Seven years ago, Simon Ong of Calgary weighed 230 pounds (he’s 5’8″) and was pre-diabetic, with high blood pressure and chest pain from a steady diet of fast food and no exercise. On Sunday, Ong was the fastest Canadian (finishing eighth overall) at the Seattle Rock ‘n’ Roll Half-Marathon, setting himself a new PB and qualifying for the TCS New York City Marathon, with a time of 1:18:11.

 

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Ong, 29, a surgical nurse at Southern Alberta Eye Centre, wanted to do something about his lifestyle and his health, back in 2011. But he couldn’t run any distance without becoming winded, and even fell off the treadmill more than once when he tried to run. So he started cycling and swimming in order to improve his fitness enough to be able to run. “I had no athletic background whatsoever,” says Ong. “It took me two years to lose enough weight to be able to run a race.” His younger brother Raymond, a pharmacy technician, joined him in the effort to get healthy. 

 

It’s one thing to get off the couch and adopt a healthy lifestyle, but nobody realized there was a fast runner lurking inside that unhealthy exterior, least of all Ong himself.

 

“I was very surprised to finish in the top 10,” he says, referring to his success on the weekend. Ong had not raced a half-marathon since 2015, when he ran the Goodlife Victoria Half-Marathon, but fell short of his goal of qualifying for New York. So he decided to take a break from the half-marathon, and focus on the marathon instead.

Three years after his first marathon, Ong went sub-3 to qualify for Boston, which he ran in 2016. But once again, he had a disappointing race, bonking early due to low sodium, and ended up walk-jogging most of the course. 

“I had to redeem myself,” says Ong. So he requalified at the Edmonton Marathon that August, and again at Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in October 2017, where he set his marathon PB of 2:55.

Having successfully re-qualified for Boston 2019, Ong decided to try the 21.1K distance again. Originally planning on racing the Vancouver First Half Marathon on February 11, he slipped on the ice during a training run and sustained a concussion. Luckily he was able to resume training after a few weeks’ recovery, and changed his focus to the Seattle half.

“I love the feeling of accomplishment that comes with determination and hard work,” says Ong, who says running taught him how to set goals in other parts of his life as well. “I’m still on a high from the weekend.”

 

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