In 1988, when he was 61 years old, Cliff showed up to compete in a 600-kilometer race between Sydney and Melbourne, Australia. Far more grueling than a marathon, this five-day racing event attracts only the best of the best, the world-class runners, the kind of athletes who know all there is to know about their sport and routinely break records by proving it.
Cliff Young was not that kind of athlete. In fact, he had never run in a race like this before and, to make matters worse, he showed up on that day in 1988 wearing overalls and work boots covered by galoshes. No one considered him a runner. Everyone considered him a joke.
When asked by the media what made him think he was qualified for such a race, and what he had done to condition himself for the run, Cliff answered honestly that he was a farmer, not an athlete. His personal trainers had not been professional running coaches who understood every nuance of the sport, but rather the cows and pigs inhabiting his farm. Chasing them on foot had gotten him in shape, he explained.
Cliff was a real oddity in many ways. Not only was he too old to run in such a race and dressed inappropriately, the way Cliff moved wasn’t as much a run as it was a shuffle. The poor man just did not pick up his legs well at all. As the race began, people along the sidelines yelled out to get the old man off the track before he killed himself.
It was quite obvious that Cliff just didn’t know any better. Living in the outback where televisions and newspapers were still a rarity and at a time when the world wide web was still unknown, Cliff was unaware of how such races were run. He did not know, for instance, that the runners ran for 18 hours each day and then slept for six, resting and repairing their bodies for the next day’s run. The truth was that it was humanly impossible to do otherwise but Cliff didn’t know this truth. And so, like the Energizer bunny, he just kept going. And going. And going.
Had Cliff finished the race in third, or fourth or even tenth place, his story would have remarkable, especially considering that many of those he was running against were a third his age.
But Cliff didn’t finish in third, fourth, or tenth place. Cliff finished first, stepping across the finish line far ahead of the second place runner, possibly because he wasn’t aware of all the truths that said he couldn’t. And Cliff not only won the race, he cut a day and a half off the world record time!
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