100 Day Recap
He's made endurance sports history and set a new world record. Now access the sports science behind this amazing achievement!
Join Biostrap as we track James “The Iron Cowboy” Lawrence as he defies logic with his Conquer 100 Guinness World Record Attempt
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Biostrap PPG vs. ECG in Clinical Study
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Sleep and Recovery Predict Performance
No longer will you have to guess how much stress your nervous system can handle on any day. Now, all it takes is a glance at the Biostrap app every morning to know your recovery score, so you can plan the intensity of your workout, review the health of your cardiovascular system* and make sure you get to bed on time to optimize your circadian rhythm with Biostrap.
*Heart Health designed by a Cardiologist
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Why Biostrap? (From James)
“Biostrap’s ability to remotely monitor my health from anywhere is a huge piece of the puzzle in giving us a chance at accomplishing what we believe may be endurance sports history.”
James LawrenceThe Iron Cowboy
Why Biostrap? (From James)
Keeping Up With The Cowboy
Not Enough Hours in the Day
In preparation for the Conquer 100 which began on March 1, James and his team developed a comprehensive schedule which included projected times for each aspect of the long-distance triathlon, nutrition, recovery, and sleep. But when you set out to achieve the impossible, it is inevitable that certain things will not go precisely as planned. Due to weather and other conditions beyond James’ control, the daily training has gone slightly over schedule and something had to give- in this case, his overall sleep duration which has averaged 5 hours and 58 minutes per evening, down nearly 93 minutes or 21% from the goal sleep duration of 7.5 hours of quality sleep.
Because sleep is such an important aspect of recovery, the decrease in sleep duration and particularly restorative deep sleep (average 33.3 minutes, down 58% from baseline), James’ has experienced a compounding effect in his recovery-related biometrics including nocturnal heart rate (average 69.8 bpm, +36%) and heart rate variability (down 22.3 ms or 43%) relative to his 8-week baseline. During Week 1, James’ average Recovery Score was 29.8/100, representing a 42% decrease from baseline.
But as planned, James is beginning to show physiological signs of positive adaptation including significant improvements in arterial (+13%) and peripheral elasticity (+12%) values which will pay dividends down the road as we work towards achieving the optimistic daily training times.
James is still pushing through strong and steady each day, and our Biostrap team is proud to monitor and support him every step of the way. Stay tuned for weekly updates as James “Iron Cowboy” Lawrence redefines impossible while raising money for Operation Underground Railroad (url).
Week 2 was tough, but James kept pushing through
Due to several unforeseen circumstances and poor weather conditions, James’ daily training time has increased by 33 minutes to an average of just over 16 hours, leading to continued struggles with dedicating adequate time for sleep each evening.
In Week 2, James’ average sleep duration was 5 hours 18 minutes, representing a 41-minute decrease (-11%) from Week 1, and a total decrease of 138 minutes (-30%) from baseline. James was achieving approximately 25 minutes of deep sleep each evening, well below the general recommendation of 120 minutes, or James’ baseline average of 78.5 minutes.
Although the slope of decline has improved, the majority of James’ recovery biometrics were still showing a downward trend. On the other hand, in Week 2, we have seen notable improvements in sleep efficiency (+10%), nocturnal respiratory rate (+8%), heart rate variability covariance (87%), and arterial elasticity (+19%).
Despite a significant increase in resting heart rate in Week 1, James has been able to maintain a nocturnal average of 69.8 beats per minute throughout Week 2. These improvements are encouraging signs of improved stress resilience as we enter Week 3 of the Conquer 100.
Arterial Elasticity (Month Trend)
James is one quarter of the way through the 100 long-distance triathlons, and the high-level of accumulated stress on his body each day continues to take a toll on his recovery biometrics. However, the intelligent and adaptable human body is starting to make the most of the ever-shortening sleep durations. James’ body seems to be fighting to increase deep sleep, which is extremely important for his performance, health, and ability to Conquer 100.
During week 2, James’ deep sleep only made up 8% of his total sleep duration. During week 3, it has increased to 12%. While this is still less than half of what James’ had during the baseline phase, it represents a 50% relative increase since last week. This increase in slow-wave sleep is paying dividends in improving James’ autonomic nervous system function, measured as heart rate variability using the Biostrap wrist-worn device.
Slow-wave or deep sleep is an extremely important aspect of sleep quality and recovery because of its relationship with human growth hormone. It is well-established that growth hormone release from the pituitary gland, up to 95% of which occurs during deep sleep, is necessary for muscular recovery, growth and repair (Shapiro et al., 1981). Additionally, it plays a key role in several physiological processes such as balancing blood sugar and insulin levels, memory consolidation and even flushing the brain from toxic, memory-impairing proteins.
