Ten years ago the world lost one of the greatest long distance runners of the 20th century. And no…he’s not from Kenya. His name was Cliff Young, he was from Australia, and he was really, really, really old.
Cliff Young’s story is unique. While most athletes achieve success in the prime of their lives – their late teens, 20s and even 30s – Young didn’t gain notoriety until his early 60s! So if he was dominating ultra-marathons at that age, just imagine what he could have accomplished if he decided to play “old people” games like shuffleboard, bingo or badminton. He would have DESTROYED all those old noobs.
Cliff grew up on a 2,000 acre sheep farm in Australia with about 2,000 sheep. For you math majors out there that’s an acre per sheep. However, don’t think for one second that he rode around on a fancy 4-wheeler rounding them up. No way. Cliff spent the better part of his growing up years literally “running” down the sheep on foot.
“I reckoned it was the easiest method.” -- Cliff
You know, kind of like how it’s easier to climb up the mountain when you go skiing instead of spending $5o bucks on a lift ticket.
In 1983, at 61 years old, Cliff Young entered the Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultra-marathon, a 544-mile race from Sydney to Melbourne. These races normally take days to finish. Try running a normal marathon 20 times in a row and then come talk Cliff Young about how awesome you are. He’ll just say “Crikey” and then laugh in your face. Yeah, and don’t think for one moment that this old codger would be satisfied with just finishing this ultra-marathon – he’s in it to win it.
After months of preparation, all the other runners showed up in their fancy running gear, and top-of-the-line running shoes. Within this group of runners stood one man that didn’t fit the mold of the other 150 competitors. He wasn’t swagged out with an Adidas track suit and the newest Nikes.
No…Cliff Young showed up to the race wearing a pair of overalls and Wellington boots, a staple of hunting and outdoor wear for the British aristocracy in the early 19th century.
Folks thought that this was nothing more than a publicity stunt gone wrong. The officials at the race almost didn’t let Cliff compete because Young didn’t have any sponsors. They told him he was crazy and could never even finish. Cliff explained:
“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”
They eventually let Cliff run. As the race begun, the runners left Cliff sucking on their dust. Spectators even smirked because he didn’t even run properly. He appeared to run leisurely, shuffling like an amateur. This style of running became known as the “Young Shuffle.” And yes, it kind of looks like someone who’s trying to make it to the bathroom without having an accident.
All the professional runners trained to run 18 hours a day and sleep for the remaining six. Cliff had his own agenda. He ran all through the night. As the morning of the second day came, everyone was surprised. Not only was Cliff still in the race, but he had continued to jog through the night. Seriously, if my grandparents aren’t in bed by 8:00pm they act like they just ran a marathon.
As the days passed, Cliff crept closer to the world class runners. By the fifth and final night of the race, he had surpassed all the other athletes. He was the first competitor to cross the finish line with a record-setting time: five days, 15-hours and four minutes.
Cliff received $10,000 dollars for winning the race, but didn’t keep a cent for himself. He gave the five other runners who finished $2,000 each, which further endeared him to all of Australia. It was also a gigantic “F You!” to all the haters who doubted him.
They tried to make it up by naming a street after him. A STREET?! Nice try. Name the longest freeway in Australia after him and then we’ll talk.
For the next 20 years of his life Cliff continued to be an inspiration to all, he passed away on November 2nd, 2003 at the age of 81, but I’m pretty sure at that age he could still dominate most people at running. It’s like when the Cobra Kai tried to step to Mr. Miyagi at the Halloween Dance in the Karate Kid. Big mistake. Mr. Miyagi spits on your black belts.
Young had remained single throughout his life, but after the 1983 race, at 62 years of age, he married 23-year old Mary Howell, because OF COURSE HE DID. This guy had the chick magnet power of George Clooney, Ryan Gosling and Jack Nicholson combined.
Cliff Young, you are forever our hero.