He didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to be able to run a 544 mile ultra-marathon. Hell, he was a potato farmer – what did he know about endurance running? He showed up one day at the starting line of an 875K race and won.
In fact, he took significant time off the world record for similar races. He was 61-years old in 1983 when he won this race. Take a look at my times this year, I haven’t come close to winning a solo race of any distance. He didn’t just win, he CRUSHED it. 544-miles at aged 61. I’ve spent the past year running races, slowly building up distance from a 5k in February to a half-marathon in October. I’ve run training runs, pushed myself as much as I can. Cliff Young ran the inaugural Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultra-marathon…and won. I must be a loser – I’ve been running my butt off this year and I’m struggling to get mediocre times on some fairly modest courses.
The lore will have you believe he’d never run, just strolled up to the starting line – oblivious to the challenge ahead of him – wearing overalls and rubber boots. A real naif. He didn’t understand ultra running so he didn’t know he was supposed to run for 18 hours and sleep for 6. A great story to be sure. But incomplete at best, and misleading at worst. Take a look at the video below.
So far as I can tell, he really WASN’T a runner and he really WAS a farmer.
But this wasn’t his first attempt; he didn’t just show up and decide to run. Perhaps in 1982 when he attempted a 1,000 mile effort one could argue he had no clue – after all then he had only trained for a few months. Upon failing half way through he wrote he and his support team were inexperienced. You don’t just stroll up to a starting line in work boots and spend 6 days running a 550-mile race without having done SOME work. In this case he had been training. He knew the challenge before him. He had a plan and he worked that plan.
Merriam-Webster defines “Inspiration” as “something that makes someone want to do something or that gives someone an idea about what to do or create : a force or influence that inspires someone.” I tend to think watching the results of another’s hard work and effort toward a goal is far more inspirational than hearing a story that’s been sanitized, cleaned up and repackaged. Cliff was ridiculously inspirational but not because he showed up one day out of the blue and laid waste to a field of other runners en route to finishing an ultra-marathon, but because he worked his ass off as a 60-year old to position himself to be able to do that.
He wasn’t some rube fresh off the farm who decided to run an endurance course because he had time on his calendar. He planned this. He worked for this. It’s unlikely that a 61-year old man is going to win an ultra marathon, but that’s the inspirational part of it. He worked and trained. We don’t need to embellish the story; we don’t have to make up or gloss over the reality. The facts are remarkable on their own.
Be inspired because he had a goal, worked his ass off for it and made it happen. There’s nothing inspirational about flukes or luck; there’s everything inspirational about someone deciding they’ve got a goal that they’re going to make happen. Cliff’s story makes for a great tell, but bear in mind his wasn’t the story of unexpected glory, his was the story of hard work paying off.