The Cliff Young Story

This is the incredible story of a 62 year old potato farmer named Cliff Young, and how he went on to win a famous 543 mile endurance run beating all the professional athletes in the process.

By Lee Camp / 05 April 2017
2 min read

One of the world's most grueling ultra-marathons is the 543 mile endurance race from Sydney to Melbourne that takes place every year. Professional athletes from all over the world travel to take part in the historic event and spend five days racing.

Professional athletes is the operative word. Young, fit athletes who train all year for the event and who are sponsored by big multinational companies.

In 1983 a very different type of competitor appeared. His name was Cliff Young.

Cliff was a 61 year old potato farmer from Beech Forest, Victoria. Cliff turned up wearing overalls and work boots, picked his up his race number and joined the other runners.

The professional athletes and press were suspicious of 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."

The race started and inevitably Cliff was immediately left trailing as the professional athletes tore away from the starting line. Cliff, not even running properly - shuffling instead of running - appeared to be a comic sideshow to television viewers and the crowds that were lining the streets. Some people even feared for his safety.

In order to complete the race within the five days, athletes tend to run for around 18 hours a day and then sleep during the other 6. In 1983, athletes followed this approach, everyone except Cliff Young that is.

Having been well behind after day 1, athletes woke from their 6 hour sleep to not only see Cliff was still in the race but that he'd somehow closed the gap between them and him. How? Cliff didn't go to sleep.

Cliff didn't go to sleep.

Cliff kept running. Day after day, night after night. He ran for 5 days without going to sleep and in doing so he was able to pass the world-class athletes and become the first athlete past the winning tape. He even set a new course record!

Having won, Cliff was given $10,000 but he was not interested in the money - he simply wanted to challenge himself and prove that an old farmer could mix it with the young athletes. He even gave away the $10,000 prize to the other athletes that had competed.

Cliff competed the year after and despite displacing his hip he still bagged a 7th place finish.

In the following year, Cliff entered the same race and took 7th place. Not even a displaced hip during the race stopped him from finishing.

Cliff Young passed away in 2003 at age 81 but did so having left a legacy - the "Young-shuffle" has been adopted by many ultra marathon runners due to how energy-efficient it is and this has helped at least three runners to success. But perhaps his biggest legacy is modern runners now do not sleep.

Cliff Young turned up at the starting line and was considered a joke. He got to the finishing line a legend.