— By Marcia Jansen

“We can’t stop, this is how we’re wired”

Elizabeth Model is the first woman to complete every Ironman race in the world. The 57-year-old from Burnaby (BC) followed in the footsteps of Luis Alvarez, Jeff Jonas and her life partner John Wragg. Triathlon Magazine Canada talked with the iron lady when she got back from her 76th Ironman in North Carolina recently.

Photo courtesy of Ironman
Photo courtesy of Ironman

Elizabeth Model, the CEO of the Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association, is a typical late bloomer. She was 40 years old when she participated in her first marathon, 46 when she tackled her first Ironman. “I had an active childhood but stopped exercising as a young adult. When I approached my fortieth birthday I was overweight and decided to start running. That was definitely a life changing moment,” says Model.

Triathlon crossed her path in 2005. “I met a couple of female triathletes when I ran the Vancouver marathon and I went to watch them in the Ironman Canada in Penticton. I was immediately taken by the sport, so I bought a tri bike and took on swimming lessons and signed up for my first Ironman. I never did a sprint triathlon and I did my first and only half Ironman three years ago. I just knew that I was built for endurance, not for speed.”

Her first Ironman in Penticton was the most memorable one. “I think the first one always is. I had some struggles, didn’t have my nutrition 100% right, but I never forget the moment I crossed the finish line.” Her second Ironman took place in Arizona, where she met her life partner John Wragg. “He had done most of the Ironman races on the circuit and he inspired me to pursue the same goal. I just loved the sport and it seemed like a great and safe way to travel and to see the world. Since that time John and I go to races together. I am so glad that he’s in my life. He’s my life partner, mentor, and coach. He’s retired and he organizes and plans everything for me. I only have to do the training, sign up for the race and book a flight.”

John Wragg and Elizabeth Model. Photo: Kevin Mackinnon
John Wragg and Elizabeth Model. Photo: Kevin Mackinnon

At the time Model set her goal to compete in all the Ironman races on the circuit, there were only fifteen to sixteen Ironmans in the world. “And just six of them in North America – Canada, Florida, Arizona, Lake Placid, Wisconsin, Coeur d’Alene and a few overseas. That all changed when WTC started to take over races and it wasn’t so easy anymore to do all of them. But I was on a mission and there were years that I did more than ten races in a season.”

Model, who works more than full time and sits on many boards,  gets up every day at 4.45am to get her training done before her workday starts. “I often work at night too, so sometimes I have to cut on my hours of sleep. I’d like to sleep seven hours a night, but most of the time I just get between 5 or 6.”

By crossing the finish line in Ironman Maryland in early October, she reached her goal by completing all 40 plus Ironman races in the world. “I am going to take it a little bit easier from now on.  I would like to concentrate more on my career, my family and just enjoy life. But I keep continuing doing Ironmans because every year there are new races on the calendar. John and I are already signed up for the new Ironman in Hamburg and we are waiting for a new one in Italy to go online. We can’t stop. This is the way we are wired.”

First Ironman: Ironman Canada (Penticton).

Hardest Ironman: Lanzarote (Spain) because of the wind, the climbing and the heat, with Ironman Wales close behind.

Model’s favourites: Ironman Switzerland, Austria and Vineman because of the beautiful bike courses. And of course Ironman Whistler is spectacular too.

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