Meet James Lawrence, the Utahn Racing 50 Ironman-distance Triathlons in 50 Days in 50 States

“Respect the distance,” this is the mantra of James Lawrence, a 38-year-old Utah athlete who smashed the Guinness Book Record for full-distance triathlons in a year by racing 30 in 2012. (The previous record was 20.) He shares this quote with aspiring endurance athletes who think they can skimp on training and still succeed in a big race. While James accomplishments may make it seem easy, the truth James says is, “long races are more daunting than you think. Every ounce of training shows on race day.”

Becoming the Iron Cowboy

This Utah County-based husband and father of five knows all about this from personal experience. In 2005, James could scarcely run a 5K without huffing and puffing. His wife, Sunny, signed him up for a Thanksgiving four-mile fun run and as he ran, James was distraught to see people pushing strollers cruise past him.

This “Oh Sh*t” moment as James calls it led Sunny to sign him up for the Salt Lake Marathon to improve his fitness. He stumbled through the race by doing a couch to marathon plan and quickly found that solely running was not his style.

James transitioned into short-distance triathlons, gravitating toward the bike discipline specifically, and began racing nearly every weekend. He loved challenging himself and decided to set the bar higher by beginning to race Ironmans in 2008…lots of Ironmans.

While racing around the world, James gained his nickname, The Iron Cowboy. It came about in his native country of Canada when his family said they had a hard time spotting him at races. James jokingly said he’d wear a cowboy hat so they could see him coming, but his kids loved the idea and a tradition was born.

“I instantly became recognized as The Cowboy. All of a sudden spectators became engaged with me. From that point on it’s been a signature thing I do in marathon part of race,” says James.

In 2010, James broke the Guinness Book of World Records for the most half-Ironman distance races in a single year (22 in 30 weeks). By 2012, James was ready for a tougher goal to accomplish. He hadn’t felt truly physically challenged by his endeavors, and asked Sunny if she’d allow him to do 30 full Ironmans in a year. She agreed, and after a family discussion with their children, they committed to the goal.

When James decides to do something, he cannot fail, and he accomplished his quest of racing the most Ironman-distance triathlons in a year (30 in 2012) in 11 different countries.

Photo of James

This year he’s setting his sights on something even bigger.


Since this is not his first rodeo, The Iron Cowboy is going big on his latest challenge with something that’s never been done before, and it’s called the 50-50-50. This coast-to-coast 50-day adventure will push James to his mental and physical brink. He’ll race 50 full-distance Ironman races in 50 days in 50 states. That’s a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile a bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run every single day for 50 days. I’ll save you the math, it’s a total of 120 miles swam, 5,600 biked, and 1,310 run in just 50 days. That’s more than some people do in a lifetime!

While accomplishing this feat will be a new World Record, James says he’s primarily doing it to raise awareness of America’s obesity epidemic and fight back by encouraging the nation to join him in being active. This interaction is what he loves most, “The most rewarding thing is the experience of doing it, not the world records. It’s the experience and the people,” James says.

The adventure begins on June 6, 2015 in Hawaii then James flies to Anchorage, Alaska to race the second day. He’ll meet his wife and kids in Seattle on day three, and they’ll travel together to the other locations by motor home, which they’ll drive through the night so James can race during the day. In each city, James invites the public to participate in an evening 5K with him where the race entry fee goes to charity.

The 50-50-50 endeavor is audacious, and costly, and as a result James still needs big sponsors to make it happen. If your company would be a good fit, consider sponsoring this history-making achievement.

Learn more about 50-50-50 and track James as he trains and races online at Join him for Utah’s race—the final of the 50-50-50—on July 25, 2015.

How You Can get Iron Tough

As for becoming a long-distance competitor yourself, James believes, “No goal is too big,” The key he says is to, “Have realistic timeframes for your goals. Take time to do smaller races and build up endurance.”

For James, training is a full-time job. That’s how much he respects the process. And if you too hope to accomplish big things, cowboy up! Dedicating yourself to the training is the only way. James loves helping aspiring racers accomplish their goals and provides a wealth of free information online at

More in-depth training plans can also be purchased here to keep you on track.

Finally, James recommends finding ways to make yourself accountable for your racing goals. For him, it’s putting his money where his mouth is by using an app called Gym Pact, “You make a commitment and bet money on it. The app will debit your money out if you fail.”

James goes big by betting $50 per swim so he can’t slack off, but you can choose how many bills to commit and change it whenever you like. If you prefer not to commit your funds, he recommends joining a club, a training group, or making a public announcement on social media.

Not sure which race to choose? Flip through The Keeper calendar to find a challenging—and doable—distance for you. Yeehaw!


About Author

Jenny Willden is the Managing Editor of Outdoor Sports Guide and a self-proclaimed gear and grammar nut. She's a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association and the Adventure Travel Trade Association. A lover of adventure and travel, she's happiest when riding horses or snowboarding in Utah’s mountains. Follow Jenny’s exploits on Twitter @jennywillden or Instagram @jlwillden.

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