Shapiro, C., Bortz, R., Mitchell, D., Bartel, P., & Jooste, P. (1981). Slow-wave sleep: a recovery period after exercise. Science, 214(4526), 1253–1254. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.7302594
Falling Asleep, Staying Asleep
Falling asleep too fast can be an indication of sleep deprivation and related reductions in cognition, motor performance, reaction times, and emotional stability (Walters, 2002). While it is normal for it to take about 15-20 minutes to transition from awake to asleep, James’ average sleep latency (time to fall asleep) in Week 4 has been less than one minute, a significant decrease from his pre-Conquer 100 baseline of 22 minutes, which provides a clear indication of his level of physical and mental exhaustion.
Interestingly, Week 4 also revealed an abrupt change in sleep efficiency, which is defined as the total amount of time asleep relative to time in bed, which additionally accounts for the number and duration of awakenings or sleep disruptions each evening. James averaged 4.3 awakenings per evening with a total average “awake in bed” time of 65 minutes.
Walters, Peter Hudson PhD, CSCS Sleep, the Athlete, and Performance, Strength and Conditioning Journal: April 2002 - Volume 24 - Issue 2 - p 17-24
HRV & Overtraining
Heart rate variability (HRV) is the measurement of variation in time intervals between heart beats. While it is generally assumed that the heart is supposed to beat consistently like a metronome, there should actually be variability in between heartbeats when assessed at the level of milliseconds (ms). The heart rate should speed up slightly during inhalation, and slow down during exhalation- a phenomenon referred to as respiratory sinus arrhythmia. Heart rate variability provides non-invasive insight into the ongoing game of ‘tug of war’ between the two branches of our autonomic nervous system- the sympathetic (stress, fight-flight-freeze) and parasympathetic (rest, digest & relax). It is important to maintain proper balance in the autonomic nervous system, because it regulates involuntary bodily functions ranging from heart rate and blood pressure to hormone production and immune system functions.
From an athletic perspective, research has shown that well-trained athletes tend to maintain higher HRV values, with the highest being in endurance athletes (Dong, 2016). However, additional studies have associated overtraining syndrome (OT) and increase susceptibility to training-related injuries with changes in autonomic function marked by a decrease in HRV (Mourot,et al., 2004; Williams, et al., 2017).
During the Conquer 100, the Iron Cowboy had a consistent downward trend in HRV values likely associated with accumulated physical stress, mental stress, and fatigue. The Iron Cowboy’s average HRV value dropped as low as 22.7 milliseconds in Week 2 representing a 56% decrease from his baseline of 52 ms. While this stress and fatigue have only continued to accumulate, Week 5 biometric trends have revealed a remarkable improvement in James’ autonomic function as his HRV averaged 34.3 milliseconds, the highest it has been since Day 2 of the Conquer 100.
Dong J. G. (2016). The role of heart rate variability in sports physiology. Experimental and therapeutic medicine, 11(5), 1531–1536. https://doi.org/10.3892/etm.2016.3104
Mourot, L., Bouhaddi, M., Perrey, S., Cappelle, S., Henriet, M. T., Wolf, J. P., Rouillon, J. D., & Regnard, J. (2004). Decrease in heart rate variability with overtraining: assessment by the Poincaré plot analysis. Clinical physiology and functional imaging, 24(1), 10–18. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1475-0961.2003.00523.x
Williams, S., Booton, T., Watson, M., Rowland, D., & Altini, M. (2017). Heart Rate Variability is a Moderating Factor in the Workload-Injury Relationship of Competitive CrossFit™ Athletes. Journal of sports science & medicine, 16(4), 443–449
Respiratory Adaptations to Endurance Training
Regular exercise can increase the strength and function of the respiratory muscles, strengthen the heart, and improve circulation- ultimately improving the efficiency of the cardiorespiratory system in its job of intaking and delivering adequate oxygen throughout the body, and expelling carbon dioxide. However, in the case of extreme endurance feats such as long-distance triathlons, the wear and tear associated with a high dose of mechanical stress, muscle catabolism, and oxidative damage can lead to an acute effect on biometrics including respiratory rate as the body fights to repair itself.
