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  • Writer's pictureMacabre Emporium Pod

Episode 51 - The Inspirational Cliff Young

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Cliff Young


Cliff Young, Marathon Runner, Farmer
Cliff Young, during one of his many runs

With the start of 2024, most people have a New Year resolution, and I found this story months ago and wanted to inspire everyone into the new year about trying something new and to keep their eye on the prize with their resolutions.


Cliff Young was born on Feb 8, 1922. He was the third of seven children of Mary and Albert Ernest Young. The Young family were sheep herders and potato farmers by trade in Beech Forest in Southwestern Victoria Australia.  His family struggled with poverty before and poor and their family home was described as a bark hut in one of the articles I used for this. But this bark hut is more like a cabin as we would know it here in the States. 


 So one of Cliff’s main duties on the farm was to round up the 2,000 sheep on the 2,000-acre farm on foot as they couldn't afford a tractor or a horse for him to ride to do this task. In 1973 Cliff took up the vegetarian life as he found it hypocritical to eat meat as the animals he cared for trusted him after eating beef stew one night. 


By his 30s he would go to Queensland during winter, cutting sugar cane in Childers. It wouldn’t be until doing seasonal work in New Zealand that Cliff would find joy in the long running. For most of his life in the small town he lived in he could always be running and would run up to 12-18 miles before breakfast.  


The name Marathon comes from the legend of Philippides (or Pheidippides), the Greek messenger. The legend states that, while he was taking part in the Battle of Marathon, which took place in August or September 490 BC, he witnessed a Persian vessel changing its course towards Athens as the battle was near a victorious end for the Greek army.


 He interpreted this as an attempt by the defeated Persians to rush into the city to claim a false victory or simply raid, hence claiming their authority over Greek land. It is believed by historians that Philippides ran the entire distance to Athens without stopping, discarding his weapons and even clothes to lose as much weight as possible, and burst into the assembly, exclaiming "We have won!”, before collapsing and dying. The distance between Athens and Marathon is about 25 miles. 


In 1979 at the age of 56, he ran The Adidas Sun Super Run a 9-mile race in Melbourne Australia, and completed the race in 64 minutes. 


After this race, he would go on to compete in the Melbourne Marathon after seeing an ad in the newspaper and finish 3 hours  21 minutes, and 41 seconds that same year. He would compete in this race a total of four times  Set a personal best of 3 hours 4 minutes and 53 seconds in 1980. The most interesting part of these races is that he came in and ran them looking like a spectator not just because of his age but also his clothing. 


One of his crew members for the race coming up said in an interview that when he first met Cliffy at the Victorian Professional cross country thought he was a spectator as he was wearing a long-sleeved shirt and pants and gumboots or rubber boots as we know them. 


In 1983 now at the age of 61, Cliff Young would enter an Ultra Marathon between the two largest shopping centers in Sydney and Melbourne Australia. The Westfield Parramatta in Sydney and the Westfield Doncaster in Melbourne. The total distance between these two centers is 875 km or 511 miles. The winner of this race would be awarded 10k or just over 30k today in 2024. 


He would show up to Sydney in the shopping center, and like before he showed up in long pants in which he cut holes in for ventilation, and without his dentures as he said they rattled when he would run. As soon as the race started Cliff Young was quickly left behind by the other runners. But Cliff would still shuffle along this first day not giving up. Somewhere between 10 and 11 pm, Cliff catches up with the rest of the runners who have gone to bed to sleep and so would Cliff after this long first day. 


Now this is where a mistake is made but also had a huge impact on Cliff’s competition in this race, one of his crew members named  Wally Zallenburg makes the mistake of waking him up at 0230 instead of 0530.  Half asleep shuffling down the highway towards Melbourne it would be six miles down it's only then Wally realized he woke Cliff up too early. 


But this didn’t have that much effect on Cliff and his abilities due to his life on the farm as he would go 2 to 3 days running to chase after the animals he cared for to bring them in before the storms. So this would become their winning strategy, sleep less than the other racers. Even sleepwalk if had to.


By the end of the third night, Cliff has completed 200 of the 511 miles and is ahead of John Newes by 43 miles and Joe Record by 18 miles in which these two were in favor of winning the inaugural marathon. Cliff is also now suffering from a possible dislocated shoulder after he tripped and fell on a rock, and race organizers are starting to be concerned that Cliff is going to collapse or have other serious health issues by this, but Cliff keeps shuffling along down the road as if nothing is wrong. 


