“The History of the Square”
In 1982 Cliff Young attempted to run 1,000 miles around Colac’s Memorial Square. He was aiming to break the world record having spent months training around the Otway Ranges. Unfortunately, Cliff’s attempt fell short but it didn’t curtail his enthusiasm. The following year, Cliff entered the first Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultra Marathon. Cliff took the lead towards Melbourne and as we know, became an overnight hero. The nation stopped and the rest is steeped in Australian folklore.
Cliff brought ultra running to national prominence, inspiring the City of Colac to stage a 1,000 mile race known as the “Cliff Young Colac 1,000”. Starting in Melbourne and finishing on the grass at Memorial Square, competitors included Joe Record, Sigfried Bauer, Tony Rafferty, John Connellan and of course, Cliff Young. Siggy Bauer went on to win slashing nine and a half hours off his previous world record with an approximate time of twelve and a half days.
In 1984, the City of Colac was to announce the staging of a six day track race around Memorial Square. Known as the Cliff Young Running Track, it was measured and certified. Sponsored by Victorian hardware retailer, McEwans, it was the only six day race in the southern hemisphere. Amongst the fourteen runners were Yiannis Kouros and Eleanor Adams. Kouros left the field in his dust and set a new world six day record while Eleanor Adams set eleven new records of varying times and distances.
The next race wasn’t held until 1986 when Frenchman, Ramon Zabalo won with 876km. Dusan Mravlje from Yugoslavia was second about thirty eight kilometres behind.
The ultra running nomad, Joe Record took the honours in 1987. Joe had had a few lean years in the lead up but was able to record 890.8km, beating Dusan Mravlje by 27 kilometres. Six runners exceeded 800km showing the depth of the sport at that time.
In 1988, Frenchman, Gilbert Mannix won with 963km, fifty kilometres ahead of the eternal bridesmaid, Dusan Mravlje. This was another strong year with three runners bettering 900km and another four runners going past 800km.
Bryan Smith wrote himself into the history books in 1989 when he joined the handful of elite runners to have run over 1,000km in a six day period. The track had been altered when the Bowling Club was removed from the Square and the area in front of the Memorial was changed. Keith Fisher made history at 25 years of age by becoming the youngest man to exceed 500 miles.
For the second time in race history, no event took place in 1990. Bryan Smith won again in 1991 with the track resembling a mud bath and went on to make it a hat trick of wins in 1992. Tony Rafferty compared the 1991 conditions to the famous New York race of 1984 and the terrible conditions that himself and Pat Farmer endured during their 1,000 mile challenge in 1989.
Joe Record won for the second time in 1993 with 774km. Russian, Anatoly Kruglikov made it a pair of wins in 1994 and 1995 with the former being the lowest ever winning distance. However, with four runners all in with a chance on the last day, there was no lack of excitement.
In 1995, the track was criticised by Tony Rafferty as being “hard, bumpy and in its worst ever state”. This caused quite a few problems for the runners. Maurice Taylor was the best performed Australian with 780km.
The Race Committee had upgraded the track for 1996 and 18 runners faced the starter’s gun. Ian Curtis from New Zealand won with 836km, but only after fighting some tough resistance from George Audley with 816.8km. Years later, George was to recount this as a classic game of cat and mouse where each runner and crew would be constantly checking the movements of the other. Andrew Lucas took third, but could have been much closer if not for a bad patch mid race.
After five top ten placings since 1992, Geelong runner Peter Gray won in 1997 with 778.8km. 2005 was Peter’s sixteenth start where he brought up 10,000 kilometres, rightly claiming the title of “Memorial Square Mayor”.
Jaroslav Kocourek from the Czech Republic recorded the first of his three victories in 1998 with 901km. He increased that distance the following year with 925.6km. 1999 was the first year that the race was broadcast on the internet and attracted 1,000 hits. It was almost the end for this event with several committee members losing interest. It was only due to the efforts of Ron Hill and Don McKenzie that the race survived.
