To Albury and Wodonga

Cliff Young

In the early 1980’s, the Westfield shopping group in Australia was looking around for ways to better promote their brand. After a bit of searching, the settled on an ultra-marathon, to be run from a shopping mall in Sydney, to another in Melbourne, 544 miles away (As another blog-writer said “It’s like the Boston Marathon, only if the Boston Marathon finished in Richmond, Virginia”*. Ten of the better ultra-runners in Australia gathered at the start-line, along with an out-of-place 61-year-old named Cliff Young, who was wearing overalls and rainboots (Rainboots because, as he says of his hometown “It rains 9 months out of the year. Then winter sets in.” As a Seattle native, that cuts right to my core).

The race began and the younger folk took the lead, with Young shuffling along well behind them. As the first day came to a close, the front-runners got off the road and began to sleep. The tortoise-like young kept moving (Some say he didn’t sleep at all, others say he slept for two hours). He took the lead that night, and never relented. He extended his lead through his slow shuffle and lack of need for sleep. When asked about this strategy, he explained it as a natural consequence of his childhood: “I grew up on a farm where we couldn’t afford horses or four wheel drives… whenever the storms would roll in, I’d have to go out and round up the sheep. We had 2,000 head, and we have 2,000 acres. Sometimes I would have to run those sheep for two or three days. It took a long time, but I’d catch them. I believe I can run this race; it’s only two more days. Five days. I’ve run sheep for three.”

By the time Young rolled into Melbourne in record time (by about half a day), he was a celebrity across Australia – owing not only to his astounding victory, but also to his unassuming style and understated wit (both on display in the video here).

He continued running after the race, but gave up on his effort to run around Australia 15 years later (not because, at 76, he was exhausted, mind you, but because his one crew member became severely ill). His marriage to a 23-year-old, which followed his victory, lasted for five years. He’s still a bit of a legend in Australia, which kind of isn’t that surprising. When he died at 81, the first of his six siblings, his sister gave a fitting epitaph: “He was the first of us to go, but then he was always on the go.”

If you’re into simple poetry that rhymes, the below may be of interest to you.

Ben

*Wouldn’t this be a fun stage race?
• Boston to Providence – 50 miles
• Providence to New London – 57 miles
• New London to Bridgeport 66 miles
• Bridgeport to NYC – 62 miles
• New York to Trenton 67 miles
• Trenton to Philadelphia 35 miles
• Philadelphia to Wilmington, DE 32 miles
• Wilmington to Baltimore 70 miles
• Baltimore to Washington 42 miles
• Washington to Fredricksburg 52 miles
• Fredricksburg to Richmond, 60 miles

Nine states and one district. At worst it’s a great bike trip. Maybe take two full weeks and give yourself a couple of rest days.

“At a place called Parramatta to the south of Sydney town
Endurance runners gathered, some of world renown
A mighty crowd was there that day, the press and TV too
and many words were spoken before the day was through

Eleven runners toed the line, eleven hearts beat strong
For we all knew what lay ahead and where we could go wrong.
A gun was fired, away we went, each runner to his pace
The back-up crews were on the move, their runners for the race.

The road was thick with traffic, they were there in all their makes
And above the toots and cheering came the squeal of hard pressed brakes.
Through the shouts, the yells and bedlam, the police all acted fine
But all the way to Melbourne our lives were on the line.

The pace was hot through Goulburn, then it was on to Yass
Some runners’ feet were blistered and others had the rash
But still we kept on moving, for we could only try
To run one hundred miles a day when we would rather die.

Our back-up crews did all they could, to keep us running strong
And they all suffered with us, when the day was hard and long.
With Gundagai behind us, there was Holbrook way ahead
How could we keep on running, when we were almost dead?

There were hills all shapes and sizes, some short, some long and steep
And each man had to beat them or fall into a heap.
We ran all day and half the night, to Albury and Wodonga
Though cheering crowds sure eased the pain, we could not stay there longer.

We had to keep on running, through the heat, the wind and rain
When the day was long and weary and the night was filled with pain.
When we passed through Wangaratta, Benalla was a cinch
Though our legs were tired and weary, we made it inch by inch.

Then came the Kelly country, and when we hit Euroa
Some of us were almost gone, but the race was still a goer.
Then onward, ever onward, through a day of wind and rain
We stopped at Violet Town a while, then it was on again.

It wasn’t far past Seymour, when the rain came pelting down.
The wind was blowing strongly, and our faces were one big frown.
But still we kept on running, up a road that seemed like sand
And we would keep on running, while we had the strength to stand.

The people got behind us, in a way we knew they would
It was good to hear them cheering, in the rain without a hood.
Though they were drenched, they cheered us, with emotion running high
And those teardrops rolling down their cheeks, were also in our eyes.

They were there in countless numbers, the women, men and kids
And on this page we thank them all, to them we dip our lids.
The crowds were huge through Melbourne, the cheering loud and strong
And still we kept on running, though we’d nearly had the gong.

And as we breathed the poison fumes, from cars of every make
Oh God, is there a limit to what flesh and blood can take?
Up hills, round bends, up hills once more, Oh God where will it end?
Our heads were spinning badly, and we can’t pick foe from friend.

At last the race has ended, with its noise and cheers
Now is the time to put things straight, and wipe away the tears.
We know the race to Melbourne, was worth it every stride
It has given us renewed hope, and filled us up with pride.

We know full well our point was proved, although we may be nuts
And though we may be short on brains, we made top marks in guts.”

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