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Iron Cowboy Movies The Story of the 50.50.50

: James Lawrence : Documentary : October 2018


Iron Cowboy is the story of the greatest endurance feat in history; far more important than anything Lebron James or Tom Brady or Tiger Woods have ever done. Why? Because it redefines what is physically possible for a human being.

In 50 days James Lawrence did the equivalent of 50 Iron Mans in 50 states. An Iron Man consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a marathon run of 26 miles. So over 50 days Lawrence swam 120 miles, biked 5600 miles, and ran 1311 miles. Seem impossible? Most people thought it was before he did it.

By comparison, the Tour de France, often considered the greatest modern test of endurance, covers 2200 miles by bike in 21 days. Lawrence was essentially riding a Tour de France segment every day, then throwing in a 2.4-mile swim and a marathon run on top of that – every day for 50 days.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned here. First of all, most achievements aren’t perfectly executed, and this one was a typical mess. He aimed to raise a million dollars for a charity to raise awareness of childhood obesity, and he failed miserably; raising $75,000, or only $1,500 for each day’s savage labor. But why does everyone feel the need to cloak a great achievement in a fundraising drive?

Purists won’t accept this achievement because one day he used an elliptical machine for six hours instead of running, because of an injury. On at least one run he had assistance, being held up because otherwise he would have fallen asleep and crashed. And some of his “iron Mans” were performed inside because of weather conditions. He had all sorts of logistical problems, as you would expect when you try to run a different Iron Man in a different state every day for 50 days.

He got depressed and injured during the process. The depression was party the result of a barrage of social media criticism about the flaws in his process and fund-raising issues. The injuries are about what you would expect from pushing a human body beyond any known limits.

But here is a lesson that has been overlooked: Despite his injuries and exhaustion, his carefully monitored times for the biking, swimming, and running improved over the 50 days. And that runs counter to everything we’re being told by “experts” about the importance of recovery time from exercise. How important is getting the right amount of sleep? Even though most days Lawrence was getting only 4 or 5 hours, and in one case none, his times improved. He didn’t take time off for his injuries to heal, yet his times improved. He had, in fact, basically no recovery, yet his times improved. All the modern exercise dogma says he should have gotten slower and slower over the 50 days, due to ignoring the recovery process. In fact, his body adapted. And, around day 30, he got his head right.

He also “cheated” using IVs to replenish his system over time. And he probably should not have done that, as it comes pretty close to doping, and we hate doping. But still.

Another lesson? This sort of thing has nothing to do with “physical fitness”. It’s about pushing limits. But he suffered no long term damage to his body from pushing it beyond what most people would think possible, or wise.

The big lesson here is that great achievements are often a hot mess. The 50/50/50 quest by James Lawrence was a very flawed mission, that missed some important goals. The flaws and the misses matter.

But it was also the greatest athletic feat of this generation.

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