The whole nation thought he was a crazy old man to undertake an almost impossible feat. Most feared that he would die trying. But this humble old man proved all the critics wrong.
Cliff Young, at 61 years of age, participated in 1983′s Sydney to Melbourne race. Considered to be the world’s toughest race, with the distance of 875 kilometers and took at least 6 to 7 days to finish, Cliff Young entered the race against world-class athletes. Read how he achieved the unthinkable and inspires the whole nation.
Every year, Australia hosts an 875-kilometer endurance racing from Sydney to Melbourne – considered to be the world’s longest and toughest ultra-marathon. It’s a long, tough race that takes a week and normally participated by world-class athletes who train specially for the event. Backed by big names in sports like Nike, these athletes are mostly less than 30 years old men and women equipped with the most expensive sponsored training outfits and shoes.
In 1983, these top class runners were in for a surprise. On the day of the race, a guy named Cliff Young showed up. At first, no one cared about him since everybody thought he was there to watch the event. After all, he was 61 years old, showed up in overalls and galoshes over his work boots.
As Cliff walked up to the table to take his number, it became obvious to everybody he was going to run. He was going to join a group of 150 world-class athletes and run! During that time, these runners don’t even know another surprising fact – his only trainer was his 81-year-old mother,
Everybody thought that it was a crazy publicity stunt. But the press was curious, so as he took his number 64 and moved into the pack of runners in their special, expensive racing outfit, the camera focused on him and reporters started to ask:
“Who are you and what are you doing?”
“I’m Cliff Young. I’m from a large ranch where we run sheep outside of Melbourne.”
They said, “You’re really going to run in this race?”
“Yeah,” Cliff nodded.
“Got any backers?”
“Then you can’t run.”
“Yeah I can.” Cliff said. “See, I grew up on a farm where we couldn’t afford horses or four wheel drives, and the whole time I was growing up– until about four years ago when we finally made some money and got a four wheeler– whenever the storms would roll in, I’d have to go out and round up the sheep. We had 2,000 head, and we have 2,000 acres. Sometimes I would have to run those sheep for two or three days. It took a long time, but I’d catch them. I believe I can run this race; it’s only two more days. Five days. I’ve run sheep for three.”
When the marathon started, the pros left Cliff behind in his galoshes. The crowds smiled because he didn’t even run correctly. Instead of running, he appeared to run leisurely, shuffling like an amateur.
Now, the 61-year-old potato farmer from Beech Forest with no teeth had started the ultra-tough race with world-class athletes. All over Australia, people who watched the live telecast kept on praying that someone would stop this crazy old man from running because everyone believed he’ll die even before even getting halfway across Sydney.
Turtle vs rabbits
Every professional athletes knew for certain that it took about 7 days to finish this race, and that in order to compete, you would need to run 18 hours and sleep 6 hours. The thing is, old Cliff Young did not know that!
When the morning news of the race was aired, people were in for another big surprise. Cliff was still in the race and had jogged all night down to a city called Mittagong.
Apparently, Cliff did not stop after the first day. Although he was still far behind the world-class athletes, he kept on running. He even had the time to wave to spectators who watched the event by the highways.
When he got to a town called Albury he was asked about his tactics for the rest of the race. He said he would run through to the finish, and he did.
He kept running. Every night he got just a little bit closer to the leading pack. By the last night, he passed all of the world-class athletes. By the last day, he was way in front of them. Not only did he run the Melbourne to Sydney race at age 61, without dying; he won first place, breaking the race record by 9 hours and became a national hero! The nation fell in love with the 61-year-old potato farmer who came out of nowhere to defeat the world’s best long distance runners.
He finished the 875-kilometre race in 5 days, 15 hours and 4 minutes. Not knowing that he was supposed to sleep during the race, he said when running throughout the race, he imagined that he was chasing sheep and trying to outrun a storm.
When Cliff was awarded the first prize of $10,000, he said he did not know there was a prize and insisted that he had not entered for the money. He said, “There’re five other runners still out there doing it tougher than me,” and he gave them $2,000 each. He did not keep a single cent for himself. That act endeared him to all of Australia. Cliff was a humble, average man, who undertook an extraordinary feat and became a national sensation.
The Inspirational Run Continues
In the following year, Cliff Young entered the same race and won the 7 th place. During the race, his hip popped out of the joint socket, his knee played up and he endured shin splints. But those didn’t deter him from finishing the race. When he was announced as the winner for most courageous runner and presented with a Mitsubishi Colt, he said, “I didn’t do it near as tough as old Bob McIlwaine. Here, Bob, you have the car,” and gave the keys to him.
It was said that Cliff Young never kept a single prize. People gave him watches, because he never had one. He would thank them because he did not want to hurt their feelings, but will then give it away to the first child he saw. He did not understand why he would need a watch because, he said, he knew when it was daylight, when it was dark, and when he was hungry.
Cliff came to prominence again in 1997, aged 76, when he attempted to become the oldest man to run around Australia and raise money for homeless children. He managed to completed 6,520km of the 16,000km run before he had to pull out after his only permanent crew member became ill.
His love for running never diminished but in year 2000, after collapsing in his Gellibrand home a week after completing 921 kilometers of a 1600-kilometre race, his lose his strength for running. The mild stroke ended his heroic running days.
After the long illness, Cliff Young, the running legend passed away on 2 nd November 2003. He was 81.
The “Young-shuffle” has been adopted by ultra-marathon runners because it is considered more aerodynamic and expends less energy. At least 3 winners of the Sydney to Melbourne race have been known to use the ‘Young-shuffle’ to win the race.
Now, for Sydney to Melbourne race, almost nobody sleeps. To win that race, you have to run like Cliff Young did, you have to run all night as well as all day.