James Lawrence, also known as the Iron Cowboy, is a mindset and fitness coach, best known for testing his mental and physical limits. In 2021, James set out to complete 100 Ironman-distance triathlons in 100 days. He ended up doing 101 triathlons in 101 days.
The Conquer 100 wasn’t the first time James tested his athletic limits. It started when his wife signed him up for a marathon. But one marathon wasn’t enough, so he tried a sprint triathlon. He was hooked, and in 2011, he completed 20 half-Ironman distances in 22 weeks and then 30 full-Ironman distances in 2012. In 2015, he completed 50 Ironman triathlons in 50 states in 50 days.
In this episode, the Iron Cowboy talks with Sonya about his 101 Ironman-distance triathlons in 101 consecutive days – the planning, the pain, the wins and expectations.
“We have to change our minds before we can change our bodies and our habits and who we believe and associate as who we are. That’s been one of the most profound things to me is creating those small wins, creating those habits, changing from being inspired to being empowered to take action to it is who you are. And that is so very powerful.”– James Lawrence
- Guiding principles and ethos
- Importance of celebrating small wins
- How they planned the 101
- Dealing with the monotony of the 101
- Managing internal and external expectations
- Importance of his mantra Here We Go
- Some of the injuries he incurred
- Insights post Conquer 100
- Learn more about the James Lawrence
- Listen to Episode 13 – my first episode with James Lawrence
- Check out my podcast How to Make Habits that Stick with James Clear, author of Atomic Habits
- Listen to Rich Roll’s podcast with James Lawrence
- Listen to Ed Mylett’s podcast with James
- Check out my Substack about high-performance mindset
- Sign up for my weekly newsletter!
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Sonya Looney: James, welcome back to the show.
James Lawrence: Thank you, beautiful. Man, you probably hear this. I have a wife and we’ve got a lot of kids, but it’s just this glow of expecting mother that is always so fun and so special. So congratulations to that. But yeah, thank you for having me on the show for another second go round.
Sonya: Yeah, I looked and you were actually episode 13. I don’t know exactly what episode this is going to be off the top of my head, but it’ll be really close to 300.
James: So you’ve been busy in between because it would have been what, 2016 or ’17?
Sonya: Yeah. Lots happened since then.
James: Yeah. A few things for both of us, for sure. I don’t think you had any kids when we spoke first.
Sonya: No. We had our first kid in March of 2020. So for many, March of 2020 marked the pandemic, but for us, it also marked having our first kid.
James: Yeah. At least there was some shining light amidst all the crazy.
Sonya: Yeah. So, man, last time we talked, it was about your 50 50 50, 50 Iron Man, 50 States, 50 days, and people can go back and listen to that episode. Let’s talk about how you’re feeling right now. Well, first, I guess, tell people what you’ve done because people might not know.
James: Yeah. Since the 50, I’ve just done some fun racing. Right. I mean, I got to race further back from you, but on the same course in South Africa, we did the Cape Epic the same year. And actually I’m doing it again next year.
Sonya: Oh, awesome. Maybe I’ll be there. I don’t know. I’d love to do it again next year.
James: Yeah. My same partner just reached out and said, hey, I was supposed to do it in 2020. Obviously, it got pushed back. And he said, you want to do it again? I said, absolutely. I was newly getting into mountain biking at the time, and so I had no clue what I was doing. And you talk about having no clue what you’re doing and getting thrown into the world’s most difficult mountain bike stage race with the likes of Sonya’s in it. It’s been wild, man. But most recently, after the 50, our lives changed and had an amazing opportunity to speak around the world in 48 countries, which is crazy. And then just continually racing. And then, like you said, the pandemic hit in 2020, in March, and our world of racing and coaching and everything got erased. And my world of speaking got erased. And we go through our own journeys and we have failures and we make mistakes. And that’s how we ultimately learn and become better at everything that we do if we are aware of wanting to make changes. And I had always said I always wanted to redo the 50 because you learned so much the first time you do something. But I’ve never, ever wanted to do the 50 over again. It was just so terrible. But the purpose of the 50 was always to find out how many consecutive I could do. And with the 50, as you know, if you’ve watched the documentary or seen any part of our story, it was riddled with chaos and confusion and controversy and all these crazy things because of the logistics. And we had no idea what we were doing. And so I always wanted to reset that part of my history. And I said, okay, calendars wiped clean. I’ve got an opportunity. Over those five or six years, I kept getting the impression, you can do 100. And I was like, stop it. It’s not even possible. And for me, I thought, okay, this is an opportunity. I’ve got a clean slate. The only problem was I was incredibly out of shape because I’d taken years off from racing. And everything we’ve done to that point was like stepping stones to what was next. And I thought to myself, okay, if I can remove chaos, confusion, put team and systems in place, can we double what we attempted before? Because we’re going to take away that logistics component, that chaos component. Obviously, chaos was still very present in the hundred. But that’s what we set out to do was we called it the Conquer 100 Project. And it was March 1 of last year. So we’re actually in the week anniversary of the 100 as of the recording of this. And it was just that it was to find out how many consecutive we could do 140.6 miles. And so it was 14 weeks, 100 consecutive days, no days off, 14,000 plus miles, and just see what we got.
