Day 50 - Utah

BY DAVID WARDEN

Day 50 Splits

Swim: 1:29:01

Bike: 6:00:01 (seriously, James? 6:00:oh-one?)

Run: 5:17:40

Total: 12:46:42 - Fastest elapsed time of the 505050

Average daily elapsed time of the 505050: 14:21:21

Average daily moving time of the 505050: 12:51:32

Total moving time: 642:56:31


(this post is best read while simultaneously listening to The Impossible Dream from Man of La Mancha)

James Lawrence is a visionary.

I'm confident James was not the first to entertain the idea of the 505050. How long did the same thought last in others' heads? Ten seconds? A day? "Impossible," they inevitably concluded. James took that same thought, fostered it, and then convinced another dozen people to follow him.

I'm ashamed to say that when James first asked me to coach him for the 505050, I thought I was doing him a favor. Many individuals have miscalculated James, but perhaps none so much as me. To be James' coach was one of the greatest gifts I've received, a huge personal and professional boon that I now feel unworthy of.

I have a close friend who advised me not to ever say that I thought the 505050 was unlikely to succeed, as it made it appear I didn't believe in my clients. I disagree. I view my primary roles as a coach to 1) deliver results and 2) be honest about the client's objectives and capabilities. I did not think the 505050 was impossible, I thought it was highly unlikely, and told James as such before we started (20% chance of success, I think I said at breakfast with him the morning he left for Hawaii). So much could have gone wrong, and any one of them could have ended the venture. James had to avoid weather, injury, car crash, illness, falling asleep on the bike (oh yea, that one actually did happen)...

Yes, I was skeptical of the 505050, but there is a difference between James and the 505050. The 505050 was fallible, but I always believed in James. To those of you who said the 505050 was unlikely, you were right, and are still right. What James did was highly unlikely, and that's what makes it astonishing.

I spent most of day 50 with James. It was my first experience as a 505050 spectator, and it was delightful. James ran the last 6 miles in approximately 1-mile loops around the finish line. Running through the crowds each loop was as loud and crazy of an event I've ever participated in, and I soon found myself running without my shirt on. I could tell the crowd, some 5,000+ by the end of the evening, was motivating James too. From mile 20-23 James just got faster and faster, finishing mile 23 at a 7:35 pace. "Are you in a hurry to get somewhere?" I asked him. His reply is not suitable for this PG-rated blog.

During the final 5k, when James invites the public to run with him, Tommy Rivers and I had decided to form a wall behind James to protect him from the throng. That plan lasted 0 seconds. As soon as the 5k started, James was mobbed. For some reason. my 5'7" 160-pound frame was not intimidating enough to scare off the (not exaggerating) 20 gorgeous women who desperately threw themselves at him for a selfie. I asked James if he needed me to go into Beast Mode (5'7" 160-pounds, remember?) to give him some space, but he said it was exactly the way he wanted to finish it. I hilariously offered one women a selfie as James' body double. She did not laugh.

Lost in the remarkable accomplishment of the 505050 is James' performance on Day 50 itself. The fastest elapsed time of all 50 days, and his fastest moving marathon time of 4:23. To the skeptics who said that the 505050 would destroy James physically, I don't blame you, but you were still wrong. Not only did James destroy day 49 and 50, but he was up the next day as cheerful and energetic as I have ever seen him. Granted, it is early to determine the true long-term physical effects, but the early evidence is that he will be just fine.

Enough of this irrelevant talk! Below is the final chart on daily elapsed time. A couple of notes: I finally have moving time included. To review, elapsed time covers the entire time of swim plus bike plus run from start to stop, including any breaks and pauses within that discipline. Elapsed time does not include the transition time between disciplines, which was not captured in the 505050. Moving time includes only the actual time moving within the 3 discipline. Additionally, early on in the 505050 I was using both data from Garmin Connect and TrainingPeaks.com, eventually standardizing on using only Garmin Connect. As a result, the chart you see here is slightly different than previous charts showing daily elapsed time, but is now using the same source to calculate elapsed and moving time for each day.

I am surprised at how the elapsed and moving stay so connected in this chart. For some reason I thought they would be more disparate in the early states, particularly because I saw James and the crew get more and more efficient each day at the logistics of the 505050. The chart below gives a better picture of this, and does show a slight improvement in the delta between elapsed and moving as the 505050 progressed.

