What You Can Learn About Fitness From A Father Of 5 Who Did 50 Ironmans In 50 Days

What's your excuse?

by Dan Gentile
Originally Published: 
james lawrence iron cowboy fitness tips

James Lawrence, aka the Iron Cowboy, isn’t one for excuses. When he was 28 years old he made a basic fitness goal; a 4-mile fun run. Now, at 40, he’s one of the most elite athletes in the world with a collection of Guinness Records: 50 Ironman distances (that’s a brisk 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run), in 50 days, in 50 states. Between the constant motion, copious eating, and 2 months of interstate travel, the hardest work for Lawrence was making his 5 kids feel like they were on the best vacation ever.

Now, when he talks about his workout, diet, and parenting philosophies, he speaks with an almost superhuman level of personal accountability. His hard-nosed inspirational attitude has been tempered by a realization that no human, let alone a parent of 5, should be discouraged by a B+ average when it comes to health and fitness. And if he think’s he’s only an above average student, you must be failing summer school. Here’s how to raise your fitness GPA:

Don’t Delay. Start Today. (Even If That’s Cliche.)

There’s no worse cliché than telling yourself you don’t have the time. “The biggest key factor is taking action and getting started,” says Lawrence. “Break a goal into smaller components, then do the basics consistently over a long period of time. No goal is too big, but you have to have the appropriate timeline for that goal.”

When he did that first fun run, training was just about putting on a pair of sneakers and getting out the door. “The hardest part of doing anything that scares us is taking the first step,” says Lawrence. There are plenty of apps, wearables, and online programs (like the one at that will help you train. If you’re still having a hard time making that step, think about a morning run as a time free from tantrums or cleaning something up.

Get Them Involved In Your Training

The first thing Lawrence did after deciding to Ironman his way across the country was buy the biggest map he could. He put it up on the wall, gave his kids dry erase markers, and asked them to draw out where they wanted to go. “I involved them in the planning process, so that they could feel like they were part of the journey,” says Lawrence. And because watching dad sweat is boring, Lawrence sent them off to explore the local museums, parks, and zoos.

For non-Iron parents, there are other ways to incorporate exercise and family time. While the kids tornado around the playground, knock out a few sets of burpees or turn the playscape into a pull-up bar. You can also do jumping squats, walking lunges, and box jumps within eyeshot of the swing set.

If you are doing more serious training, bring the kids along to run a couple miles while you work out. “I have my 12 and 13 year old daughters doing workouts with me every day. They’re only running for 20 minutes, but they’re incorporated into what I do. I’ll do my intense intervals, then we’ll high 5 and go home,” says Lawrence. “It’s bonding.”

Get Your Kids To Keep You On A Diet

In terms of diet, a clever way to teach responsibility, score big bonding points, and take a little work off your plate is to assign your child to cook dinner one night a week. “That’s time together, but it’s also educating the kids,” says Lawrence. His kids have developed a solid repertoire of homemade soups, chili, and tacos that would put many bachelors to shame.

Imperfection Is Better Than Nothing

“There are very few people that can be extremist and nail perfection with eating and workouts,” says Lawrence. “I want you to look back at your week and realize on Wednesday, you weren’t perfect. It’s better than going perfect for 60 days, then turning into a train wreck dumpster fire for a month.”

Flickr / Chad Johnson

Mediocrity — now theres a benchmark you can live with. There’s no sense beating yourself up over a slip in personal fitness. But, also note that in the Lawrence household, there’s no awards for participation. “I may catch flack for this, but anything beyond third place shouldn’t be recognized with an award. It’s okay that everyone can’t win,” says Lawrence.

One of the main faults Lawrence sees in today’s dads is a shift towards “helicopter parenting.” If an overprotective parent is hovering above the child at all times, it creates a failure-free environment that discourages a respect for hard work. “There’s a fine balance between uber tough love and helicopter parenting, where you love and encourage, but allow them to stumble and fall.” How else will they learn to handle 112-mile bike rides?

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