30 Ironmans in a single year? And a father of 5? Meet James Lawrence: “The Iron Cowboy”

Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,

I want to introduce you to some awesome Moms and Dads as I write these letters to you. I’m doing my best to balance being a husband to your mom, a good dad to you kids, and an athlete, but there are some amazing people in the world who are doing these things too. I think it’s important for you to meet them.

I first heard about James Lawrence a couple of years ago. He was this guy trying to set the world record for Half Ironman races in a single year while raising money for charity. Considering that I was struggling to get through 3 half irons in 11 months I knew he was crazy.

The charity part intrigued me though, so I dug into the “Give a Dam” portion of his “Tri and Give A Dam” project. “Give a Dam” – Quiet Way is working with the Kenyan government and Kenyan engineers to build approximately 1,000 water retention systems throughout Northern Kenya to relieve drought. Each dam costs approximately between $10,000 and $15,000 to complete ($1,000,000-$1,500,000 total).

So it turned out James Lawrence was more than just a triathlon addicted guy with nothing better to do. He was really doing something.

In 2010, he set the record by doing 22 Half Ironman races in 30 weeks. But that wasn’t enough for The Iron Cowboy. There was still work to do, money to raise, and boundaries to be pushed. In 2012 he has set out to do 30 full Ironman distance races in a single year. All of this while also being a husband and a father of 5. I had to hear his story.

I recently had a chance to chat with James while he was in France for an upcoming event. I hope you enjoy meeting him:


Chad: So, you’re crazy, right?

James: Well that all depends on who you ask. I don’t think so but many do.  I love to push the boundaries of the body and the mind.


Chad: Seriously though, how do you decide to set the world record for half-ironmans one year and then decide to do 30 Ironmans the next?

James: Who wants to be the “half” record holder of anything – ha ha!  It just seemed like the next thing to do and I didn’t hit the marks I wanted in regards to raising money for the charity.  I am hoping this will draw more eyes which will give the cause some great exposure.

Chad: As a guy about your age I know the pull the do something in the world that matters and the need to leave a legacy. Tell us about the “Give a Dam” portion of what you’re doing.  

James:  I was tired of the same old boring fund raising “galas”  or “events”  so I decided to join my passion for triathlon and try to help others with much bigger needs then us.  We are very fortunate to live where we live with the conditions we live in.  The Give a Dam project will hopefully touch the lives of generations to come with water to grow their crops and be self sustaining and not relying on “big brother”.

Chad: That leads us to your family. How is your wife Sunny handling the whole thing?

James: She is an angel.  If I had a dollar for every time someone told me “my wife would never let me do that”  or “I would never let my spouse do that”  I would have enough to build 100 dams!  She supports this adventure and cause 100%.  I could not do it without her and we make an awesome team.  She is everything to me.

Chad: What role does she play in your success – both as an athlete and as a man?

James: I will be the first to say that I married up!  Ha Ha.  She supports me emotionally and makes sure I have everything I need to be successful this year.  She is the best mom in the world and I know my kids are in great hands when I am not at home.

Chad: Tell us about your kids.

James: My kids rock the house man.  I have 4 incredible daughters ages 9, 8, 6, and 4.  They love supporting and are my biggest fans.  Like most kids they love to play, and just be kids.  They miss me when I am gone and I miss them more.  My son is a ball of fire and my wife has said had he come first we would only have one child.   He keeps us on our toes.

Chad: How are you keeping your family your top priority amid all of the travel and training?

James: Skype is an amazing tool.  It allows me to say goodnight to my kids and they get to see their dad everyday.  Family is my #1 priority and a big part of why I am doing what I am doing this year.  People have a hard time seeing this.

Chad: What does all of this mean in the grand scheme of things? What do you want your kids to remember?

James: You can be and do anything you set your mind it.  Things are not always easy but they will always be worth it if you learn the lessons along the way.

Chad: How are you earning a living while traveling all over the world?

James: I have a few sponsors who have helped but it does not cover everything.  I don’t use any of the charities money and have been funding it along the way.  Many family and friends have been very helpful.  I rely on the kindness of people who let me stay in their homes and eat a few meals with them.  I am a trainer and a coach and have a few clients who I work with, which helps me pay some bills.  Sunny also does some work out of the home to help cover the costs while I am gone. We sold everything and made life really simple to be able to attempt this year.

Chad: I’m sure there are “haters” out there critical of what you’re doing. What do you say to them?

James: I don’t say anything…. I will just show them.  There will always be haters and they just aren’t worth my time or energy….. period!
Chad: Honestly, how do you do what you do? I’ve done a few half irons and the volume, and certainly the races, were difficult. How do you physically do an Ironman almost every weekend? 

James:  It is hard but I have trained my body and mind to do this.  It has taken years of prep and I feel that I have done a good job getting ready.  I asked around and not many people knew how to help me.  I work with a gal in Colorado who helps me make smart decisions while training and racing.  I do not think I am genetically gifted, actually I know I am not.  It is just hard work and a desire to be more.

Chad: Are you training at this point or are the races so close that it’s race – recover – repeat?

James: Recover Recover Recover.  That is now the name of the game.  I will swim bike and run once each between races that are back to back. I do a lot of little things that make it possible to do what I do.

Chad: What was your athletic background before triathlon?

James: I wrestled… that’s it!

Chad: How’d you get started in triathlon?

James: I ran a 4 mile race and was being passed by woman pushing strollers.  My wife called me pathetic which launched an all out attack on not sucking.

Chad: Whats with the cowboy hat and “Iron Cowboy” name?

James: I am originally from Calgary Alberta (cow town) and in 2011 I did a race in the hat so my wife and kids could see my coming.  It was a huge hit and then it stuck!

Chad: You’ve been all over the world already. Most beautiful spot?

James: The swim in Cozumel Mexico.  The biking in the Pyrenees mountains in France and any run where I am not looking at the ground!

Chad: Scariest moment along the way?

James: Everything has been pretty smooth except for when I ran into medical issues in Texas earlier this year.  I have no idea what happened but it was scary as hell!

Chad: Best food you’ve eaten on the road?

James: Home made pasta and meatballs in Germany by my host – it was incredible!  Oh and the chocolate in Europe ain’t bad!

Chad: Sketchiest food you’ve eaten on the road?

James: I stick to the safe basics…. potatoes, chicken, rice, fruits and veggies and bottled water!

Chad: Favorite 70.3?

James: St Croix – would love to go back with Sunny and some friends!

Chad: Favorite musical artist?

James: Eminem

Chad: If your life story were a movie what song would play during the closing credits?

James: Lose yourself


I hope you kids enjoyed reading about James as much as I enjoyed talking with him.

You can keep up with the Iron Cowboy’s race schedule and results here. He also keeps a blog here. A twitter account here. And a Facebook page here.

What James is doing is incredible, but equally as impressive is his wife’s devotion and adventures in parenting. You can follow Sunny’s blog here.


– Daddy