On Saturday, July 25, James Lawrence -- “The Iron Cowboy” -- completed his 50th Ironman triathlon. Not the 50th of his life, he’s done a lot more than that, but the 50th in 50 days. To add to the accomplishment, with which he set a new world record for the most Ironman triathlons in 50 days, he completed each of those races in a different state.
For the uninitiated, an Ironman triathlon involves a 2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a full 26.2-mile marathon. Top triathletes finish this race in about eight hours. Amateurs generally take a few hours longer. For some, even the 17-hour cutoff that applies to most official Ironman races isn’t enough. It’s a grueling event that can be made more difficult by cramps, gastrointestinal difficulties, heat and wind. Many of the participants who start don’t finish.
The natural question to ask about doing a single race is, “Why would anyone want to do this?” To complete 50 such races in 50 days is, to put it mildly, almost beyond belief. But Lawrence has a good reason.
“My goal is simply to inspire others to challenge themselves and to be more active,” Lawrence says.
He is concerned about the issue of childhood obesity in the U.S., and raced to raise $1 million for the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, which helps schools develop and improve programs focused on food and nutrition (Lawrence’s website is still accepting donations). See this video about Lawrence’s quest and why he was motivated to start down this road.
What can entrepreneurs learn from the example of the Iron Cowboy? Here are five takeaways we can apply in our own lives.
1. You can’t cram.
Even for someone in good shape, doing an Ironman race takes months of time, planning and training. It’s not something you simply decide you’re going to do one day, and then the next day you do it. Most entrepreneurs who become “overnight successes” have spent years learning, researching and making mistakes.
2. You can do hard things.
I don’t know of a single successful entrepreneur who ever said starting and running a business is easy. We’re all capable of doing much more than most of us ever try to do. You’ll never know what you can do until you push the limits. Don’t be afraid to try and fail. Be afraid of never finding out how much you can do.
Lawrence had a clear goal, and put everything into it. What if he had tried to train for swimming the English Channel, the Tour de France and the Leadville 100 (a 100-mile trail running race) at the same time? He’s amazing, but he probably wouldn’t have succeeded at any of those goals. Business strategy is less about what you do and more about what you choose not to do. Focus on one thing, and be the best at it.
4. You need a team.
Lawrence didn’t work alone. He had a supportive family, friends, sponsors and other assistance. If you’re an entrepreneur with a family you’ll need their support to achieve your dreams. You’ll also need business partners, mentors and most likely a team of employees who share your vision.
5. Do something that matters.
Lawrence could have done these races just to get himself in shape or to set a world record and be able to say “I did it!” Instead, he worked for something larger than himself. Many young entrepreneurs, and older ones as well, are starting social ventures because money doesn’t provide enough motivation. They want more. They want to work on something they feel has more meaning. They want to change the world.
The bonus lesson: Don’t quit. This isn’t the first crazy thing Lawrence has done. He already held the world record for the most Ironmans completed. The goal was also to support a charitable cause. But as Lawrence said in an interview with the Deseret News, “Nobody cared, so I needed to pick something big enough, and this is what I came up with.”
Many entrepreneurs have created something amazing only to find out nobody cared. The great ones tried again, and again, until they couldn’t be ignored.