Martin Parnell’s 10th and final New Year’s Eve Run and Walk took place in Cochrane Dec. 31, 2019, bringing an end to an era.
Parnell, a Cochrane-based marathon runner, author and motivational speaker, began the annual charity initiative in 2010. Since then, the New Year’s Eve run/walk along the Bow River has raised more than $70,000 for international charities, including Right to Play and Free to Run – a global non-profit organization that empowers women and girls in conflict countries through sport – as well as the funding of a playground in Tanzania.
For the final run, however, Parnell – who suffered a stroke in October 2019 but recovered enough to participate – decided to “bring the event home” by supporting the Boys and Girls Club of Cochrane.
“Ten years is a good spell,” said the 64-year-old, who holds multiple world records related to long-distance running.
“I think it was a great way to end it and I’m thrilled for the Boys and Girls Club, that it went so well for them. They started a running club this year and they’re going to continue it this spring and next fall, so there’s just that [sense] of passing it on.”
According to Parnell, 126 people participated in the final run/walk, garnering donations of $6,760 for the organization.
While that total fell short of the $10,000 target, he said the deadline to submit donations is not until Jan. 30, and the objective may still be met. Donations can be made at bit.ly/35nPDfw
Parnell’s first New Year’ Eve run was unique, as the 2010 version marked his 250th marathon of that calendar year. The year-long endeavour broke five Guinness World Records and raised more than $200,000 for Right to Play.
“That was something way beyond anything I’d ever considered doing,” said Parnell, who took up distance running in 2002, at the age of 48.
The New Year’s Eve Run and Walk has been held in blisteringly cold weather in the past, including in 2017, when the temperature dipped to -48 C with the wind chill. But this year, for the first time, runners were blessed with above-zero temperatures.
“I added up all the temperatures for our first nine [events] and it came to -130 C, so we’ve definitely had some cold years,” Parnell said.
He said there were many highlights of the event throughout the past decade, but noted the biggest joy was the satisfaction of supporting charities.
“That’s one thing I noticed, having spent time locally but also in places like Benin in West Africa, or in Afghanistan,” he said, “when we met the women and girls over there – just the human connection that’s made when you link with people and trying to help them, when they need help.”
With no run/walk to organize for New Year’s Eve 2020, Parnell said he and his wife, Sue, intend to take a well-deserved vacation to England – his homeland – for Christmas.
“It was just good time to take a break and do some other things,” he said.
Despite no longer organizing the initiative, Parnell will no doubt remain busy. He’s currently working on his next book – The Ageless Athlete, which he said should be out in spring 2021 – and he is a member of the Rotary Club of Cochrane, while maintaining his keynote speaking.
He’s also begun his training regimen for the Boston Marathon, which he will run April 20.
“Guaranteed, I won’t stop running,” Parnell said.