Former Calgarian completes 101 Ironman-distance triathlons in 101 days

Former Calgarian James Lawrence, known as the "Iron Cowboy," recently completed 101 Ironman triathlons in 101 days to raise $250,000 for charity.

James Lawrence the 'Iron Cowboy' says the feat required mental strength, community

James Lawrence completed the same Ironman circuit every day in Lindon, Utah, from March 1 until June 8. (Submitted by Lucy Lawrence)

Comprising roughly 226 kilometres of swimming, biking and running, an Ironman triathlon is a very long race — even further than the drive from Calgary to Field, B.C.

In fact, it's an experience punishing enough that athletes usually tackle just one triathlon a year.

But not former Calgarian James Lawrence. Known as the "Iron Cowboy," he recently completed 101 Ironman triathlons in 101 days to raise $250,000 for charity.

From March 1 until June 8, Lawrence completed the same Ironman circuit every day in Lindon, Utah, with the support of his wife, Sunny Jo, and their five children.

The 101-day circuit began each morning with about 90 minutes of laps at the Lindon Aquatic Center. (Submitted by Lucy Lawrence)

"I've been on a journey for over a decade with our family, and we ended up breaking a couple of records and one thing just led to another," Lawrence told the Calgary Eyeopener on Monday.

"And then we always attach a charitable component to it, and we just love to see what the mind and body is capable of."

Chaos and logistics

Lawrence is no stranger to conceptualizing, and then conquering, athletic feats.

Best known for racing 50 iron-distance triathlons in 50 days in all 50 U.S. states, Lawrence broke the world record in 2015 for the number of consecutive long-course triathlons completed.

In addition to the athleticism required, it was made difficult by elements of chaos and logistics, he said.

And when his primary work as a public speaker was disrupted by the pandemic in 2020, Lawrence considered what could be accomplished if he had to stay in the same place.

"Part of the plan for [completing 101 triathlons] was, 'OK, if we remove chaos and logistics, what's humanly physically possible?'" Lawrence said.

The circuit

According to Lawrence, there isn't a training program to prepare for 101 Ironman triathlons in 101 days because no one had done it before.

Instead, the goal becomes having your body adapt to doing it each day.

The biking segment took five to six hours daily on a loop around the city of Linden. (Submitted by Lucy Lawrence)

And so, the 101-day circuit began each morning with about 90 minutes of laps at the Lindon Aquatic Center, followed by a bike loop around the city that takes five to six hours.

"Hundreds of riders would show up. They'd come ride with us," Lawrence said.

"And then there's a beautiful paved trail behind my house, and we would do the marathon on that trail every single day."

Pros and cons

Doing the same thing, in the same places, over and over, had both its perks and drawbacks.

"There's two sides to that coin," Lawrence said.

"One, the monotony of it, but then two, the confidence — knowing you've done the track before, the confidence of the familiarity of it."

The pros, he said, outweighed the cons. But there were still cons.

Lawrence had to eat between 6,000 and 10,000 calories a day to sustain enough energy to race and recover. (Submitted by Lucy Lawrence)

The wear and tear on his body was extremely difficult — an ankle injury led to a shin injury that led to a hip injury.

"The pain got to a point on some of the days where I would actually black out, and then come back to, and continue on," Lawrence said.

"We actually thought I was going to break my leg at one point, just because we put so many miles on it."

Mental strength

Now that it's all over, Lawrence is recovering with lots of sleep — nine to 10 hours a day, with naps in between.

Eating is important, too. His hips are still giving him some trouble.

However, it was ultimately a lesson in mind over matter and using our support systems, Lawrence said.

People would join Lawrence on a paved trail that runs behind his house for the running segment of the race. (Submitted by Lucy Lawrence)

"The mind is super, super powerful. You only gain mental strength by doing something," he said.

"Community is unbelievable. And we still haven't tapped into the possibilities for the mind and body is capable of. And as humans, I believe we are limiting ourselves, and hopefully we learned a lot from this journey."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.


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