Steven Ong and Lim Siaw Hua are an endearing couple who have been training and racing ultra marathons together. The loving duo’s tremendous love for running and for each other is a source of inspiration for both souls and other people in the local running phenomenon to take up running.
Although Ong only started participating in ultramarathons in 2014, he has earned himself the moniker “The Trail Brain” for his remarkable strategies and self-confidence. He is also the 2017 Asia Trail Master Champion, among many other accolades. On the other hand, Lim also aims to continue her studies on Sport Nutrition and Sport Injury. She also seeks to bring awareness of a healthy lifestyle through sports among the younger generation.
Not only have the inspirational couple run a great many ultra marathons, but they also run to save children. Ong has been a World Vision child sponsor since 2010, sponsoring 5 children from Thailand, Cambodia, India, Vietnam, and Myanmar. This has clearly put them to the test and through Ong and Lim’s dedication and resilience in running, they grow stronger together.
Coupling up, helping children
Tell us about yourself.
Ong: I was born in Johor, raised and educated in Malacca. I used to travel and work overseas for many years. I’m currently an entrepreneur and event organizer. My family is based in Malacca. I’m single and have a lovely girlfriend. I live in KL now. I’ve been running for 30 years since my first running event as a child. I did my first half marathon at 16 years, the first marathon at 18 years old, and first ultra marathon in 2014.
Lim: I am a working mother of 2, and I work at a construction firm. I started running since I was in primary school. I completed my first full marathon in 2013 and picked up ultra-running year after 2014.
When did you start running?
Ong: I started running when I was 11 years old.
Lim: I started running when I was 9 years old, representing my school and state at numerous national competitions.
How did you get into ultra-running?
Ong: I knew about ultra-running since the year 2000 and heard about ultra races from friends in the year 2013.
Lim: I was supposed to join the Kuching Marathon in 2014, but also signed up for The Most Beautiful Thing (TMBT 50KM) which was happening a week after the Kuching Marathon. I decided to give up the Kuching Marathon and went for my first ever 50KM run. Since then, I fell in love with ultra-running, especially trail runs.
Tell us more about your training schedules, diet, and overall preparation process – physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Ong: I train 6 days a week and take 1 full day of rest. Typically, I accumulate up to 80 – 100KM of mileage a week. I will not easy any food that might affect my training and try to avoid drinking iced cold drinks on regular basis.
Lim: I do not have a specific training plan, but I do long distance training when I have time. I also do not have a specific nutrition plan. I just have a normal diet but I eat less meat.
What are the races that you have participated in and do you have a bucket list of races you want to participate in?
Ong: I have participated in the Tor des Geants (TDG), Cameron Ultra-Trail (CULTRA), Penang Eco, and some road races in 2018.
Lim: I have joined local ultra-running events and overseas events too. The races that I dreamt of joining are the upcoming Marathon des Sables and the Jungle Marathon in Peru.
What was running your first ultramarathon like?
Ong: My first ultra race was The Most Beautiful Thing in Sabah back in 2014. Running in the jungle and over mountains, passing by villages, seeing the green, quiet scenery, meeting people, was totally a great new experience to me.
Lim: I was exhausted yet excited that I actually took part in an ultramarathon!
What were the challenges?
Ong: I have always received great support from my family and life partner, Siaw Hua, who is also an ultra runner herself. Siaw Hua and I always travel together for races. I also got my youngest sister into running and then ultra races. To be well-trained for ultra-running, one cannot miss the cost of the gears. A lot of time needs to be put into training as well.
Lim: I am a working mother with 2 kids. I am always racing against time, trying to find time to train while taking care of my kids and also managing my work. Sometimes, I have to give up the events I signed up for due to work commitments.
How do you prepare yourself before a marathon/ultramarathon? Do you have any specific regime that you follow?
Ong: It is very important that we read thoroughly the information provided by the race organizer. As runners, we must have in mind that we need and are capable of. For example, what is the pace we are capable of? What are the gears to use? How much food do we need to carry? We will also need to eat and rest well for the race to come.
Lim: I don’t have a specific program, but I basically do long runs, hike, and train on different terrain such as hills.
Have you ever suffered any injuries during your marathon training sessions and how do you bounce back from injuries?
Ong: I hurt my right ligament a long time ago and spent 10 months resting and going for treatments to recover.
Lim: I’ve never had major injuries during my training. I’ve only twisted my ankle during trail running. Normally, I will recover within 1 or 2 weeks.
Where are your favorite races and running trails?
Ong: Honestly, there is no favorite race or trail because to me, all trails are unique. We only get to feel and see them when we are there.
Lim: I do not have favorite trails, because every trail is unique with different challenges.
Which race has been your greatest challenge – to date?
Ong: Tor des Geants has been my greatest challenge to date. I have failed to complete the race twice.
Lim: The race that has been my greatest challenge so far is the Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie (TDS) in 2016, one of the races during the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) event in Chamonix. The race distance was around 119KM with an elevation of about 7300m.
What does your running schedule look like for this year?
Ong: The Hong Kong 4 Trail Ultra Challenge (HK4TUC), was my greatest challenge this year. I will also be participating in other ultra races in Malaysia and in the Asia Trail Master race series.
