Every year, top athletes gather in Sydney, Australia to run what is considered to be the longest and toughest marathon in the world. The race lasts around 6-7 days as the racers run from Sydney to Melbourne (875-Kilometers or 543 miles.)
In 1983, everyone experienced a shock when a 61 year old man, in overalls and galoshes, stepped up to the table to get his racing number.
At first, everybody thought it was just a publicity stunt. But the press was curious, so as he took his number and moved into the pack of runners in their specially designed, expensive racing outfits, the camera focused on him and reporters asked:
“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.”
There were many who thought Cliff shouldn't be allowed to run. What if he died?
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.
Every professional athlete 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.
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-kilometer 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 and endeared himself to all of Australia.
Because Cliff Young set the bar so high, many athletes have now adopted The Young-Shuffle, which has been found to be more aerodynamic and expends less energy. Also if you want to be competitive you can't sleep, you must run all day and all night.
*Story courtesy of my friend and neighbor, Lisa Anjewierden*