Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The Advance of the Old Brigade

'If you've got it, flaunt it . . .'

DON’T despair ye olde ancient runners of the world. Forget about your declining leg-speed, your increasing recovery time, and your worsening posture. Don’t even worry about that deafness, stiffness and biliousness.

It’s still possible in our sport to shine brightly and achieve amazing things when we are long past our peak. Here I bring you ample proof of this.

Look at the picture above . . . meet 64-year-old Paula Moorhouse from New South Wales, Australia.  No ordinary pensioner. She’s older than Ena Sharples and Minnie Caldwell when they starred in ‘Corrie’, but that hasn’t stopped her working up one hell of a six-pack!

And when you’ve got it, you may as well flaunt it!  Over the Easter holiday period Paula defied her advancing years by helping creating a world record in the 2013 Australian Masters Athletics National Track & Field Championships in Canberra.

Along with Over-60 teammates Kathy Sims, Kathryn Heagney and Jeanette Flynn, a 4 x 800 metres relay time of 11 minutes 22.59 seconds was clocked, smashing the world record by a remarkable 24 seconds!  A delighted official said: “It was one of those special moments that a large and vocal crowd will remember for years to come.”

And it was no flash in the pan, for Paula was also third in the W60 400 metres (77.27), fifth in the 200 metres (33.34) and third in the 800 metres (2:59).

She has certainly helped make waves across Australia. My special correspondent from Manly Beach, NSW, tells me: “I can't believe someone who is in her sixties has a six-pack. I am always railing at those stupid magazines aimed at middle-aged women which have cover-lines on how to get a flat belly. I always screamed that it was impossible, but there she is making a liar of me!”

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Australia has always bred great runners who go on for ever. The legend of Old Cliff Young proves that.

Every year Australia hosts a 543.7-mile (875 kilometres) endurance race from Sydney to Melbourne, undoubtedly one of the world's most grueling ultras. It takes a good five days to complete and normally only attracts world-class athletes aged well under 40 who train specifically for it helped financially by companies such as Nike.

But one year Cliff Young showed up at the start, a 61-year-old potato farmer wearing overalls and work boots. Onlookers thought he was there to watch, but grizzled Cliff strolled over, picked up a race number and joined the other racing snakes.

When the race got underway the experts soon left old Cliff behind. The crowds and TV audience watched in amusement as he shuffled along happily on his own. Some thought he was a mere novelty act who would soon abandon the event, although others wondered if he was seriously misguided and feared for his safety.

Most of the experienced racers planned to cover the distance by running 18 hours a day and sleeping the remaining six hours.  It seemed a sensible strategy, but Cliff didn’t have a coach and nobody told him about all that.

On the morning of Day Two, everyone was in for a huge surprise. Not only was Cliff still in the race, he’d continued shuffling along all night without a break. A reporter asked him about his tactics and he replied he would run straight through to the finish without sleep. No problem.

There was disbelief but Cliff kept to his word. It was the classic ‘tortoise and hare’ scenario. Each night he worked his way a little closer to the leading pack while they slept. By the final night, he’d passed the lot of them. He was not only first to reach the finish but set a new course record into the bargain.

The surprises continued. Cliff was handed winnings of 10,000 Aussie dollars but waved it away, claiming he hadn’t known there was a prize and had not entered to win money. To prove his point he gave the money to other runners, an act that gained him hero-status across Australia.

A year later the bachelor vegetarian got married and then ignored a displaced hip to finish the race in seventh.  Then, a while later, aged 76, he made a solo run around the edge of Australia to raise money for charity, but was forced to stop after 6,520 kilometres because his only helper (who was much younger) fell ill. Cliff’s famous shuffle eventually took him off this mortal coil in 2003 at the age of 81.

Ultra runners still remember him and credit their own success to copying the economic ‘Young Shuffle’ style. He proved what nobody thought possible – a human being can run for five days without stopping for sleep. More importantly, he underlined how running is a sport that certainly doesn’t end when you wave goodbye to younger days and your PBs start drying up.

Rob Hadgraft’s five published books on running (plus 11 others on football) are now also available as e-books for Kindle at just £4.99 each.   Use this link:   Rob Hadgraft's running books on Amazon  or, alternatively:   www.robhadgraft.com

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