During the baseline phase of the Conquer 100, the Iron Cowboy’s nocturnal respiratory rate averaged 14.2 breaths per minute (brpm), representing the 97th percentile compared to other males in the 35- to 44-year-old age range. As expected, the first long-distance triathlon led to a massive increase in James’ nocturnal respiratory rate: an increase from 13.9 brpm to 20.8 brpm in a single 24-hour period. Despite the accumulated stress and fatigue, James’ Biostrap has revealed amazing trends related to his body’s ability to not only cope, but continuously adapt during the Conquer 100 challenge. Reaching a peak nocturnal respiratory rate average of 16.5 breaths per minute in Week 1, James’ nocturnal respiratory rate is shown a marked decrease each and every week thereafter- reaching a personal best average of 13.1 brpm in Week 6.
How is it possible that The Iron Cowboy’s Recovery Score has increased to an average of 64 after completing nearly 50 long-distance triathlons, from a baseline average of 52 prior to the Conquer 100? It is important to understand what recovery is and how to interpret the Biostrap Recovery Score.
Recovery indicates an individual’s response and recovery from previous stress (physical and mental) and readiness to tolerate and form positive adaptations to additional stressors on a given day. Recovery is a completely individualized and relative concept- meaning you cannot compare two individual’s daily biometrics side-by-side and simply determine who is “more recovered”. It requires an analysis of trend data at the individual level.
The Biostrap Recovery Score is a unique algorithm that determines an individual’s readiness to perform, adapt, and prevent injuries based on trending nocturnal data. Hence the need to establish a baseline prior to receiving a Recovery Score. The Biostrap Recovery score is based on a comprehensive analysis of nocturnal biometric values relative to a rolling baseline of resting heart rate, heart rate variability (RMSSD), sleep duration, and sleep efficiency. The rolling baseline allows for this algorithm to account for physiological adaptations versus acute changes that may require intervention.
Because this rolling baseline now includes Conquer 100 days only, it is no longer comparing James’ biometric data to the pre-Conquer 100 baseline. Therefore, the Biostrap Health Monitoring Team is leveraging this daily Recovery Score as a global metric to assess acute changes in performance and assess the efficacy of various recovery interventions. A primary metric responsible for James’ increase in Recovery Score is the improvement in his sleep efficiency, which is defined as the total amount of time asleep relative to the total amount of time in bed. Sleep efficiency accounts for sleep latency - the amount of time it takes to fall asleep - and the number and duration of awakenings or sleep disruptions.
The Iron Cowboy’s nocturnal awakenings has decreased from an average of 8 per evening during Week 6 to only 4.67 per evening during Week 7, leading to a decrease of "awake in bed" time of 95.9 mins to 52.7 mins. When combined, these improvements account for the increase in James’ Recovery Score.
The relationship between resting heart rate and heart rate variability
The relationship between resting heart rate (RHR) and heart rate variability (HRV) provides insight into the function of the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system. Monitoring RHR and HRV is a noninvasive method that has been successfully used to indicate acute fatigue and responses to physical demand (Achten & Jeukendrup, 2003). Generally speaking, a lower RHR and higher HRV is associated with higher parasympathetic nervous system activity, increased adaptation, and better overnight recovery.
This is precisely what was revealed in the Week 8 of the Conquer 100. The Iron Cowboy had an average nocturnal HRV (RMSSD) of 50 milliseconds (ms) in Week 8, which is nearly as high as his baseline average of 51.9 ms and highest week average of the challenge. On April 22 (Day 52), James recorded his highest HRV value of 61.5 ms. Perhaps coincidentally, this personal record was set on the evening following him breaking his own existing Guinness World Record.
The same is true for the Iron Cowboy’s resting heart rate. James’ Week 8 RHR of 62.9 beats per minute (bpm) may still be higher than his baseline of 51.2 bpm, but it’s been the lowest since the first day of the Conquer 100.
These favorable shifts in both RHR and HRV is indicative of positive adaptations in James’ nervous system as he continues to conquer the daily stressors on his way to completing 100 long-distance triathlons.
Achten, J., & Jeukendrup, A. E. (2003). Heart rate monitoring: Applications and limitations. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 33, 517–538. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200333070-00004
Deep sleep and HRV
The Iron Cowboy’s deep sleep average of 55 minutes during Week 9 more than doubled compared to 22 minutes during Week 8. We’ve talked about the importance of deep sleep in previous blog posts, but it’s significant enough to mention again as it played a key role in the amazing improvement of James’ nocturnal heart rate variability (HRV).
