On June 8, James Lawrence, the triathlete known as “The Iron Cowboy,” did the impossible …
He finished his 100th consecutive Ironman race in 100 days.
For one quarter of 2021, his daily regimen consisted of starting his day at 5:30 a.m., swimming 2.4 miles, cycling 112 miles, and running a 26.2-mile marathon, the equivalent of a full-distance triathlon, which he calls an Iron Cowboy Distance Tri.
Named the toughest man alive, Lawrence titled his personal experiment in human endurance and pain tolerance Conquer 100. The challenge was about inspiring people to go beyond their limits to show the capabilities of the human body and mind. “I’ll show you the example by being the example,” he said.
This wasn’t his first time accomplishing the impossible. In 2015, he completed 50 Ironman races for 50 consecutive days through all 50 U.S. states, breaking multiple Guinness Book records. But there were many unknowns, logistics were a nightmare, and he was sleep-deprived. “It was chaos upon chaos,” he said during the private Technology Marketing Toolkit Producers Club meeting in July 2021, his first live appearance after completing Conquer 100.
With Conquer 100, he tried to remove the unknowns. He did it at home in Utah. Completed the same course every day. Controlled his food. Had his team around him. And slept in his own bed each night.
Standing in front of a room of MSPs, Lawrence was raw and emotional. “This was like war for me,” he explained. “When I came up with the 100, I wanted to showcase what it will be like if you train really hard, put a team and systems in place, and remove chaos … It was harder than we thought.”
In the first weeks, Lawrence struggled. He faced freezing temperatures, icy roads, howling wind, snow, and freezing rain. By day five, an ankle injury turned into shin splints and a fracture, forcing him to speed walk the marathon portion. Enduring excruciating pain, it took him seven hours to walk each day and he blacked out while walking from the pain. “Every step I thought I was going to break my leg,” he said.
By day 59, due to help from carbon-plated leg braces, which allowed his shins to heal, he felt almost normal. But then a bike crash caused his hands to swell and pain in his hip. By June, the temperatures soared above 90 degrees F. The wind, heat, and dry air caused his lips to blister and scab.
During those 100 days, Lawrence faced his demons. He struggled, felt broken, and endured unimaginable pain. Here are nine ways Lawrence pushed through and how you can develop your mental toughness.
Surround Yourself With A Great Team.
Everyone struggles. Surround yourself with unbelievable people who are more elevated than you, will push you, call you out, and encourage you to reach your potential. Lawrence has wingmen who never leave his side. One rides the bike portion with him every day, another runs with him every day. His wife, Sunny, ran the entire campaign. Community is also a big driving force. People came out and swam, rode, and walked with him. A core group of cyclists supported him every day, showing up the most on the coldest, wettest days. “Nothing great is ever accomplished on our own,” Lawrence said.
Be Okay Asking For Help.
Be in touch with your inner circle so they can help you evaluate, make sure you are conscious of everything around you, and bolster you up when you need it. On day 15, in the peak of pain from his shin, he wanted to quit. “As humans, when we are at the peak of struggle, our instant reaction is ‘I’m out, and this isn’t worth it,’” Lawrence said. But Sunny knew what he needed. She said, “You’ve done the work, you’re done for the day; let’s reset and look at tomorrow.”
Recall When You Did Something You Thought You Couldn’t Do.
After finishing the 100, he celebrated, went home, and slept. But then the next day, he did one more full-length triathlon by himself. “I promise you, when you’re broken and think you’re beaten, you can do one more,” he said. “Sometimes, when you get up, it’s going to be by yourself. But if you keep fighting, you’ll find your team, and you’ll make your own history.” To get your mindset right, remember the feeling you had when you decided to get up one more time when you thought you couldn’t or didn’t have to.
Shift The Narrative As Fast As You Can.
Games and mental tricks make a hard journey more palatable. Hearing he had 16 days left mentally destroyed Lawrence, so he changed phrases and words to trick his mind.
“Instead of 16 to go, the team would say we only have nine to go to seven to go,” Lawrence said. “Words and self-talk are important.” When choosing words, get something so concrete that “you don’t just say it, you don’t just visualize it, you FEEL it.”
Identify Your WHY.
Lawrence had millions of reasons to quit. He recalled losing his concentration, falling asleep, and falling off his bike when he did the 50 campaign. He didn’t know how he was going to keep going until he remembered his daughter was waiting for him to run the marathon with him. “He who has their ‘why’ to live for can bear almost any ‘how.’”
Just Do 1 Minute.
When he doesn’t know how to keep going, he focuses on that one moment in front of him until he gets past the overwhelm and anxiety. “Motion creates emotion,” Lawrence said. “When in desperation, you must figure out how to be perfect just for one second. Build on that second until you perform a perfect minute.”
Get Experience In Isolating, Tackling, And Overcoming Your Fears.
When he started running, he struggled to complete a 4K fun run. At that point, he never could have imagined doing one Iron Cowboy Distance Tri, let alone 100. But after experiencing 50 in a row, he believed he could do 100 because he had the experience of having and winning those conversations in his head about doubt, fear, and wanting to quit. “It’s through your experiences that you become mentally tough,” Lawrence said. “To grow, adapt, and evolve, we need to become uncomfortable intentionally. Only then will we meet the best version of ourselves and honestly find out what we can accomplish.”
“You’re never going to feel 100% ready,” Lawrence said. Everybody’s “hard” is different. When he did his first triathlon, he didn’t know how to swim. You’re never going to be an expert when you start.
Lawrence’s ultimate reason to keep showing up and pushing is about inspiring hope. “Your word should be your bond, and every time you commit to something, you should finish it,” he said. “It’s not for you. It’s for other people. As we choose to show up in our lives each day, we truly have no idea who is watching, and we truly have no idea the impact we can have on the people around us. If you go through life and say, ‘How can I live my life in a way that enhances someone else’s life?’ then that’s what should drive you.”