Every year, thousands of runners converge in Australia to run this endurance course of 543.7 miles (875 km) long. This marathon is considered to be one of the world’s toughest ultra-marathons.
The story of running legend Cliff Young is fascinating, inspiring, and thought-provoking. If you’re not already familiar with this accomplished athlete, read on to discover this terrific tale.
The World’s Toughest Ultra-Marathon
Every year Australia hosts a 543.7 mile (875 km) endurance race. This mega race, from Sydney to Melbourne, is considered to be the longest and hardest ultra-marathon in the world. It is a long and difficult race that can take up to five days to complete and typically involves world-class athletes specially trained for this event.
No doubt it is thought to be one of the world’s toughest ultra-marathons. Athletes must be in perfect shape to even think about running this marathon and reaching the finish line.
Most of the athletes are young runners, generally under 30, and are usually sponsored by big sports companies like Nike, Reebok, Quiksilver, etc. These young athletes come equipped with the most expensive accessories and sports suits.
The Unexpected Competitor
In 1983, this group of runners received a great surprise when Cliff Young entered the fray. He was 61 years old. At first, nobody cared, as they thought that this quixotic character came to observe the event. Cliff had an unusual appearance. He had no front teeth and was wearing a farmer’s garb, overalls, and work boots.
He approached the starting blocks proudly wearing his race number on the back of his shirt.
The media didn’t miss the chance and immediately interviewed him. After all, he was joining an elite group of 150 world-class athletes to compete with. Besides, his only sponsor was his 81-year-old mother.
Cliff was very optimistic about his chances. He told the press that his hard-working background gave him all the skills and endurance he’d need to finish the race: “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.”
Running The Race
As the marathon started, Cliff was quickly left behind by the more experienced runners. The crowd laughed at Cliff’s peculiar running style. He had a slow shuffle that put him in danger of injury. However, everybody had their attention on this 61-year-old farmer, praying that someone would stop this crazy old man as they believed he would die before finishing the race to Sydney.
All the competitors knew that the race would last about 5 days. In order to win, runners generally run 18 hours a day and sleep at least 6 hours at night. But, as an inexperienced newbie, Cliff didn’t know that.
The first night, he got little sleep and then continued slowly throughout the night and into the early morning. By the time the sun dawned, Cliff was still running.
On the second day of the race, spectators were surprised that Cliff was still in the race, he had run 24 hours straight. Upon arriving in the city of Albury he told reporters that his tactic was to keep running without stopping until he made it past the finish line. He kept running, closing the gap each night from the leading group. At dawn on the fifth day, Cliff Young was the first runner in the race. Not only did he complete the Melbourne to Sydney race at age 61, but he broke the record by 9 hours.
The National Hero
He instantly became a national hero. He had finished one of the most grueling races in the world in 5 days, 15 hours. He did not know he should rest in the race, he imagined that he was running sheep on his ranch. Upon receiving the $10,000 prize, he said that he did not know there was a prize and that he had not competed for money. He awarded $2,000 to five runners who he felt had tried harder than him.
This act led to him being the most beloved person in all of Australia: the humble farmer who faced an extraordinary feat and became a legend.