It’s nearly thirty years since Cliffy Young, a potato farmer from Colac, Victoria, strapped on a pair of cheap sandshoes and shuffled his way to glory in the Westfield, Sydney to Melbourne, Marathon.
Cliffy was 61 years old and obviously a bit of an outsider, but he had a secret weapon; complete ignorance.You see, no one told old Cliffy that he was supposed to sleep at night, so while the other runners snoozed, Cliffy plodded on. He had trained by herding sheep while wearing gumboots, and he ate a vegetarian diet of spuds, beans, honey, fruit and ice-cream to sustain him during the long ordeal, and to everyone’s utter amazement, the vegetarian veteran was soon leading the race.
As Cliffy disappeared over the horizon, a fellow competitor gasped, “He reckons he’s a tortoise, but I reckon the old b*st*rd is a hare in disguise!”
Cliffy jogged the 875 kilometres in five and a half days, and was genuinely surprised to find crowds lining the streets of Melbourne cheering him on. It was way past the old fella’s bedtime when he crossed the line at midnight, having smashed 2 days off the record.
He also seemed a little embarrassed at winning the first prize of $10,000. Afterwards, he split the money up with his support team, and surprisingly, with his fellow competitors, leaving Cliffy with roughly $5.00; which didn’t quite cover his train fare home.
Although he didn’t run for the money (he just wanted to see if he could do it), Cliffy did score a plum sponsorship deal; a lifetime supply of his favourite gumboots! They gave him ten pair, which easily saw him out.
The little Shuffler from Colac never won another marathon, as his fellow competitors soon learned to run in their sleep. Eventually he married, divorced, then retired, leaving marathon running to the ‘old fellas’.
Thirty years after his inspirational win he is still fondly remembered here at Bray Manor, especially since I tore down all my Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods posters.