True Story of a Gritty Farmer Who Won the “Toughest Race in the World”
I shared this story once before a few years back, but it must be recirculating because it came back across my desk. I think it’s awesome and worth sharing again.
Farmer Cliff Young may best be remembered as the man most unexpected to win the Sydney to Melbourne “Ultra-Marathon”. And keep in mind he did it at the age of 61. To set the scene, we have to go back to the beginning of Cliff’s story. He grew up on a farm in Beech Forest in southwestern Victoria, Australia. The family farm was approximately 2,000 acres in size with about 2,000 sheep. Young would round up the stock on foot, saying that it was the easiest method.
Young was unknown before he entered the first Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultra Marathon (544 miles) back in 1983 just after he had turned 61. He ran at a slow loping pace and trailed the leaders for most of the first day. But that night, when the professional runners stopped to get four to six hours of sleep, Young grabbed two hours and kept running. No science and no technique, he just got up earlier and grabbed the lead while the others slept. The entire nation of Australia responded with a roar and television reporters scrambled after him. “What sort of a runner are you?” Young was asked as he stopped for water. “I’ve got no experience. Just born and bred in the bush.”
After the second day of non-stop running, Young slept for an hour, got up, and ran again. By the third day, Young was plastered across newspaper front pages, and cheering crowds urged him on as his lead grew bigger and bigger. By the fourth day, Young had caught the attention of the international media and he didn’t disappoint – a day later, he crossed the finish line in the first place, a full 10 hours ahead of the next competitor. He had literally made one of the greatest runs in history. The 61-year-old man had covered 544 miles in five days, 14 hours and 35 minutes, the equivalent of almost four marathons a day, shattering the previous race record by more than two days.
Not knowing that he was supposed to sleep during the race, he said when running he simply imagined that he was chasing his sheep and trying to outrun a big storm that was coming. What’s even more fantastic is that after Young collected his $10,000 prize, he immediately gave it all away, not keeping a dime for himself. In 1997 at age 76, he made an attempt to beat Ron Grant’s “Around Australia” record and completed just over 4,000 miles of the race, but he had to pull out because his only crew member became ill. In 2000 he achieved a world age record in a six-day race in Victoria. I should mention, Young is also remembered for his “goofy” running style. People endearingly named it the “Young Shuffle” which has been adopted by some ultra-marathon runners because it expends less energy.
After battling cancer for five years, Cliff passed away at his home in Queensland on November 2, 2003, at the age of 81. What an amazing story and a legendary person! I have included a link to a video that shows Cliff running in his unconventional style as he grinds up the miles! Sorry to go back so far in time but I love it when another farmer “just gets it done”. No need for sleep, he’s got a race to finish… Click HERE to see the really cool video. Never Stop Believing!