Cliff Young: The Ultra-Marathon Runner Who Beat Old Age
Throughout our lives, we are told that the old age consists of our golden years, when we are all supposed to rest and relax. We retire from our day jobs at 60, and even earlier if it’s other activities like sports. In other words, this is a lesson that too tired and feeble to do anything too adventurous or exhausting. But, one man refuted such stereotyped ideas about old age and did something that makes him a remarkable person. This person’s name is Cliff Young, and he is an ultra-marathon runner.
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Every year, Australia hosts an endurance race of 543.7 miles from Sydney to Melbourne. It is one of the most demanding ultra-marathons. The race can be finished in five days, and none but the world-class athletes dare to attempt running in this race. They undergo rigorous training to partake in the event. They are generally less than 30 years of age, and get the sponsorships of big-shot brands such as Nike.
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Cliff Young: the ultra-marathon runner who beat old age
In 1983, Cliff Young, a potato farmer, participated in the race. Unlike the other participants in the race, Cliff was 61 years old at that time. Instead of specialized sportswear, he wore galoshes overalls and work boots to the race. Everyone thought he was probably a spectator, but Cliff surprised everyone as he picked up a race number and joined the other athletes.
He had received coaching from his mother who was 81 years old at that time, and his informal training regimen included chasing his sheep. He had grown up on a farm, and could not afford horses or tractors. Every time there was a storm, he had to go out to round up the sheep. Two thousand sheep scattered across two thousand acres of land – the ordeal would take several days, but he would always succeed.
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Cliff’s decision shocked and worried everyone. They feared that he would collapse in the middle of the five-day race due to heat and fatigue. He was confident that if he could run after sheep for several days, he could compete with humans, as well.
As the race began, Cliff soon started getting left behind by all the pro athletes. The crowd present, as well as the tv audience, got entertained by his performance. He appeared to be shuffling, instead of running properly. They knew that they had to run for 18 hours a day and rest for the remaining hours. But, Cliff, the untrained, amateur athlete, had no such strategy. So, while the others slept, he continued to run. So, the next morning, when the other athletes woke up, they were surprised to see that the old man had caught up with them, having jogged all night.
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When asked about his tactics for the rest of the race, Cliff shocked everyone by saying that he would be running through the race straight to the end, with no plan to sleep. And, he did keep running. And, by the time they reached the final night of the race, Cliff had surpassed all the other competitors who were about half his age and had twice the training and ability. He ended up being the first competitor to cross the finishing line. He set a new course record, as well. He finished the race in just 9 hours!
Cliff was awarded the winning prize of $10,000, and he was taken aback. He did not know that there was a prize, and said he had not entered the race for the money. Finally, he ended up doing something that no one else expected him to do – he distributed the entire sum of money among several other runners. Once again, Cliff took everyone by surprise, and this time, he won several hearts.
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The following year, Cliff once again entered the race competition. This time, he manages to secure the seventh place. While this was quite a few ranks behind his first race’s result, he still deserved accolades because he ran in the ultra-marathon with a displaced hip. Just like he had ignored his age and lack of training in the previous year, this time around, it was his physical condition which he defeated.
The next time Cliff came into prominence was a few years later. It was year 1997, and he was 76 years old at that time. This time, he took up the challenge of running round the border of Australia. More importantly, he ran for a noble cause this time – he attempted to raise money for homeless children. But Cliff had to pull out of the race, after having run for 6520 km out of the 16000 km distance that he had decided to run. The run ended because his only crew member had become ill.
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Cliff died in 2003 at the age of 81, after a prolonged period of 5 years of being ill. After his death, a memorial shaped like a gumboot in Beech Forest, was put up. In 2013, a telemovie named Cliffy was made by ABC1 about his 1983 run.
Cliff had run a massive 20,000 km during his short competitive career. He had a unique style of running, which was later named the Young-shuffle. This was adopted by ultra-marathon runners in the later years, because this style is considered to be energy-efficient. At least three champions of the Sydney-Melbourne race have been noted to use the shuffle. Besides, athletes also use the special strategy of not sleeping at night during the race, just like Cliff.
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Cliff Young, a simple man who farmed potatoes in Australia, created a distinctive history, and set records that athletes follow even today. He set new standards for the endurance race athletes. He left behind a legacy. Cliff managed to do it all at the age of 61. He thus showed the world that there is no age limit to start following the heart and doing great things in life. His story tells us that age is no barrier to be who we want to be, and it does not take formal training, strategy or uncanny body strength to win, or to end up with a gold medal to emerge a winner.