Life is a Relay: Part II-Hitting your Stride

Posted by martin.parnell |
Life is a Relay: Part II-Hitting your Stride

On June 23rd 2017 I stood on the Jack Singer Auditorium stage in Calgary and gave my TED Talk, Life is a Relay. This is part II, Hitting your Stride:

Usain Bolt’s best relay spilt is 8.7 seconds and he hits his stride in 60 m’s. In a 100m relay, the path is very clear. You have a lane and you have to stay in it. However, in life the path is not quite so clear.

My running journey continued and took me to the 2004 Boston Marathon but then in 2005 I signed up for a four month cycle trip in Africa from Cairo to Cape Town. Along the way I played soccer, ping pong and ran with the kids and I realized the power of play and sport.  I doesn’t matter your age, gender, culture or religion sport brings people together.

This experience stayed with me but I didn’t know what to do with it until one evening in February 2009 a friend introduced me to Right To Play.

This organization uses sport and play based programs to teach kids life skills such as leadership, team building and conflict resolution. That night something had clicked and I knew I wanted to help.

In mid-2009, I was training for my first 100 mile race, the Lost Souls Ultra and while out on a 5 hour run, I came up with the idea of “Marathon Quest 250”. This would involve attempting to run 250 marathons in one year in order to raise $250,000 for Right To Play.

So on January 1st 2010 at 9.00am a group of us lined up on the 1A, outside of Cochrane. It was -32C. The gun went off and 5 ½ hours later we were finished. One down 249 to go. During the year my favourite days were Thursdays when I’d run a marathon at one of the local schools.

I’d go in for morning assembly and talk to the kids about Right To Play. Then I’d go outside and run 100 times around a school building or the soccer field.  Round and around.

The kids would then come out and join me for the first couple of loops. Then they’d wave goodbye and head to classes. I’d keep going and they’d wave to me from inside. At lunch time they would come out for two more loops. As we ran they’d feed me lunch. They’d give me apples, carrots and snickers bars. I was like a running Guinea pig, sort of a “Pet for a Day”.

Then they’d go in for afternoon classes. I’d keep going and at end of the day, after six hours of running, the kids would join me for the last two loops and we’d finish the marathon together and have high fives.

But what really blew me away was when they came up to me and gave me their pocket money for the “other” kids. They understood how lucky they were with their school, homes and toys and then I shared with them that some children don’t get the chance to play. These children might have to spend 6 hours a day fetching water from a tap in a village or live in refugee camps where it’s too dangerous to go off and play.

I could have had the worst week of running marathons but my spirits soared every Thursday after running at a school.

In total I ran at 60 schools with over 12,000 students from kindergarten to Grade 12.

Marathon #250 was completed on December 31st and we had raised $320,000.

I had found my path by using running to help underprivileged children and I was hitting my stride.

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