Yiannis Kouros returned in 2000 for the second time in 16 years. He was unhappy as the race organizers appeared to struggle with basic race administration. Kouros suffered a mid race injury forcing him to walk the final two days but still managed to win with 801.6kms. This equated to 2004 laps which Yiannis pointed out was the year for the upcoming Athens Olympics. Drew Kettle set a M80 world age group record. Drew’s record was smashed five years later by the evergreen Stan Miskin who rewrote the world age record books.
Kruglikov brought up his third victory in 2001 with 764.4km. Peter Hoskinson gave a glimpse of his future ability when he completed 600 kilometres in five days before succumbing to a painful foot injury. Peter has since gone on to cement himself as one of Australia’s top multi day runners.
2002 saw the first Japanese entrant. Aki Inoue, an accomplished multi-day runner, won with 809.2km in a very special race that brought runners together from all around the world in the wake of the 9/11 disaster. Flags were flown as a “thumbs up” towards the people that were trying to take democracy away from us.
It was about three weeks prior to the 2003 race, when Cliff Young passed away in Queensland after a long battle with an illness. The local bowling club was filled to capacity for Cliffy’s memorial service. Race President, Bill Sutcliffe vowed that Cliffy’s name would live for ever. Graeme Watts became the first Australian to win with the lowest winning total to date of 746km.
A Danish runner arrived by a different mode of transport in 2004. He did so on his own two feet after running all the way from Denmark, across Europe and Asia before arriving in Sydney and running all the way to Colac. Jesper Olsen could have taken the easy option but ended up winning with 756.38km after a great battle with Graham Watts.
The following day, Jesper left Colac to continue his journey to Perth, then across the USA and Canada before finishing his run back in London and completing the first recognized and properly recorded run around the world. The Race Committee also honoured the memory of Cliff Young by renaming the race the “Cliff Young Australian Six Day Race”.
In 2005, the Race Committee pulled out all stops to make the 20th running a success. Race Director, Bill Sutcliffe secured excellent prizemoney and for the third time was able to attract the world’s best ultrarunner in Yiannis Kouros. The event had more than “blood on the track” and provided high drama from all angles, including a gas bottle catching fire in the crew lines and a tree collapsing on the track on the last night. Fortunately no one was hurt.
Kouros was on world record pace throughout but needed some help to push through the heat on the second last day. Vlastik Skvaril was instrumental in giving up his ice vest for Yiannis and helping to lower Yiannis’s blood temperature.
It wasn’t until the last morning when two bus loads of Greeks arrived from Melbourne to bring their champion over the 1,000km mark, on to the world track record and then the overall world record. The crowd erupted as history was made. I was the commentator that morning and unfortunately I believe that Kouros wouldn’t have made it without the help of his fellow runners and supporters from Melbourne.
Where to from here? In just over 20 years, The Colac event has become the longest running multi-day race in the world. The advent of the internet has taken the race to the ultrarunning fraternity around the globe yet only a few handfuls of people living in Colac appear to appreciate the legacy that Cliff Young has left on the region and the value that it brings to the area from visitors all around the world.
Many interesting stories have emerged over the years. It is hard to decide fact from fiction but they include tales of male and female runners getting amorous along with one particular competitor going for a streak in the middle of the night and asking for his “streak” lap to be counted. The referee refused his request as he wasn’t wearing his number!
Males have clearly outnumbered females over the years, but the females have recorded some amazing performances. The highlight would have to be Eleanor Adams exceeding 800km on three separate occasions. Regular competitors, Elvira Janosi and Dawn Parris have also endeared themselves to the locals.
Local legend, Cliff McAliece has many great memories of the events long history. These include, Cliff Young and Drew Kettle arguing outside the lap scorers tent one morning about the “green camels and pink elephants” on the track. Also the battles of 1994 and 1997 and the crowds that use to converge onto the Square to watch the runners battle it out.
Plenty more could be written. There has been many a battle at the Square, many more controversies and funny stories, probably enough to write a book. Apart from the Tony Rafferty authored articles in “Ultramag”, most of the written history is hiding in shoe boxes in Colac. Hopefully, one day, it will see the light of day and can be properly preserved for all to enjoy and remember one.
May the race have many more highlights and keep inspiring ultra runners around the world to do their best.
Various Ultramag articles (generally authored by Tony Rafferty]
Information from 2005 Colac Racebook
Email letter from Cliff McAliece