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Interview with Cliff Young

Interview with Cliff Young

This interview, by Tania Jamieson, was published in the "New Vegetarian and Natural Health" magazine (Winter 1997, p40)
Cliff Young is still running, and now aged 75, is attempting to run around Australia, a total distance of some 15,000 km. Cliff became a national hero after his amazing win in the 1983 inaugural Westfield Sydney to Melbourne run and since then has participated in almost 20,000 km of ultra marathons. Since turning 60, he has set six world endurance records. A former potato farmer, Cliff lives a very simple life at Beech Forest in Victoria's Otway Ranges. He was interviewed before he left on his epic 8 month journey.

What inspired you to want to run around Australia ?

My ambition for a long time has been to run around Australia, like Ron Grant did in 1983 [see note (1)] but I could never get anyone to take it on, and look after me for all that length of time. I was very lucky to find the Powers family, Helen and John, their daughter Vicki and identical twins Paula and Bridgette, who said they would love to go with me. It has been in the pipeline for two years and Helen has been fighting, fighting, fighting, to get permission from all the authorities in each State. In fact they made it as hard as they could for us. Everything is now go, go, go. After two years of battling we've now got the green lights everywhere. By the time I finish I will have run about 15,000 km and I plan to get back by November for the Colac Six Day Race. I will be running an average of 65km - 70km per day. Have you heard of anyone in the world who can run around Australia at 75 ? I think I will be the first in my age and it will probably stand for a long time. I think I can do it. In fact, I am sure I can do it. Only death will stop me. If I get run over by a semi-trailer that is the only thing that will stop me. Of course, I hope I don't because I have a lot of living to do after this.

What drives you to keep going ?

I like to finish what I start doing. I like to see it through to the end, to the best of my ability. I have a good chance of breaking several records and that is my aim.

How did you first get interested in running ?

I started running when I was about 56. I went down to Geelong and ran with the Geelong Cross Country Club and did fairly well. I wasn't exactly a sprinter but I could run a pretty quick marathon. I then tried to run 1,000 miles at Colac on my own, but only ran 560 miles. My shoulders got very sore and I had to stop because of them. Probably a good massage would have fixed it up.

What was the highlight of the Westfield Sydney to Melbourne ultra marathon ? The prize money of ten thousand dollars! Now that's a helluva lot of potatoes. There were only 11 starters, so I thought I had a chance of getting something and I finished up getting the lot. Joe Record and I had a pact on before we ran that if either of us won we would split the prize money between us. I forgot about Joe and started giving it away left, right and centre. I gave $4,000 away to the other runners. So I said to Joe here's your half of the spoils. He said "Hmm $3,000? I thought the prize was $10,000." I said "I give the lot away. Don't worry about it." He wasn't that concerned.

Describe your current typical exercise regime ?

When I get up in the morning I do my warm up exercises to keep myself agile. I'll give you a quick demonstration... (Here Cliff got out some empty packets of Organic Vita Brits and stacked them knee high in his living room. He jumped over them from a stationary position. After each successful lump he would increase the height by an extra layer of boxes. He then demonstrated doing pull ups by holding onto the architrave above his bedroom door!) After the exercises, I go for a run each morning. I have been doing that ever since I have been here [about 8 years]. I run about 20 km, sometimes more, sometimes a bit less, but on average 20km. Once a month I might do 50km to see if I'm slipping, but I'm not. I'm holding my own.

What food would you typically eat on a long distance marathon run ?

Breakfast is my main meal. It gives me strength and I can run all day. I'll show you what I eat... (here Cliff got a large bowl and from the pantry produced several cereal bisuits. I can up to 28 followed by a generous helping of rolled oats and processed bran. (He poured some milk on top, then added treacle and yoghurt.) For lunch I might have a couple of sandwiches, cheese and fruit and at night a big plate of vegetables, cheese, spaghetti, fruit salad and chocolate. I eat anything they give me. I like eggs, poached or scrambled, ice-cream and a bit of junk food. I don't mind a bit of junk. I think it whets your appetite.

What prompted you to become a vegetarian ?

We use to rear calves on a farm I once lived. I would feed the calves from a bucket, from the time they were born, and they thought I was their mother. They would follow me and trusted me. Then when Autumn came we would send them in to get slaughtered. I couldn't sleep too good those nights when I knew they would get slaughtered. I hated having the poor things killed. It was on my conscience so I thought to myself I would give up eating meat altogether and get away from animals as much as I can. So now I don't have to see them killed or get them killed. It goes against my principles. I became a vegetarian about 25 years ago, back in the dark ages. The last straw was when my sister cooked a stew and the meat was a bit off. She thought if she put some onions with it I wouldn't notice. The meat nearly killed me. I was pretty crook. I was on my hands and knees all night heaving. Evil. It helped considerably in making me become a vegetarian but the main thing was my conscience

How do you feel about cattle farming now ?

I hate it. I have these heifers here (Cliff agists land to his brother) but I don't see what happens to them. I just look after them while they are young, then they go and disappear. I don't ask any questions. They are milked for 10 years before they get killed so that is a pretty good life.

How has your diet affected your running ?

I think I have gone better on it. Do you know why? We use to have an old draught horse when I was a kid that wouldn't work too good at all. My father said "Get them off the grass and put them on oats". After a day or two they would bolt so I said "By Gees, there must be something in those oats. They were all about 20 years old. Before you would be hitting them with the reins all the time, then after a couple of feeds of oats, you would be flat out holding them back. They wouldn't stop. So I woke up to it straight away. There is something in those oats. I'll stick to the oats. That's why I eat rolled oats and I think it helps". When I used to eat meat religiously every day, I don't think I could perform as well as I can now on a vegetarian diet. I am better now. On the track, I can still put it over those pie eaters who are only in their 30's. So there must be something in the vegetarian diet.

Is there any advice you would like to offer others in your age category ?

Yeah, get out of your wheelchairs and start doing a few laps, if you can. If you don't get any exercise your joints start seizing up like a rusty engine. The doctors once told me I had arthritis in my joints and to take it easy, so I said "I'll fix that up, I'll run it out". So I kept running and it disappeared. It is like rust that gets into a vehicle. Well, I think it was like rust in me. I reckon you have to keep your joints moving. Absolutely. No matter what you do, you have to keep moving. If you don't wear out, you rust out, and you rust out quicker than you wear out.


(1) In 1983 Ron Grant ran around mainland Australia completing a total distance of 13,393 km [see note (2)] in 217 days [see note (3)]. Cliff believes he will be the first because Ron didn't run around Tasmania. On 28th February 1997 Cliff left Adelaide westbound along Highway 1. just before "New Vegetarian and Natural Health" went to print Cliff had reached Port Hedland WA, ahead of schedule, successfully having completed 4,500 km out of a total 15,000 km.

(2) Brown, R. Milestones in Australian History, 1788 to the Present, Collins, Sydney 1986. p.735.

(3) Barker, A. When Was That?, John Ferguson P/L, Sydney 1988.p.409.

(4) More on Cliff's Round Australia Runs :
   2 March 1997 : Cliff Young Running Around Australia at Age 75
   15 May 1997 : Cliff Young On Record Pace
   21 June 1997 : Cliff Young Halts Round Australia Run

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