Birgit Johnstone started running for fun four years ago because running no longer meant running for her life.
CROSSING THE FINISH.
Birgit Johnstone finishes her first ironman triathlon in just under 7 hours and 19 minutes. She began running in Muskoka because she wasn't "scared to death" to run the streets like she was in South Africa.
Johnstone was born Canadian, but grew up and lived in South Africa for 30 years. After she moved back to Canada four years ago, she got up one day and decided to run, just because she could.
“I never used to run because it was much too dangerous to go running on the roads where I used to live in South Africa. So when I moved here I could go for a run on my own and not be scared to death it was quite liberating,” she said.
This weekend she ran her first 70.3-mile ironman triathlon. “I was hoping to finish alive, that’s all,” she said.
She finished in 7:18:53. She said couldn’t quit knowing her coach, training group and family were waiting at the finish line.
“On my run I had to envision friends and the good times we had together and I sort of tried to every kilometre think of somebody else special in my life, and think of something positive and put a smile on my face,” she said.
She decided to participate in the ironman event last year after watching a friend, who couldn’t swim a length in the pool at the beginning of the year, compete in the event that consists of a 2-kilometre swim, followed by a 94-km bike and a 21-km run.
Johnstone swam competitively when she was younger, but only started biking this year. Three days before the race she still hadn’t changed a bike tire.
She hopes her training will started inspire her daughter.
“You don’t have to do things just so you win, you can just have fun,” she said.
A few weeks before the race, overwhelming stress with her job nearly caused her to pull out. Johnstone is battling a former business partner who is trying to set up a competing business.
“I just have to do it (the ironman), otherwise my ex-partner will win this in one way,” she said.
The emotional struggle of possibly pulling out of the race is still evident as her voice cracks and she begins to tear up as she speaks.
The group she trains with was so supportive she decided “it’s better to start and not finish, than not to start at all.”
“If it wasn’t for my husband, I probably would have given up,” she said.
Training hasn’t been easy either, between balancing her roles as wife and mother, starting a business, organizing the safari show and training up to 11 hours a week.
Earlier this year she went to visit her mother who now lives Germany during one of her most intense training periods.
Johnstone said her mom looked for a bike for her to train on but couldn’t find one in the small German village, so she used her mom’s touring bike with her own seat and pedals.
“I must have looked like a crazy person riding around the German countryside with a big basket on my bike,” she said.
Johnstone competed in the ironman on Sunday, her mom’s birthday.
Before the race she said her mom is one of the people she would be thinking about during the race.
It’s too early to know if she will do the race again; she needs to get her life back to normal first, Johnstone said.