Have you ever heard about Cliff Young? In case you haven’t here is his story…
For those who think that running a marathon is not challenging enough, there is the Sydney to Melbourne ultra-marathon: 875 kilometers across the hot Australian desert. This race is obviously only for the best of the top athletes and it usually takes them six to seven days to complete. Having gone through the pains of preparing and running a “normal” marathon myself I can only try to imagine what a race like that means.
Despite of these apparent tortures, in 1983, a 61-year-old farmer decided to take part in this race, wearing an old army jacket and gumboots. Spectators were worried that this poor guy wouldn’t survive the first hours of the race but when he left the stadium they gave him a big cheer anyway.
The race started and as expected, Cliff lagged way behind. After 20 hours, the first runners arrived at the camp, where they took a bite, got a massage and slept for about two hours (they typically stopped for a four hour break for every 20 hours of running). When Cliff arrived at the camp three hours later, he didn’t stop — he just continued to run. When a reporter asked him whether he didn’t want to have a break like the other athletes, Cliff responded that he was here to run and not to sleep.
He ran and ran. On the third day he decided to “sleep” for 25 minutes. Believe it or not: he arrived at the finishing line in Melbourne almost two days ahead of number two.
Amazing story, isn’t it? There a various slightly different versions of this story out there, but what they all have in common is that they stop here. What usually isn’t told is that the next year, 17 out of the 18 runners even exceeded Cliff’s record — all of a sudden, they had realized that it is possible to run the race without sleeping at all.
Cliff Young won the race because he challenged existing limits. Not really hard limits, like laws of nature, but arbitrary limits.
So the question is this: is something truly impossible or do we just think it is impossible because we haven’t tried before?