The Gift of Fitness: 3 RunnersConnect Members Share Their Stories of Success in 2019

The Gift of Fitness

2019 has almost ended and 2020 is all but upon us. This is a great time to appreciate the gift of fitness that has made such a difference in the lives of most of us listening to this podcast. Let’s take a moment to say “thank you” for fitness, especially running, and review the year behind us while also looking ahead with hope and some goals, too.

On today’s episode we will be sharing 2019 success stories from three of our own team members at Runners Connect and what they had to overcome to create that success.

Tom Van Ongeval

Our first guest is Tom Van Ongeval who at 47 years old,  just ran 2:29 in the 2019 Chicago Marathon. Married and a father of 2 children, Tom lives, works and trains in Belgium in the center of Europe. As a school kid he discovered he was good at endurance sports, especially running. Following the Belgian tradition of cycling Tom applied himself as a young man to cycling but occasionally ran a marathon – with a minimum of training. His best “non-training” time was 2h47m. 

In 2015, after almost 20 years of limited or no sports activity he found his way back to running, as a masters runner. At this phase of his life, running was the ideal stress relief, but, per his personality he quickly began looking for challenges in running to push his boundaries. The marathon became his focus. 

Together with his personal RunnersConnect coach Claire and the Runners Connect community he has been gradually raising the bar over the last three years. This year not only did he drop 7 minutes from his personal best on the marathon, he also became national champion in the 10000m track distance and vice national champion in the half marathon in his age group of M45 – 49.

Francesca Fuller

We’ll move on to interview Francesca Fuller – who has PR’d in every race distance this year since joining RunnersConnect. Francesca is from Rochester, NY, in the western part of the state and has been active since high school but not as a runner.

She has two dogs, one is a new running buddy who started “training” about 2 months ago and is already up to 3 miles and loving it. Francesca is expanding her interests to cycling and is also very involved in Golf.

Always into fitness, Francesca had never run until her company sponsored a Susan B Komen, breast cancer 5K which she had to walk part of. This made her set a goal of running the entire distance of a 5K, which she eventually did.

Next goal was a half marathon, the first being the Oakland, CA course. She continued to do halfs until she could run the whole thing. Her first full marathon was in Portland, OR.

In 2018 Francesca was sidelined by injury and it was then that she decided to join RunnersConnect. She thought it would be a temporary thing but loved it so much she stuck with the direction and discipline and PR’d in very race distance in 2019 – 5K, 8K, 10K, half, and full!

Krishna Akkaram

Our third interview will be with 27 year-old Krishna Akkaram.  Originally from India, he is currently living in Chicago, IL and working as a Civil Engineer. 

Krishna started running back in 2017 as a means to lose weight. At that time he weighed 215 lbs. Since then he has lost around 50 lbs for a current weight of 165. Krishna has run three Marathons, 10 Half marathons and one Ultra Marathon. He finished his first half marathon in 2017 in a time of 2:10:25. In 2019 he finished the same half marathon in 1:37:52, more than 30 minutes faster! More than 2 minutes per mile faster!

Like you, these 3 runners have lives outside of running, yet they have overcome obstacles and made a commitment to fitness that has produced wonderful results. From a mile to a marathon, from injured to injury-free, from heavy to much lighter, listen in as we talk about the 2019 running year and discuss hopes for 2020 as each of us pursues our own individual hopes and goals for the upcoming year and gains inspiration and motivation from what 3 of our RunnersConnect members have accomplished in 2019.


Questions Tom is asked:

4:24 How old are you now?

4:56 Where were you born and where do you live?

6:08 What kind of work do you do?

6:40 What brought you back to running after such a long break?

8:31 When did you start focusing on marathons?

9:07 What were your successes in 2019, including the Chicago Marathon?

11:25 What happened with your overtraining injury this past year?

14:20 What are your 6 beliefs that you used to rebound from injury for Chicago?

16:20 Where did you start with your mileage and how much did you build up each week in your 10-week training period?

