LIHUE — He did it.
Two months ago, James “The Iron Cowboy” Lawrence and his family were relaxing on Kauai, enjoying a short vacation before he set out to complete an almost unbelievable 50 Ironman-distance triathlons in 50 days, in 50 states.
On Saturday, after swimming, biking, and running a combined total of 7,030 miles over 50 days, he wrapped up his final triathlon in his home state of Utah, shattering his own Guinness World Record for endurance in the process.
“I’ve won the ultimate reward on this journey. I’ve found limits… and I conquered them. And in the process I’ve found myself and I know exactly who I am,” he said in a post to his Facebook page.
“I started this journey with a smile and despite the pain tonight I’m finishing with a smile,” he wrote.
That was important for Lawrence, who told The Garden Island before starting that in addition to his main goal of raising awareness for childhood obesity and diabetes, part of the reason he wanted to do this was because he didn’t feel he reached his mental and physical limits when he previously set a world record for the most Ironman-distance triathlons — 30 — completed in a single year.
But everything didn’t go according to plan, starting with his middle-of-the-night bike ride on Kauai (he started the swim portion at the YMCA in Lihue at midnight in order to be able to finish his first triathlon in time to make it to his next stop in Alaska the next day). During the bike ride, which took him out to the Pacific Missile Range Facility, he got three flat tires and was pulled over by the police.
Things got a little easier once he made it to the Mainland and he was able to sleep in a motorhome while driving between locations, instead of trying to rest while sitting upright in an airplane, but there were still problems. In Nevada, shoulder issues forced him to do the swim using only one arm. Then he was sidelined by Hurricane Bill in Texas, which forced a change of plans: as a result of the bad weather, he had to do that day’s entire triathlon indoors – including 112 miles on a stationary bike and a full marathon on a treadmill.
And then there was the time in Tennessee that he was so exhausted that he literally fell asleep while riding his bike and he crashed. Lawrence didn’t wake up until he hit the asphalt.
The situation improved as he worked his way up the East Coast, where he had to travel less between states and had more time to get quality sleep. Lawrence averaged only four to five hours of sleep per night, but he took short naps whenever he could catch them.
On July 21 he posted, “I… am… exhausted… Everything I can do to say on my bike right now.”
Remarkably, a little more than halfway through his weight was still 169 pounds — exactly the same as when he started. Meals along the route included lots of pasta salad, scrambled eggs, kale, oatmeal, walnuts, bananas and protein smoothies.
But despite having to fight off demons in his head, there were also high points. Hundreds of people came out along the way to swim, bike, or jog portions of the triathlons with him. Lawrence’s mom flew in from Canada to run the last five 5Ks with him, and his oldest daughter Lucy, 12, ran a 5K with him every day, making Lawrence a super-proud dad.
And then after finishing his 50-50-50 challenge he did something entirely sensible: he slept for 10 hours, and then woke up to have a celebratory meal with family and friends.