It was a grueling 543.7-mile endurance race from Sydney to Melbourne, Australia – the world’s longest and toughest ultra-marathon. In 1983, 150 world-class runners converged on Sydney for the event.
On the day of the race, a toothless 61-year-old potato farmer and sheepherder named Cliff Young approached the registration table wearing overalls and galoshes over his work boots. At first, people thought he was there to watch the race, but to their surprise, Cliff Young declared his intention to run and requested a number.
Cliff Young had grown up on a farm without the benefit of luxuries like horses and four-wheel-drive vehicles. When the storms rolled in, Cliff headed out to round up 2,000 sheep over a 2,000-acre farm. Sometimes he had to run them two or three days to complete the round up.
The incredulous staff issued Cliff #64. As he mingled with the other runners at the starting line, spectators couldn’t believe their eyes. “This must be a joke!” some mused.
When the gun went off, bystanders snickered at Cliff, left behind in his galoshes and overalls as the other runners with their sculpted bodies and running gear briskly began the race. Snickers gave way to laughter when Cliff began to run, not like the other runners, but with what could only be described as a leisurely, odd shuffle.
All of Australia was riveted to the live telecast as they watched the scene unfold. “Someone should stop that crazy old man before he kills himself!”
Five days, 15 hours and 4 minutes later, Cliff Young came shuffling across the finish line in Melbourne, winning the ultra-marathon! He didn’t win by a few seconds or even a few minutes. The nearest runner was 9 hours and 56 minutes behind.
Australians were stunned at this remarkable yet seemingly impossible victory. How did it happen?
Everyone knew that the only way to win the ultra-marathon was to run for 18 hours, then stop and sleep for six hours. This routine was repeated for five punishing days. But no one told Cliff Young. He just shuffled along, day and night, night and day, without stopping to sleep. Cliff broke the previous race record by nine hours and became a national hero overnight.
Interestingly, professional runners began to study and experiment with the odd shuffle that Cliff used in his running. Many long distance runners have since adopted what has come to be called the “Young shuffle” due to its aerodynamic and energy efficiency.
Likewise, victory in the Christian life comes through endurance. The Christian life is not a 100-yard dash. It is a marathon. In the short distance race, speed is important. In the long distance race, endurance is what leads to success.
As Hebrews 12:1 says, “Let us run with endurance the race set before us.” Each of us must run the race in our own special way using the gifts and talents God has given us. Against all odds, we run the race.
“For the joy before Him” Jesus endured, we read in Hebrews 12:2. You and I are His joy!
As scripture tells us in Hebrews 12:3: “Consider Him, who endured such hostility of sinners against himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
When we run the Christian ultra-marathon with endurance, keeping our focus on Jesus, we can be assured of finishing strong and hearing those cherished words: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Allen is dean of the school of preaching and distinguished professor of preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.)