So a Potato Farmer Walks Into the Outback …

In 1983, the Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon was one of the longest and toughest foot races in the world at the time.

This race was a brutal 544 miles distance (yes, you read that right, it’s more than 20 marathons back to back!) stretched across the dry Australian outback. 

Only a small group of elite young runners dared to show up and compete.

But on the starting day of the race, an unexpected contender arrived … a 61-year-old potato farmer named Cliff Young. He was wearing overalls and work boots, and nobody took him seriously.

In fact, they almost didn’t let him enter the race, given his age and strange “racing attire” – or lack thereof.

But Cliff assured the race officials he was serious, saying, “I grew up on a farm where we couldn’t afford horses or tractors, and the whole time I was growing up, whenever the storms would roll in, I’d have to go out and round up the sheep. We had 2,000 sheep on 2,000 acres. Sometimes I would have to run those sheep for two or three days. It took a long time, but I’d always catch them. I believe I can run this race.”

So… they let Cliff compete.

Before the race started, Cliff removed his false teeth (he said they rattled when he ran). The crowd and media laughed at him, thinking he was a kook.

When the starting gun fired, all the runners took off at a blazing speed, except for Cliff. Letting everyone speed ahead, he just started jogging at a slow and steady pace, shuffling along in his own time.

By the end of the first day, all the runners were way ahead of Cliff. But this is where he started surprising people …

Because this ultramarathon was a multi-day race, all of the runners planned to run for 18 hours straight, then sleep for 6 hours each night. 

But Cliff had a different strategy. While the other contenders were resting and sleeping, he just kept on running. The massive gains that his opponents made during the day were short-lived, as Cliff caught up and passed them every night.

Cliff ran for 5 days straight … and ended up winning the race by a whopping 10 hours faster than the person in second place! (He also smashed the previous distance record by more than 2 days.) Only 6 people crossed the finish line in that 1983 race, and Cliff became an Australian hero.

**This is a true story – Cliff Young**

Marathons Are Like Building Wealth

You’ve probably heard a million tortoise-and-hare stories like Cliff’s. And you’ve also probably read many blog posts comparing marathons to personal finance!

So I’ll get right to the main points of this analogy:

  1. No matter your age, it is never too late to start building wealth. Yes, it will be hard. Yes, you might have to work overtime. Yes, you might look goofy. But every dollar you save is worth it in the end when you reach financial freedom.
  2. It’s OK to save money at your own pace! People will overtake you, get rich quicker than you, and will have fancier strategies than you. But you need to run your race according to what works best for you. That’s why they call it “personal” finance … you get to customize your journey however you like.
  3. Bystanders will laugh at you, but pay them no mind. Committing to a financially savvy lifestyle might mean living differently than the regular humans. That’s OK! Because you’re achieving something that the regular humans can’t even fathom – a comfortable retirement on YOUR terms.

Keep Running, My Friends.

I hope Cliff’s story inspires you this week. Keep earning as much as you can, spending less than you make, and saving (and investing!) the difference.

Oh, one last cool thing I learned about Cliff’s story…

After he won that ultramarathon in 1983, he received a $10,000 prize. Cliff wasn’t even aware that there was prize money involved, so he split the winnings between the 6 finishing runners. He said he “felt bad accepting it, as each of the other five runners who finished had worked as hard as I did.”

What a bloody legend!

Have a great week y’all. Happy Monday,

– Joel

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  1. Joe Darago January 10, 2022 at 11:31 AM

    Love it!

  2. Ariane January 10, 2022 at 12:17 PM

    This is a great story! I love the lesson that you have applied to personal finance, as well. Thank you!

  3. J January 10, 2022 at 2:34 PM

    Wow, this was an amazing story! Some of the people in my run group have moved onto training for ultramarathons (nothing like this, though). I can’t wait to share that story.

    1. Joel January 16, 2022 at 11:39 AM

      I’m yet to conquer a regular marathon, let alone anything longer :) Yes, it’s a great story to share with the running crowd!

  4. Olaf, the Mile High Finance Guy January 12, 2022 at 2:46 PM

    This is a truly a powerful story about how persistence and determination can pay off, even if it is at your own speed. So, don’t judge your journey into FIRE by that of others. Instead, take your time and tune out the rest. Thanks for sharing, Joel!