As the word spread to the media about the 61-year-old running the race they would do interviews with him asking if he thought he could win or finish. And without any doubt showing in his answers, he tells them oh yeah I plan on making it to the end and maybe end up winning. 


Joe Record would catch up to Cliff by night four of the race and wake Cliff up to let him know he has finally caught up to him in what I would guess in a friendly way as Joe and Cliff were good friends from the other marathons he had run. This would shock Cliff enough to throw on his shoes and start running again but at twice the pace as he was before and put 18 miles between Joe and the other runners as they stop for breakfast. By now people are starting to think Cliff was a made-up legend to go with this race because many people didn’t want to believe a 61-year-old farmer is out running professional athletes in such a grueling race. During one of his stops for breakfast being interviewed Cliff was asked what he was going to do if someone was coming up again behind him like his friend Joe, I will take off as fast as I can to try and keep ahead.


In the last 12 miles as he closes in on Melbourne still leading the pack he starts to become emotional and runs the fastest he has at this point you could say he might become recharged by all the people who knew he was now. He said he liked the crowds cheering him on but didn’t like to be like some of the other runners that were like zombies as they ran by so he would smile and wave to them as he went by. 


In one short break, he was running for his life for a bathroom at a gas station when women were trying to kiss and hug him before he could make his way in. Even when he was in their race officials and his crew had to demand the crow to clear the way and just let him run that he needed to keep running to stay ahead. 


And on Tuesday at 0134, like a new telling of the tortoise and the hare, Cliff Young would win the grueling Ultra Marathon in 5 days, 5 hours, and 4 minutes. To the cheers of thousands and his Mother whom he had thought had stayed home to prepare his bed for him but wanted to be there when he reached the end. She even shared in the excitement he had when the crowd started to sing a jolly good fellow to him in their celebration that he defied all odds and doubts. Cliff Young finished 2 days earlier than any other race that was held between these two cities. His average speed of running the 511 miles would be 4mph


If it had not been for the mistake that Wally had made that first night we wouldn’t have the inspiration that is Cliff Young. Wally did joke that he vowed during the race that would be a proper watch when it was all over.


When he learned that there was a 10k dollar prize in his shock of the news, he said, “That would buy a lot of potatoes!” But he gave away most of it to five other runners that had worked as hard as he did to finish it. One of these runners was friend and competitor John Record who dropped out at 453 miles from the pains of running such long distances and was only barely walking at this point, and was only 50 miles away from catching up to Cliff. 


Even though I couldn’t find other times for the runner-up it would be 10 hours before the next runners would show up to complete the race where Cliff had already attended four press conferences by the time they showed up. 


Later on, after the race Cliff would go to the Australian Institute of Sports in Canberra, as doctors and scientists are amazed by Cliff being able to complete this due to his age. They would study his lungs, heart, and skin folds and compare his vegetarian diet against a scientific diet that the top athlete, Ron D Costellos in Australia was eating due to them both not containing any red meat in either.


Doctors would be amazed that Cliff’s skin folds would be very similar to that of a runner half his age. 


Cliff would make three more runs at this race and only finish one more time the following years but It didn't state why he wasn’t able to finish the race my guess would be health issues with getting older. 


Before the world knew the name Cliff Young and was never married he lived at home with his mother and his brother Sid until he won, he ended up meeting a 23yo named Mary Howell and race sponsor Westfield would host their wedding for the entertainment of shoppers and they would divorce five years later and this would be the only real relationship that he had as he never really knew how to talk to women his entire life. 


If found it almost comical that when he returned to his hometown they held a welcome home party in the same community center where he would run from girls at the age of 14 and running had brought him back there.  


Even though shortly after the race he did say he would give up marathon running when he was 65 he would still go running until he was 75 in an attempt to beat Ron Grant’s around Australia record. He ended up completing 4051 of the 9941 miles but had to stop due to a crew member becoming ill. But Cliffy isn’t done running as he set a world record for age during a six-day race in Victoria at the age of 78. Cliff’s running career would come to an end with a mild stroke but not before he would rack up 12,400 miles running. 


Cliff Young would pass away at the age of 81 on November 2, 2003, after his body worn out from multiple strokes and ultimately from cancer. After his passing, a Gumboot carved from stone would be dedicated in Beech Forest, Victoria memorializing Cliff and his achievements.


When his sister Helen was asked about him after he passed away, she said: “He is the first of us to go but then he was always on the go.” 


Cliff was one of the seven children his parents had. 


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