For most people, the thought of completing just one IRONMAN triathlon is a daunting one. Now imagine doing 50 of them, in all 50 states of the USA, in 50 days!
On 6 June, James Lawrence dubbed the “IronCowboy” after he completed a marathon in a patterned cowboy hat, began a quest to complete this seemingly impossible feat. The stunt, which began in Hawaii, had many sceptical at first, not least because of the physical strain he would go through, but for the logistical and mental challenges as well.
Ultra distance expert Rich Roll called the endeavour “as close to impossible as I can imagine,” and many pointed out the logistical impracticalities of making it from one state to the next while still tending to the recovery needs of a daily 3.8km swim, 180km cycle, and a full marathon run (42km).
Over 50 days, the triathlete averaged 15 hours of movement per day as he swam a total of 190km, biked 9,010km, and ran 2,090km all on an average of four hours sleep per night.
Then on 25 July, against all odds, an exhausted James achieved his goal.
A support crew, which included Lawrence’s friends, sponsors, wife and five children, made up the caravan that tended to his physical, emotional and transport needs throughout the 50 days.
The team helped Lawrence navigate a variety of obstacles, including a case of thrush, bike crashes, overuse injuries and emotional meltdowns.
“Mississippi [the 19th triathlon] was the toughest day for us,” wife Sunny Lawrence told Triathlete.com.
“He had crashed on the bike the day before, and his hip was really swollen. James started cramping badly on the swim—it took him two and a half hours. When he got out of the water, he asked for an IV and fell asleep while they were administering it.
“It took us 20 minutes just to wake him up, and then he got on the bike, where his hip became even more swollen. There was a big storm coming in, he was dehydrated, and he was hurting so badly.
“His coach told him to protect the injury by running on the elliptical. We didn’t know until after he finished, but some people were outraged he did that.
“The emotional stress of what those people were saying about him, on top of the physical, made that day so hard.”
“There’s not just one moment that was difficult,” James told KSL.com.
“There was so many highs and so many lows. Just looking back, though, we had a pretty big episode of pitting edema (tissue swelling due to fluid accumulation) in Arizona.”
He crashed his bike in Tennessee during his 18th triathlon, after falling asleep mid-pedal. [pullquote align=”right” color=”” class=””]found out that the asphalt is a horrible alarm clock[/pullquote]
“On those aero bikes, you just kind of settle in. My heart rate was so low because I was conditioned to do so. Yeah, I fell asleep and found out that the asphalt is a horrible alarm clock,” he told Fox News.
He said during the last 20 states, he could feel his body getting stronger and he posted his fastest time in his final IRONMAN.
There were plenty of times he thought he wouldn’t reach the finish line in Utah, he said.
“But as a team, we just pulled together and persevered,” Lawrence added.
In addition to the personal satisfaction of having completed his goal, Lawrence is delighted to use his efforts as a platform to raise awareness of the child obesity epidemic.
“I just wanted to inspire others to be more active,” Lawrence told Triathlete.com.
He also encouraged supporters to donate to the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, a non-profit organisation encouraging healthy eating habits for children and families as a way to fight obesity.
With this bucket-list item checked off, what’s next? James would like to repeat his 50-state adventures, this time as a motivational speaker in schools, according to Triathlete.com
A documentary on the 50-50-50 journey is also in the works. He hinted at retirement from endurance sports, but will not make any decisions just yet.
“For now, I just want to sleep,” he remarked at his 50th finish line.
“I expect him to be out cold for at least 14 hours tomorrow,” added Sunny after the final day.
A short video (4 minutes) on obesity in America and James’ reason for doing 50-50-50 can be found here.