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The Iron Cowboy Did It! How James Lawrence Completed 50 Ironmans In 50 States In 50 Days

By August 9, 2015January 19th, 202436 Comments
Episode #166



I’m exploding with excitement about this week’s hotly anticipated show.

Today I sit down with James Lawrence — aka The Iron Cowboy — fresh on the heels of completing an absolutely unprecedented and mind-boggling 50 ironman-distance triathlons in 50 states in just 50 days.

I honestly believe this is one of the greatest achievements in the history of (voluntary) human endurance.

For the uninitiated, consider swimming 2.4 miles, pedaling your bike 112 miles and then running a marathon, 26.2 miles. After quickly eating and bathing, you enjoy anywhere from two to four hours of shut eye, usually in the back of a Subaru as it drives through the night to meet dawn in an adjoining state. Then you heave your weary bones up, eat, get dressed and do it all over again. Every single day. 50 days in row, across each and every one of the 50 states — including Hawaii and Alaska — without one single day off.

Just think about that for a moment. Let it sink in.

During James’ initial appearance on the podcast (RRP 149) just prior to his 50/50/50 attempt, I went on record here and on various media outlets like voicing my concern that James just might have aimed a bit too high.

As someone who did 5 ironman-distance triathlons in a row on each of the 5 Hawaiian Islands, I happen to have a little experience in this arena. Admittedly my accomplishments now seem paltry (almost embarrassing) by comparison, the fact remains that I happen to be one of the few people on the planet who can truly understand, appreciate and deeply empathize with the abyss James would inevitably face, battle, endure and be forced to overcome in order to complete his extraordinary journey intact.

Just be empowered to do that hard thing in your life…however low you are, wherever you are, there’s someone out there that loves you and there’s someone out there that can support you and there’s a way to climb out of it.


I know what it’s like to meet unforeseen obstacles that threaten to imperil the mission. I know what it’s like to fall asleep on your bike. I know what it’s like to have saddle sores so painful you can’t sit down. I know what it’s like to run through the night, hallucinating. And I know what it’s like when that inevitable moment arises and you ask yourself: what am I doing to myself?

But James and his entire family were all in from the get go. To underwrite the endeavor, they even sold their house and put all their earthly possessions in storage. So never for a second did I doubt his level of commitment. I knew he could complete 50 ironman-distance triathlons in 50 states. It was the 50 days part that bent my brain. Certainly he’ll have to take at least one day off, right? Maybe two. In my mind, I predicted at least three intermittent rest days.

James, you proved me wrong. You proved the world wrong.

And I couldn’t be happier. Or more proud. It’s not just that you did what you said you would do. It’s the way you did it. It was your composure. It was you tremendous grace under fire. Your selflessness in service to a greater cause. All fueled by an attitude of gratitude.

On a last minute whim, I decided to show up unannounced in Utah to surprise James, join him on his final marathon jaunt, and witness the conclusion first hand. An experience I will never forget, it was thrilling and emotional to be running just off his shoulder as he crossed his historic finish line, accomplished his goal, embraced his family and raised his fist in victory to the deafening cheers of 3,600 fans in solidarity. Like a boss. Like Maximus in ‘Gladiator’.

Enjoy my video surprising James on the final day plus some podcast behind the scenes:

What made the whole affair even more special is that it did not play out under the klieg lights of national television, but rather in relative initial obscurity. But as word began to slowly spread across the tentacles of social media, a true grass roots movement of community support gradually emerged. Interest grew, luring an exponential increase in attention with each successive day. By the time James’ reached his Utah apogee, hundreds of thousands of people — most of which had zero previous interest in triathlon — had become enraptured by the unfolding drama, starting each morning by logging in to the Iron Cowboy Facebook Page with just one question in mind:

Is he still alive?

But understand that this was no individual achievement. It was truly a team effort. In fact, James’ success is inextricably linked to the incredible support of family, friends, sponsors and the ever expanding community of people that showed up in each and every state to help him cross each consecutive finish line.

Today it’s my privilege to bring to you the first comprehensive, completely uncut recap of James’ historic and extraordinary accomplishment.

Not only do I get James’ first-hand observations on the whole affair, I also get his wife Sunny Jo’s perspective. I talk with his precocious eldest daughter Lucy about what it was like running the last 5K of every one of the 50 marathons in all 50 states — a remarkable achievement in it’s own right! — with her dad. I also take the temperature of James’ two primary crew chiefs, Aaron Hopkinson and Casey Robles. Aptly dubbed The Wingmen, the comedic wonder twins were essential to meeting James’ every need while simultaneously serving up much needed levity along the way.

Case in point? The Wingmen showed up for the podcast in nothing but grass skirt speedoes. Plantpower!

