The Ironman’s Ironman
Countingthem up seems to stretch the boundaries of possibility. Kona: 163. Florida: 164. Arizona: 165. Cozumel: 166.
When John Wragg finished Ironman Cozumel last December, his 166th full distance race, he had covered 23,339.6 miles ( 37,530 km) during his incredible Ironman career. That’s just the racing. Can you imagine how many miles Wragg has covered in training for all of these events?
Wragg discovered triathlon in 1986 when he joined a Toronto- based training group. He did his first Ironman in Auckland, New Zealand in 1988. That summer, he made a bet with a training buddy that he’d do all five Ironmans offered in the world that year: New Zealand, Canada, Hawaii, Germany and Japan. By the time he reached Hawaii for the Ironman World Championship, he was completely “blown out. In horrible shape,” he remembers. “I have a lot of personal worsts … and that first trip to Hawaii in ’ 88 is definitely one of them.”
Five 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 says.
Stories like this one, trips to the very reaches of his limits, along with milestones and personal bests, are what make the sport so exciting, Wragg says. They’re what have kept him coming back for more. He remembers one of his definite high points. In Germany in 1993, he broke 10 hours: “I ran 9:56. It felt so good to do that.”
The all-time highlight, though, came in Hawaii last October. Determined to race alongside his wife, Elizabeth Model, Wragg bid on a spot for Kona through the charitable eBay auction after she got a Kona slot through the Legacy lottery. He and Model crossed the finish line together. It was her 50th Ironman finish. He’d done just a few more than that.
In June, 2008 Wragg was hit by a car while out training on his bike. A broken hip would normally sideline most people for upwards of a year. A few months later he finished Ironman Canada. A year later he had to have the hip replaced, so these days he power walks more than he runs the marathon.
Since he retired from teaching, Wragg has become even more of an Ironman machine. In 2013 he finished 14 full distance races. He’s such a regular at events that it’s impossible for him to get through a race site without being stopped every few metres. “It takes us forever to get anywhere,” Model laughs.
Here’s hoping that making Wragg our first recipient of Triathlon Magazine Canada’s Lifetime Achievement Award won’t make him even more popular at races and slow down their progress even more.– KM