, driving back-and-forth to friends’ homes and such place additional stress for the determined triathletes.
“We look at it like an adventure,” Luke said. “Being able to dream and train as friends with Sandra has been simply amazing.”
Wisconsin Ironman deferred the hefty $850 entry fee until 2021, but Luke and Hadlock have delayed their decision to compete in that sanctioned event.
“We decided to put that on the back burner for now. We can make that decision sometime after Saturday,” Luke said.