*1= Baseline Period
James’ Week 9 average nocturnal HRV of 53 milliseconds (ms) has now exceeded his baseline of 51.9 ms. Despite his average deep sleep duration of 55 mins remaining below baseline (78.5 mins), this strong correlation further indicates the importance of restorative deep sleep to repair the body and restore autonomic function. Higher HRV values is associated with increased vagal tone, which does not only improve the body’s ability to recover from stress, but also its allostatic load- or the amount of stress one accumulates over time. According to research, higher vagal tone is also related to better cognitive performance and better emotional regulation. (Thayer et al., 2009)
Thayer, J. F., Hansen, A. L., Saus-Rose, E., and Johnsen, B. H. (2009). Heart rate variability, prefrontal neural function, and cognitive performance: the neurovisceral integration perspective on self-regulation, adaptation, and health. Ann. Behav. Med. 37, 141–153. doi: 10.1007/s12160-009-9101-z
Sleep may seem like a time to finally let the brain and body “shut off” following a long-distance triathlon, but scientists now understand that the brain is working even harder during sleep to restore and repair cells, process information for long-term memory and perform important processes related to health and performance.
Throughout the Conquer 100, the Iron Cowboy has been using the Biostrap to track clinically reliable biometrics every 2 minutes during his sleep each evening. These include, but are not limited to:
Duration: sleep onset and wake-up time
Sleep Efficiency: time asleep relative to total time in bed
Sleep Stages: light versus deep sleep durations
Latency: amount of time to fall asleep
Awakenings: number and duration of sleep disruptions
Movement: analysis of arm movement, including severity
Snoring: integration with phone’s microphone to track snoring levels, including severity
Nocturnal Biometrics: heart rate, heart rate variability, oxygen saturation, respiratory rate and arterial elasticity
Irregular heartbeat index: the fraction of readings with irregular heartbeat episodes relative to total.
For simple understanding and analysis, the Biostrap provides a 0-100 Sleep Score, with higher values indicating improved overall sleep quality. This comprehensive algorithm includes analysis of both absolute and relative thresholds when calculating the Sleep Score. For example, an individual would be penalized for an oxygen saturation less than 90%- but may also be penalized for a SpO2 value within the normal range, IF this value was lower than their 30-day trailing average.
During the 8-week baseline phase, James had an average Biostrap Sleep Score of 60.4. A significant decrease was recognized through Week 7 when his Sleep Score reached its lowest value of 2.5, primarily attributable to decreased sleep duration, deep sleep, and elevated resting heart rate as primary contributing factors. However, James’ Sleep Score has been returning to a (somewhat) normal range, with a Week 9 average of 24.2 and a Week 10 average of 19.3.
The Physiological Effects of 100 Consecutive Long-Distance Triathlons on the Heart: The Iron Cowboy Case Study
Each week, we have provided a comprehensive trend analysis of the Iron Cowboy’s biometric data. But did you know that this is part of one of the most impactful case studies of all time in the field of Sports Medicine? We have amassed an amazing Conquer 100 Health Monitoring team consisting of:
Kevin Longoria (Biostrap Chief Science Officer)
Dr. Willem Gielen (Cardiologist, Biostrap Chief Medical Officer)
Dr. Ali Nsair (Medical Director MCS & Heart Transplantation, Interventional and Structural Cardiology, UCLA Sports Cardiology)
Dr. Thijs Eijsvogels (Exercise Physiologist)
In addition to the wealth of clinical-grade data provided by the Biostrap wrist-worn device, the Iron Cowboy has performed a series of blood labs and additional clinical testing at the UCLA hospital which will also be repeated within a few days following the successful completion of the Conquer 100. These clinical tests include Echocardiography, Cardiac MRI, CT Angiogram, and Cardiopulmonary Exercise Test (CPET). The primary objective of this study is to determine the impact of 100 subsequent long-distance triathlons on the athlete’s heart as we strive to better understand the relationship between exercise dose, physiological response, and health outcomes.
Stay tuned for more updates on this exciting clinical study!
Understanding the Impacts of Stress
Leading up to the Conquer 100, The Iron Cowboy and his team anticipated a negative impact on James’ sleep quality. Our Week 12 analysis has shown that despite an increase in overall sleep duration, there has been a notable decrease in deep sleep, an increase in time “awake in bed” and more nocturnal movement than in previous weeks. These are clear contributing factors to diminished overall sleep efficiency.
While the underlying cause is unclear, previous research has found that chronic stress may alter the release of melatonin- the hormone responsible for helping you fall asleep and stay asleep- by the pineal gland, contributing to increased cortisol (stress hormone) production1. This increase in cortisol may be the culprit responsible for the increased nocturnal movement and sleep disruptions.
