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Martin Parnell – Marathon man

After running 250 marathons in one year, raising thousands of dollars and writing a book - Martin Parnell talks about it all.

“I think I can do it. In fact, I am sure I can do it. Only death will stop me. If I get run over by a semi-trailer that is the only thing that will stop me. Of course, I hope I don’t because I have a lot of living to do after this.” — Cliff Young

Cliff Young was an Australian potato farmer who at the age of 61 in 1983 won the Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultra Marathon (875K), at the time considered one of the toughest races in the world. The race normally took five days to complete, was a sponsored high caliber event that drew out the lean, young and quick to the start line. Cliff showed up in overalls and work boots when he picked up his race number, he went on to destroy the field and break the record by 9 hours.

Martin Parnell’s cousin married Cliff Young. Although not a runner at the time, Parnell says he has many times thought back to Cliff and it has helped him persevere.

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Martin Parnell on the run during his Marathon 250 Quest. Photo: Martin Parnell.
Martin Parnell on the run during his Marathon 250 Quest. Photo: Martin Parnell.

Martin Parnell
Martin Parnell was born in 1955 in Devonshire, England. He attended the Camborne School of Mines in Cornwall and, after achieving his degree, came to Canada to work at the Sullivan Mine in Kimberley, B.C. He has since worked in Yellowknife and Pine Point, N.W.T and Sudbury, Ont. He is now semi-retired and lives with his wife Sue in Cochrane, Alberta. They have three children and two grandchildren.

Martin began running in 2002 at the age of 47 after being challenged by his brother. His first race was the Sudbury 5K Sun Run in April 2003. In 2005 Martin completed a four-month cycling expedition from Cairo, Egypt to Cape Town, South Africa. This is when Martin’s running really took off and he was inspired to help others through running and sport. Marathons led to triathlons and to ultramarathons and Martin seems to have been blessed with endurance and also a need to make a difference. In 2010 Martin had an idea and a plan. At the end of 2010 martin had run 250 marathons and raised $208,000 for Right To Play (Right To Play is an international humanitarian organization that uses sport and play programs to improve health, develop life skills, and foster peace for children and communities in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the world.)

Martin has not stopped running and even had time to write about his 250 marathons in a recent book Marathon Quest 250. I remember following Martin via FaceBook and the internet and have always wanted to chat with him and profile his running.

What do you hope people take away with them after reading your book?

The key thing is that everyone can make a difference. You don’t have to be an elite athlete or TV celebrity. Find your passion and then do something to make an improvement in someone else’s life. The Right To Play motto is “Look after yourself, look after one another.” Let family and friends know what you’re doing and you will get support. Also it’s never too late to start. I ran my first 5km at 48 and didn’t get involved with Right To Play until I was 53. Don’t give yourself limits, just give it a go.

Now that you have had time to reflect and write a book about your year of marathons – how has it changed your life?

For 25 years I was in the Mining Industry, working all over Canada. In 2003 I quit and gave myself “permission” to take two years off. During that time I competed in the International Triathlon Championships in Denmark, took my 85-year-old Aunt to Australia to visit her daughter and spent four months cycling across Africa from Cairo to Cape Town. This journey led me to Right To Play and Marathon Quest 250. Since 2010, I have headed out on a new plan to complete 10 Quests in 5 years raising $1m for Right To Play and helping 20,000 kids. This new path in life is very exciting and very scary but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Pushing yourself week after week, did you learn something about yourself or others during your quest?

I learnt that I am very good at doing long, boring things. At heart I’m an introvert so I don’t mind hanging out in my own brain. I also learnt that I need an external driver to keep me going. On many mornings, during 2010, I would have been very happy to have stayed in bed with a cup of tea and read the Calgary Herald. However, I had made a promise to the kids to complete the 250 marathons and raise $250,000. This got me out of bed every time. What I learnt about others was that if you tell people what you want to do and it resonates with them, they will support you big time. I had 40 sponsors step forward and help me with gear and other in kind items to get me through the year. I had hundreds and hundreds of donors support Right To Play from the kids in the school grounds who gave me there loonies and toonies pocket money to Xstrata Minerals, my old mining company, who donated $30,000.

After running 250 marathons in one year – what have you done to challenge yourself and what are i the plans for 2013?

Since 2010 I have completed 5 of the 10 Quests. Netball Quest 61, a Guinness World Record for the longest game of netball, was completed in Sept. 2011; Lacrosse Quest 24, a Guinness World Record for the longest game of lacrosse, was completed in April 2012; Cook Island Quest 100, running three times around the island of Rarotonga was completed in Sept. 2012 and Soccer Quest 42, a Guinness World Record for the longest game on 5-a-side soccer, was completed on Oct. 2012.

I have three Quests planned for 2013: On Jan. 19th Hockey Quest 500, a Guinness World record attempt for the most players in an exhibition game of hockey; early march Kilimanjaro Quest 95.2 where I will run the Kilimanjaro marathon and then climb the mountain but instead of doing it in the usual five days I will attempt to do it in 24 hours. Finally in 2013, if I survive KQ95.2, I will attempt TransRockies Quest 888. In this Quest I will attempt to complete all seven events put on by TransRockies inc. between June and September.

Martin running in Benin with the “Undefeatables” running club. Photo: Patrick Price.
Martin running in Benin with the “Undefeatables” running club. Photo: Patrick Price.

To date Martin has raised $430,000 for Right To Play helping some 12,500 children.

“Even if I don’t finish, we need others to continue. It’s got to keep going without me.” — Terry Fox (One of Martin’s heroes and inspiration).

At the end of 2010 Martin had run 250 marathons and raised $208,000 for Right To Play (Right To Play is an international humanitarian organization that uses sport and play programs to improve health, develop life skills, and foster peace for children and communities in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the world.) By mid-January 2011 he had reached his target of $250,000 and by March 1 the figure was at $320,000.

As the weather gets colder and the holiday season approaches, Martin’s book would make a great gift for a fellow runner maybe Santa will sneak in your stocking!

Run on Martin.

Do you have a running story to tell?

legsnlungs@hotmail.com

See you on the roads or in the blogosphere.

Martin’s Parnell’s book: Marathon Quest