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How The Slowest Runner Won The Race

February 21, 2018

Cliff Young was 61 years old. He was racing against younger runners. Some much younger.

The race was 544 miles long. It went from Sydney Australia to Melbourne.

The record was a little over 7 days for a runner to complete the course.

In 1983, the year Cliff ran, the second place finisher beat the previous record, finishing in 6 days, and 1 hour. When he crossed the finish line after six days, he was ten hours behind Cliff Young.

How does an aging cattle rancher win an ultra marathon against professional athletes?

He won for two reasons, he didn’t know “the right way” to run, and he refused to give up.

Yesterday I wrote about Ester Ledecka, a world class snowboarder who borrowed someone’s skis and won the gold medal in the Olympic Super G. She won by going fast and not knowing enough about the course to pick the “right” line down the hill. She picked her own and it worked. She won by 0.01 seconds.

Cliff Young is a classic “tortoise and hare” story. On the first day, he lost badly. The other runners were much faster. However, they all had set running schedules. Some were only going to run a certain number of hours. Others only a certain distance. Cliff? He didn’t seem to have a strategy. Like Forest Gump, he just kept running. He passed the other runners during the night as they slept. Once he got the lead, he didn’t give it up.

So, part of his strategy was to work harder than his competitors. You could say he wanted it more. But, he also, like Ledecka, wasn’t bound by any preconceived ideas.

Everyone was sure that Cliffy, as he became known to millions of fans during the race, would eventually wear out. He claimed to have previous run two to three days straight chasing sheep in the hills. . .wearing gumboots.

But, Cliff didn’t fade. He got slower, but he kept an amazing pace. He had a unique running style, it was called the “Young Shuffle.” It’s a style that ultra marathon runners still use today.

Cliff crossed the finish line after 5 days, 15 hours and 4 min. He’d beaten the previous record by nearly two days. And as was mentioned he beat his nearest competitor by about 10 hours.

I take a lot of inspriration from Cliff Young. And not just because I’m often the oldest member of my project teams. Cliff, ignored conventional wisdom. He was too old. He ran too slow. He was too inexperienced. And yet, Cliff believed in himself.

In my job, in your job, there are established ways of doing things. There are experts. There will be times you are told, “Oh, you can’t do it that way.” Sometimes it’s true. You cannot kayak across a mountain path. But, more often we are simply limited by the experience of others. And if you decide to go against the grain. You may find yourself, like cliff at the end of day one, far behind those doing it “the right” way. But, if you believe in yourself, and you keep going, you just might set a new world record and force everyone else to change their methods to match yours.

It worked for a 61 year old cattle rancher in Austalia.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

  1. I’m glad you mentioned the possibility of failure Rod. For every Cliffy there are hundreds of thousands of Homers. I know a bit about endurance and not giving up. It goes a long way, but most often it works better with just a nugget of knowledge.

    Cliff had one advantage you didn’t mention: he was fit for super-ultra work. His entire life of working outdoors and running sheep down prepared him for it. Most of those who ‘go their own way’ don’t have that prep. (grin)

    • He actually tried to repeat his feat in later years and wasn’t able to. He dropped out of one ultra marathon and admitted that he and his team “weren’t properly prepared.”

      We are just finishing up watching the Olympics. Dozens of athletes will compete in an event and very few realistically have a shot at a medal. Most are there simply to do their best and represent their country.

      How have you been, Randy?

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