Inspiring-Leadership-Stories-with-Martin-Parnell - Meeting Leadership Podcast Episode Image

As business leaders, we must always find inspiration in our daily lives if we hope to inspire others.

Word-record holder Martin Parnell is a person who actively seeks inspiration rather than waiting for it. He has climbed the world’s tallest mountains, run marathons that cover inconceivable distances on foot, and raised over a million dollars for charity.

Martin visited us twice before in the Meeting Leadership Podcast, in episodes 043 and 056 (links to these episodes are below). In episode #076, we cover another inspiring story about a marathon runner in Afghanistan who inspired Martin himself.

It’s truly a gift whenever we get to interview a real-life inspiration story like Martin, and this episode is a glimpse into how he finds his own motivation to be great.

Martin Parnell

Martin Parnell - Meeting Leadership Podcast - Effective Meetings

In 2010, following a 25-year mining career, Martin Parnell started his “Quests for Kids” initiative. Over the next five years he completed 10 “Quests”. These included running 250 marathons in one year, setting five Guinness World Records in endurance events and summiting Mount Kilimanjaro in 21 hours. At the end of 2014, he had raised over $1.3m for the humanitarian organization Right To Play and 27,000 children had been given the gift of hope.

Martin’s first book “MARATHON QUEST” was published by Rocky Mountain Books and CBC Radio listed him as one of Alberta’s top five authors, for 2014. His second book, “RUNNING TO THE EDGE”, was released in November 2016. The final book of The Marathon Trilogy, “THE SECRET MARATHON-Empowering women and girls in Afghanistan through sport” was published on October 30th 2018.

Through keynotes and workshops, Martin shares his message of having a “Finish the Race Attitude – Setting goals and overcoming obstacles to unlock your potential”. 

He is married to Sue, and has three children and three grandchildren.

You Can get in touch with Martin Parnell at –

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00:00 – Show Opening

Are you a professional who wants to become a more affective leader? Then get ready for daily tips from the coach with the experience and inspiration to help you succeed in any leadership situation. You’re listening to the Meeting Leadership Podcast with Gordon Sheppard.

00:27 – Podcast starts here!

Gordon Sheppard: Welcome to another episode of the Meeting Leadership Podcast. 

00:47 – Some days you need a pick-me-up

Gordon Sheppard: My name is Gordon Sheppard, and I just want to say thanks for spending time out of your valuable day to come to this podcast to pick up an extra tip, an extra skill, and some of the inspiration that you need to become an outstanding leader who runs outstanding meetings, 

and if you’re like most leaders, there are some days when you need a little pick me up, and today’s episode is going to do just that, because today’s episode is going to feature an inspiring leadership story.

01:03 – Welcome back Martin Parnell!

Gordon Sheppard: We’re going to be doing this going forward from now on with so many of our great guests. Today, you’re going to hear from Martin Parnell. 

01:17 – Who is Martin Parnell?

Gordon Sheppard: Now, Martin is the kind of guy who sets Guinness World Records. He runs like 250 marathons in one year to raise a quarter million dollars to inspire kids around the world, and a whole lot more. Martin is going to share a story that inspired him. Now, there was a time medically when he was having a tough time, and he picked up a newspaper article, and because he’s so into running, like ultra marathons, this kind of thing, he was learning about a woman in Afghanistan who faced a lot of adversity when it came to training for, and running her first marathon.

01:51 – Martin’s previous appearances – MLP 043 – MLP 056

Gordon Sheppard: This inspired him so much that he actually flew to Afghanistan and… Well, I’m not going to give away the story, but what I am going to do is give you the good fortune of listening to this great interview with Martin Parnell. Martin, it is absolutely wonderful to have you back here on the show again. For people who haven’t listened all ready, in episode 43 and episode 56 on the show, Martin really will help you take your leadership skills right through the sky, and all the way to the moon with the great suggestions that he gave there about goal setting, and how to achieve goals.

02:13 – Gordon: For those who haven’t met you, how would you describe yourself?

Gordon Sheppard: Now, maybe there’s people that are listening to this episode though for the first time and hearing you. For those who haven’t met you, how would you describe yourself?

Martin Parnell: Well, good morning Gordon. It’s great to be here. Absolute pleasure to be a new show. I immigrated from England at the age 21 and worked 25 years in the mining industry. In the last 10 years, I’ve taken a completely different path. I’ve taken on some pretty big challenges including running Georgian 50 marathons in one year and raising over $250,000 for the children’s charity ride to play, setting fight Guinness World Records in endurance events, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in 21 hours, and running 1,000 kilometers around the coast of England, a marathon a day.

02:48 – Gordon: What inspires you? – Martin’s inspiring story

Gordon Sheppard: Well, this is so wonderful to hear about. And so lucky again to meet someone who’s had the ability to achieve those things and really in a relatively short period of time when you talk about the last 10 years. And part of the purpose of this episode now, because we’ve got you here and you’ve achieved so many different things, is to take a second to ask you a pretty simple question, and that is what inspires you?

Martin Parnell: Well Gordon, really that started four years ago. In October of 2015, I was recovering from a massive clot on the brain. I’d been diagnosed in February of that year. It was touch and go for a while. I had to stop everything. I couldn’t walk for three months, slowly got walking. But then in October of that year 2015, my wife showed me an article from the Guardian magazine. And it was about a woman named Zainab, an Afghan woman, and she was the very first Afghan woman to run a marathon. And she ran it in Afghanistan in a town called Bamiyan.

