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Whistler Triathlon Club’s Laura Douglas completes first Ironman race

Douglas took part in an unofficial event after Ironman Canada was cancelled in Penticton due to wildfires
Laura Douglas (front row, middle) with a group of her fellow road cyclists.

Laura Douglas found herself among a bevy of disappointed athletes late last month when Ironman Canada’s Penticton event was cancelled due to safety concerns posed by ongoing wildfires. Douglas had been training for that race for months, diligently preparing her body and mind for the 226-kilometre ordeal. She was ready, but nature had other plans. 

As a result, the Whistler Triathlon Club (WTC) member adjusted her plans as well. She reached out to some of her peers in the local triathlon community, asking if they would support her in an unofficial simulation of what she would have experienced in Penticton. Two veteran athletes, Angela Shoniker and Marla Zucht, committed to doing the entire race with her, but several others joined for parts of the day and others still helped by erecting aid stations and providing moral support.

On Aug. 26, Douglas set off from Whistler’s Blueberry Docks to make her 3.9-kilometre swim around Alta Lake at 6 a.m. with more than a dozen people in attendance. The subsequent 180-km bike ride took her south to the Callaghan Valley and north towards Pemberton before she ground through the marathon-length 42.2-km run across the Valley Trail and around Lost Lake. 

Douglas figures it took her in the ballpark of 14 hours and 14 minutes to complete all three stages. A flat tire on the highway consumed roughly an hour (she did not bring a repair kit in favour of packing more food) until two passing cyclists bailed her out. Ironically, the Brit also grappled with a stomach ache during the on-foot portion of her race—in an attempt to fuel her body sufficiently, she ended up eating too much food that proved hard on her digestive tract. 

Despite all of that, Douglas made it through her inaugural Ironman and collected valuable experience along the way. 

“It was pretty empowering,” she said. “Knowing that I’m actually able to do those distances, even though it was not technically official, definitely gives me mental strength and realization on how capable my body is.” 

Diving right in

Unlike Shoniker and Zucht, Douglas is new to the world of triathlon. She grew up a runner in her native United Kingdom and moved to Whistler two years ago, as many do, for adventure and recreation. Not long after that, triathlon crossed her radar and she was intrigued.

“I already ran a bit before, and I just love cold-water swimming and I love lakes and things like that,” Douglas explained. “Then I thought it’d be good to start with a sporting club here, so I joined the triathlon club. I think this is the perfect place for it, with lots of beautiful lakes and valley trails and all the trails in the mountains.” 

Evidently not one to simply dip her toe in, Douglas signed up for the Penticton Ironman last December almost immediately after becoming part of the WTC. She credits her coach, Karsten Madsen, with helping her get started on the right foot in terms of training and diet. The rest was up to her: 5 a.m. wakeups and consistent dedication to ready herself for one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world. 

Madsen wasn’t the only one in her corner. 

“The tri-club’s got some great people who I meet up with, especially on the weekends for long rides on Saturdays and things like that,” said Douglas. “We go to [Pemberton] and back, which is great fun. It’s a good community to meet new people and have fun doing activities with others as well.” 

In addition to her responsibilities with the WTC, Douglas is involved with trail-running organizations such as We Run Whistler and We Run Pemberton as well as the local squash club. As a profession, she teaches fifth graders in Mount Currie. Douglas is an example of how ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things, and she’s already looking forward to her first official Ironman next year.