17:03 What are your other 5 rules?

22:49 What are your goals for 2020?

25:21 How are you feeling about the Abbott/Wanda World Championships in April?

26:06 How do you feel about your competition?

27:50 What does a typical training week look like?

31:08 What other exercises are you doing?

32:42 What advice do you have for runners trying to accomplish what you have?


Questions Francesca is asked:

36:52 When was the first 5K you ran continuously and what was your time?

37:57 What was the first half-marathon you ran continuously?

38:19 How did it feel to commit to a goal and achieve it?

39:13 Why did you not think of yourself as ‘not a real runner’, in your words?

41:31 In 2018 how you were sidelined after 10 years of injury-free running?

44:06 When did you restart training and how did it go?

50:10 How did Chicago go for you?

51:53 How much difference did the coaching make in your rebound?

53:53 Was most of your running uncoached until joining RunnersConnect in 2018?

55:39 How confusing and stressful is the overabundance of running advice out there?

57:07 How many races did you do in 2019 and how many PR’s did you have?

57:51 What are your plans for 2020?

59:03 Are you going to run all 50 states?

59:41 What would like to share on how to improve, stay motivated, and overcome adversity?


Questions Krishna is asked:

1:03:15 How old are you now?

1:03:21 What city in India are you from?

1:03:33 Have you travelled a lot in India?

1:03:57 How do you like Chicago?

1:04:24 Why did you decide on running for weight loss? Were you already a runner?

1:05:16 How easy was it to start?

1:05:57 Are you a member of a running club in Chicago?

1:06:27 Do you have online RunnersConnect running buddies?

1:07:06 Who is your RunnersConnect coach?

1:07:31 What was your strategy to lose 50 pounds?

1:08:13 What is your diet now?

1:08:39 Where do you get your protein from?

1:08:55 Are you counting calories?

1:09:29 What does a training week look like for you?

1:10:51 Do you have time goals for your 5K or 10K?

1:11:25 Are you maintaining weight?

1:12:14 Did you run Chicago this year?

1:12:39 Is there a qualifying time for Chicago?

1:13:06 Do you think you can do a 3:05 marathon?

1:13:22 What was your time in Las Vegas?

1:13:49 What marathons and half-marathons have you run?

1:14:25 Do you perform well in the heat or do you prefer cooler temperatures?

1:15:24 Which was your best and favorite half-marathons?

1:16:59 What Ultramarathon did you run and how far was it?

1:18:52 What made 2019 such a successful year for your running?

1:20:06 How do you manage energy and in-race fueling?

1:20:57 Up to what distance or time do you not bother fueling?

1:21:40 What other 2020 goals do you have?

1:23:16 What advice would you share with listeners?


“You can always do more than you think.” – Tom Van Ongeval 

“Even if I do a lot of other exercises, mainly not to get injured, but if I have to choose, I will run because I know when I do that work I will do well in the race.” – Tom Van Ongeval 

“It took me about 5 half-marathons until I was able to run the entire distance.” – Francesca Fuller

“If you run, you’re a runner, no matter how long it takes you.” – Francesca Fuller

“I tried counting calories for a couple of weeks, but when I told my first coach, she was like, ‘Don’t worry about it, just use handfuls.’. I use cup sizes and don’t worry about calories as long as I’m maintaining my meal sizes.” – Krishna Akkaram

“I’m not truly worried about (gaining a little weight back) because I know I haven’t been running a lot and not checking what I’m eating.” – Krishna Akkaram


Take a Listen on Your Next Run


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Mentioned in this podcast: 

Run To The Top Winners Circle Facebook Community

RunnersConnect Facebook page

Abbott/Wanda World Championships

Rochester Running Co

2020 Chicago Marathon

Naperville Half-Marathon

Run of the Dead Ultramarathon

Rock and Roll Marathon – Nashville 2020


Follow Tom on:


Tom’s Blog



Follow Francesca on:





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