So how did this humble husband and father of five — a man who considers himself very average in terms of genetic athletic gifts — succeed in accomplishing a goal so unfathomable nobody thought it possible?

Perhaps it was his impenetrable sense of self-belief. His extraordinary conviction. Or his strong core of support. I’d say all of the above.

James will tell you it was 80% mental.

Among other things, this conversation explores:

  • James’ perception of his achievement
  • maintaining motivation & focus
  • feeding & fueling strategies
  • dealing with sleep deprivation & exhaustion
  • relying on his ‘Iron Cowboy’ alter-ego
  • the impact on Sunny & the kids
  • the example set for his children
  • the crucial role of crew support
  • his approach to daily recovery
  • the lowest moments
  • the importance of accepting help
  • dealing with controversy and external negativity; and
  • his commitment to combating childhood obesity

Final note: I get emotional at the end — a first for me on this podcast. Perhaps a tribute to how much it meant to me personally to see James succeed. So there’s that to look forward to.

What’s holding you back from tackling your dream? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.

I sincerely hope you enjoy this very special conversation.

Peace + Plants,

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Production, music & sound design by Tyler Piatt. Additional production by Chris Swan. Graphic art by Shawn Patterson.

*Disclosure: Books and products denoted with an asterisk are hyperlinked to an affiliate program. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.


  • damienclarkson says:

    The show notes are super comprehensive these days. I think what James has done was amazing and I loved the video you made, it was really touching to see the family embrace at the end.

    A few things through; I found it kinda cold that a deer was seriously injured/killed by them and all they could talk about it screwing up their challenge. It didn’t sit well with me, I know you asked about the deer and they didn’t stop. And the other deers that appeared and headbutted the car they could probably smell the blood on the vehicle.

    I suppose we’re all on different stages in our journey and hopefully they will reflect on that in the future and perhaps see it all different.

    All in all great podcast and very inspiring.


  • Sue Miller says:

    So happy to see this up today, Rich. RE: videos, yes, yes, yes….please do them as time/interest allows. Love having the quick visual of what it looks like as you podcast; the other footage was wonderful as well. Now off to go listen to the firsthand account of this epic achievement.

  • AmandaM says:

    Super fun video. Well done. Thank you! Can’t wait to listen on my afternoon walk break from work.

  • Julie Moen Berg says:

    Excellent! Just excellent! What an enormous undertaking that James and his family, his wingmen and others took to accomplish this goal. So glad you were able to run the final marathon. What an experience! Thanks for sharing.

  • looking forward to seeing the future plans unfold!

  • Love the video blog. Made me feel like I was there too. I’d say do more!

    Also, James is EPIC. Awesome stuff.

  • wendy cicek says:

    GREAT podcast. Listened on my 20 mile run today and was filled with hope, joy and inspiration. What an amazing guy and beautiful family. This is what it’s all about.

  • Dadi Einarsson says:

    Best. Podcast. Ever. Wiping a couple of tears, must have something in my eye…

  • Marcus says:

    Impossible not to fall a little bit in love with James, devoid of ego which in this modern era is no mean feat.
    the story of the old lady in the pool was the most amazing tale, simplicity itself and yet very touching.
    what struck me following this from the UK was how James was always smiling and happy in the photo’s – listening to the podcast understand that this was deliberate and a way of giving back.
    Just awesome xx

  • my says:

    I really appreciated the inspiration and encouragement offered at the end of the podcast. This was obviously a “way out there” feat.

    I was troubled by the discussion about the deer and this distracted me a bit in terms of absorbing the rest of the podcast. You did try to direct the discussion to what happened to the deer but the question was never answered. I never heard any mention of a feeling of sadness or grief about the suffering and/or death of a wild animal. The tone appeared arrogant and dismissive with the guest at one point muttering “stupid deer.” The whole focus was on inconvenience to the mission and vehicle damage. There was also no discussion on what was done to try to help the deer (or at least attempt to move it out of the way respectfully if the deer was dead).

    Throughout the podcast, James frequently referenced his family and teaching his children by example during the “50 in 50 in 50” challenge. I would have thought the team response to hitting that animal would have been am important teaching moment.

  • Aaron Mason says:


  • Rick says:

    I felt the same way.

  • Mauri Snoke-Ordway says:

    Loved the Podcast. What an amazing thing he, his family and crew did! Would have loved to be in on the experience. Such a great cause he chose to promote and represent. Idaho Falls was lucky enough to host him for his 49th stop. Amazing experience meeting them! Thanks for the great podcast!

  • Carlos Hamann says:

    Great interview Rich. James is indeed an amazing person. Thanks for heading out to Utah twice to see him.
    One thing that you didn’t touch on is the Cowboy’s spirituality. Did he meditate before exercising, or while on his long runs and bike rides? If so, how? Is he a religious guy, and if so, what does that mean? I’m sure that you could give him a follow-up call and talk to him about that if you don’t already know the answer.
    P.S. Keep the videos coming. I liked how you inserted the animated map and airplane. But please, try to stabilize your camera!