Sonya: So most people probably say, why?
James: It’s funny, to that my answer is so simple. And it’s why not? Because I don’t want to look back on my life and have a giant bucket filled with what ifs or what could have been or did I reach all these things. And I had an opportunity just last week to share a stage with Ed Myllet, who’s an unbelievable podcaster friend. Now, I’ve done a couple of stages with him, and I’ve done his podcast, and he said something that really resonated with me. And he basically said, I love to compete, right? He loves to compete, and I too, I love to compete, grew up a wrestler, but he said, I’m not competing with anybody else except for I’m competing and chasing the highest, most decorated, highest potential version of who I am. And he’s like, when you get to the end of this life, you want to have come face to face with that person. And the conversation is either going to be amazing, you caught me and surpassed me, or why didn’t you catch me? And so your original question was, why? And it’s because I love adventure, I love potential. And I think as a society, we’re currently sitting down, we’re looking around, and we’re comparing ourselves against what everybody else is doing. And to me, the level of accomplishment and the level of what society is currently accepting is mediocre. And we’re actually limiting ourselves in terms of human potential because we’re all so scared to go out and do because we’re stacking ourselves up against everybody’s best Instagram moment. And that’s either scaring a group of people and they’re unwilling to go do it or because they’ve got this limiting set of beliefs on them. Basically, it’s scaring people and it’s just a fake reality. The answer to your question is why not?
Sonya: Yeah, it seems like there’s a lot of things that people want to do in their lives, but like you said, they’re too afraid to try. It might even be just a lack of inspiration or curiosity. Like maybe I want to do something physical or mental or it could be anything, but they don’t even know where to start. They don’t even know something that’s inspiring to them. And it sounds like for you that taking on a hundred was something that was sparked in your mind that you had that creative moment and that curiosity to say, I want to go after this thing. What advice do you have for people who are unsure of what that thing is?
James: Yeah. One of my very favorite slides in my presentation is a picture of me in a pool in my very ever first sprint Triathlon over 12-13 years ago. And I’m gripping to the edge of the pool. I’m gasping for air. I’ve got a nose plug on. I’m literally learning how to swim in that moment. And I say this, too, like nobody would have looked at that person right there in that moment and said, yes, sports endurance history right there. Guinness World Record Holder right there. Nobody would have said that. And so my advice to anybody is like, again, stop comparing yourself to people that have achieved because you can’t go from zero to 100. What you’re looking at is over a decade worth of showing up. And every journey has a very, very humbling beginning. And my advice to people is like, be okay with where you’re at today. No comparison, just filled with gratitude and start your journey. Because my journey is compiled of moments along the way that have allowed me to believe in what’s coming, that I don’t even know what’s coming in. And you can’t see certain mountains that you have declined because you’re not at the top of the current challenge, you’re not facing the current adversity that you’re on. And now you have a limited view or perspective, and that’s why you have to one, start, but two, keep going, keep climbing that mountain. We’re never just standing still. And so once you get to the top of today’s mountain or this part of your journey, all of a sudden a new mountain comes into view. You couldn’t see it before. It wasn’t even on the table. Right? And so that’s really the challenge or the advice is like, be okay with where you’re at today because again, nobody would have looked at that guy gripping to the side of the pool and said, yes, that’s him. That’s the guy right there.
Sonya: Yes. I love the quote, be brave enough to suck at something new because we’re afraid to suck at something to start, but expect yourself to suck. And that’s exciting because that means that you get to improve. And then like you said, you have no idea what that trajectory or that journey is going to look like. It’s funny because the way I grew up with school, it’s like you set your three year goal or your five year goal. And now with athletics and sports, I don’t even set three and five year goals because I have no idea what that path is going to look like. But I know that if I keep moving forward down it, it’s going to reveal itself and it’s going to be really fun and exciting if I have the courage to go there.
James: Yeah, I absolutely love that. And we’re on the anniversary of the 100, and I’m going through all the blogs and compiling all the data and whatnot, and we’re writing the book. And so it’s all just like this constant reliving of it. And every night during that 100, myself, Sunny and the two wingmen would say a quote or something that resonated with us that day, something we saw, something we learned. And then Lucy would put that on the blog. And as I was going through it today, I read one, and it basically said, if you put all of your focus, control, attention and effort into this moment right here, the future will take care of itself. And so it’s just what you’re saying. Like, if as an athlete, if you put you’ve got these goals, you’ve got the next race, and if you do everything in your power right now to become superhuman for that race, that’s when the opportunities and different races and things will open up. And if you’ve got a five year goal to XYZ and you have no idea what the next whatever holds right, or injuries or crashes and this and that. So all these things that are outside of our control, it’s good to have an inkling to where we’re going, but to be open to the lessons and experiences that we have along the way to take us certain places that maybe we didn’t even know about. I tell people all the time, look, you can’t go from zero to 100. You can’t go from zero to 100. You have to have all of these experiences and everything. When I first started my journey to take down the world records, trust me, I couldn’t conceptualize 100 because I wasn’t there on my journey yet. Right? But now I look back at some of those records and they’re laughable. Right. It’s always this perception, perspective that we’re at and that’s why it’s so important to be right here, right now. One of my favorite quotes is there’s only one time that’s important, and the time is now. And it’s the most important time because it’s the only time when we have any power. And so we’re so busy catastrophizing giving all of our power to a future event that hasn’t happened yet. That’s the worst case scenario. And it cripples most people, which tends all the way back to the beginning of the conversation, which is fear. And fear is paralyzing. And we need to overcome that, to just start where you’re at right now and be okay with that part.