There is a great story behind that huge spike on Day 18 that has not been told. I'm not sure if I can tell it yet. If I get the green light from James, I'll add it here later. Sorry for the teaser.

Did the elevation gain of the Western states contribute to the slower elapsed times of the first 10 days? I've been wanting to answer that for a long time, and the answer is: maybe. I wish I could be more definitive, because it would help to clarify my theory that the first 10 days of the 505050 built the fitness for the next 10 days, and so on. There is no doubt that James got faster over the 505050, but did he get stronger or did the course get easier? The chart below indicates that yes, some of the most difficult elevation days took place in the first 6 days. However, the elevation gain of the 10 fastest elapsed times was  2,444 feet and the 10 slowest was 3,025 feet, with an average 2,791 feet each day. That is not a huge difference in elevation gain between the best and worst times.

Of course, the best way to answer this is his power data. Did his raw bike output get stronger? You bet. Excluding the first 3 days of power (when James went off the reservation from the power game plan) he averaged 125 watts for the first half of the 505050, and 128 for the second half (some days have 0 power due to technical glitches). Not a huge difference, but both his overall times and raw power indicate he was absolutely not getting any weaker over the last half of the 505050. The fast times from Day 49 and 50 are testaments of that reality.

Next, swim, bike and run daily elapsed and moving time.

James swam 194.67 kilometers, or 1,549 meters above the minimum for the 50 days.

He biked 5,619 miles, 19 miles over the minimum of 50 x 112.

James ran 1,312 miles, only 2 miles beyond the minimum 50 x 26.2. I don't blame him one bit. At the end of each day he was looking at that watch, finger hovering over the stop button, sometimes doing laps around the RV until it hit the magic number and he could collapse into bed. My spreadsheet of his daily run distances is a sea of entries that read 26.20 and 26.21.

What an amazing 50 days. Some days I wished it was over, and some days I regretted it would ever end. James has shown himself to be that rare breed of individuals who complete something that has never been accomplished. Skeptics and trolls have proven ubiquitous, but visionaries are few. James Lawrence is a visionary, and we need more visionaries.

Day 50 Swim

Day 50 Swim


Day 50 Bike

Day 50 Bike


Day 50 Run

Day 50 Run


Day 49 - Idaho

BY DAVID WARDEN

Day 49 Splits

Swim: 1:18:16

Bike: 6:12:33

Run: 6:02:02

Total: 13:20:35

Fastest elapsed since Day 27, 6th fastest overall elapsed. Looks like the horse smells the barn.

Day 49 Swim

Day 49 Swim


Day 49 Bike

Day 49 Bike


Day 49 Run

Day 49 Run

Day 48 - Wyoming

by DAVID WARDEN

Day 48 Splits

Swim: 1:33:14

Bike: 6:37:50

Run: 6:02:03

Total: 14:13:07

No commentary today, will summarize on Day 50. Was sort of distracted this week-end...

Day 48 Swim

Day 48 Swim


Day 48 Bike

Day 48 Bike


Day 48 Run

Day 48 Run


Day 47 - Montana

BY DAVID WARDEN

Day 47 Splits

Swim: 1:22:49

Bike: 6:18:55

Run: 5:45:12

Total: 13:26:56

Are you kidding me? 13:26:56? And a moving time of 12:17:22? James just beat my first IM time by 30 minutes...on Day 47. His 6th fastest elapsed time of the 505050.

Below you'll find a separate chart for his daily swim, bike, and run. Notice how in each discipline, James struggled to find his pace, but that at about Day 20, he began to normalize (if you disregard the two river swims). 

Late last night James asked me to make some calls for him, and in my state of (relative) fatigue I asked if maybe it would be best if he made the calls. He reminded me that he was "sort of busy" at the moment. Sheesh. Prima donna.


