Ode to an Iron Cowboy

Smith Rock Monkey Face

High performance athletes fascinate me with their ability to push to the edge of physical possibility. I’m talking about feats most of us can’t fathom or exploits that make us shake our heads in disbelief. Free solo climbing difficult routes without ropes. Wingsuit flying in Norwegian fjords. Freediving hundreds of feet deep with only a gulp of air.

The Iron Cowboy is such a person. Two words surface when I think of him: Total Badass.

This Utah family man named James Lawrence is about to complete 50 Ironman-distance races in 50 days in 50 states, a feat never before accomplished. That’s 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking, and 26.2 miles of running, about 16 hours of exercise every single day, for almost two months. His mission – fighting childhood obesity – supports Jamie Oliver’s Food Foundation: “My goal is simply to inspire others to challenge themselves and be more active.”

Iron Cowboy

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During the 50/50/50, James has slept fewer hours than many new parents. He’s so exhausted that he fell asleep and crashed while cycling, badly bruising his shoulder and hip early in the challenge. Yet he presses on with a grin and a positive attitude, motivated by his mission.

James is no beginner triathlete. He holds the world record for the most half-Ironmen and full-Ironmen in one year. Still, doing 50 of them in a row takes planning, training, and a surprising outlook on high performance that I find intriguing.

“I always aim for a B+ average in life,” James said on the Rich Roll podcast. “Most people aim for A+ and are successful for two weeks, then fail for six months or more. If they had instead worked at maintaining a B+, the continued effort would accomplish more in the long-term.”

When I think about the skills I’ve learned, the business obstacles I’ve surmounted, and the physical pursuits I’ve completed, James is spot on. If I strive for perfection and can’t figure something out, it’s easy to quit and totally halt progress. A day off is fine, but four weeks away and skills start to slip. Fingers hardened by guitar strings soften, and I fumble Spanish verbs when I try to order a burrito.

Consistency is key. When I don’t have 30 minutes during a frantic day, I take 10 to maintain form. On my busiest days, adhering to a stripped-down routine anchors me to the reality I want instead of drifting away into a lazy sky. A simple activity – 20 squats instead of an hour run – is a stable beacon to center me. I can always find time for a set of pushups, a guitar chord refresher, or five minutes flipping through Duolingo studying Spanish.

Shooting for a B+ average is a simple yet powerful concept when applied to huge goals or simple lifestyle maintenance. It lances bad excuses with surgical precision, yet is as lenient and supportive as a grandmother. Can’t make the 10 business calls per day that you’ve set as a goal? That’s fine – do five. But do something. Then hop back on the skateboard of life the next day and kick flip like Tony Hawk.

The Iron Cowboy started his challenge on June 6th with many doubters. Even with years of incremental training and two world records to his credit, people who supported James wondered if he could swim 120 miles, bike 5,600 miles, and run 1,310 miles in 50 days. Many others discounted his efforts as beyond possible. Obstacles lined up like bowling pins, yet James rallied to throw strikes or pick up spares when things went awry.

Today marks day 49. Tomorrow, he crosses the finish line of the final Ironman, an end to a heroic journey and the start of what I hope is massive kudos by the media to benefit his cause. James is pushing the ragged edge of human performance and proving that the implausible is only another pedal stroke away.

Salsa fork in the England countryside