Sonya: Sounds to me that you’re really aware of what your guiding principles are. And you mentioned a couple of them right at the beginning. You said adventure and exploring potential. What are some other guiding principles that lead you through your life?
James: Yeah, it’s interesting. Honesty and integrity are some big ones. Empathy and kindness are some other ones. I’ve been, as has everybody, intense scrutiny, incredible bullying, cyberbullying, all this stuff. We do mindset courses, and I coach athletes like yourself. And one of the biggest things, if I do an eight week mindset course with someone or retreat or whatnot, one of the very first principles that we talk about, one is gratitude, but two is an ethos or a grounding mission statement. If you were a company, right, if us as individuals were a company, what’s our ethos? What’s our mission statement? What do we stand for? Because a journey, if you’re pushing boundaries, if you’re always striving to become better, it’s going to be laced with adversity and challenges. And an ethos becomes very important because when you’re faced with a lot of challenges and adversity, it becomes a very emotional journey. And sometimes when something becomes very emotional, it’s hard to make a good decision because it’s so backed and driven by emotion. And if you’ve taken the time prior to something big to write down an ethos, black and white, what you stand for now in that moment when you’re broken, when you’re so filled with emotion, you can say, what are my grounding principles? What do I stand for? And then you allow your ethos to answer the question. And so any difficulty, any adversity, anywhere on your journey, if you’re prepared, is immediately answered by your ethos and the preparation that you did prior to going into that. And it’s a constant evolution of your standards, ethics and your values. Does that make sense at all?
Sonya: Absolutely. And I want to know what your ethos is today.
James: So the two most powerful things are statements on my ethos of three. One, do everything with honesty and integrity. I tell my kids all the time, the cream rises to the top. Sometimes it takes time, but the cream always rises to the top. I always finish what I start, and I set the best example I know how for my kids. And so with those three things, it’s very easy to answer almost any situation that I’m in without emotion. Those are my grounding core principles. And once we have those in place, everything becomes easy.
Sonya: I always finish what I start. That’s a really difficult one for many people. There’s a lot of starting stopping that happens or saying you’re going to do something and not doing it, especially when it comes to habit change and losing integrity with yourself. Is that something you’ve just always done, or is that something that you had to train?
James: Yeah, great question. I think you have to train it. And the biggest problem I see is because of what we’ve accomplished, people reach out to us and say, I’m going to do XYZ. It’s massive, right. And they haven’t gone through the right steps to get there. And the problem is they haven’t created any momentum. They haven’t created small wins that creates a belief system behind who you are. And they set these big goals and they lose traction and they fail. And then they now associate themselves with being a failure because they didn’t finish what they started. And the reason that I believe we’ve been successful and have been able to develop this kind of mindset is because our goal started small as we were learning and growing. And those experiences created small wins. And those small wins are so incredibly important and vital on our journeys because as people, we look and judge ourselves on our past experiences. And sometimes that’s good and sometimes that’s bad, depending on what our experiences have been. And so I always encourage people like, look, again, you can’t go from zero to 100 and you have to create a small system of wins, and talking about habits and whatnot I love usually have a copyright here, but I don’t, one of my favorite books is Atomic Habits by James Clear. And in that book, he talks about how everybody tries to take on too big of goals. And it’s about creating a habit or a routine and something that you associate yourself with being. And I love this one where he was like, okay, most people are tired of being out of shape. They’re tired of being unhealthy. And they’re like, okay, I’m going to the gym six days a week, two hours a session, and then it never happens, right? They’ll do one, they’ll hit three times a week, but then they’re a failure, right, because they didn’t hit their goal of six a week for two hours a day. And now they have that association, that brain association. Well, I’m a failure. I didn’t finish what I started, all these things. And he said, look, you’re going to go to the gym and it’s going to be for five minutes. And I don’t care how many reps you got. I don’t care how many steps you’ve got in, after five minutes, you have to leave. And then tomorrow you go back to the gym and you go for five minutes and I don’t care…And after the two weeks, then you’ve accomplished almost nothing in the gym. But your psyche is so powerful. I’ve gone to the gym every day for two weeks, and you now are a gym goer. Well, that changes the whole conversation in your head, because now you have this belief system that you are a gym goer and now you up it to 15 minutes and you have to leave after 15 minutes and you’re thinking, well, crap, I’m never going to become physically fit, but we have to change our minds before we can change our bodies and our habits and who we believe and associate as who we are. So that’s been one of the most profound things to me is creating those small wins, creating those habits, changing from being inspired to being empowered to take action to it is who you are. And that is so very powerful.