Day 47 Swim

Day 47 Swim


Day 47 Bike

Day 47 Bike


Day 47 Run

Day 47 Run

Day 46 - North Dakota

BY DAVID WARDEN

Day 46 Splits

Swim: 1:29:53

Bike: 7:11:33

Run: 5:46:37

Total: 14:28:03

46-day Average: 14:27:26

An "average" day for James. Bike times have been creeping up since Day 39, leading to a small but notable increase in overall times for the last week. Normalized power for last 7 days has been 121, 137, 118, 106, 126, 126, and 125 watts. No real overall decrease in power, so the terrain and wind are dictating James' times.

I'm going to encourage James to NOT try and bust out a killer time on the last few days. Nothing left to prove. However, wouldn't it be fun to see what he can do now if he went for an all-out time? His FTP is probably shot, but give me 3 months and I'll have him with a power to weight ratio of 4.25.


Day 46 Swim

Day 46 Swim


Day 46 bike

Day 46 bike


Day 46 Run

Day 46 Run

Day 45 - South Dakota

BY DAVID WARDEN

Day 45 Splits

Swim: 1:26:19

Bike: 7:19:51

Run: 5:57:01

Total: 14:43:12

Hot and windy, and the total time reflects that. James' slowest day since Day 34, a day James reported feeling more exhausted than he had in weeks.

I was browsing through James' Garmin Connect profile, and came across this "Badges" section. C'mon, Garmin! You're going to have to come up with a bigger badge for James!

Another report from Garmin Connect. Yep. 140.6 miles a day = 984.2 in a week! In fact, James is an over-achiever at 986.86!


Day 45 Swim

Day 45 Swim


Day 45 Bike

Day 45 Bike


Day 45 Run

Day 45 Run

Day 44 - Nebraska

BY DAVID WARDEN

Day 44 Splits

Swim: 1:25:22

Bike: 6:58:17

Run: 6:06:47

Total: 14:30:26

I'm often asked how I developed James' training plan. I could write a few chapters about this (someday I might), so I'll give you a version that's as long as I have time to write this evening.

I've coached many athletes participating in various multi-day events. The 505050 was obviously unique. The foundation was really laid when we we completed his 2012 Guinness world record for most Ironman events in a year. In fact, the 505050 was originally scheduled for 2014, but James wisely delayed it for a year to recover from 2012.

There is very little creativity in what I did to prepare James. I used a strict periodization plan with a brutal Specific phase. It was the same template I used for athletes doing Marathon de Sables, Ultraman, Bosphorus, or Haute Route. This methodology has never let me down, propelling my athletes to become Ironman qualifiers, 70.3 qualifiers, Boston qualifiers, world record holders, and National Age Group championships.

It was technically only an 8 month plan, but James had spent all of 2013 and 2014 building a huge base. In October 2014 we began his formal General training for the 505050. Nothing but Zone 2 or Zone 4+. VO2 intervals, cross fit, strength training. Lower volume but high intensity. The purpose was to get his VO2, Muscular Endurance, and Strength at the best they had ever been. In fact, he hit his career highest 30 minute power of 295 in late December. We didn't touch Zone 3 until late February (Zone 3 is poison if adopted too early in a training program). This period varied very little from what I would have done to prepare an athlete for a single-day Ironman event.

My late March we had transitioned from the General to Specific phase, and the real training began. Tons of Zone 2, high volume, reduced or eliminated Zone 4+. 50k trail runs. 70.3 races as a recovery day. Running 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours at night. Week after week of 30 or more hours of training a week. But, most importantly, three to four days in a row of 7-9 hour bricks. The specificity required for the 505050. A very specific taper, and he was ready to go.

If I were to do it again, I would have had him do absolutely no Zone 3 for the entire 8 month plan. Zone 3 was worthless for this endeavor. I had James in heavy Zone 3 rotation for 4 weeks in April. Looking back now I was far too optimistic about often that intensity would be called upon in the 505050. Zone 1-2, heavy (heavy) volume, and blocks of multi-day bricks was all he needed for the Specific phase.

Day 44 Swim

Day 44 Swim


Day 44 Bike

Day 44 Bike


Day 44 Run

Day 44 Run

Day 43 - Iowa

BY DAVID WARDEN

Day 43 Splits

Swim: 1:26:17

Bike: 7:19:38

Run: 5:56:50

Total: 14:42:45

An excerpt from From Tommy Rivers Puzey (Tommy Rivs') blog: as he observes James from the field:

There was a unity and a fire that radiated through the crowd. It was as if every stride was a message – a collective action that symbolized a shared internal conviction. It was the same conviction that moved each of them... to wake up this morning and accompany the Iron Cowboy. Each had overcome their discomfort, and silenced the voices inside that encouraged retreat.

