One day in 1983, several young guys in their 20s and 30s gathered in Westfield Sydney. These were guys in the prime of their lives, hardened by years of training, donned with the best sporting gear and accessories, ready to take the challenge, an ultra marathon.
The Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultra Marathon is one of the longest races on earth, one that requires the best of the best. Athletes compete to finish the 875 Km race, which often take more than five days to complete. It is a race not just for runners, but for super humans who have the energy and guts to run for days. Only the best of the best would attempt the Sydney to Melbourne ultramarathon, but in this specific race, there was one problem.
Standing among these super humans on the lineup was Cliff Young. Cliff Young was a 61 year old toothless potato farmer, who showed up dressed in overall and gumboots. The media covering the event dismissed the old potato farmer with one look, and as soon as the starting pistol went off, everyone sprinted off while old Cliff Young ran at a slow, loping pace, much to the amusement of those who had gathered to watch. By the end of the first day, the potato farmer trailed the runners by a big margin.
Five days, 15 hours and 4 minutes later, the 61 year old Cliff Young was the first to cross the finishing line in Melbourne, beating the second contestant by ten hours, and setting a new record for the ultra marathon. The tortoise had beaten the hare! How did this happen?
Very simple. Cliff Young was no ordinary 61 year old, but a hardened farmer who would often run for 3 continuous days in a 2000 acre ranch, herding over 2000 sheep. Without the luxury of SUVs or horses, Cliff Young would spend days running in the farm to round up the animals, running day and night. In the race, while all runners ran for 18 hours and rested for 6 hours, the potato farmer ran all day and night, because he did not know that they were supposed to rest! Neither did he know that there was prize for the winner, and rejected the 10,000 $ prize, instead sharing it with all the other six participants who completed the race.
A few lessons to learn from Cliff Young:
- It is not how you start a race, but how you finish it.
- Endurance can take you further than most people expect of you.
- Believe in yourself. The media and spectators had dismissed Cliff Young.
- Build the right disciplines in life. You never know where you might need them.
That is the story of Cliff Young; the potato farmer who won the Sydney to Melbourne ultramarathon.