Sonya: Yeah. For people curious, I’ll Link I interviewed him, James Clear and Atomic Habits on the show. So we’ll put that in the show notes for you. Those identity based habits. I’m the type of person who does this. This is what I do in my health and performance coaching as well. The client will set such small goals. They’re like, oh, I want to do this six days a week. But it’s like, no, it’s about those small wins, but it’s also about recognizing and celebrating those small wins. And a lot of times people reject their success. They reject their win because they feel stupid or they think it’s too small to celebrate. So for you, what do you do to celebrate these small bricks in the wall that paint your masterpiece?
James: Oh, man, that’s a great question. I think I’m just always celebrating.
Sonya: That’s awesome.
James: I don’t have a specific thing. I just live in such a way. Like our family is just habitually positive and excited about life. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have moments. Right. But I don’t have a specific example where we celebrate just because it’s a continuous celebration. It is a continually filled with gratitude. It’s a ritual or a habit of waking up and being grateful and celebrating just the fact that we get to start today. And maybe that’s a different mindset. But I think I celebrate the journey and the small moments along the way, maybe more than I should or maybe not enough I guess.
Sonya: I was asking this question of myself, and I’m not somebody that wants to go just like buy something or go out to dinner. It feels like I’m forcing myself to celebrate. And for me, I realized it was the smallest thing of just saying out loud to my husband, I am really proud of this today. And that’s something that we do every single day and say what we’re proud of out loud because a lot of people feel uncomfortable even saying I’m proud of myself for doing something, but that acknowledges the work that you did and how important that is and how important it is to celebrate that win to power tomorrow.
James: I think, too, society or social media has really hammered the fact that humility, you have to be humble in pursuit of greatness. And although that’s true, I don’t think it’s not humble to celebrate victories, to create momentum. And I think society should allow celebrations to happen, to allow those moments, because that’s truly where you gain that self belief. Success breeds success, and confidence breeds confidence. What part of that formula is celebrating those small wins? And it can be as simple as just like you said, saying the words out loud. You know what? Pat yourself on the back. Mel Robbins, a mere high five, whatever it is. And as cheesy as it sounds, dude, it’s those small things and self recognition. Because you know what? We live in a day and age that other people aren’t going to celebrate. Your victims and other people for some reason. They want you to live in the cesspool that they’re living in, and they don’t want you to succeed. What I have experienced and found on my journey is like they get to have each other and be with each other. And as you continue to grow and evolve, you encounter people that are living in abundance and are very humble and are extremely gracious and very kind. This is probably a fairly popular quote, but money is and we’re very religious and spiritual, and there’s a bad misconception that wealth is bad. And wealth isn’t bad. Wealth only magnifies who you are as a person. And there’s so much good that comes from success. And wealth doesn’t mean success, but it’s not a negative. It’s not a bad thing.
Sonya: Yeah, the wealth magnifying who you are. My husband and I have actually talked about that a lot. And I also think that having kids magnifies who you are, too.
James: Oh, my gosh. To the highest level. I truly believe that kids, children, are here to humble and teach adults. They’re the greatest teachers of life lessons. They are the greatest tool of self reflection, of compromise, of unconditional love, of understanding, of patience. I mean, there’s just so many things that if you’re an engaged parent that you will learn about yourself. And I think timeless principles that we all need to live in it hereby come through parenting and raising a child and learning those. There’s just so much that goes into it. It’s a beautiful thing. If anybody has the means, the ability, I think should have children.
Sonya: I love it. I could talk life and philosophical principles with you all day. And I realize people are probably like, ask him about the logistics of how you do 100, you actually did 101, Iron Man distance triathlons. I want to know the details of what he did. So can we start with how you planning and your team plan the logistics of this.
James: So a big piece of it was, okay, we need to remove chaos and we are going to do the same mind numbing course every single day for a quarter of a year. And there’s two sides to that coin. People are like, oh, man, how do you manage the boredom of doing the same thing every single day? And initially I was like, oh, man, I never thought of it that way. That is going to be pretty taxing and pretty boring on the mind. But then the flip side of that coin and we’ve talked about confidence and momentum, by doing the same course every single day, it becomes a habit, it becomes routine, it becomes who you are, it becomes familiar, it becomes normal. And you gain confidence because let’s say you’re on a day where you’re really struggling and you now know every bump in the road, you know every sign, you know every turn, you know every nuance of your environment. And that brings comfort logistically outside looking in first glance, oh, man, I would hate to do the same course every single day, but it brought that level of comfort and normalcy because I did become so familiar with the route. I did become so familiar with the community because on the 50, logistics was insane and you’re going to the next state blind. You hope the volunteer ambassador that you’ve been talking with over the past year, setting the… shows up, does what they said they were going. I mean, you’re just so much of the mercy of other people that’s what we wanted to try to do is try to control what we were doing. But the logistics, we were trying to control what we did, how much we did. But then there’s so many uncontrolled. And even now, because we’re in the first week of the anniversary of it, and weather is the one of the things you can’t control. And weather pushed us inside during the 50. We got in the middle of some hurricane storms and some lightning, very dangerous lightning, showers. And so one of the things I was like, I refuse to go inside. And we started the journey March of last year. And day number one. It was 18 deg outside.
