The Tortoise and the Hare

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This is a story about the legendary Cliff Young.

In 1983, he entered an 875km endurance race. He was dressed in overalls and boots, was scoffed at, ran without sleeping, and won.

An Unlikely Competitor

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 other runners.

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.

Continued Inspiration

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.

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3 thoughts on “The Tortoise and the Hare

  1. I was fortunate to meet Cliffy a couple of times. He donated his legendary GUMBOOTS to Westfield who passed them on to Parramatta Football Club and I bought them at a sponsors auction night. When he knew I had them,(Sheep Shit and all still on the soles} Cliffy asked me to bring them to him the next day and he signed them. I met him with Mary not long after their marriage. He was such a humble hero. He will always be remembered.

  2. Wow it must be wonderful to have known him personally! Hope the people who remember his kindness will pass it on.

  3. Hello There. I found your blog using msn.
    This is a very well written article. I will be sure to bookmark it and return to read more of your useful information.
    Thanks for the post. I will certainly return.

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