I love the story about Cliff Young. If you have never heard it before, prepare yourself for some smiles.
Ultra marathons are races of 100 miles or more. One of the most famous of these ultra marathons is a 543.7 mile (875 kilometer) race from Sydney to Melbourne, Australia. This race regularly attracts the world’s best runners and is considered one of the toughest running races in the world. So you can imagine the surprise in 1983 when Cliff Young, a 61 year old farmer wearing overalls and work boots with no formal running experience made his way into the field of runners.
At first the other runners and the press assumed that Cliff being in the race was a mistake or a publicity stunt. When Cliff assured everyone that it wasn’t, there was concern for his well being. Most of the runners were professional athletes in their 30s, had the latest running equipment and had been training for the race for months. While many there tried to persuade Cliff that it was a bad idea and that he would never make it, he brushed them off by explaining that he grew up on a farm where his family couldn’t afford horses or tractors. All he had was his legs and this had trained him well. He often had to spend days on foot running to round up 2000 sheep that grazed on 2000 acres of land and couldn’t stop until they had all been put away.
All those that feared that Cliff would make a complete fool out of himself saw their worst fears immediately appear as soon as the race began. All the professional runners quickly took off leaving Cliff in their dust doing a leisurely shuffle-run that didn’t look like the way any runner should be racing that was serious about competing.
The way to win this ultra marathon had already been well established from previous years. The top runners knew that in order to have a chance to win, they would need to run for about 18 hours each day for about 7 days. This would leave them 6 hours to sleep and recover each day so they were fresh for the next day.
Cliff, not being an experienced ultra marathoner, did not realise that this was the only way to win the race. He simply did what he had always done when chasing the sheep. Instead of stopping the first night to get the 6 hours rest, Cliff kept running throughout the night. He was still far behind the other runners, but had closed the gap a little.
Most people were surprised to see that Cliff was still running after the first day. The people that were sure that he wouldn’t last the first day were impressed with the fact that he had run for 24 hours straight, and the 61 year old farmer had begun to intrigue the nation. The press began to ask Cliff questions about his strategy and were shocked when he informed them that his plan was simply to run the entire race without sleeping.
Nobody could believed that Cliff could do it, but each morning the people of Australia would wake up to see that Cliff was not only still in the race, but slowly making gains on the leading group of runners. Cliff was actually producing on his claim that he wasn’t going to sleep. On the final night, Cliff was able to pass all the leading world-class athletes and crossed the finish line in first place while setting a new course record by an astonishing 2 days.
The mere fact that Cliff had not only survived the race, but won it had made him the talk of the nation. He cemented his fame when the race officials tried to give him the $10,000 prize for winning the race. Cliff explained that he had no idea that there was any prize money involved and that is not why he had run. Instead of keeping the money, he gave $2000 to each of the 5 runners that finished the race that year.
Not only did Cliff win the race, he changed forever how athletes ran ultra marathoners. His shuffle running style became known as the “Young-shuffle” with many long distance runners adopting it and several winning the race in later years with the Young Shuffle running style. In addition, athletes know that to have a chance of winning, they have to run the race without stopping for a full night’s sleep.
So what does this have to do with money and finances?
I have come to find that personal finance isn’t nearly as black and white as a lot of financial experts would like you to believe (beyond the one essential rule). Everyone back at the start of the race in 1983 thought that the only way to win was to run 18 hours and sleep six. Cliff showed them that there were other ways to succeed. I have found that when it comes to my personal finances, my financial situation is so different from everyone else that I know that I have to pick, choose and even invent the best financial approach for myself. My guess is that this is the case with most people. Everyone needs to look at their particular situation to decide what is in their best financial interest. Just like Cliff ran in a way that suited his situation, I know that I must also approach my finances in a way that suits my situation. As you will see, a lot of times that goes against what many of the financial experts suggest.