Five years ago, James Lawrence did the impossible. Over the course of 50 days, the endurance athlete completed 50 consecutive Ironmans. If you’re not familiar with triathlons, that’s a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, topped off with a full 26.2-mile marathon. The effort landed him in the Guinness World Records with several achievements that haven’t been touched since. That is until now: Lawrence is attempting the impossible again, although this time he’s doubling it. That’s right, he’s aiming to complete 100 consecutive Ironmans this time. “I didn’t think 75 seemed hard enough,” Lawrence tells Men’s Journal, when questioned how he ultimately came to the number. The phrase is said with the no-nonsense attitude and steely focus that’s earned him the moniker the Iron Cowboy. “And because why not?”
Lawrence is currently in the midst of the Hurculean effort in his home state of Utah, surrounded by his team—wife, Sunny, and five children. We spoke with the Iron Cowboy about how he’s training, recovering, and staying mentally fit to complete the Conquer 100 challenge.
How ‘Iron Cowboy’ James Lawrence Prepped to Tackle 100 Consecutive Ironmans
Men’s Journal: How did the idea of the Conquer 100 begin?
James Lawrence: I’d say I first considered it two years ago. My body was getting to a place where it was fully recovered from the 50 attempt. I was starting to crave something new—something bigger. Now that I’d accomplished the 50, doing more became possible. On reflection we started to see some of the logistical and training mistakes we made. There were clear things we could implement to push the boundaries further.
What kind of a physical toll did 50 Ironmans take on your body?
There was a tear in my shoulder I had to deal with only five days in. I developed severe tendinitis in my legs, as well as foot blistering and toenail loss. I believe I lost six of my 10 toenails over the course of it. I was experiencing body deterioration throughout, but you just had to learn to deal with it. You learn how to manage pain. The biggest fallout I dealt with was completely numb fingers and toes after finishing. It probably took me six months, if not a year, for me to get that feeling back. And now that I have it back, I’m able to get back out there and attempt something crazy again.
How are you training differently to double your feat?
The preparation is completely different this time around. When I was doing the 50, I did a ton of volume before. I prepped for about six months, probably peaking at 38 hours a week. I think that factored into the hindrances I started to feel during the runs, like extreme muscle fatigue—ligament and tendon strain at a high level. I learned a lot from that experience. Even though I’m doing more, I didn’t add to the training. I actually took away. This time around I did a four-month camp, peaking at 27 hours a week. I did a lot less volume, but a lot more strength training and intensity work. I grew up lifting weights. I love the bench press and working my legs, from squats to lunges. If you aren’t training your legs hard, you don’t get it.
Did you pull back on the running?
There was a lot less running this time around as well. The first time I was running a minimum of four days a week and they were long runs even after I’d been on the bike for a while. Looking back that was the wrong move. This time I only ran two or three times a week, and the longest one was three hours. That might seem like too little to most when you’re planning on doing 100 consecutive five-hour runs. But the goal was to go into this challenge as durable and strong as possible. I didn’t want to overtrain. The plan is to treat the first half of these 100 full-distance triathlons as the final training process. For our team, this all gets real during that second 50.
How are you fueling?
I removed gluten from my diet as much as I could before Conquer 100. I also removed dairy, which caused inflammation in past runs. i brought on a nutritionist to stay posted on what I was taking in and keeping an eye on the overall plan. As far as during, I’m consuming around 10,000-12,000 calories, staying with high-fat, nutritionally dense foods to cut down on volume. I’ve been supplementing the diet with 1stphorm for years. They’re the title sponsor of the project. They’ve been huge with supplements and having protein drinks readily available. They make sure I get the most out of the work I do in the gym.
Take me through how you recover.
Physical therapy has became a huge piece of the puzzle. I upped the amount of recovery: I do acupuncture, cupping, scraping, red light therapy, along with chiropractic work, and deep tissue massage. I have a hyperbaric chamber on site from Eleve that I’ll jump into. I’ve been using a Biostrap to monitor all of my stats, and I pay a lot of attention to my sleep, because that’s hugely important to everything else. In order to get good rest, I use Braintap guided meditations to calm my neurological system and make it easier to fall asleep. Getting those extra minutes in when I can matter. I recently put in a Master Swim Spa with a hot tub in our house. On top of the recovery value it adds, I also have the ability to do deepwater running to minimize the damage on my legs. It helps me to move my legs and build strength but not take any more pounding.
You’re using the same course every day until June 8 if all things go to plan. What are the benefits and challenges of repeating the same routes?
The beauty of this time around is we’ve removed the chaos of the previous challenge. It was crazy to be traveling all around the country. Getting up to do the same course every single day is a bit mind numbing, but it also removes the logistical challenges we were experiencing during the first feat.
How do you feel? Do you think you are going to accomplish the impossible again?
The whole team is confident. We have a great game plan. I’m taking it one moment at a time, and treating every day like the first day, but I feel great.
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