Sonya: Fahrenheit for those Canadian folks.
James: Yeah, if 32 is freezing, 18 degrees. So it’s rather cold. I’ve never been so cold in my life. And it did not let up. It was relentless. And just yesterday, I mean, what are we March 7. So yesterday we would have been on day number six. We had a massive snowstorm coming yesterday. And I just kept looking at the roads going, man, can I bike on that? Would I use my fat bike? What would I do? And then the community really came out. I got a lot of really great friends and we’re all reliving this journey. Now when you removed. But they sent me a video from day 11 of last year where it was almost exactly the same conditions as it was yesterday. And no excuses, we were out there and we faced it and went out there. Logistics were very different than the 50. There was so much unknown, so much chaos. But like any journey, so much happens over a quarter of a year. And the biggest thing that we dealt with was weather, incredible winds, we had rain, we had snow, we had sleet, we had hail, we had lightning, you name it. And we just did every single step outside. And we refused to do it. And the whole premise of the campaign was, for me was like, I want to leave no doubt to who I am, who our team is. I want to give zero ammunition to anybody to critique anything we’re doing. And that became a massive driving force for me because we always want to be perfect. We always want to show the best side of us. And then chaos happens and it just starts to break you. And that’s why you have an ethos, and then you try to hold true to that line being as perfect as you can.
Sonya: Yeah. And I wanted to actually ask you about this internal versus external expectations piece, because I know the internal part is really important to you, but I’ve also heard you say, I want to leave no doubt, and I want to prove to other people this. So I know that there’s an external expectation piece that’s important to you. Why is that external part important to you?
James: Okay, great question. No one’s ever asked me that before. And I’ve done a lot of interviews, so good job. Yeah. Everything has to start with self belief, belief and conviction. It has to start with you. Nobody’s going to believe in you until you do. And there’s always that debate, that conversation to not give anybody power. That is an outside force that is trying to drive you in, trying to drive you down, whatever it may be. But there are some instances where that driving force brings out a better version of you. And they are maybe pointing out things that you didn’t see or that you can’t see because it’s a very personal emotional journey. And oftentimes that outside influencer voice is a good opportunity for us to sit down and self reflect and have that meaningful conversation with yourself. I never try to prove anybody wrong, but I do enjoy taking some of that fuel and allowing it to propel me to be better. This has always been a family personal journey. It has always been us finding our limits and what we can do. And we’ve never done anything dishonest. We’ve never done anything that didn’t lack in integrity. But it definitely was part of the conquer 100 to reset a small percentage of the public opinion about how we did the 50 and the chaos and confusion that followed that. But the reality is, that external piece is very real because what we do impacts the external world. And I talk a little bit about this in my stage presentation and different interviews that I’ve done is I believe that we all have God-given gifts and talents, and it’s our duty to share those gifts and talents with others. And for the longest time, I had no idea what my gift or talent was. I’d be like, oh, man, that person is an amazing singer. And I’m like, I suck at singing or that person, man, they’re an unbelievable athlete, I’m just mediocre. Or this person does this and all these things and you go through life and you’re like, dang it, what’s my talent? And then finally it hit me on the 100 that I have this really bizarre talent to endure pain and suffer. And I know when I say that you’re like, that is the worst gift or talent that anybody ever has. But I have found, and this is where it’s interesting, is that our team’s willingness to suffer gives people hope on their journey where they’re not intentionally suffering. And so that outside influence fuels and drives me to continue on and suffer, to give other people hope on their journey. And that’s where I allow that to fuel and drive me because they may have a different perspective than we do on our journeys. And it could create light or opportunity if we are mindful about the information that they’re giving us.
Sonya: Yeah, I actually have hope and purpose written down here in my preparation because I knew that was going to become part of what you said, because what you’ve done…the impact that that has, like, you’ve seen some of the impacts in people’s lives, but there’s also impacts that you’ll never ever know. But I want to come back to the managing the internal and the external because you said that sometimes you need to listen a little bit to that external so that it can motivate you and make you analyze what you want to achieve. But it’s really hard to have a good relationship with, even if it’s constructive criticism or not unconstructive criticism and not let that become detrimental to you. How do you balance that, manage a good relationship with that so that it inspires you instead of becoming I have to prove myself?
