The Legend of the ‘Young-Shuffle’

This weeks inspirational story is about one of the most unknown influential ultramarathon runners from the 1980s – Cliff Young.

I was doing the ‘Young-Shuffle’ long before I knew about its origin – and you probably were too! This is when you shuffle during a run to reduce energy expenditure and it’s a technique that’s been adopted by some of the top ultra-marathon runners over the years – allowing them to endure without stopping.

This type of running is named after Australian potato farmer, Cliff Young, who won everyone’s heart when he came out of nowhere and broke the record for the Aussie Westfield ultramarathon back in 1983. The 544 mile (875km) endurance race is, to this day, considered one of the most grueling long-distance runs which begins in Sydney and ends in Melbourne.

Cliff Young abruptly came onto the ultramarathon scene at the ripe old age of 61. He grew up on an isolated farm in the outback and when challenged by a multitude of journalists on whether or not he had the capacity to run the Westfield route simply shrugged it off and joined the other athletes at the starting line. Quite a character – Cliff ran in overalls and wellies, he ran without his false teeth as they rattled and he cut holes in his trousers for ventilation.

As everyone leaped off the starting line Cliff was quickly left behind. He slowly shuffled along behind the others and people were sure he’d drop out of the race in no time. As the days went on, Cliff got closer and closer to the winning pack but nobody was quite sure how. The other runners, all of whom were professional athletes, planned a schedule of 18 hours running and 6 hours sleeping. Cliff had a slightly different tactic and decided he didn’t need any sleep! When asked why, he said:

“See, I grew up on a farm where we couldn’t afford horses or four wheel drives, and the whole time I was growing up– until about four years ago when we finally made some money and got a four wheeler– 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 fourth day Cliff had overtaken all the other runners and amazingly not only did he win but he set a new course record of 5 days, 15 hours and 4 minutes – breaking the record by over 2 days!

The truly inspirational thing about Cliff’s story and the main thing to take away from his success is that it wasn’t down to skill – and I mean no offense by that – but it was down to pure and simple hard work. His success was based on pushing himself, not giving up and incredible mental as well as physical endurance.

While you might not be planning to run 544 miles any time soon, Cliff is a great role model for never giving up and can be a fantastic source of inspiration to draw on for any distance! It also goes to show, it’s never too late to start shuffling!



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