An excerpt from my Day 42 blog:

No commentary today other than you'll see two swim files...

I have been put to shame. In my defense, endurance coaches are not known for their philosophy. I can talk physiology, physics, maybe even psychology. But poetry? I'd have to charge extra for that.

Day 43 Swim

Day 43 Swim


Day 43 Bike

Day 43 Bike


Day 43 Run

Day 43 Run



Day 42 - Minnesota

By David Warden

Day 42 Splits

Swim: 1:33:16

Bike: 6:43:52

Run: 5:52:43

Total: 14:09:51

No commentary today other than you'll see two swim files, as James stopped short and had to make up a couple hundred more. The second file reads 300 meters, but it was only 200 meters. 

Day 42 Swim #1

Day 42 Swim #1

Day 42 Swim #2

Day 42 Swim #2


Day 42 Bike

Day 42 Bike


Day 42 Run

Day 42 Run

Day 41 - Wisconsin

BY DAVID WARDEN

Day 41 Splits

Swim: 1:28:19

Bike: 7:01:17

Run: 5:58:51

Total: 14:28:27

It rained today, and still the best turnout so far to come and support the 505050. James did another great job in some tough conditions.

Yesterday I praised his crew, today the praise is for his supporters. Not just Wisconsin, but all 40 other states. Those of you who have donated, commented, and run and biked by his side got him through some tough days. Even the critics fueled James and made him hungrier for a time.

The only think stopping James now is illness or contact/crash injury. His fatigue has bottomed out, his fitness is sufficient to finish the next 9 days, his support is better than ever, and his attitude is off-the-charts positive. James is not immortal (his quads might be) but it will take an outside influence to stop him now.

Great quote from James last night as we texted. He was really touched by the local support and said:

"My life has changed...Forever"

Day 41 Swim

Day 41 Swim


Day 41 Bike

Day 41 Bike


Day 41 Run

Day 41 Run

Day 40 - Indiana

BY DAVID WARDEN

Day 40 Splits

Swim: 1:32:31

Bike: 6:44:14

Run: 5:41:16

Total: 13:58:01

10 left to go.

Day 40 should probably be celebrating James' accomplishment. Many people thought he would never make it this far. Instead, I'd like to focus on some unsung heros: His wife and crew.

While James is the most exhausted person in North America right now, Sunny, Casey, and Aaron are not far behind. Often when James was getting 5 hours of sleep, they were getting 4 (someone's gotta drive). While I slept in and blogged in my pajamas, they had finished the swim with James before I even woke up. While James was on the bike, Sunny was working with the Jamie Oliver foundation, transferring charity funds, making meals for 7 children a day (the 5 Lawrence kids plus Casey and Aaron), laundry, RV septic tank, and dealing with my multiple neurosis on how to manage certain issues.

If his crew was critical physical support, they were indispensable moral support. If you follow the Iron Cowboy Facebook page, you know how fun the Wingmen can be. When things got dark (and they got dark some days) the crew has there to cheer him up. I've know Casey for almost 10 years, and what you see on Facebook is legit. He is cheerful, funny, and fast (darn it).

On Day 7, I asked James what his biggest concern was. He said he was worried his crew was exhausted. He was right. When this is over, James will get most of the credit (as he should), but I hope that any congratulations you give to him will be duplicated to the people with him for the last 40 days.

Day 40 Swim

Day 40 Swim


Day 40 Bike

Day 40 Bike


Day 40 Run

Day 40 Run

Day 39 - Michigan

BY DAVID WARDEN

Day 39 Splits

Swim: 1:24:03

Bike: 6:29:58

Run: 5:56:01

Total: 13:50:02

I regret the thin content the last few days. Managing the IC remotely has been more challenging than ever, and has included responsibilities I never considered possible.

James is doing exceptionally well, as evidenced by his overall time today, his best non-river swim since Day 29. I can feel it in his communications (almost exclusively via text). The doubt and discouragement from the dark days of day 20-25 have completely turned around. All his communications are upbeat and positive. Not that he was negative before, but there were some dark, dark days. Now I can tell he sees the finish line.

