James Lawrence was already in the Guinness Book of World Records for having completed the most Ironman-distance triathlons in the course of a year – in 2012, he competed in 30 triathlons (in 11 countries, mind you).
In 2015 he aimed for something even bigger: 50 triathlons, in 50 days, in 50 different states. That's 3.86km of swimming, 180.25km on a bike and a full 42.2km marathon, every single day. While Guinness didn't ratify it thanks to weather issues forcing Lawrence indoors on two occassions rides (he still did the distances in a pool and stationary bike), the result was clear: James Lawrence is the ultimate Ironman.
We're not even sure how he had time to sleep (his average: 4.5 hours a night) – much less recover and travel state to state. Here's a little behind-the-scenes with the world's toughest Ironman.
Meet the Iron Cowboy
First question: why?
The first time I set a record, it was an accident: I did the most half-Ironman-distance races in a year in 2011. In 2012, I decided to go for the full. That led to the 50-50-50 project. Each one was in support of a project – the 50-50-50 project raised money for the [British celebrity chef] Jamie Oliver Food Foundation.
Standard triathlete uniform
What was the hardest state?
Arizona and Tennessee. Why Tennessee? I fell asleep and fell off my bike and crashed at mile 30, and had to finish the ride with a lot of nasty road rash.
You fell asleep?
It was one of the biggest struggles, especially on the bike. With swimming and running, you have to actively keep moving… biking, you can coast. That’s when I’d fall asleep. During the most exhausted periods, it could happen in three or four seconds, while my heart rate was well above 100bpm.
Diving in head-first
That sounds like it hurts. Which part of your body took the most abuse?
In between my legs (seriously!) and my toes. My feet were just destroyed – blisters in between my toes, toenails coming off.
A little faster than Ironman pace
You ate 3,500 calories before every morning?
Eggs and hash browns, every single day. It would be about half of my 7-8,000 calorie intake of the day. Three thousand five hundred calories before every bike ride!
Hours and hours of pool work
So you’re a numbers guy…
I’m not a numbers guy – that’s why I hired one to be my coach. I couldn’t have done this without him, and my two wingmen, who did a great job of keeping the attitude fun and lighthearted, which you need to do on such a challenging project.
Want abs like this? Just do 50 Ironmans...
Speed wasn't your goal in these.
No – and if it had been, my average was about 14 hours. The goal was to finish 50 – and I'm pretty sure I did that faster than anyone, ever!
One for every star on the flag
You had a lot of people join you on the way.
I invited people to join me for the last 5k of each marathon. Some days we had 10 people, other days we had 2,000. I was totally inspired. People shared their stories with me every single day, and it kind of became a game of emotional ping-pong. They’d bat their stories to me, and I’d take that and use it as fuel the next day.
What’s up next?
The Iron Cowboy triathlon, coming up in August 2016 in Utah