During the run lecture at each of my personal age group camps, I expose the myths of long-distance running technique. How the drills handed out by some coaches are not of any use but can actually be detrimental to running performance when fatigued.
These lectures are not scripted, and during our last camp I went on to tell a true story of a certain athlete who made me reconsider running when I started coaching Ironman athletes. The techniques used for the shorter sprint races are not ideal for longer races.
In 1985 I met Cliff Young the potato farmer who two years before won the inaugural 875km Sydney to Melbourne 6 day ultra running race. The Sutto shuffle owes much to this man. However during my last camp when I mentioned the amazing Cliffy Young, no-one had heard of him! Some who have heard many of my run lectures said that’s a story you have not told before, I bet a lot of Trisutto athletes would like to hear it.
In 1983, this phenomenal 61-year-old man took on the greatest ultramarathon runners of the time. When they made fun of him at the press conference before the race, Cliffy said:
'Cliffy will you make it out of the car park?' 'I’m here to show the young ones a thing or two about plenty of fight in an old dog.'
'but Cliffy, they are the best in the world!' 'not in my world.'
With that he got up and left the room! Crazy old man was the verdict of most. However at the 400km point of the run when the interviewer again put the mic under the old man’s nose and said:
'Cliffy you haven’t slept a wink in 2 days' Cliffy fired right back 'I can sleep for 6 months when it’s over'.
'but Cliff all of Australia are worried you could seriously harm yourself' 'son, the only people I’m harming are those smart arses behind me that laughed at me at the start'
'Cliffy you could die?' 'Yes and I’m prepared to do that rather than let any one pass me now!'
And so it was, Cliffy Young won the race and changed the sport forever.
My own story starts two years later when I met Cliffy, now aged 63 at the Sydney Marathon press conference. We were not part of the race contenders but were celebrity participants, myself as a national swim coach. I had also made a bet with my team that was a little crazy, but it motivated my athletes! Cliffy was there, and we had a little chat, “hey young’un, you looking for three hours? We could run together. Will be fun. We can have a talk on the way!
Cliff had a full-length flannel shirt on. Long rain pants with holes cut in them ('ventilation son') and a safari-style hat ('son got me some skin cancer problems'). A pair of shoes that look like they would fall apart at any moment. Celebrity and sponsorship hadn’t gone to his head, or to his feet. So off we went, and true to form the pensioner just talked to me non-stop for the first 10km. After that, he said, 'coach you better stop talking you don’t look so great'. Meanwhile, the above 100 cadence Cliffy, who looked like death warmed up, just kept talking.
I still remember the course took us right past the front door of the University where I trained our swim team, with the athletes yelling out some very funny stuff, but what stuck in my head was the best retort 'the old man is walking as fast as you're running'
Cliffy was taken aback, and reassured his new friend 'you’re doing great sonny, I been doing this all my life, but I have to tell you, that I need to get a wiggle on, or I’ll tighten up.' With that Cliffy Young put it into another gear and shuffled off into the distance, for a 2 hour 48-minute marathon!
As I neared the finish, to my surprise standing at the entry to the stadium, was Cliffy urging me to 'sprint! you can break 3 hours, go boy'. With that, I lifted even though there wasn’t anything left. The thought of this great Australian not only running from Sydney to Melbourne, that he would take the time to cheer me home, had me sprinting.
This was a magic moment of which there have been many in my fortunate sports career. Cliffy Young played a major part in forming my views on technique and training for ultra-events. The Cliffy Shuffle morphed into the Sutto Shuffle and is now part of Ironman history too.
Cliffy you were a legend and didn’t know it!