John Wragg did his first Ironman race in 1988. Today he did his 200th, finishing Ironman Cozumel in 14:42:28.
The 65-year-old from Mississauga, Ontario, got his start in the sport after participating in a small event organized by a fitness club in Toronto in 1986. Itdidn’t take long for the former competitive swimmer (he “ran a bit of track” in high school) to get hooked on the sport. He did his first Ironman in New Zealand in 1988 and remembers challenging one of his buddies to do all the official Ironman races around the world that year … all five of them: New Zealand, Japan, Germany, Canada and the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. By the time he reached Hawaii that year, he was completely “blown out. In horrible shape,” he said in an interview a few years ago. “I have a lot of personal worsts … and that first trip to Hawaii in ’88 is definitely one of them.”
On that fateful day, 5 km from the finish line, Wragg was “pushing 15 hours.” The medical truck hovered next to him. He remembers seeing a pair of Oakley sunglasses on the ground and wanting to pick them up, but thinking that if he bent over at that moment, he’d fall down and stay down. “It was just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other,” he remembered.
He’s since gone on to compete in every Ironman race in the world and competed in endurance events on six different continents. Five events in a year is a piece of cake compared to his current schedule. By 2003, when he competed in his 10th Ironman World Championship in Kona, he’d done 60 Ironmans. I got to watch him finish #100 in Malaysia in 2008. Over the next seven years he would average over 14 Ironman races a year, culminating in his hitting the double century mark tonight in Mexico.
Wragg’s best time at an Ironman came in Germany in 1993, when he broke the ten-hour barrier with a 9:56. During his career the 65-year-old has swam 772.5 km (480 miles), biked 36049.3 km (22400 miles) and ran/power-walked 8433 km (5240 miles) – and that’s just in the races, not the training required to maintain that incredible consistency. What makes this feat even more incredible is that in 2008 Wragg was hit by a car and would need to get his hip replaced. He finished Ironman Canada just a few months after the accident.
“I think the secret is to be with someone who does the same thing,” he told me in an interview in 2003. “If you’re both going in opposite directions, it doesn’t work. I think you both have to be doing tris, or it doesn’t work out.”
A few years after that he would find that “someone who does the same thing” in the form of his wife, Elizabeth Model. The two met in the food tent at Ironman Arizona in 2006 and have since crossed the finish line together 14 different times, including one unforgettable night in Kona. Since that 100th race in Malaysia, Model and Wragg wear matching Ironman rings and Model was by his side again at the finish line in Cozumel.