Sunday, December 30, 2007

London to Paris ? Why not run Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon

I grew up in Melbourne, Australia and in 1983 a local shopping centre Westfield sponsored an annual Ultra Marathon from Sydney to Melbourne, claimed to be the World's Greatest Running Race, some 860 km -1060 km depending upon the year. Over two hundred people started the race in the nine years that it was held. Only fifty two percent of them finished the run! Runners from all around the world attempted the race. The concept grew out of a planned Match race between Ultra Running Greats, George Perdon and Tony Rafferty with $10 000 prize money. The inaugural race held in 1983 was won by an unknown 61 year old man called Cliff Young, who use to train in gumboots around his potato and sheep farm in Victoria. Rumour has it he trained by running around his farm rounding up his sheep (no wonder people question Australians about sheep).

Cliff ran the race at a slow loping pace and trailed the leaders for most of the course, but by denying himself sleep and running while the others slept he slowly gained on them and eventually won by a large margin. Before running the Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultra Marathon race he told the press that he would run for two to three days straight rounding up all of the sheep. He claimed that during the race he imagined himself rounding up his sheep and trying to outrun the storms.
Cliff become a household name following his tortoise and the hare like feat and people came from miles to see him and the other runners shuffling along the Sydney to Melbourne running course and indeed following post race tours of the country. I lived relatively close to the finish and recall seeing Cliff and other racers finishing.
Cliff died at the age of 81 in 2003.
The race was held 9 times from 1983 -1992 other winners in the nine years were Geoff Molloy, Yiannis Kouros (who won an amazing 5 times and indeed there was talk about handicapping him in an attempt to make the race competitive), Dusan Mravlje and Bryan Smith.

The modern day Pheidippides; Yiannis Kouros (Greek born Australian) aka the Running God once held and in some cases still does every men's world record from 100 to 1,000 miles and from 1 day to 10 days. Fittingly in 1991, Yiannis starred as Pheidippides in the movie A Hero's Journey about the history of marathon running.


Phil Essam said...

Sounds fantastic. You might want to look at the free download for the "Westfield" book. I hope you enjoy?

I have also written this article about Cliff:

Good luck with the ride!


Skippy Westbrook said...


Thanks for the link to the books; I've had a brief flick through and it has brought back memories. During the mid 80's I lived in Doncaster and recall seeing the guys coming in. I the hype around Cliff was amazing at the time.

Why did the race stop? I listen to a podcast Phedippidations and have suggested that Steve should do an episode on Sydney to Melbourne and moreover on Yiannis suggesting that he used your book as reference.



Phil Essam said...

In the words of Charlie Lynn. "there was no long term plan from Westfield". I think perhaps, Kouros's domination didnt help the race to continue....



Coralie said...

Keep up the good work.