The human body regulates stress hormones via a feedback loop between the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands, also referred to as the HPA Axis. Previous studies have shown that sleep, in particular deep sleep, has an inhibitory effect on the HPA axis2. However, if the body is exposed to prolonged periods of stress, the HPA axis may be overactive during sleep leading to decreased sleep duration and reduced slow-wave deep sleep.
Understanding the physiological impact of elevated stress on James’ performance and ability to complete the Conquer 100, The Iron Cowboy’s team has implemented various countermeasures and recovery modalities including percussive therapy, photobiomodulation, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, mindfulness practices, massages and more. The result has been 84 successfully completed and consecutive long-distance triathlons, and counting!
- Hirotsu, C., Tufik, S., & Andersen, M. L. (2015). Interactions between sleep, stress, and metabolism: From physiological to pathological conditions. Sleep science (Sao Paulo, Brazil), 8(3), 143–152. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.slsci.2015.09.002
- Nicolaides, N. C., Vgontzas, A. N., Kritikou, I., & Chrousos, G. (2020). HPA Axis and Sleep. In K. R. Feingold (Eds.) et. al., Endotext. MDText.com, Inc. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279071/
The Athlete’s Heart
Throughout the Conquer 100, you may have noticed Biostrap’s emphasis on cardiovascular biometrics more so than typical athletic performance markers. But why are we so interested in tracking the heart health of an apparently healthy and very active athlete?
While habitual physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, emerging research has shown that prolonged, extremely high-volume endurance training may lead to cardiovascular maladaptation. Among other findings such as enhanced coronary artery calcification and arrhythmias, a phenomenon typically observed in the late stages of cardiovascular disease and a predictive factor for sudden cardiac death, myocardial fibrosis (MF), has also been reported in athletes1. Several studies have identified factors associated with the prevalence of MF in athletes including the years of training2, the number of completed competitive marathons or ultra-marathons of greater than 50 miles3.
Among the clinical tests that will be performed at UCLA Medical Center immediately following the Conquer 100 is cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (CMR) using late gadolimium enhancement (LGE) which is used to detect the potential significant increase in collagen volume of myocardial tissue, resulting in myocardial stiffness4 and increased left ventricular end-diastolic and left atrial pressures associated with MF.
- van de Schoor, F. R., Aengevaeren, V. L., Hopman, M. T., Oxborough, D. L., George, K. P., Thompson, P. D., & Eijsvogels, T. M. (2016). Myocardial Fibrosis in Athletes. Mayo Clinic proceedings, 91(11), 1617–1631. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocp.2016.07.012
- Wilson, M., O'Hanlon, R., Prasad, S., Deighan, A., Macmillan, P., Oxborough, D., Godfrey, R., Smith, G., Maceira, A., Sharma, S., George, K., & Whyte, G. (2011). Diverse patterns of myocardial fibrosis in lifelong, veteran endurance athletes. Journal of applied physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985), 110(6), 1622–1626. https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.01280.2010
- Möhlenkamp, S., Lehmann, N., Breuckmann, F., Bröcker-Preuss, M., Nassenstein, K., Halle, M., Budde, T., Mann, K., Barkhausen, J., Heusch, G., Jöckel, K. H., Erbel, R., Marathon Study Investigators, & Heinz Nixdorf Recall Study Investigators (2008). Running: the risk of coronary events : Prevalence and prognostic relevance of coronary atherosclerosis in marathon runners. European heart journal, 29(15), 1903–1910. https://doi.org/10.1093/eurheartj/ehn163
- Sugihara, N., Genda, A., Shimizu, M., Suematsu, T., Kita, Y., Minamoto, M., Kawagoshi, H., Umeda, K., Chin, S., & Takeda, R. (1988). Journal of cardiology, 18(2), 353–361.
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James lives with his wife, Sunny, and their five children in Utah. After breaking several Guinness World Records, James wondered if he had truly found his mental and physical limits. He knew there was more. Experience firsthand the remarkable journey of James Lawrence and his family.
Repeatedly mocked for choosing a goal so big, Lawrence takes on the challenge of doing 50 Ironman races, in 50 consecutive days, through all 50 US States. His journey will make you laugh, cry and possibly squirm in your seats in disbelief.
Lawrence shares with you the ups, the downs and the life lessons learned along the way. His story resonates with all, young and old. You won’t want to miss this tale of adventure as they ‘Redefine Impossible.’
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