Elizabeth Model wasn’t always an endurance athlete – far from it, in fact.
“I was very overweight in university, and I stopped weighing myself at 268 pounds, and I know I got up to about 280,” recalled Model, the CEO of Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association.
“As a child I was very, very active,” she continued, “and between boarding school and university, I just packed on pounds, not being active enough. And when I graduated it was a case of, ‘Gosh, I’ve never weighed so much,’ and I just started being active again and eating right and not slumming around dormitories, and all the rest of it, and the weight just came off.”
Years later, around the time she hit age 40, and long after she entered the business world, Model found the energy to run a marathon, and “got hooked” on endurance racing.
Model (pronounced mo-DEL) recently spoke to the Now-Leader after arriving home from Haines City, Florida, where she completed her 92nd Ironman race.
Over the past 13 years, the Burnaby resident has travelled the world doing long-distance triathlons.
“I started in 2005 in Penticton, in August of that year,” Model said. “I was 46 at the time, and I’m turning 60 next year.”
Even more impressively, she’s a member of an exclusive club of just five athletes who have done every single Ironman race on the calendar.
“The Club,” as it’s known, includes Model and her partner, John Wragg, along with Mexican athlete Luis Alvarez, American Jeff Jonas and German Holger Muller.
“We’ve all done every Ironman on the books,” Model said proudly, “and I’m the only female who’s done them all around the world.
“It’s pretty cool,” she added. “Luis Alvarez, the fellow from Mexico, has done up T-shirts with a map of the world and flags of all of our countries, including Canada, and all the Ironmans are listed on the back, with check-marks next to the ones we’ve done. At every race, we get together on the Saturday night before the race, or on the Friday, and we all have dinner together. It’s a great tradition to have, and we usually invite the race announcer too, because our names are really well known in the Ironman world. If you Google my name, there’s a ton of stuff that comes up.”
For the uninitiated, an Ironman triathlon involves a 3.86-kilometre swim, a 180.25-kilometre bike ride and full 42.20-kilometre marathon run, completed in that order and without a break.
Model completed the recent race in Florida in 15 hours and two minutes – a good time for her.
“My swim is the most consistent for me,” she said of her performance, “but I usually kind of roll it in in the marathon, because that’s kind of my baby. I’m an endurance athlete, and I can haul it out in the marathon, grind it out, stay happy, eat lots, drink lots and make sure the nutrition doesn’t falter, because that’s when you go into nutrition deficit and it’s over.”
Until you have experienced it…you can't imagine it!!! https://t.co/rvDwXRWOKl
— Elizabeth Model (@Elizabeth_Model) October 13, 2018
Model got her first taste of the Ironman experience by joining friends at the Penticton event, which no longer exists, as a spectator.
“I had started marathoning some years earlier, and I met a couple ladies in the gym,” she recalled. “They said to me, ‘You are such an Ironman,’ and they’d already done Ironman, and they told me I had that same mindset.”
A year later, she was in.
“After I did my first one (in Penticton), I’d already signed up for my second, in Arizona,” she said. “I loved the training, I loved the multi-discipline. I only run three times a week, I swim a couple of times and the rest is cycling and core and weights, and I am just very dedicated to it.”
The loss of the Penticton event in 2012 stung Model.
“Penticton was amazing, and it’s still one of my favourite races in the world,” she said. “It was such a great course… Unfortunately, the city and Ironman couldn’t come to an agreement, and I hope one day it’ll go back there. That one hurt really badly.”
Early this decade, Model was among backers of Surrey International World Music Marathon, first held in 2012. The race lasted just two years before logistical concerns shut it down.
“It was really too bad we couldn’t continue that, and it was a huge disappointment,” Model said. “But as you can well imagine, the road closures just got so expensive. The logistics, we just had to cut back on the event and we recognized it just wasn’t going to work, from a standpoint of the policing costs, too, which were over $100,000 at that time, and you need a lot of registrations for that, and Surrey just wasn’t at that stage.”
As for Ironman, Model believes it wouldn’t work in the Metro Vancouver area.
“Ironman is only in, I think, one large city, and it’s more in remote locations that have the lakes, the cycling, a supportive community,” she noted. “The only one that has worked in a city is Frankfurt, Germany. and Hamburg, but not as big there. Germany just shuts down everything though, and they just do it.”
With other members of “The Club,” Model has seen the world.
“Some of the (Ironman races) don’t exist anymore – 12 or 15 them, like in Lake Tahoe, and Utah and Penticton, all of those are gone,” she said. “But whenever it pops up in a new place, we all go and do it now, as members of this club.”
Doing the math, Model has completed an average of seven Ironman races a year since 2005.
“Sometimes I do more, sometimes less, because of injuries,” she said.
“Hopefully, if all things go well, next year I’ll hit my 100th one, and where that’s going to be is really interesting,” Model added. “Two new ones are planned, and obviously we’re going to do those, including one in Cork, Ireland and also in Victoria, Spain, and I registered for both.
Ironman is far more than a sporting event, she insists.
“It’s about a lifestyle, a huge community, and it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, when you meet somebody who is an Ironman, on business travels or in an airport or if they see your tattoo, you know what they’re all about, and it’s just automatically a bonding with that person.”