Life is a Relay: Part I-Exploding out of the Blocks

Posted by martin.parnell |
Life is a Relay: Part I-Exploding out of the Blocks

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 I, Exploding out of the blocks:

I’ve often heard it said that “life is a marathon, not a sprint”. However, having run a few of marathons, I’ve come to believe that life is actually a relay.

I love watching the Olympics. One of my favourite events is the 4X100 relay race. The athletes line up, the gun goes off and they explode out of the blocks. Hitting their stride, they hurtling down the track with one objective in mind. To pass the baton to the next runner.

In life, exploding out of the blocks is that moment when you find your passion, the thing you were meant to do. Hitting your stride is the journey you take. You may not know the destination but you’re on the right path. Passing the baton is reaching out to someone and sharing your experiences.

Usain Bolt’s reaction time at the start of a race is 0.155 seconds. However, it took me a lot longer to explode out of the blocks.

On December 9th 2001 my wife Wendy died of Cancer. Over the following year I struggled with my grief and often felt empty and alone.

One evening, in December 2002, I got a call from my younger brother Peter. After some small talk he got to the point “I challenge you to a marathon” and with hesitation I said “You’re on!”

Now the only problem was, I didn’t run. I was 47 years old and I had always had a bit of a rocky relationship with sport.

This is “Baby” Martin, a child only a mother could love. Back then I was known as a “Huggable” child. My size caused issues in school. When it came to sport in England it was soccer, cricket and rugby and I always got picked last for the team. I’m what you could call a “Reverse-Olympian”, they’re generally very good at one sport while I’m rubbish at lots of sports.

So that same night Peter challenged me I headed out. I was in my canvas tennis shoes, cotton jogging pants, fleecy top, woolly hat and big mitts. I ran 1 km out and 1 km back. Returning home I was cold and wet and thought to myself “This is ridiculous, I’ve done 2 km and have another 40.2 to go. How on earth could anyone run that distance!” however I knew I couldn’t back down from a challenge from my brother.

I realised I needed help so I joined the Sudbury Rocks running club. They taught me about nutrition, hydration, shoes, and pacing. Over the next two months my mileage increased from 5km to 10km and in April I ran the Ottawa half marathon. Finally it was July and I was at the start line of the 2003 Calgary Marathon. Next to me was my Brother Peter. And to show you how big a challenge this was, on the other side was my other younger brother Andrew who had flown in from England.

This was Global Sibling Rivalry.

The gun went off and I flew from the start line. Then, at the 2 km mark disaster struck. I stepped in a pot hole and smash, down I went. My knees were bleeding and my hands were all scraped up. Well, I brushed myself off and kept going. I finished the marathon in just under 4 hours and in the brotherly stakes Andrew came first I was second and Peter was third.

I felt elated to have completed the marathon. While dealing with my grief Peter had reached out to me and, in running, I had found my passion. Finally I had exploded out of the blocks.

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