James: Yeah. Again, a great question. I think that again, we become very emotional on our journeys. And criticism is hard to take because most of us well, I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s most of us, but many people are drinking their own Koolaid, and that’s it. That’s all they believe in is their own Koolaid. And for the most part, you have to in order to be successful, nobody is going to believe what you say until you believe what you say. And so that’s super important. But sometimes there’s truth in what other people say. More often than not, it’s not true. And that’s the problem is dissecting those because those individuals will plant a seed in your head. And as humans were toughest on ourselves, we are our worst critic and we’re constantly battling the bully inside of our head. And so there’s a fine line between hearing what the outside is saying and processing it in a positive or a negative way, because you could take what someone else is saying that outside criticism or critique and allow it to cripple you, and right, wrong or different, but depending on how you interpret it, it could break you down. Or you could say, okay, I’m going to take this bit of information and I’m going to dissect it, and I’m going to see if there’s any truth or light in it. And then I’m going to decide what I do with that information. If it doesn’t serve me, the higher good, the community, I’m going to dismiss it as abuse and bullying. But if there’s some truth in it and I can improve, enhance and make better the impact and influence that I have, then I’m going to listen to that. But that takes a mature individual, that takes someone who says, look, that takes a humble individual, I want to learn and grow. I’m going to take this criticism and I’m going to look at it seriously, and then I’m going to have an honest, real conversation with myself and those people around me that I really trust. And then we’re going to throw it against the wall and see if it sticks. And if it doesn’t, I’m not going to give it any power. But if it does, I’m going to use it as power to make myself better so that I don’t have to hear from you again.
Sonya: Yeah, I love that. That makes so much sense. So you said that your talent is pain and suffering. I’m going to go back to James Clear, his book, actually, and there was something he said it was like, it’s not that doing something extraordinary or changing your habits, that it’s easy. It’s you can do it in a place where you’re willing to be endure more pain and suffering more than anybody else. Like the area that you’re going to excel the most at and make these changes is you’re going to endure more pain and suffering because you have more tolerance for it in that area. So how do you deal with the pain and suffering piece? Because it’s your talent, but you also have probably a toolbox or a set of things you say to yourself or a set of things you don’t say to yourself whenever you’re enduring the most pain and suffering, which is going to happen in what you did. It is probably like the bulk of what you did.
James: Yeah, for sure. And man, I got my very full cup of suffering on the 100. It was a massive dose. And the reason was because, leading up to the 50, it was challenge after challenge, campaign after campaign, growth, knowledge, experience. The next things. It was all stepping stones. Well, after the 50, everything changed and I went into more of a coaching role or recovery role, changing where our focus and attention was. And when you’re not fully engaged, you lose fitness, you lose all this. One of the biggest questions I always get is how do we become more mentally tough? The only way to become more mentally tough is through experience. So the 100 comes up an opportunity to attempt this. And I’m six years removed from the greatest version of my physical self, with no longer a stepping stone. And I have to rely on that experience side of things. And so repeat your original question for me.
Sonya: It was, how do you manage the pain and suffering? Like, what are things you say to yourself? What are things you don’t say to yourself? How do you accept it?
James: Yeah. So with the 100, it became, okay, I have this body of work of experience, and now I have a not so superior body to do this with. Because another question I always get is how much of this is mental and how much of this is physical? And the answer is, it’s 100% mental, 100% physical. And you have to have the experience to back it up. And that’s why where you are on your journey start and gain that knowledge and experience so that you can tackle something like the 100. But for me, it was just all about experience. It was drawing upon past knowledge and experience, past successes and wins, past accomplishments to get us through. And what’s interesting is with these challenges that we do, there’s always a finite finish line. There’s always a goal. And so mentally it’s a lot easier to say, okay, I only have to suffer for X as opposed to someone who we are raising money for sex trafficking. That person doesn’t know when their finish line is, or a concentration camp. That person doesn’t know when their end is. And so it’s harder in that moment to become or to have those mantras knowing where the finite finish line is. One of my favorite books is Man Search for Meaning, Victor Franklin. He talks a lot about hope and how he could tell the moment that somebody lost hope because it was a fast track to death. And that was so powerful for me. The mantras that we used was I just had the knowledge because of experience that we had. And when I would reach like a major breaking point, I would always allow myself a few minutes. So if I would black out from pain or if I had to pause or the bike crash that we had on day 59, all these things, I would allow myself to stop and to process. I was never being talked out of quitting. And the mantra that I use in my team used on the 100 was, here we go. And after we had that stop and that pause, and we removed a motion, looked at the situation, made the decision, keep going. As soon as we said the words here we go, it was a complete mind and body reset. And then we were all fresh and new again, and it was a new beginning. And so for me, one of the most powerful phrases, we actually made a shirt that says, here we go because it’s so powerful to us. And it is that mind and body reset, just a phrase. But it’s here we go. And when you say Here we go, it’s a new beginning. And you go until you break. And then you take a moment, you pause, you take a step back, you reflect, you feel, you process those feelings, and then you go, okay, here we go. I’m ready again. And you get going again. Because the biggest mistake people make is they have that moment, that breaking point. And then they sit and they stew and they put all of their focus and attention on this spiraling of a moment instead of just pausing, taking a moment, feeling. It’s okay to feel, to process that, as long as you have a trigger to get going again. And ours was here we go.
Sonya: Yeah. It sounds like the rumination piece is what makes people quit. And they keep thinking about all. And then it just starts snowballing. But having that here we go is something that would snap you out of it and put you back into action, like allowing yourself to accept, but also putting yourself back into action so you don’t get lost in the rumination.
