Remember the Iron Cowboy story from 2015? James Lawrence left us in disbelief when he pulled off the superhuman feat of completing 50 IRONMANs, in 50 consecutive days, in 50 different states.
Two years later, and we got to relive our recollections of that epic event. In June 2017 the Iron Cowboy came to Cape Town to share his story with the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation. No longer was he this mystical figure from the other side of the world, but a man with a powerful message that had set out to encourage us.
We grabbed this opportunity to catch up the Cowboy, and asked our readers to send in questions for him. So here it is – your chance to understand what James Lawrence is all about from a South African point of view.
Discover how his life has changed since 50-50-50, his current approach to training and extreme events, and his specific word of encouragement for us.
It’s been two years since 50-50-50. How has this event changed your life?
It has opened up so many new doors and adventures for me. I continue to race, and now have the opportunity to speak around the world.
I’m currently booked in 20 countries to share a message about mindset, and to empower people to dream bigger and believe that anything is truly possible. I’m determined to see people relive their dreams again.
Was that the inspiration behind your new book, Redefine Impossible?
Yeah. When people were watching what we did on social media, we were all so busy that we couldn’t really tell the story of what was actually going on. People hear about the accomplishment of the 50, but truly have no idea what that actually took.
Tell us a bit about some of your latest adventures.
I continue to race because it’s a passion and lifestyle of mine. This year I took on six very unique and challenging events. I started the year by riding my mountain bike to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. And then I ran 235 miles (380km) across Greece.
The next challenge was to complete four extreme IRONMAN’s around the world, I have one left. The first was the Celtman in Scotland, then the Swissman in Switzerland, and I just did the Alaskaman in Alaska. In three weeks I head to Norway to do the Norseman – the toughest IRONMAN in the world!
Will you ever try top 50-50-50?
I’ll never try and top that, it was such a physical and mental feat. I always chuckle when people ask me, “So what’s next?”
It feels like I can never satisfy the palate of the at-home-adventurer who wants to live vicariously through me. And I’m no longer willing to play the game of ‘How do we kill the Cowboy?’
I’ve had some pretty good races this year. But because of the volume I’m doing, these events are more for the adventure and to test myself. But over the next couple of years I want to rebuild. I’m still recovering from 50 believe it or not! I will get back to being competitive in my division and going to the World Championship.
What is it that sets you apart and enables you to pull of these mind-blowing feats?
We are moulded in life by all the events that happen to us, it’s rarely one significant event.
I’ve got two very different parents that have set different examples for me about how to work hard and how to dream big. I picked up an entrepreneurship from my mother and a strong work ethic from my father.
I grew up a wrestler, so that’s where I got love for sport. But my passion for endurance sport was only something I picked up later on life when my wife and I took up running together. I remember doing a 4 mile (6.5km) fun run with her, and I struggled to finish it! It was such an eye-opener. My wife realised how pathetic that really was, so she went and signed me up for the Salt Lake City Marathon that was taking place five months later. And that’s where it all began.
What keeps you going when you’re in the ‘hurt’?
Family is a huge driver for me. I have a wife and five beautiful kids, and I’d rather tell them of the adventure I had then give them reasons for why I quit.
I always find a way to keep going. I often say you need to have a bag full of why’s when you’re trying to accomplish something big or of great meaning. When it becomes tough and you reach that moment of hurt, if you only have one reason to keep moving it may not be enough and you will quit.
Arm yourself with a bag full of reasons, and put those together to keep moving.
What is your current approach training?
I think balancing the different disciplines is healthy because we’re not continuously moving in the same way, which often leads to injury.
I have a coach, run a coaching platform, and am a coach myself. We work with athletes all around the world and our philosophy is 20% intensity and 80% recovery. The methodology to success is stress, recover and adapt. Most people miss out on the recovery portion, which ultimately leads to over training and injury.
Did you apply that to 50-50-50?
Yes. The reason I was able to be successful in completing the 50 is because I devoted 20% of my training to explosive power and strength, and 80% to recovery and training at a lower intensity.
What steps did you take to prevent any major injuries in 50?
We did a lot of deep tissue massage; manipulation; something called ‘scrapping’, where we literally scraped the muscles; laser acupuncture; used recovery compression boots quite a bit; and did a lot rolling on rollers and balls.
We really just gave a lot attention to all the little details, which took a lot of effort. But that goes into the category of 80% recovery. All of the small efforts that we do to keep healthy and sharp are as important as the tougher training sessions that make us stronger.
How do you balance your personal life with the voluminous training needed for these ultra-distance events?
I believe we have time for what we want to make time for; it just includes a certain level of sacrifice. By making family a priority, we organise our workouts in such a way that we get to be with our families as much we want.
None of it would be possible without my wife. She’s an amazing mother and the perfect wife, and really sacrifices so much for me to able to do what I do. We put a lot of importance on having a mom in the home raising the kids, and so does a lot to make that happen.
What kind of message of empowerment did you hope to leave with South Africa?
I always joke and say that I’m not a motivational speaker. To me motivation is just a fleeting thought – I’ve inspired you for the moment and you leave not knowing what do or how to take action.
But empowering someone means I’ve influenced you to take action – you’re using inspiration to do the work and make the positive changes in your life.
For South Africans, I hope that my message empowers them to stay the course. Basically, 10% of life is what happens to you, and 90% is how you choose to react to it. We all have a choice about how we look at life and the circumstances that surround us.
Life is what is. We have to maintain hope, choose to have a positive outlook about what we’re doing, and keep pressing forward.
How applicable is Nelson Mandela’s quote about the “power of sport to change the world” to your experiences?
The power of sport is just incredible, and it has no barriers or boundaries.
It’s amazing how at the end of a big event, or even in the preparation, most people look past social differences and races to unify themselves.
I saw how people came together when I was accomplishing the 50 for a common cause. It was really refreshing and it reinstilled my belief in mankind. There truly is good out there, and people can come together. Sport is the perfect avenue for that to take place.
What kind of advice do you have for us about eating healthy on a budget?
It really just does take effort, planning and being conscious. It’s easy and convenient to be unhealthy, but you have time for what you make time for. And we need to start making time to make health a priority.
Once you get down to it, it’s really not even more expensive. It’s the fact that people don’t want to be inconvenienced by eating healthy.
You can’t be unrealistic either though. While I demand excellence out of myself when I try to achieve goals, I maintain a B+ average when it comes to healthy eating. Don’t get caught up in something you can only maintain for a month at a time, it comes down to consistency.
Is there any endurance event in South Africa that you’d like to try someday?
Yeah! I’d like to come back in 2019 and try the Cape Epic.
What triathlon event would you encourage South African’s to try in your territory?
There’s a great event that I’m involved with, it’s called the Doxa Relay. It’s a 280 mile triathlon relay with a team, and it’s a lot of fun! In teams, you cover 36 stages through the beautiful mountains of Utah.
Around the world it gets tough to choose one, man I’ve raced everywhere! But I’d say go for the four extremes that I set out to do this year – Alaskaman, Norseman, Celtman and Swissman. These are real grass roots races that I would really recommend to anyone who wants to experience a real challenge of toughness and endurance.
Was there a specific role model or adventure story that encouraged your feats?
I admire the minds of other endurance athletes. But I think the reason that I’ve been able to set my sights on such high goals that people think are impossible is because I didn’t model myself under a specific endurance athlete, but created my own lane.
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