Every year, Australia hosts 543.7-mile (875-kilometer) endurance
racing from Sydney to Melbourne. It is considered among the world's most
grueling ultra-marathons. The race takes five days to complete and is normally
only attempted by world-class athletes who train specially for the event. These
athletes are typically less than 30 years old and backed by large companies
such as Nike.
In 1983, a man named Cliff Young showed up at the start of this
race. Cliff was 61 years old and wore overalls and work boots. To everyone's
shock, Cliff wasn't a spectator. He picked up his race number and joined the
The press and other athletes became curious and questioned
Cliff. They told him, "You're crazy, there's no way you can finish this
race." To which he replied, "Yes I can. See, I grew up on a farm
where we couldn't afford horses or tractors, and the whole time I was growing
up, whenever the storms would roll in, I'd have to go out and round up the
sheep. We had 2,000 sheep on 2,000 acres. Sometimes I would have to run those
sheep for two or three days. It took a long time, but I'd always catch them. I
believe I can run this race."
When the race started, the pros quickly left Cliff behind. The
crowds and television audience were entertained because Cliff didn't even run
properly; he appeared to shuffle. Many even feared for the old farmer's safety.
The Tortoise and the Hare
All of the professional athletes knew that it took about 5 days
to finish the race. In order to compete, one had to run about 18 hours a day
and sleep the remaining 6 hours. The thing is, Cliff Young didn't know that!
When the morning of the second day came, everyone was in for
another surprise. Not only was Cliff still in the race, he had continued
jogging all night.
Eventually Cliff was asked about his tactics for the rest of the
race. To everyone's disbelief, he claimed he would run straight through to the
finish without sleeping.
Cliff kept running. Each night he came a little closer to the
leading pack. By the final night, he had surpassed all of the young,
world-class athletes. He was the first competitor to cross the finish line and
he set a new course record.
When Cliff was awarded the winning prize of $10,000, he said he
didn't know there was a prize and insisted that he did not enter for the money.
He ended up giving all of his winnings to several other runners, an act that
endeared him to all of Australia.
In the following year, Cliff entered the same race and took 7th
place. Not even a displaced hip during the race stopped him.
Cliff came to prominence again in 1997, aged 76, when he
attempted to raise money for homeless children by running around Australia's
border. He completed 6,520 kilometers of the 16,000-kilometer run before he had
to pull out because his only crew member became ill. Cliff Young passed away in
2003 at age 81.
Today, the "Young-shuffle" has been adopted by
ultra-marathon runners because it is considered more energy-efficient. At least
three champions of the Sydney to Melbourne race have used the shuffle to win
the race. Furthermore, during the Sydney to Melbourne race, modern competitors
do not sleep. Winning the race requires runners to go all night as well as all
day, just like Cliff Young.