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Triathlon: ‘Iron Cowboy’ pushes the limits of human endurance


“The 50 wasn’t close enough to know my limits,” Lawrence told CNN Sport. “That’s why I’m doing the ‘Conquer 100’.”

Lawrence, known to many as the “Iron Cowboy,” travels those thousands of miles near his home in Lindon City, Utah. He started on March 1 and hopes to complete the feat on June 8.

“People always say chase your dreams, but when you chase something you never catch it,” says Lawrence’s wife Sunny, explaining the reasoning behind the title “Conquer 100”.

“With that I was like, it must be something powerful, you own it, you are the master and you conquer it.”

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Push the limits

By completing the “Conquer 100”, Lawrence wants to set a new benchmark in terms of human performance and endurance.

He also raises funds, claiming that all profits generated from his challenge are donated to Operation Underground Railroad, a non-profit organization using former CIA and Navy Seal agents to eradicate child sex trafficking.

“I do what I do to raise money for charity and to challenge myself to see what the limits of my mind and body are,” says Lawrence, who celebrated his 45th birthday at the same time as a 38th successive daily triathlon on April 7.

“My first endurance challenge was a fun four-mile run on Thanksgiving Day,” he recalls. “At least it was like an endurance test when I did it in 2004.”

“James was a gym rat,” says Sunny. “He just went to the gym and lifted weights. I had run for fitness and said, you know, let’s do this run.

“It was difficult for him and I thought you were laughing at me. How hard can that be for you?

“I had always wanted to run a marathon and signed up, but I never knew this fun four mile run would have turned into this whole career.”

After their marathon together, James Lawrence discovered the triathlon.

“It was one small step at a time,” he explains. “For over a decade, I took it a step further, stayed consistent and worked my way up to extreme endurance.

“I’ve always loved individual sports after growing up as a wrestler and then playing golf. Triathlon has been a natural transition for me when it comes to challenging mind and body.”

Triathlon: ‘Iron Cowboy’ pushes the limits of human endurance

Lawrence is said to have completed the most half-distance triathlons in a year, in 2011, before breaking records in the full-distance discipline in 2012.

The “50.50.50” – 50 long distance triathlons in 50 days in 50 states – took the idea of ​​endurance racing to another level.

“It was really a logistical nightmare,” Lawrence recalls. “An experience we will remember forever.”

Travel across the United States in 2015 – as the Amazon documentary “Iron Cowboy: The Story of the 50.50.50 Triathlon” details – the equipment is gone, the shoes are lost and the Lawrence family, including the five children , lived and slept in a rented motorhome.

“This naivety,” says Sunny. “Not knowing how hard it was going to be, it was probably the greatest gift we have ever received. We might have chickened out, but we were like, oh, no, we totally got it.

“When you’re in it and it’s miserable, you’re like, well, we’ve got to see it through.”

Family is important to Lawrence, and his eldest daughter Lucy – now a full-time student and business owner – would meet her father to run the last 5 kilometers each day.

“Nothing great is ever accomplished on our own,” says Lawrence. “And I was so blessed to be on this trip with my family. They are everything.”

Triathlon: ‘Iron Cowboy’ pushes the limits of human endurance
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Lessons learned

Logistics weren’t the only difficulties Lawrence faced. On the sixth day of 50, he tore a muscle in his shoulder and had to swim the following 44 days with one arm, while on another day – due to lack of sleep – he fell asleep. by bike, falling on the road.

On the eighth day, he was suffering from such severe dehydration that he passed out and was then given with an intravenous (IV) drip of saline to recover.

Injuries and a tropical storm forced the “Iron Cowboy” and his team to set up indoor facilities in a number of states to allow them to cover the required daily distances on static equipment such as an elliptical trainer, a machine. elliptical that reproduces the movement of the race. without impact.

This meant that Guinness would not ratify the 50,50,50 for the world record; Lawrence’s use of an IV has also led to hostility and accusations of cheating on social media.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment, but according to the Amazon documentary, intravenous use within two weeks of a triathlon event was considered doping, and subsequently, WADA changed its rules to appreciate extreme endurance challenges such as the “50.50.50”.

However, Lawrence admitted that using an elliptical machine reduced the credibility of his achievement.

Another controversy ensued when Lawrence failed to provide a direct link for people to donate money to the charity he supported throughout the challenge – the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, which aimed to reduce childhood obesity – and he was charged with charity fraud.

The now-defunct foundation denied that was the case, ultimately making a link available, and Lawrence told CNN that the final fundraising figure reached $ 80,000.

Triathlon: ‘Iron Cowboy’ pushes the limits of human endurance
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Home recovery

After what he had done to his body, Lawrence knew that when he entered the “Conquer 100” in the fall of 2020, his preparation had to change.

With health tests at UCLA and medical data monitored daily through Biostrap, his team recognized that he needed to use “every possible option to recover,” including nightly body massages, magnetic pads, a red light therapy, a hyperbaric chamber and a quick restart of the compression boots.

Lawrence also gets a lot more sleep – an average of seven hours a night. His diet includes fruits, sandwiches, Hi-Chews, Swedish fish, salads, green smoothies with protein powders and “as many potatoes as I can,” he says.

His weight – for someone who performs such a large amount of strenuous exercise – has remained remarkably constant according to his team.

Triathlon: ‘Iron Cowboy’ pushes the limits of human endurance
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Your own version of hard

Lawrence knew that it was impossible to train a human body for 100 triathlons the full distance, and said he used a gradual process of low impact, “heavy”, “low volume run” and training. constant swimming and weight so that the first 10 triathlons can initiate it for the next 10 and so on.

He explains that he wanted to feel fresh at the start because “10% under-trained is better than 1% over-trained”.

The plan worked and just like during the “50.50.50” Lawrence says he felt his body “break” after three weeks and then bounce back.

“It was amazing to watch my body change and act like it had a mind of its own,” Lawrence says.

Triathlon: ‘Iron Cowboy’ pushes the limits of human endurance

Being close to his home in Utah, domestic familiarity and local support helped banish memories of the toxic response he suffered online during the ‘50,50,50’.

Sunny points out that the threat is “non-existent”.

“Not a single person. I don’t know if it’s because people know he can do it, or because of the cause, ”she said. “This time, nothing, it’s such a beautiful thing.”

“The community loves it,” admits Lawrence. “Particularly our hometown, Lindon City. They went out of their way for us.

“Everyone is committed and united, it was an incredible experience.”

Triathlon: ‘Iron Cowboy’ pushes the limits of human endurance
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A glance at her social media also shows a lot of interaction with her business – from kids to housewives, from athletes to action figures.

“I love empowering people to do their own version of hard,” he says. “It’s pretty fun doing the impossible.”

Lawrence says he hit his fundraising goal of $ 100,000 on Day 38, and now halfway through his “Conquer 100” attempt, the Iron Cowboy is again in record territory.

“I feel good mentally,” he confirms. “I’m stronger than I was for the 50’s … there’s a lot of work to be done and I respect the trip.”

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