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At 5:30 a.m. in nearly sub-freezing temperatures in Provo, Utah on March 1, 2021, James Lawrence—a.k.a. The Iron Cowboy—took the first swim stroke of what kicked off the Conquer 101: 101 iron-distance (140.6 miles) triathlons in 101 consecutive days.
Lawrence is no stranger to creating and taking on feats others wouldn’t ever consider. He is best known for racing 50 iron-distance triathlons in 50 days in all 50 states, breaking the world record for the number of consecutive long course triathlons completed. He’s also competed in the “World’s Toughest Race: Eco Challenge,” which was featured on Amazon Prime Video, and he owns the current world record for most half-distance triathlons (70.3 miles) completed in a year with 22.
Though he’s best known now for taking on and completing these incredible challenges, Lawrence got his endurance start well into adulthood. “I gravitated towards wrestling when I was younger,” said Lawrence, who turned 45 this year. “And in 2006 my wife suggested we do a four-mile fun run. Those four miles absolutely wrecked me, but also kicked off my journey into wanting to get the most out of myself.”
A full-time public speaker, Lawrence had to face the reality that the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 brought on: No crowded events. No public speaking. No traveling. Instead of letting this harsh new world deflate him, Lawrence took it as a chance to go big one last time.
“I felt like I had some unfinished business with the 50 [iron-distance triathlons in 50 days in 50 states],” said Lawrence. “When the pandemic hit in 2020, I went from 80 speaking events a year to zero. I took this as an opportunity for me to have time to train for one last wild tear—so I went for it: 101 iron-distance triathlons in 101 days.”
In terms of training, Lawrence noted that there really is “no such thing as training for 101 successive 140.6-mile long triathlons.” But still, the Iron Cowboy logged a solid four-month training base that included focuses on power and speed. Then, Lawrence said, the goal was to have his body adapt to the load as the daily undertaking of swim, bike, and run occurred.
Although his body did come around enough to complete all 101 events, Lawrence was not short on pain throughout. “It got really real, really quick,” laughed Lawrence. “I had massive shin problems, which led to hip problems. Some days, I would physically blackout on the run from pain. Then, I would regain consciousness and my crew and I would continue running.”
Lawrence generally took between 14 and 16 hours to cover his daily 140.6 miles.
Even with some intense lows, there always came a high. Lawrence’s family of five kids and his wife, Sunny Jo, updated the community with Lawrence’s daily progress and provided him with meals, injury care, and emotional support. One of Lawrence’s coaching colleagues, Aaron, rode every single 112-mile bike ride with the Iron Cowboy.
The biggest triumph was completing all 100 days—and then adding in one more.
“I love the fact that after reaching 100 completions, I threw down one more on my terms,” said Lawrence. “The messaging behind that was: when you aren’t sure if you can go one step further, know that you can do one more.”
The Conquer 101 wasn’t just for Lawrence, though. Throughout the 14,200.6 mile journey, Lawrence shared info about his family’s dedication to supporting charities like Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.), which seeks to emancipate children from child trafficking. The Iron Cowboy used his social media platform to ask for donations to organizations like O.U.R. during his feat.
If he could impart any bit of wisdom to those reading it would be: “You’re not going to wake up and be mentally tough one day,” stated Lawrence. “The key is to intentionally do difficult things. Everyone has a different version of ‘hard,’ and the trick is to find yours and then build on it.”
Now a week removed from the Conquer 101 Lawrence is “still feeling terrible” but is currently enjoying some rounds of golf with friends and much-needed family time.
As for what’s next, Lawrence plans on continuing to sleep for 10-plus hours a day (with three naps mixed in), eat good food, and heal his body, as well as book in-person public speaking events for the remainder of 2021.
There are no upcoming challenges for the Iron Cowboy but never say never. A cowboy rarely rests for long.