The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Triathlon News: Iron Cowboy Endures Hammertoe to Finish 50 Ironman Races

Posted by on Wednesday, July 29th, 2015


“Iron Cowboy” James Lawrence of Salt Lake City, Utah, earned his nickname when he landed in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most ironman races completed in 2012. The 36-year-old, famous for wearing a colorful cowboy hat while running, averaged just under 12 hours for all 30 events, which took place in 11 countries. Though he recalls his first marathon at age 28 as being an “awful” experience, his perseverance is an inspiration for many aspiring triathletes.1 As our NYC-based podiatrists know, though, triathlon training is not without its fair share of foot perils.

iron cowboy
Published on July 18th, this update confirms what an ordeal James’ feet have been through, from hammertoe to excruciating blisters. Image Source:

What Happened to the Iron Cowboy?

The Iron Cowboy embarked upon one heck of a mission. Can the human body withstand a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and a full 26.2-mile marathon every single day for over a month? Apparently, the answer is “yes,” as Lawrence just finished  50 ironman races in 50 states in 50 days as of July 25th.2 His achievement not only secured him a position in the Guinness Book of World Records, but raised money for a childhood obesity charity as well.

Caution, triathletes: you may want to think twice before trying this at home! While working on his 17th triathlon in Henderson County, Illinois, the triathlete hit a snag in his last leg of marathon running. He reportedly developed “an excruciatingly painful blister” caused by his hammertoe.3 He popped the blister and cut off his toenail, but had to stop on Eighth Street to see a doctor when the pain wouldn’t relent.

“It’s almost making it where he can’t walk right now,” said 50-50-50 Challenge Project Manager Jordan Maddocks. “This is definitely not good because we are already running behind schedule. So, if he stays like this for much longer, it’s going to make it to where he’s not going to be able to sleep tonight because we have a five-hour drive to Chattanooga tomorrow.”

Despite a late finish, the Iron Cowboy powered through his foot woes to complete the race.

Running with Hammertoes

Hammertoes occur when the joint of the toe abnormally bends or curls under, rather than lying flat. The most commonly affected toe is the second, but it could affect any or all of the toes–especially when bunions are also present. The condition begins as a mildly irritating deformity that causes corns, calluses, and blisters, but can eventually affect gait, comfort, balance, flexibility, and the ability to walk without pain. We most commonly see hammertoes in women who live in high heel shoes, but a number of heavy duty runners also develop the condition due to a muscle or tendon imbalance in the foot that inadvertently causes the toes to curl while in motion. Shoes that are too big or too small and “stubbed toe” type trauma can also contribute to a hammertoe’s development.

Unfortunately, you cannot simply wait for the hammertoe to “work itself out.” Once diagnosed, a podiatrist may recommend special padding, orthotic inserts, splints, injections for the pain, or other medications. A change in footwear is almost always warranted. We recommend soft, laced, low-heeled shoes with roomy toe-boxes and at least half an inch of space from the longest toe to the tip of the shoe. We’ll show you stretching exercises to strengthen the toe muscles that you can do with a therapist or at home. However, for severe hammertoe deformities, surgery is the only true way to completely correct the issue.

Hammertoe Treatment in NYC

The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine in NYC offers comprehensive hammertoe treatments that start with your most affordable, least invasive options. Our board-certified, highly-educated, and experienced podiatric surgeons are able to surgically correct hammertoes that do not respond to conventional treatment. The chief goal of your treatment will be to limit acute pain, followed by the goals of restoring mobility, flexibility, balance, and alignment in the foot. We work with amateurs, professional marathon runners, triathletes, and Olympians. We’ve worked important local events like the NYC Triathlon, the Hamptons Marathon, the Bridgehampton Half Marathon, and the Westchester Toughman Tri. Contact us for more information on hammertoe correction in NY.


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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.