Alberta man finishes 250-marathon year

A Cochrane, Alta., man went through 25 pairs of running shoes in 2010, running 250 marathons to raise money for an international children's sports charity.

A Cochrane, Alta., man went through 25 pairs of running shoes in 2010.

Martin Parnell ran 250 marathons, lacing up for the last 42-kilometre test of endurance on Friday in Cochrane, just west of Calgary.

He ran his first race on the morning of Jan. 1 in 31 C weather.

Martin Parnell leads a group of runners in Cochrane on Friday on his last marathon of the year. (CBC)

"Today's actually quite warm compared to the day I started," the 55-year-old Parnell said Friday, getting ready to brave a relatively balmy 25 C.

Over the course of a year, Parnell put more than 10,000 kilometres under his feet, took more than a million steps and raised nearly $200,000 for a charity that uses sport and play to improve the lifestyles of children in some of the world's most disadvantaged countries.

"A full year of commitment? That's huge," said Right to Play volunteer Mike Dorion. "Martin, he's going to be put into the books for this one, for sure."

Running five marathons a week all over Canada and the United States, Parnell has plodded through polar cold, frying heat and buckets of rain.

"The summer was terrible," said the semi-retired engineer. "The summer was rubbish here. It was wet and cold and I was really kind of down. I fell a few times. I had some issues with my back … the summer was the toughest mental time I had to get through."

 Much of the marathon-length runs happened in Cochrane, but Parnell took part in large competitive marathons as well. A leg injury in February put Parnell in a pickle. He was out for 2½ weeks while nursing a muscle injury and got back on the road with no flexibilty in his schedule.

"It's down to the wire," he said as the last marathon was set to start in Cochrane.

Martin Parnell, 55, has run more than 10,000 kilometres over the last year, amounting to 250 marathons. The Cochrane, Alta., man is nearing his fundraising goal of $250,000 for the Right to Play charity. (CBC)
"There's a lot of it that people haven't seen," said wife and organizer Sue Parnell. "When he comes in really tired and knows he has to sit and answer emails and do his blog, and he's sort of crawling into bed at 10 o'clock at night knowing he's got to get up again at 4 [a.m.] to get it done."

Besides the pain, Parnell said it's been a "fantastic" experience. He has run at 60 schools, with more than 12,000 kids from kindergarten to Grade 12, including his own six-year-old granddaughter.

Parnell has already signed up for an ultra-marathon — 89 kilometres — next year in South Africa.

"I think you've got to have a certain amount of nut-ness in you," he said. "I didn't have a clue if I could do it, and there were times during the year that I though, 'This is it, I'm done.' But I just kept plodding, and here we are today."

He's still a bit shy of his fundraising goals, but Parnell believes that between now and Feb. 4, when the fundraiser officially comes to an end, he'll make up the difference.

"I made a commitment to the kids to try to raise $250,000," he said. "That's really what got me out of bed every day."