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Riding with the Iron Cowboy- 50 Ironmans in 50 states in 50 days

Post by: Tommy Rivers, Swiftwick sponsored athlete


It’s been a couple of years since James Lawrence, better known as the Iron Cowboy, told me about his plans to complete 50 Ironman distance triathlons in 50 days, one in each state. I was impressed, but I hadn’t really delved into ultra endurance distances enough to fully put his goal into context. To be honest, I still haven’t. In all reality there are really only a handful of people in the entire world who have any context for what James is in the process of accomplishing.

James Flagstaff

The Iron Cowboy and Tommy Rivers

James came through Flagstaff on day seven, and I had the chance to ride the bike course beside him. As we talked, I was blown away by his resolve. I don’t think I have ever met anyone so determined to finish anything – ever. His unrelenting drive, in combination with his incredible family and crew made a believer out of me. Is it even physically possible for a human to accomplish such a feat? I don’t know. Are James and his crew going to do it anyway? Absolutely.

I had hoped to join James and his crew sooner, but school kept me away. Yesterday though, I bid my lovely wife Steph and our two little darlings good bye and set out to meet up with the Iron Cowboy team. For the next 20 days, I’ll be following along as James finishes his epic quest.

Last night, I flew into New Jersey, where Ironman number 29 was underway, and quickly set out to meet the team on the Jersey shore. As we pulled in, James was already well into the run. The smiling faces,  he and Sunny’s adorable strawberry blond kids, the fireworks blazing in the distance and the vigorous cheers in the distinct Jersey accent all came together to form the perfect backdrop for the unbelievable feat being carried out.

In a short time, head lamps appeared in the darkness and quickly materialized into James and his escort of runners who seemed to effortlessly glide as they finished the marathon. There was a whirl of flashes as excited locals took their turn to get a picture with the Iron Cowboy. He expressed his sincere gratitude to each one.

Everybody piled into the motor home and did their best to get a few hours of sleep, while the wingmen – who simply don’t sleep – aimed the headlights in the direction of the next destination: Connecticut.

I awoke to the sound of Casey (one of the trusty wingmen) preparing breakfast for James. When it was ready he leaned down and gently pressed his hand onto James’ inner thigh. Casey knew James’ adductors were incredibly sore and one touch would be enough to wake the giant from his deep slumber. Just like that, everyone rolled out of bed and number 30 was underway.

Connecticut-3The swim was held at Norwalk’s “Swim Seventy” – a beautiful new facility with a friendly staff and a clean, modern feel. Outside it was shaping up to be a warm one.

After a second breakfast, James was on the bike and out onto the roads –joined by an avid group of local cyclists on the first of four 28 miles loops. After just the first loop, it was clear that James needed something different. The course was stunningly beautiful- cruising along side beaches, crossing bridges, skirting famous gold courses – but there was lots of traffic, lots of up and downs, and lots of stop and go. He was only able to average 14.9 mph. At that rate, it would take 8 hours to complete the distance. We talked among the group of riders and decided to head inland. Although there would likely be more hills, we would be able to find a stretch of road without stops and hopefully make better time.

After another hour or so, it was clear that this wasn’t a better option. Connecticut is rugged. It is hilly, and today it was hot and humid. It felt more like a tropical island than the Northeast I had imagined all of my life. James and his peloton eventually chose to return back to the coast and finished out the distance with several short, relatively flat loops.

When James pulled back into the crew’s pit stop, it was focused graciousness. He ate food, drank fluids, welcomed supporters, changed his clothes and then hit the road again – this time in running shoes. He focused on putting down fluids as he maintained a steady pace and was able to complete just under 7 miles before the planned Iron Cowboy 5k at 7:00 pm. 


James making his speech before the Iron Cowboy 5k

He pulled into the rendezvous and was met by an excited crowd of participants who cheered wildly. James gave a welcoming speech and then just as quickly as he approached, he lead the group back out onto the streets. As the end of the 5k distance, the group circled and James gave a few words of inspiration. He thanked everyone for all of their support, and restating his intention of fighting childhood obesity; he expressed his determination to finish what he had started.

Dusk was setting in as James once again hit the road – 16 more miles – the flashing light on his back quickly became indistinguishable from the lightning bugs that began to light up the darkening sky.

Follow the Iron Cowboy on Twitter and Instagram to get live updates on his journey!

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