It is interesting to look at his total times from fastest to slowest, below. A statistician could find patterns in here that I'm unwilling to put in the effort to find, but there is at least one item of note. Six of James' slowest performances took place in the first 11 days. Was it the tough bike courses of the mountain west? Someday I'll record the elevation gain for each day and be able to answer definitively. For now, I flatter myself that my theory was correct: I didn't need to get James ready for 50 IMs in a row, I just needed to get him ready for 10. The fitness to do the remaining 40 builds from there. In other words, what's the best way prepare for 50 IMs in a row? Do 10 in a row and repeat 4 more times.


Day 39 Swim

Day 39 Swim


Day 39 Bike

Day 39 Bike


Day 39 run

Day 39 run

Day 38 - Ohio

BY DAVID WARDEN

Day 38 Splits

Swim: 1:23:57

Bike: 6:41:54

Run: 5:54:44

Total: 14:00:35

In lieu of commentary, please accept this exchange between coach and athlete.


Day 38 Swim

Day 38 Swim


Day 38 Bike

Day 38 Bike


Day 38 Run

Day 38 Run


Day 37 - Pennsylvania

BY DAVID WARDEN

Day 37 Splits

Swim: 0:53:28 (river swim)

Bike: 6:39:55

Run: 5:45:45

Total: 13:19:08

No commentary for Day 37. Coach is tied up dealing with 505050 issues.

Day 37 Swim

Day 37 Swim


Day 37 Bike

Day 37 Bike


Day 37 Run

Day 37 Run


Day 36 - New York

BY DAVID WARDEN

Day 36 Splits

Swim: 1:29:23

Bike: 7:03:40

Run: 5:37:23

Total: 14:10:26


Note: This post has been significantly modified since it was first published on July 12. It included inaccurate information and has been corrected below.


Let me lead with a statement from James:

As part of the 505050, I was pleased to participate in the HITS Kingston, NY Full Triathlon on July 11 as the required triathlon distance for Day 36. After a period on the bike and assessing the course, I concluded that it presented a challenge that would require more time than I had anticipated. I abandoned the official course for a more favorable section and completed the Full distances on the bike and run on my own.
Although this decision was widely understood, I should have immediately and formally requested a removal from the official results. I have since done so with HITS Triathlon, and look forward to returning to a HITS event in the near future.

As James' coach, this statement should never have been necessary had I specifically reminded him to report directly to the RD if he bailed on the course. As I posted on Day 35, I had concerns about the nature of the course and hoped James would consider doing an easier route should his progress be outrageously slow. At that time I should have specifically said, "and if you do, tell the RD." Yes, it is ultimately the athlete's responsibility, but a good coach should set his athlete up for success. James and I did not communicate on Sunday, and I originally and inaccurately posted on this blog what was ultimately not an actual HITS finish.

An RD is in a bind if they are pretty sure someone has cut the course, but unless an official sees it or the athlete self reports they really can't do much. James assuming the RD (and everyone else) knew was not enough, and I apologize for not doing my job and helping James follow the rules.

James data on his improvised course below.

Day 36 Swim

Day 36 Swim


Day 36 Bike

Day 36 Bike


Day 36 Run

Day 36 Run

Day 35 - Vermont

BY Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

(just making sure you're paying attention)

Day 35 Splits

Swim: 1:38:27

Bike: 7:13:17

Run: 5:37:31

Total: 14:29:15

What a dichotomy today. James goes from one of his best swims on Day 34 to one of his worst on Day 35. The cold, cold water today was brutal. Then he pulls off his best marathon in weeks, and reports the marathon was almost pain free.

Tomorrow James is performing in the NY HITS Ironman for Day 36. I'm concerned about the hills, advertised as 6000+ feet of ascent on the bike. This just seems unnecessary. Six months ago, it seemed like a great idea! Now I hope James will consider making his own flat course should his progress become slow.

