The goal was clear. Ben Preisner wanted to run Olympic entry standard time
at the Marathon Project in Chandler, Ariz., and be one of the top two
Canadians in the race to qualify for the Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo.
The only catch for the 25-year-old? The December 2020 event would be the
first official marathon he ever competed in.
“It was pretty much the only marathon in North America that you could
qualify for [the Olympics],” Preisner says. “Because I didn’t have a time
before that, I kind of knew the Marathon Project is my one and only shot.”
His goal was daunting. There were only three spots on Team Canada for
marathon athletes and one athlete had already qualified. With experienced
competitors in the field, including two Canadians also vying for an Olympic
berth, there was a lot of pressure on Preisner’s debut.
On top of that, he was still new to the sport and continuously evolving his
race plan from what he learned in training each day.
“There’s so many different factors that I didn’t know going into it, even
just in terms of pacing and taking my proper amount of water and
carbohydrates during the race,” Preisner says. “There’s a lot of different
things that I had to juggle, but luckily my coach [Richard Lee] has a lot
of experience and was able to guide me through a lot of that.”
Ahead of the event, the Milton, Ont., native ran his first marathon
distance as a time trial, locking in an impressive time of 2:15:24. At the
Marathon Project, Preisner went even faster. He finished eighth overall in
the event with a time of 2:10:17, easily surpassing the Olympic entry
standard of 2:11:30. He was the top Canadian in the event and, at that
time, it was the fourth-fastest marathon all-time among Canadian men.
“I’m very fortunate that I was able to put it together on that day.”
Although running is a huge aspect of Preisner’s life, he’s passionate about
another sport as well: hockey. In fact, his love of hockey led him to take
up running as an off-season activity in the first place.
Preisner started playing hockey when he was about four years old, and he
instantly fell in love with the game.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the sport,” he says.
“The Milton community was great for the hockey scene.”
He played rep hockey with the Milton Winterhawks until he was in Grade 11,
but from a young age he took the sport very seriously. When there was a
chance to get on the ice earlier than his morning practice, his coach Paul
Dodson says seven-year-old Preisner seized the opportunity.
“Ben woke up his dad I think about 5:30 in the morning and insist that they
had the proper breakfast and got to the rink,” Dodson says. “They were
there at 6:30 in the morning waiting to get on the ice. He was always
driven to get out there. I think he had a lot of fun doing it.”
Not only was Preisner voted captain by his teammates, but he also led by
example on and off the ice.
“He was very well liked and a pleasure to coach,” says coach Fred Henein.
“He listened intensely, wanted to learn, wanted to get better. He was just
a really good guy to have on the team.”
For Preisner, Dodson and Henein helped him to foster his love of hockey,
and they had a larger impact on his life overall.
“Those two were fundamental in developing me as an athlete and I owe so
much of it to them in terms of gaining leadership skills, gaining passion
for the sport and tenacity,” he says. “I think they instilled a lot of
skills within me, and it definitely brought me to the athlete that I am
Knowing their years of coaching had such an effect on Preisner’s life was a
very rewarding feeling for both Dodson and Henein.
“It’s pretty humbling, it brings tears to your eyes actually, just to think
you could be that important in someone’s life,” Dodson says. “You just do
it for the love of having fun and the love of the kids… it makes me very
“He’s an incredible individual to be around with the right attitude, I’m
just really happy to have had any kind of influence in his life,” Henein
says. “The thing with him is he was going to succeed no matter what. He’s
just one of those people who is driven, very nice and easy to talk to and
honestly from my perspective, it’s just a privilege to know him.”
Although he knew he wouldn’t go to the NHL, Preisner says he enjoyed having
fun and playing with his friends during his minor hockey days. The
friendships he made with his teammates still exist to this day.
“A lot of us went to school together, we’re a pretty tight-knit community,”
he says. “It’s always nice even just having past hockey teammates reach out
now wishing me good luck.”
In high school, Preisner says students could only play one sport per
season. With hockey locked in as one of his sports, he began to look at
other activities he could do during the off-season. That’s when he
“I was just looking for something to do and I always knew endurance sports
was kind of my forte. It ended up mainly being a way to stay in shape for
Hockey and running not only played well off each other, but Preisner says
he was able to transfer his skillsets between the two sports.
“I think being a multi-sport athlete is really important as a younger
athlete,” he says. “You develop different muscle groups and things, but
[running] was also a very different sport than hockey, it’s a lot more
individualized. I could focus on myself and getting myself better, and that
translated a lot into hockey. I can bring that mental attitude and the
worth ethic that I gained through running, and I can bring that into the
When his paths in hockey and running began to cross, Preisner decided to
focus on running. From participating in cross-country to competing in the
steeplechase in high school, then transitioning to the 10,000m while he
attended the University of Tulsa, he gradually kept increasing the length
of his races.
“I was always an endurance-based athlete,” he says. “I didn’t necessarily
have the speed that a lot of these 1,500 [metre] or even 3K runners had.
“For me, it just matches my style of running to my style of training so
Preisner ran his first half-marathons in 2019, winning in Vancouver and
Toronto. He says the step to the full marathon came because the Tokyo Games
were approaching, and half-marathons are not an option at the Olympics.
“It was either the 10K or the marathon. The 10K is too fast for me, so the
marathon is where I landed, and I love it.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Preisner’s road to the Olympics. With
few events to run ahead of Tokyo, he attended a training camp in Arizona to
practice running at altitude. Afterwards, he travelled to Japan early with
Athletics Canada to adapt to the heat and accurately plan out his water and
carbohydrate needs for the race.
His Olympic experience also looks different compared to other athletes.
Rather than staying in the Olympic Village, Preisner and his team are
staying in a hotel in their event city of Sapporo—over 1,100 kilometres
away from Tokyo. Despite the differences, the prestige of representing
Canada at the Olympics remains the same.
“It’s definitely a step up. It’s a huge honour,” he says. “It’s not an easy
team to make. I’m very grateful that I was nominated for the team.”
The goal at the Olympics for Preisner? Place as high as possible for his
“I really do put a lot of pressure on myself, but I like to turn that
pressure into something good. I’m just really looking forward to showcasing
that the Canada team is ready and we’re going to put our best foot out