Martin Parnell: And I read this article and what struck me was… I’m a big runner obviously, and my challenges tend to be the weather, maybe hydration, nutrition. But for Zainab, the challenges were verbal and physical abuse. When she ran in the streets of Kabul, men would yell at her, “You’re a prostitute, get off the streets.” And then they’d throw rocks or concrete at her to start running, but that didn’t stop Zainab. She went home and shied her walled garden hours on end to train for the marathon. On October the 15th she became the very first Afghan woman to run a marathon. That really hit home for me. God, I just was shocked that men could run but not a woman. And that arched something in me. I said to my wife, Sue, “If I get better, if I can run again, I’m going to go and support Zainab and the girls and women of Afghanistan and run a marathon.” And one year later, I was on a plane to Kabul.

Gordon Sheppard:What was it like to be on that flight and what was it like to meet her?

Martin Parnell: Well, very interesting, the flight was incredible. Just getting to Kabul was three flights, Calgary to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Istanbul, and Istanbul to Kabul. Very difficult journey. Not only the flight, but even getting the visa and just getting there. When I arrived, it was amazing. I met some incredible women from Free to Run, the organization that supports these women in running. Unfortunately, Zainab couldn’t come to the event. She had just got a new job and she couldn’t make it, so I thought, “Oh my gosh, here I am. I wanted Zainab.” But I met another woman, Kubra, who wanted to run the marathon, but she hadn’t trained for four months. Her best friend had been [inaudible] attack, and I said to Kubra, “Kubra, why don’t we run the marathon together?” And it was an absolute highlight when I ran the marathon with Kubra. The cutoff time was seven hours and even though she hadn’t trained, we managed to get in in six hours and 52 minutes.

Gordon Sheppard: Unbelievable, I can’t even imagine kind of the sweat on your brow in that last 30 minutes of that marathon. But again, even to have gone beyond not talking about people in a new story that you read in the guardian, to actually be the type of person that goes there and experiences this based on being inspired by this really unique approach and really movement forward in running around the world.

05:51 –  Drawing inspiration from all sources

Martin Parnell: You know, Gordon. I think for me it’s something, it’s an inspiration. It went to my core, I felt it’s totally unfair, a woman who couldn’t run. The simple act of running, I started running at 47. I came to running late and I’ve just ended up loving it and it’s just part of what I do. But to think that somebody, a woman wouldn’t be allowed to run, it’s just beyond my comprehension and it really drove me. It helped me recover. I’ll be honest, I think it helped me recover from the clot on the brain. And I think the whole mental side of recovery and what we’re trying to do, we need people. And if we look around, there are many people, young people, old people who inspire us.

Gordon Sheppard: Well, I could think about some of the people in my own life that have picked me up along different times just for them being themselves. Just literally for doing what they are doing. You are inspired by someone in Afghanistan who is pioneering for women in that country. You yourself are an inspiration. It’s so lucky. I’m so glad that you’ve shared your inspiration here on the show today. Martin, if people need to get in touch with you, how can they do that?

07:30 – Get in touch with Martin Parnell –

Martin Parnell: Yeah, Gordon. The best way for people to contact me is through my website, www.martinparnell​​​​.com. You’ll be able to see all about me, all the different challenges that I’ve taken on, the groups that I support. There is a Ted Talk, TEDx talk, Life is a Relay which I think you might enjoy. But if they go to my website they can contact me through the contact page and I’d love to hear from them.


Gordon Sheppard: Well, once again, thank you for sharing your inspiration that I know is going to inspire a lot of leaders that are listening to this show. Martin. Thanks for being on the show.

Martin Parnell: Gordon, an absolute pleasure. Thank you.

08:04 – Interview synopsis

Gordon Sheppard: Now there are so many great takeaways for me from that interview. I mean Martin didn’t start running until he’s 47. He’s doing these ultra marathons, he’s doing incredible feats of fundraising, setting Guinness records and doing that kind of thing. Then he hits a rough spot. Gets that clot on the brain, thinks he might be in a bit of trouble. But what does this guy do? He picks up a newspaper article, he learns about other runners around the world who might need his help, and he goes out and he does something about it. I mean, that is absolutely incredible.

08:37 – The article about marathon runner Zainab from Martin’s story –

Gordon Sheppard: And just for your information, I found that article about Zainab, it’s called Afghanistan’s female marathon runner defies danger to go the distance. And I will also make sure that you get a link to that article in the show notes. And if you’d like to get even more inspiration from Martin Parnell, check out episode 43 on the Meeting Leadership Podcast. 

08:51 – More from Martin Parnell – MLP 043 – MLP 056

Gordon Sheppard: It’s called Why Goal Setting is Critical for All Leaders. And you can get that by going to And if you like that episode, you can get even more Martin Parnell in episode 56, and it’s called, How Leaders Can Go Beyond Smart Goals. And you can get that episode by going to And I also want to let you know that this episode of the Meeting Leadership Podcast is brought to you by the Meeting Leadership Academy.

09:26 – Meeting Leadership Academy –   https://meetingleadershipinc.comacademy

Gordon Sheppard: If you and your team are looking for really solid live training options, really inspiring online training options that are also practical so you can get something done to build your leadership skills and learn how to run outstanding meetings, then visit And as always, thank you so much for listening and we’ll see you tomorrow on the Meeting Leadership Podcast.

09:58 – Podcast Outro

Thanks for listening to the Meeting Leadership Podcast. Be sure to subscribe for more strategies to help you become an outstanding leader. And don’t forget to rate and review so we can bring you fresh content every day. We’ll see you tomorrow, right here on the Meeting Leadership Podcast.

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Gordon Sheppard

Gord is on a mission to change the world, one meeting at a time. Over his 25+ years in business Gord has run or participated in more than 2000 meetings! Not only is Gord the CEO of Business Expert Solutions Inc. (owner/operator of Meeting Leadership Inc), but he is also a Facilitator, Trainer, Business Consultant, Author, Speaker and Podcaster who helps leaders learn how to have great meetings, so they can build outstanding organizations and serve their clients at the highest possible level.

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