Day 35 Swim

Day 35 Swim


Day 35 Bike

Day 35 Bike


Day 35 Run

Day 35 Run




Day 34 - Maine

BY DAVID WARDEN

Day 34 Splits

Swim: 1:18:57

Bike: 7:14:53

Run: 6:17:32

Total: 14:51:22

If you are interested in a blog on the Iron Cowboy that is infinitely more interesting than my comments, Tommy Rivers Puzey has been traveling with James since Massachusetts and providing an unbelievable day-to-day commentary. Iron poetry. In his few short posts so far, Tommy provides the best detail on what each day is really like and the challenges James has to overcome.

Olympic medalist Jenny Thompson joins James for the swim today and he pulls of his best (non river) swim time since Day 21. I find this a microcosm of the 505050. We can accomplish more when someone inspires us.

Day 38 will prove to be a challenge. The drive from Pennsylvania to Ohio is long. There has not been a drive that long since Colorado to Kansas a month ago. The driving distances over the last 13 days are as long as the first 10 days.

See how optimistic I am now? I'm just assuming James will make it to Day 38 and already looking ahead. That's not a given, considering that James reported today was the most exhausted he had felt in weeks.

Day 34 Swim

Day 34 Swim


Day 34 Bike

Day 34 Bike


Day 34 Run

Day 34 Run


   

Day 33 - New Hampshire

BY DAVID WARDEN

Day 33 Splits

Swim: 1:22:02

Bike: 7:02:29

Run: 5:41:18

Total: 14:05:49

What a thrill it was to come back after 3 days (absolutely no connectivity where I was) and see James still going strong. His support team is just outstanding.

James is so close to the finish, and yet still so much is left to do. Sometimes, as I sit back and watch this unfold, it feels like the 505050 has unstoppable momentum, an inertia so large after 33 days that nothing can contain it. I too often take each day for granted, that he will simply finish. The truth is that this is a fight against entropy, against physical and mental decay.

So how can we say James is getting stronger? Because strength is relative to the challenge at hand. If strength is measured in absolute terms, only a select few could ever be considered "strong." James is getting stronger because the challenge is getting larger, and yet he meets that challenge day after day.

Medical issues are starting to accumulate. Well, "medical issues" is not the correct term, more like physical ailments that might become medical issues. I worry what another 5 days of this will bring, but then I recall what he has already overcome and if anyone can tough these issues out, it's James.

After a huge spike in elapsed time due to an exceptionally long bike on Day 30, James has had 3 straight days of decreasing times. His run today was the 10th fastest of the 505050. He specifically told me he "killed it" on the run this evening.

Maybe I put too much emphasis on this daily elapsed time chart (below), but it feels like the heartbeat of the 505050. When I see it start to creep up, I freak out. When I see it go down, I feel calm. The ramifications of an exceptionally long day have a cascading effect on James that is difficult to recover from. The benefits from those rare 13 hour days are significant.

James is still "negative splitting" the 505050, with the average elapsed time of the last 17 days faster than the first 16. Even if I strip out the 17 hour outlier on Day 8, he still is 10 minutes faster on average over the last 16 than the first 16.

In fact, check out the average elapsed time if we break the 33 days in four quarters.

First 8: 14:33:10

Second 8: 14:43:12

Third 8: 14:46:42 

Last 9: 14:05:30

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the slightly more forgiving terrain of the East coast certainly has helped these numbers, but it is is still encouraging to see that James might be able to even get faster over the final 17 days.


Day 33 Swim

Day 33 Swim


Day 33 Bike

Day 33 Bike


Day 33 Run

Day 33 Run



Day 32 - Massachusetts

BY DAVID WARDEN

Day 32 Splits

Swim: 1:25:47

Bike: 7:00:32

Run: 5:55:21

Total: 14:21:40   

Due to an extended period without access to connectivity, commentary for Day 32 will be included in Day 33.

Day 32 Swim

Day 32 Swim


Day 32 Bike

Day 32 Bike


Day 32 Run

Day 32 Run

Day 31 - Rhode Island

BY DAVID WARDEN

Day 31 Splits

Swim: 1:21:41

Bike: 7:10:08

Run: 6:04:58

Total: 14:36:47

Due to an extended period without access to connectivity, commentary for Day 31 will be included in Day 33.

Day 31 Swim

Day 31 Swim


Day 31 Bike

Day 31 Bike


Day 31 Run

Day 31 Run