James: Yeah, exactly. And actually, this phrase came we did what’s called UberMan. It was a swim from Catalina Island to Long Beach, 22 miles swim. And then my leg was the bike leg, 385 miles up and over through and down into Death Valley. And then Casey the wingman ran the Bad Water section, and he was all the way up to the point where we’re climbing the steep part, going up to Mount Whitney. And he was hallucinated. Like, it was hilarious. He had these hiking poles, and he was the Terminator in moments. And he was exploding bombs with his sticks. And he would slow down, almost a slow motion to where, like, he had to stop. And then out of the blue, he’d be like, here we go. And he’d pop up and be fresh as a daisy and keep going again. And we repeated that until we hit the finish line. We set the course record by over 12 hours. But again, it was that mantra of here we go. And as you start to feel yourself slow down on your journey, that’s the signal that you need to pause for just 1 second. You need to do that quick assessment and check in. Where are we at? What are we doing? What am I feeling? And then go, okay, here we go. And then get back on track and doing it right. So that’s when that here we go phrase kind of came, too. It was during the final leg of the UberMan.
Sonya: So I’m just going to encourage people to go listen to some other podcasts that you’ve been on because we haven’t talked about the injuries and the special, it wasn’t a boot, but like the device that was made for your foot. There’s just like all these things that happen that we can’t even begin to cover in a one hour podcast.
James: Yeah, I’ll just give a couple of highlights of those and then you can point people in directions. So I had an ankle injury, and actually, I am currently wearing this guy.
Sonya: That’s a cool cast.
James: And it’s because I repaired an ankle injury that I had that I didn’t tell anybody about going into the 100 because I developed it. I fast track the training. Right. I did a four month training camp, and I ramped up the volume as well as I do that causes problems. I had a slight ankle injury recently found out and why I had surgery. Cartilage was torn away, and I was bone on bone. And I started the 100 that way, quickly shot up into my shin. I have a picture on day number five. I’m sitting in front of my fireplace and my legs are just swollen. And I’m like, I have 95 more of these to go. And there’s a whole story behind that. And anyways, Sunny’s advice was you just have to start tomorrow because you have no idea when the next miracle is going to come. And eventually a miracle came. And it was in the way of a carbon plated shin brace. And long story about that. But that saved the campaign, allowed me to keep going and offloaded the shin splint that I had because of the ankle injury. Miracle upon miracle happened. You could have had no idea. Fast forward to day 50. We reset our history. We break our own world record. We go to day 59, we crash. I was in a very violent accident. And in that crash, we found out that I broke my back. So I broke my Alpha vertebrae in that crash and had 41 more Ironmans to go. And so just all of these crazy things happen. The documentary is going to be spectacular, and it comes out at the end of this year. I’m super excited about it. We’re writing the second book. We’re going to probably call it Defy Logic. And then out of the blue last minute, we made a decision to do an extra one, the 101. And we talk about that on Edmund’s podcast. He’s big. He just wrote a book called One More. And I was just like, that was going to be the name of my book because it is One More. And so just a lot of fun stuff. But just so much stuff happened during the 100 that’s impossible to cover our whole history. And I mean, we could just do an hour on the 100 days, but yeah, so many cool stuff. I love that you reached out to me again to do a follow up. It’s just so fun to talk to like-minded people. And you’re gracious to have me on again.
Sonya: So I want to ask you, it’s been the one year anniversary since it started. Not since it finished, because people need to literally imagine doing an Ironman distance for a quarter of a year every day. That’s a long time. It’s not just like, oh, it’s been a year since I did it. It’s like, no, it’s a year since you started and then you did it for a quarter of a year. What are some insights that you have gleaned now that right now you’re looking back, you’re rereading some of the things you’re rethinking. What are some new insights that popped in your mind this week?
James: One, how the hell did we do that? Because you go through your normal day and you wake up and the next day you’re like, holy crap, I’m tired from that training session I do yesterday. I’m not even training right now and I wake up and I’m tired of so, I mean, it’s always the question, how did we do it? But it just showcases how powerful the mind is when you make a commitment, when you’re in the middle of something and you do it. Every single day, I wake up and I’m looking out the window. I’m like, what’s the weather doing today? Would we have gone outside? I look out and I said to Sunday, I was like, man, it is freezing out there today. And we had a dozen days that were colder. It’s just crazy how the mindset is. And just looking back on it, it really showcases how powerful the mind is when we really commit to it. But I will say this, one of the biggest, and this is not just specific to the 100, but more specific to my entire journey, I’m getting older. My kids are… I have a 19 year old daughter, an 18 year old daughter, 16, 14, and 12, four girls and a boy. And I’m going to sound like a total old man. But you blink and you next thing you know, you’ve got big kids. And my advice to you is don’t blink. Just be in every moment with your kids and you’ve got one and you’ve got another one on the way. And I’m so excited for you. I would say my current biggest regret is during the 100 specifically, I was always rushing to today’s finish line, rushing to the end of the 100, rushing to, and this life, this journey, I’m getting emotional, but this journey has nothing to do with world records. It has nothing to do with the finish lines. It has nothing to do with the those things are all super cool and part of our journey. It’s so cliche. I hate even saying these words, but it’s about the journey. It’s about the people you meet along the way. It’s about the experiences that you have. It’s the people that you impact. It’s the people that you bring along with you. And I don’t know how to change it or whatnot. Probably more preparation, but I wish I would have engaged. I was just in so much pain. This campaign was so heavily about pain and injury and managing that I wish I would have been able to slow down, talk to more people, just engage with those around you and have those moments. So I guess my challenge to people would be you’re going to be old before you know it and to slow down, talk to those around you, experience those around you, share your gifts and your talents.
