A Gruelling Ultra Marathon…
…An Unexpected Outcome
“THE SKY IS NOT MY LIMIT…I AM.” – T.F. HODGE
Cliff Young was an average 61-year-old potato farmer, who lived in isolation tending to his garden and his animals on a sprawling 2,000-acre rural property in the hinterland of NSW. No one knew much about him until one day in 1983, he appeared at the start line of the most grueling ultramarathons in Australia. The race, which starts in Sydney is 543.7-mile (875-kilometre) long and ends in Melbourne is considered as one of the most challenging foot races in the world; the top runners usually taking five days to complete the challenge.
When he lined up at the start line, people actually thought that Cliff was a spectator and that he had mistakenly ended up amid all the elite runners. He was wearing overalls and work boots…hardly an appropriate running apparel for an ultra marathon. The press and onlookers looked on curiously as Cliff donned his race number, confirming to all present that he was indeed serious to compete in the race. “Surely mate, you must me joking. This is not a barnyard race, you know. This race is intense. Do you really think you can finish it?”, someone commented.
Cliff replied, without any fuss or any melodrama, “Yes I can. You 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.”
As soon as the race began, as was expected, all the elite runners bolted, leaving Cliff behind in a cloud of dust. The spectators and the media were having a field day of the spectacle. Cliff remained untouched and unfazed by all the buzz. In his mind, he was just a shepherd out on his farm gathering his flock. It would take a long time, he would have to cover a lot of ground and he may have to scout all night…he had done this before and knew what it would take. All he’d had to do was pace himself.
Cliff didn’t even run properly; he appeared to have a peculiar, ungainly shuffle which could not be termed as a runners gait at all. As the day wore on, amusement turned into concern as many feared for the old farmer’s safety. Most people predicted that Cliff would not last the day.
Everyone was in for a surprise on Day 2 of the race. At daybreak onlookers were astounded to note that Cliff was not only in the race…he had been running all night and had gained a lot of ground overnight. You see, Cliff had no ‘strategy’ for the race; the usual one being – you run for eighteen hours and rest for six. In fact, Cliff did not even know that people were allowed to rest during the race.
To everyone’s disbelief, Cliff claimed he would run straight through to the finish without sleeping…a feat no one had ever attempted. “The human body is not adapted to keep going on for days without sleep”, some said.
But Cliff was not running with his legs. He was running with his heart and mind. Stopping or giving up was not an option!
By the time the competition was reaching its final stages, the entire nation was glued to the race, and championing ol’ farmer Cliff.
Cliff remained unimpressed with all the interest and kept running. Each night he came a little closer to the leading pack. By the final night, he had surpassed all of the world-class athletes, runners decades younger than him. He crossed the finish line in the darkness of the night amid raucous applause of onlookers.
The tortoise had turned into a hare, and Australians had just found an unconventional yet towering inspiration, whose legendary feat would be recounted for generations to come.
Cliff was not only the winner of the race, but he had blitzed the competition and he set a new course record.
When Cliff was awarded the winning prize of $10,000, he said he didn’t know there was a prize and insisted that he did not enter for the money. He ended up giving all of his winnings to several other runners, an act that endeared him to all of Australia.
TAKE AWAY THOUGHTS
Cliff endured the hardships of the farm from a very early age. The end result was his stupendous performance on the race track which tested his endurance to the hilt. What are your challenges in life and what kind of strength and resilience are you building up as a result of it?
At times not knowing the rules is a good thing. Had Cliff know at the start that he was allowed to rest during the night, he may have been tempted to do what other runners did. When you are envisioning your dream or your goal, are you setting any limits or thinking conventional thoughts?
How would life turn out if you set your own rules, set your own pace, and choose to shape your own destiny? (In no way am I suggesting that you subvert any process or do anything unlawful. This call to action is more for you to think without any barriers or limits).
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