Cliff Young 1921 - 2003
by Jack Pennington Nov. 2003
Cliff Young was certainly our most famous Veteran runner
At the age of 58 years in 1980, he joined the Victorian Veteran Club. His ambition was to win the World Veteran M55 marathon in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Cliff was a potato and dairy farmer, that is to say that he worked on a property owned by his brother and had lived all his life in the family home with his 83 year old mother who was still his housekeeper. His connection with running was because he did not have a dog to bring in the cows, and so he would run out morning and night in his gumboots to bring them in for milking. He became so fit that he thought nothing of runningl5kms into the local village and back just for a haircut and a 'schooner' or two.
I met Cliff at the World Veteran Championship in 1981. This came about because noticed this lone Aussie in the dining room who no one seemed to know and so as is my won't I approached him and introduced myself. It seems we were to be competitors in both the M55 cross-country and the marathon. It would be Cliffs second marathon and my first. He told me how his first marathon took place, apparently the locals in the pub told him that the nearby town of Colac was staging the Victorian Professional marathon Championship and he was goaded into running. When Cliff fronted up and paid his entry fee he was asked to change from his civilian attire into his running gear 'quick smart' as the race was due to start in a few minutes. Cliff said that did not matter as he had no running gear but was used to running in long strides and perhaps someone could lend him a pair of running shoes?
The race was run and so he finished, much to everyone's surprise. Cliffs next race was a 24-hour track race but he annoyed his 'handlers' because he retired after only fifty miles and his excuse was that on the day before he had loaded a semitrailer with ten tonnes of spuds.
Cliff did not win the World M55 marathon but he ran 2hrs 58 minutes in his long strides, whereas I only ran 3hrs 12m. Incidentally I did beat him in the cross-country a few days earlier #. However true to form on the day before the marathon we had arranged to go for a walk together after breakfast, but he did not turn up for breakfast and so I found him running on the oval and so I said to him "What are you doing?, the marathon is tomorrow". His reply was short and typical- I want to make sure that I can run for three hours".
We did go together by bus to the Athletic track some 12km away but within minutes he had disappeared and on returning to the billets I found him lying on his bed and it seemed that Athletics bored him so he just ran the 12kms back for a rest.
In 1983 at the age of 61 years, Cliff started in the first Sydney to Melbourne Ultra - marathon, sponsored by "Westfield". The other competitors were under forty years, it seems they were all expected to have a caravan and a crew and the running was to be from dawn to dusk but nobody had told Cliff and so while everyone else was asleep Cliff was still running and to his crew's annoyance he only wanted three hours sleep each night.
Cliffs food intake was simple, muesli in the morning and bananas and oranges and other fruit for the rest of the day and night.
Cliff finished in six days* a whole one day in front of the second runner. He became an instant National hero and was "adopted" by "Westfield "for their television commercials for the next year or so. Cliff became the "Athlete of the year". The bachelor who lived with his mum was married to a twenty three year old in a Television spectacular. Of course it could not last and they parted the best of friends after about five years. Cliff told me that she was a religious fanatic; she was also a runner of the Fun run variety.
In 1984 I was driving down the Clyde mountain when I spotted Cliff running up, we were about 20km from Batemans Bay, of course I stopped and had a yarn, and he said that they had stopped for the night at Batemans Bay while on his way back from a promotion in Sydney so he was out for his daily training run.
We had been corresponding until about the year 2000 as about that time he had made two abortive attempts to run round Australia, at the age of 78yrs and 79yrs. The first attempt started in Sydney and got as far as Darwin via Perth when his driver became seriously ill, the second attempt started in Wollongong and got as far as Broome via Perth because this time it was Cliff who was exhausted.
The Driver and wife were a Mr and Mrs Powers and I believe Mr Powers was a Vietnam Veteran. They had then, two twin teenage daughters who were Cliffs crew and kept Cliff company on some part of his daily runs, they became his surrogate family and he lived with them until he died following several strokes. It is reported that his sister said that her brother simply wore himself out and that should be a lesson to all fanatics. Cliff Young was a lovable character and a great Australian and will be to me unforgettable.
# The World M55 cross-country Champions for 1981 were Don Weston 5th, Jack Pennington 7th and Cliff Young -13th.
ref. "A Life on the run" by Jack Pennington 1995
' Cliff Young's time was 5 days, 15 hours 4 minutes
Others to finish: George Perdon, 6d 1h 00 m, Siggy Bauer, 6d 5h 00m, John Hughes, 6d 5h 49m, Tony Rafferty 7d 4h 27m, Bob Bruner 7d 7h 3m. (Editor's Note.)