The Sydney to Melbourne race snakes across Australia’s beautiful southeast corner, covering almost 550 miles. It is considered a real man-killer even by seasoned, ultra-runners who are used to racing across the hottest deserts, and the coldest, barren terrains on the planet.


In 1983, Cliff Young decided to enter the inaugural event. Cliff was not your average athlete. In fact, he was not your average anything.

As a cowhand, Cliff was frequently responsible for rounding up cattle after violent thunderstorms.  He did this not with the aid of GPS, a Hummer, or light aircraft, but by running around on foot after the cloven, hoofed scallywags over an area the size of a small US state. He knew he had high levels of stamina, but this was another matter altogether because most of the entrants were super-fit runners in their prime.

Cliff was 61 years old, with little competitive experience. The one thing Cliff did possess, however, was a burning belief that he could, and would compete in this race. He didn’t have any self-limiting beliefs.

There were calls for him to be banned for his own safety, but whereas the rules excluded runners that were too young, nobody could see anything discriminating against people being too old. So, the organizers reluctantly allowed Cliff to run.


It was a hot day in Sydney when Cliff turned up wearing overalls and galoshes over his work boots inviting howls of derision from some of the 150 competitors. This sparked growing interest from the press and spectators.

The race started, and to nobody’s surprise, the farmhand was soon lagging behind the seasoned runners. Halfway through he first night, Cliff rather remarkably took the lead.

Rather than stopping for the traditional sleep breaks that most of the ultra-runners took part in, Cliff took a fraction of the time the others took and just kept going. By the following morning, much to the amazement of everyone, Cliff had built up a substantial lead.

It was an impressive performance, but the “old-timer” was inevitably going to relinquish his lead when he needed to stop for a proper break. Nobody told Cliff he was supposed to stop for 6 hours every evening, so he just kept on running and running…and running.

Cliff did the unexpected and finished the race. He did the truly remarkable thing and didn’t just win, but he was with a staggering 10-hour margin.

Cliff Young decided what was possible for him. His family didn’t. His friends didn’t. Even society didn’t. He set his own parameters in the run as he did in his life with his own beliefs about what he can achieve.

A 61-year-old amateur rewrote the book on distance running because he believed in what he did.


  • If it is to be, it is up to me!