Del Beaulac, with her Belgian shepherd, Echo, train for the TriRuff triathlon in Nanaimo in September. The event pairs owners and dogs in biking, running and swimming legs of the race.

Del Beaulac, with her Belgian shepherd, Echo, train for the TriRuff triathlon in Nanaimo in September. The event pairs owners and dogs in biking, running and swimming legs of the race.

Triathlon goes to the dogs

NANAIMO – TriRuff K9 event sees handlers, dogs compete in biking, running and swimming race.

Given the choice between finding a sport to play regularly and recurring back pain, Del Beaulac pulled out her ‘go big or go home attitude’ and opted to train for a triathlon, with a bit of a twist. Instead of entering a local planned event, she decided to organize one herself that included her dog.

“After months of physiotherapy for low back pain, my therapist suggested I find a sport that would maintain my conditioning and strength,” said Beaulac. “I couldn’t take my dog in Tough Mudder, so opted for the TriRuff K9 Xterra.”

An off road endurance event, the TriRuffK9 has handlers and their canine partners biking 12 kilometre, running 6 km and swimming 300 metres, side by side. Taking place at Westwood Lake on Sept. 21 it not only promises to challenge athletes physically but also the working relationship between handler and dog.

“It’s a real test of the trust built in a canine team,” said Beaulac.

Echo, Beaulac’s eight-year-old Belgian Shepherd is more accustomed to the show ring and cushy couches, but has taken to training with an enthusiastic wag of the tail and tongue-hanging excitement.

“She didn’t like the swimming at first, but with conditioning and trust building she’ll now follow commands in the water and stay swimming beside me.”

The course follows trails around the lake and was designed with the dog’s safety a priority. A section heading outside the park boundaries will be off leash, but inside the park borders dogs will once again be attached to their handlers. Beaulac said this means that dogs need to be comfortable running beside the bike and swimming with their handlers.

Local vet Karen Karsten helped prepare a set of health criteria rules for the dogs and requires a vet to examine and sign off on the health of the dog. She also requested a minimum of two vet checks on the course to ensure dogs’ foot pads and heart rate were okay.

“Check points will be manned by volunteers and vet technicians,” said Beaulac. “They’ll provide an experienced eye to check dogs’ stress levels. If a dog looks overheated, handlers will be required to take a break to rest the dog.”

She stresses that this is not just about timing – it’s an endurance team event. If a dog needs a break, timing stops. She added that both dog and handler will have matching numbers and Tyvek wristbands, so if a dog gets lost or comes in ahead of the handler the team can be reunited as quickly as possible.

Beaulac and Echo don’t train alone. John Wengel, of Full On Fitness, a sports performance specialist and sponsor of the event, coaches Beaulac with a group of six 40-60-year-old women and their dogs.

“Some of the women had never ridden a bike before,” said Wengel. “We went from basic training to more specific fitness building.”

Wengel who trains and shows rottweillers in conformation, obedience and shutzhund created a list of expectations for the dogs as well as their handlers, including basic obedience, socialization and proper reaction to sudden events.

“If the bike tips over you don’t want your dog getting frightened and running off with you attached,” he said.

Beaulac said any dog and handler team, with the right conditioning can enter and finish the event.

“We have a Havanese training for the TriRuffK9,” she said. “Great thing about running with a little dog is that if she gets tired she gets picked up and carried.”

The canine rules, vet check and training tips can be found at

Nanaimo News Bulletin