  • Jerry Volmer says:

    I love the accomplishment. However, it is hard for me to support someone who would leave his wife and five kids “living on a starvation basis”, and have his kids sleeping on the floor by a fireplace because they sold their beds, while he is out trying to set records. Did he pay for the 30 IMs that year? Could that have helped the kids? Seems really selfish and irresponsible.

  • wendyweather says:

    Love the video (and the podcast) – for sure do more of these super cool videos!

  • Simon Shurey says:

    I was super fortunate to spend a couple of days with the cowboy. I got to see the highs and lows, most of all was the mental focus and drive. The love his family gave each other. Looking forward to the podcast. Added bonus was meeting rich in Utah.

  • Patrick Dean says:

    I see obvious Casey Neistat influence in the video…

  • Nick Bowles says:

    Completely agree with your comments.

  • Cindy Hoover says:

    Loved the podcast, loved the video! Thank you Rich.

  • Patricia says:

    I listened to this the first day it was available, couldn’t wait. It was beautiful and inspiring. But I couldn’t help but be a little heartbroken about the deer. I continue to be amazed that people with such loving hearts–such generous spirits!–could be so cold towards nonhuman animals. Laughing about the death of a deer? Literally finding it funny that they had hit and killed and deer (because James had been startled)? Deer have intense social bonds, too. There were deer that felt that loss. It’s a shame that we can’t see that as human beings. And it does lessen us; our accomplishments just don’t seem as great if we can’t honor other life as well.

  • Patricia says:

    I loved the story of the lady at the pool, too!

  • Helen says:

    Big fan of the podcast! Certainly an amazing and inspiring journey for James and his family. I do admit to also being disturbed by the deer incident and not impressed by the way it was handled. In addition I cannot imagine how exhausted Sunny Jo must have been having to take care of James and 5 kids. I would be interested in knowing what her dream is now that he has amazingly accomplished his. I am hopeful that they get some sort of income from this. Certainly felt awful knowing the price his family has paid…..Selling beds and sleeping by the fire for heat seems almost like child abuse. Sorry, don’t mean to be a downer but have to be honest. I love that this will bring more awareness to childhood obesity. Hope they all heal from this journey soon.

  • Dan says:

    so good rich! what a moving interview with the ironcowboy. appreciable questions, great dialogue, insightful conversation. well worth the listen – and relisten. thanks rich. keep the videos coming. peace love plants.

  • Jesse Carrington says:

    Love the addition of video! Hope you decide to keep them coming!

  • Brad DuFur says:

    Loved the video on the Iron Cowboy. Keep the videos coming!

  • rachel ward says:

    Love the video, it’s nice to see you out in the world doing cool stuff and I think it certainly added to the podcast so thanks, Rich! As always, amazing work <3 James, you're a legend!

  • marcelo castro says:

    Best podcast ever! BTW, did you guys know that there is a person in Spain that finished 90 Iron distances in 1 year ( he did 30 in 30 days too)

  • jdee33 says:

    I agree. I was so disheartened by the lack of empathy recalling that moment, even with Rich’s prompting.

  • jdee33 says:

    I am encouraged to read other listener’s comments about the deer episode; I was very troubled to hear that part too.

  • Iain says:

    I love the video! Get them coming. Quite an amazing feat to do the 50/50/50. Great podcast too, some very inspirational moments!

  • Iron Cowboy. 50-50-50. I had a feeling he would complete this. Epic!
    Rich – like the video – keep them coming!

  • Claudia Black says:

    Just speechless! Beyond amazed what James has achieved! Many many thumbs up. It’s people like him that make me look up to someone.

  • Tommy F says:

    The 50-50-50 feat accomplished by James Lawrence, with his family along for the journey, is very inspiring.. to say the least. It’s kinda like space travel.. we don’t know why the heck we’re venturing out there, but we know there’s gotta be something out there. And where no man has gone before, along with the possibility that we can venture through that vortex, witnessing new mind-expanding phenomena, is what pulls us into these unparalleled expeditions.

    Anxious to witness the documentary, and book follow-on. The expansive mind-sphere that James needed to wrestle with out on those 50 days, has got to be something worth listening to what he experienced. I’m sure there’s going to be some amazing wisdom he was able to pull down and will be articulating to us.


  • daniella says:

    loved the video!! please do more of them

  • Ms. D says:

    Yes, same here. I was wondering about the deer. Later I’ve heard they were eating stakes etc. and figured that compassion for animals is not on plant based level yet. Frankly, I lost interest in listening to the story at that point. Lack of compassion for others is such a turn off for me, and a perspective I do not wish to share.

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