Balance Through Extremes: The Iron Cowboy

A maniac is attempting 50 Full Ironman triathlons in 50 days in all 50 states… And I got to run alongside him for a few miles

He threw down some watermelon and ripped open a Honey Stinger Waffle, veins bursting out of every surface of skin. “Come in close, I don’t talk loud”. He may not talk loud, but he certainly lives loud.

James Lawrence is what most people would call insane.  In 2012 he destroyed the world record for most Ironman Triathlons in a given year – 30 races in 11 countries.  For those unfamiliar with the masochism that is an Ironman, it involves a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and a 26.2 mile run.

But that wasn’t enough. He knew he could push himself further.

The 50/50/50 Challenge.  50 Ironmans in 50 consecutive days in all 50 states. Over the course of the journey he will be bike 5600 miles, run 1310, and swim 120.

When he hit Georgia on June 27th, he had already completed 21 grueling days, burned over a hundred thousand calories, and eaten over 50 bnanas (checkout his awesome tracking site here - I originally heard about James through Rich Roll's podcast, and I was immediately intrigued by his drive.  His ability to persevere through such extreme challenges was so inspiring, yet so relatable.  And now, here I was, about to run along side him, take part in his record.

A crowd of 50 or so people lined the Silver Comet trail, waiting to hear what James had to say before he took off on his Marathon. In each state he organizes a 5k at the beginning of each marathon, so that fans can meet him and take part in a piece of history. You could tell he was feeling a little worn, but that didn’t stop him from being grateful.

“It’s been inspiring to hear all the stories and see people come out and join us [one dude drove 4 hours from Savannah]. But this journey isn’t about me, it’s about something more important. I’ve got 5 kids – ages 12, 11, 9, 7, 5 – 4 girls and a boy”, he said as he smiled and glanced around, his kids directing crowds and selling t-shirts. “Hustling” as James put it – hustling for a cause.


He hopes to raise $1 million to fight childhood obesity - “It’s an obvious problem. 

"If you think back to your school days you could remember the 1 or 2 bigger kids in your grade -  and now it’s not the 1 or 2, its half the grade. It’s shocking and it’s disappointing and it’s a problem.”

The physicality of the 50/50/50 challenge is half the battle – it’s also a logistical nightmare. With each race he must ride a fine line – he has to push himself so he can finish with enough travel time, but he also has to conserve energy so he isn’t cashed the next day. Most days there is no room for error.

He crushed the last of his waffle and prepped for the final leg of the day.  It was 7:30 p.m.. He still had 4 hours of running ahead of him, then had a few hours of sleep en route to Myrtle Beach, where he would wake up and do it all over again at dawn.

 “I’m totally approachable on the run, come grab some selfies, have some fun, I’d love to hear your stories”.  This resonated with me - despite being obviously exhausted and ragged, he was still so positive. He was still so grateful, so focused on others.  His condition didn’t matter.

[He took off down the Silver Comet, flanked by excited runners of all ages and backgrounds. His weary legs barely lifting off the ground, he still found humor in passing a squatting dog: “Aw yeah squeeze it, get it out!”]

This is James’ method of bringing awareness and change – pushing himself to ridiculous extremes and inviting others to come out and join him.

It’ll take an insane effort to complete the challenge, but I think James is just insane enough to do it. As of today (July 13th) he has completed 37 days and has less than 2 weeks left.

He plans on finishing his 50th and final Ironman  in his home state of Utah – at which point he hopes to present a big check to his cause. Want to help him in his efforts? Donate at

You can also follow him on instagram @IronCowboyJames  

Update: Iron Cowboy James finished his 50th race on July 25th, 2015, setting an astounding records. Cheers, James. Thanks for all the inspiration.