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Recapping The Iron Cowboy’s Epic Challenge

On July 25, James Lawrence, aka the Iron Cowboy, crossed a finish line in his home state of Utah.

On July 25, James Lawrence, aka the Iron Cowboy, crossed a finish line in his home state of Utah. It wasn’t just any finish line—it was the conclusion of his 50th iron-distance race in 50 consecutive days in 50 different states, his “50-50-50 challenge.” The 36-year-old currently holds the Guinness World Record for most Ironmans raced in one year (he completed 30 Ironmans through 11 countries), set in 2012. After setting the record, “I felt empty still,” he says. “I wanted three things: raise more money for charity, find my mental and physical limits and then discover what happens when I find them.” The feat, which ultra-distance expert Rich Roll called “as close to impossible as I can imagine,” began on June 6 in Hawaii. Lawrence shared some of the details behind achieving his incredible goal.

Reaction from communities:
“Unbelievable support—they took us in and treated us like their own. They made sure I stayed safe and my wife and kids were entertained. We were blown away. … The country really came out to support this journey.”

Mental tip:
“Find your why or don’t show up. Mine is my kids. I put on a structured 5K every day we were out there [at the end of each marathon] and my 12-year-old daughter did 50 5K’s in 50 days through all 50 states. I wasn’t going to miss my 7 p.m. appointment with my daughter every day.”

Most difficult states:
Day #7 in Arizona: “My body was still adjusting and I developed a crippling case of pitting edema. My body was shutting down. It was ugly and I didn’t think I was going to be able to start the following day. … [I also] cut my foot on the rocks getting into the water, had to do the swim with one arm due to a pulled shoulder, rode the bike with my feet on top of my bike shoes due to my feet swelling and shoe discomfort, then [unintentionally] biked an additional 3 miles to total 115.”

Day #18 in Tennessee: Lawrence fell asleep while riding and crashed his bike, leaving him with an injured hip and road rash that affected the entire next day. He struggled through the swim and bike, and his coach recommended he run his 26.2 miles on the elliptical to protect his injury. Any official attempt to set a new world record for most consecutive iron-distance triathlons was nullified by what Lawrence’s crew jokingly calls “Ellipticalgate.” He also received criticism from followers for running the marathon on the elliptical.

His cause:
Lawrence used his journey as a platform for raising awareness of the childhood obesity epidemic. As a father of five, he’s especially sensitive to setting a healthy example of eating and an active lifestyle for his kids, and he encouraged supporters to donate to the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation because “his message resonated with me.” The nonprofit organization encourages healthy eating habits and developing cooking skills for children and families as a way to fight obesity, and Lawrence hoped with his daily group 5K during his marathon that he could inspire people to be more active.

What’s next:
“I am spending time with my family,” he says. Also, keep your eyes out for his book and documentary chronicling his journey.

RELATED: 50 Iron-Distance Triathlons, 50 States, 50 Days

By the Numbers

9,000+ Number of calories consumed per day
Swam 120 miles, biked 5,602 miles, ran 1,310 miles
4 hours: Average sleep time per night
15 hours: Average time moving per day

Full-time crew:
8 people, which included his wife and five kids, and two “wingmen.” A film documentary crew of 3–4 people were in and out, his chiropractor came four of the seven weekends, and friends dropped in to support throughout.