Lim: Marathon de Sable in April is my main event for 2019. The other runs are mostly local events like 50KM or 100KM. I also signed up for a 100KM trail run in July in the UK.
Why World Vision and what gives your motivation besides doing it for the children?
Ong: Because I am a World Vision Child Sponsor. I’ve always wanted to do something for children who live in poverty to improve their lives by helping them receive knowledge that will enhance and enrich their lives so that they can achieve self-sustenance in the future.
Lim: I’ve always wanted to sponsor children from poor communities and I found out about World Vision through the official website a few years ago. The first child I sponsored was from China. Also, I want to be able to give back to the community especially the less fortunate through the events I joined. I hope to be able to raise awareness of the challenges faced by the poor.
Can you share with us one of the most memorable experiences that you have encountered during your runs? Were there any impactful experiences?
Ong: There’s always a low moment during the run, especially when you’re deep in the jungle and it’s dark and cold. You will feel lonely and fearful. When I run through poorer villages and I see the living conditions of the children there, it makes me realize how comfortable our lives are.
Lim: My most memorable run is the Al Andalus Ultimate Trail (AAUT), a 250KM stage ultra run in Spain. The intense heat was the key challenge for this race – the temperature went up to 50 degrees! This event was also my first charity run for EPIC HOMES, to build a home at Kampung Orang Asli Ulu Geruntum in Gopeng.
That’s an incredibly long time to be running an ultra. How do you manage to stay motivated throughout the race, and keep pushing through?
Ong: When you’re in a run, there’s no way out. We have spent a lot of money and it has taken us a long journey to arrive at some place for the race, so you don’t simply give up.
Lim: You do what you like. I don’t successfully complete every event that I participate in. Sometimes I have injuries, or sometimes I feel like I have hit a wall. But I always try to tell myself: I can do it! I push myself until I can’t move on.
What have you learned through ultra-running?
Ong: Don’t simply give up, especially before we even try. We have to ask ourselves – we can’t complete this, or we simply don’t want to finish the race? That is a difference.
Lim: Set yourself unreasonable goals. Be transformed by the process, not the outcome. Focus on how far your goals can take you.
What advice would you give to those who are interested in participating in ultramarathons?
Ong: Nothing is built within a short period of time. Always start from the low point and work on what our bodies can sustain, and then slowly increase the load of the training to improve.
Lim: Break it down into smaller goals, run checkpoint to checkpoint, and run whenever you can. Rest if you need to.
What do you do in your free time when you are not running?
Ong: As an amateur athlete, I work when I am not running. Besides that, I spend time with my family as it gives me balance in life between it all.
Lim: I practice yoga when I am not running.
Why did you choose World Vision Malaysia?
Ong: Because as a World Vision child sponsor myself and I am familiar with how they work to bring about change. To me, World Vision is experienced in providing effective help to the most vulnerable, helping them to overcome poverty and injustice.
Lim: I sponsor 2 children, and have always wanted to be more than just a child sponsor for World Vision. I hope that through my run, others will also come to know about World Vision and show their support to the organization’s work. I have also worked together with my company’s Social Club in collaboration with EPIC Homes to build a home at Kampung Orang Asli Ulu Geruntum in Gopeng, Perak. This was in conjunction with my Al Andalus Ultimate Trail (AAUT) in 2017.
Before working with World Vision Malaysia, how did you come to know about World Vision Malaysia and their Child Sponsorship programme?
Ong: I’ve always wanted to seek out a charity to help those in need, and World Vision provided a very good platform. I got to know about World Vision from the media, roadshow, and official website. I like how World Vision helps children and their families overcome poverty by building up the whole community through Area Development Programmes, which is supported by Child Sponsorships.
Lim: I’ve always wanted to sponsor children from poor communities and I found out about World Vision through the official website a few years ago. The first child I sponsored was from China.
What do you hope to achieve more for the children?
Ong: To see children educated for life so that they can have a better future.
Lim: I believe that giving children access to basic necessities in life like quality education, nutritious food, and clean water are essential in bringing hope for their future. For my upcoming run, I am raising funds for children to have access to clean water so that they can grow up healthily.
With Love, We Run
As part of his upcoming challenge, Ong has initiated a fundraising campaign, ‘Breaking 60, Run for Children’ where he hopes to find 60 child sponsors to support World Vision’s continuous work in helping children and families overcome extreme poverty and injustice.
On 5th April 2019, Lim will be participating in “the toughest foot race on earth” – the Marathon Des Sables. The race will take her on a 250km journey through the Sahara Desert in Southern Morocco over 5 days. More than just running, Lim will be dedicating her run to raising funds for children to have access to clean water through World Vision Malaysia.
Thus, she has initiated a fundraising campaign, ‘Conquering Sahara, Run for Water’ and incorporated it as part of her upcoming race in the Sahara Desert. Proceeds will be channeled to World Vision Malaysia’s Clean Water Fund.
World Vision Malaysia’s Clean Water Fund will provide clean water, raise awareness on hygiene and sanitation, and empower communities to manage their water and sanitation facilities.