As I listened intently to Rich Roll‘s podcast a couple weeks ago, I learned about a bold fella named James Lawrence. He had quiet confidence and a loud, world-record-shaping mission. A young father of five, James (A.K.A. The Iron Cowboy) is a dad that gets to spend time with his kids and their classmates. In doing so, he noticed an issue that is prevalent among school children, his kid’s very classmates: obesity. And even though his state of residence is not one of the fattest states in the country (as mine is), it is a noticeable, heart-wrenching issue. Further, he learned of a statistic that has equally effected me in my journey: this generation of children is the first generation in history expected to NOT outlive their parents. As a father of five, he found this completely unacceptable. This, in a nutshell, has spurred him to DO. As an avid triathlete, and current world record holder in that realm, he aimed to use his athletic prowess to shine a bright light on the rocky shores that so threaten the children of this great nation: obesity and obesity-connected disease, especially among children. He has committed to completing a full Ironman-distance triathlons (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run) in all fifty states, in 50 days. Yes, you read that right. While the lumens produced by these actions are significant and brilliant, it will not be enough by itself. The whole idea behind it is use not just raise awareness of the rocky shore, but to inspire the ACTIONS necessary to avoid said shore. Which is what brought me to Alabama on a warm July Thursday afternoon.
After hearing the aforementioned podcast, my buddy Jonanthon (JT) texted to me a message… You see, we had both heard James’ story on the same day via #RRP 149, and Jonathon had a “crazy idea” per this text message. The minute I read the text I knew what the crazy idea was, and if I was right about it, I was IN. Sure enough, just as I suspected, JT was proposing we tri (see what I did) to catch up with the Iron Cowboy as he made his way along the gulf coast. We have a buddy in Mobile, and we noticed that Iron Cowboy James would be completing his 20th (!) Ironman-distance there. So, we decided to, pending tropical weather, go run the 26.2 miles with him that day. Lucky, the weather cooperated, James was still going strong, and the run was on…
JT and I pulled up at the Iron Cowboy’s staging area in Fairhope, Alabama, right on the other side of Mobile Bay from Mobile, Alabama. It was at a cool looking little place called the Windmill Market. As soon as we arrived we noticed runners waiting around for James to wrap up his bike leg so they could begin the run with him. As we mingled and waited for the Iron Cowboy to get back to the Windmill Market ourselves, we met some cool folks. Almost immediately someone recognized me thanks to Rich Roll and his podcast, and my having been a guest myself. This is something that I don’t think I’ll ever get used to, but am flattered and grateful for. That very recognition will, I hope, serve as a seed for being able to reach people much the same way Rich and James are, in a way that positively effects health trajectories one by one, and ultimately, concentrically; a bayou, a state, a region, a nation, a world. But, anyway, after meeting all these nice people, and making the usual introductions, the Iron Cowboy shows up on his bike.
If one had assumed, as we did, that a man on his 20th ironman in as many days would need a minute after he jumped off his bike before he started his run, one would be incorrect. James whipped in, took a few photos, then BOOM he was off and running. And JT n myself, along with a horde of newly acquired running buddies, fell in right behind him. The start happened so quick that our buddy from Mobile hadn’t had time to make it over from across the bay in time to start with us (he actually ran out ahead of us, and then back, to offset our head start on his Garmin. Runners! Gotta love em. lol!). We made a few loops around Fairhope logging miles and killing time until the 5k was scheduled to kick off back at the start. There, we would pick up even more people. But, before we got kicked back off, James said a few words to the local media and coordinated the all-important pre-run group selfie.
As we ran the 5k (miles 8,9,&10 for us), I talked and bonded with strangers who were strangers no more due to mileage and scenery, and apparently Rich Roll again; while running and talking I heard a “is that the voice of Josh LaJaunie I hear?,” come from behind as I ran, to which I replied with a typical “yes ma’am.” Turns out she is a big fan of the RRP and knew who I was. Crazy! We continued through the beautiful little town of Fairhope until we ultimately, in 3.1 miles, wound up back at the staging/starting area again. Here we lost a few runners as we embarked on the final 16 miles of the Iron Cowboy James’ Alabama marathon.
By now the sun was getting low in the sky. We had a smaller group of runners now, but still his largest marathon group to date per James himself. We ran along the shore of Mobile Bay as the sun set and we were getting well into double digit mileage for the night. As we sadly veered from the beautiful view of Mobile Bay onto a dark running path that paralleled the highway, we sorta separated out into small groups as the path couldn’t handle everyone running shoulder-to-shoulder. In my little pack one of the people with me, besides my buddy Aaron (who would run ahead and back to catch up the mileage he’d missed earlier. Yeah, that guy.), there was a young lady who mentioned her longest run to date was 5 miles. Well, we were about five miles in since the start of the 5k, where she had joined. I knew we had about an 8 mile out-n-back before we were due back in Fairhope, but here she was just running. She had no idea how far she’d make before she would need a ride in, but she was going for it. I was so impressed with her heart. What balls!? I love this stuff! That’s what this kind of things does, besides awareness: it inspires assaulting your normal, breaking new ground, getting hella uncomfortable for the sake of something bigger than yourself. She wound up not hopping into a vehicle until she had done 11 miles! Straight beastmode! In the cutest little package you can imagine. I never even got her name, but I’m so proud of her. Quite inspiring.
We ran into the dark until the mile 17 mark. Then it was time to turn around and head back. We knew we’d be a little shy of 26.2 when we got back, but James wanted to make sure he didn’t take one step more than 26.2 (can you blame the man. He’s on his 20th in a row!). So, we knew we’d be doing some looping once back in town to make the full 26.2. [side note: as I write this, I just saw on Facebook that he is starting today’s marathon now. BEAST]. After the loops, we finished on the exact spot he’d wanted. High fives all around!!!
As we sat around, as runners do after a solid run, we discussed the evening. What a beautiful thing for a beautiful cause. I found my vessel sufficiently emptied. I had a few new friends. And I was completely inspired by the journey Iron Cowboy James has chosen for himself, his family, and his cause.
I usually hate to bring up money, or especially ask for it, but in this case if you can find it in your heart to donate to his cause, as I have, I would be forever grateful. He’s the prime example of how DOING, as opposed to wishing, can start the momentum of a world-changing paradigm shift.
Thank you James Lawrence. It was an absolute honor to empty the vessel in your, and your cause’s, presence. Peace.