Sonya: Thanks for sharing the learning that we rush through life. We rush because we’re trying to accomplish the thing or it’s uncomfortable or whatever the reason we’re rushing. And we’re also wishing it away. And that’s something that I’ve really been stuck on is like, don’t wish it away, even if it hurts. Even if you want to be at the finish line, you’re always anticipating that finish line, and you’re wishing just to be there, but you’re missing out on the present moment, which is something you’ve brought up multiple times. And you’ve also brought up your family multiple times and how this isn’t just you. You said, “we” many times. I forget exactly what you said, but, yeah, it was just that nobody does something like this alone. And your family is so important to you. It’s one of your top, top, I would say values that this is a part of who you are and that you might not have been present and remembered them, but they’re sure as heck remember you and what you did.
James: Yeah. Well, thank you. It’s one of the reasons I’m really excited to go back and do Cape Epic, because I was just, man, I just can’t wait for today’s ride to be over and whatnot. And this time I want to take a look around. I want to enjoy it. I want to talk to the other riders on the course and this and that. I mean, I finished hundreds of races. I have hundreds of medals, all of it. But that’s not what it’s about. I’m excited to go back to South Africa and have all these different experiences. And now really my focus has shifted on giving people hope on their journey, through our stories so that they can go on a journey so they can have experiences. And we’ve got arguably more experience than anybody in the world doing these types of things. And a lot of people want to do it and they don’t know how. And I think everybody always asks, what’s next? I’ll save you. But what’s next for us? And our team is helping people on their journey to achieve, to give them tools, to have them believe in themselves. Right? Because I said it earlier, as humans, we’re our toughest critic and we’re battling that bully in our head and we are getting in our own way. And social media, it’s a blessing, but it sucks because people are fake and we’re comparing ourselves out there and whatnot. And I just really want to continue giving the message to people of hope, belief and conviction, to believe in yourself. All the many cliches, so many of them are so true.
Sonya: That’s 100% what I stand for and why I do everything I do as well. Because we’ve both seen what that can do for you, which initially you learned about yourself, but really the impact that can have on the world and the ripple effect of that and how people will change their lives, how they’ll treat other people. There’s no words for what that does.
James: Yeah, I’m Super excited for what the future holds. And again, I just want to express my gratitude and appreciation. It’s one thing to be invited onto a great podcast once, but it means a lot to have a second invite and to continue to share moments of our journey.
Sonya: I’m just grateful I get to talk to you again. It’s really fun.
James: I’m still waiting because it didn’t happen in Africa because you’re so damn fast, but I’m still waiting to go on an enjoyable weekend of mountain bike riding with you somewhere in the world. In fact, I should probably come to are you still in BC or did you move?
Sonya: Yeah, we moved to Squamish. You can go visit.
James: I would love to. I’m actually speaking in Vancouver in a couple of weeks.
Sonya: Well, if I’m back on the bike, we’ll see. You should look me up. But I’ll be I will see what state I’ll be in.
James: It’s the wrong time for both of us because I just remembered I have a cast on my leg and I’ve got a boot on. But I do absolutely. It’s one of those things I promised myself. I want to slow down, I want to engage more with people. And so if you’re open to it, I would love to get together and just go on a bike ride with friends.
Sonya: All right, awesome. So where can people find you? And they can look for new documentaries, new books, and also check out all the old stuff, too.
James: Yes. Biggest platform for us is obviously our website, Ironcowboy.com. It links to everything. My biggest social platform is Instagram and Facebook. And on Instagram, we’re @IronCowboyJames. There’s a link tree on there. It goes to everything. But yeah, right now we’re in the middle of reliving the 100. So that’s what a lot of the posts are about. If you missed that, we’re going to be posting about it every single day. Lucy does a great job with my daughter and she posts a reel from all of the highlights from that day one year ago, so a lot of cool stuff coming. I’m doing Cape Epic again this year I’m doing Ram – Race Across America in June and then I’m going to do a big name Triathlon in Germany called Challenge Ross in July and then at the end of the year I’m doing the Otillo Swim Run World Championships in Sweden. Those are my three big events. This year we’re going to do race cross America as a team of eight. We’re going to do Roth in Germany and then the Otillo Swim Run Championships and Sweden.
Sonya: This is why I don’t have to ask you what’s next.
James: That’s right. There’s always something next if you want to know what’s next, follow us on social media. Iron Cowboy James again, thank you so much for the opportunity.