News

Thriving in the Dark

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Apr 02, 2016

“The race is won by those who keep running through the dark.”
Ann Voskamp

Ann Voskamp is a Canadian farmer’s wife, the mother of six children and a gifted author. But today I want to share with you her amazing story about a race which 61-year-old Cliff Young ran. He had never run in any kind of race before. 

The race he had entered was not a short 5K run or a half-marathon or an entire marathon. This race was an ultra-marathon, the most challenging marathon in the world, a 544-mile marathon. Before he started he took out his false teeth because he said they rattled when he ran.

By Young’s appearance, you could never imagine what was about to take place. He was not decked out in the latest running gear like his competitors. He wore his everyday work clothes: Osh Kosh overalls and his familiar work boots, with galoshes over top “in case it rained.”

He grew up on a farm with sheep and no four wheelers or horses. The only way to round up the sheep was on the run. He said, “Whenever storms would roll in, I’d have to go run and round up the sheep.” He had 2,000 sheep and they were sprawled out over 2,000 acres of land. “Sometimes I’d have to run those sheep for two or three days,” he said. “I can run this race; it’s only two more days. Five days. I’ve run for three.” 

The race began. The young, trained athletes took off leaving old Cliff there at the starting line. He never did run. He just shuffled along. For 18 hours the racers flew down the road and way back somewhere was Cliff, plodding along, slow step by slow step. 

When nightfall came, those fleet runners lay down by the roadside. That is the plan for the ultra-marathon: run for 18 hours; sleep for 6; get up and run for 18; sleep for six for five or six or seven days. But as darkness fell and the fast runners were long asleep, Cliff kept shuffling along. He kept going right through the night because he didn’t know he was supposed to stop. 

All he knew was what he did back home. He kept going like he did when he was rounding up his sheep. He gathered his sheep by running through the dark. And he did it for three days, 24 hours a day, without stopping to sleep. 

As Voskamp says in her commentary, “Cliff gained ground because he didn’t lose ground to the dark. Cliff gained ground because he ran through the dark. So along the endless stretches of highway, a tiny shadow of an old man shuffled along, one foot after another, right through the heat, right through the night. Cliff gained ground.”

He kept running and running and running. Somewhere along the way he passed the expert runners half his age. Voskamp continues, “For five days, 15 hours and four minutes straight, Cliff Young ran, never once stopping for the dark – never stopping until the old sheep farmer crossed the finish line – first.” 

Not only did he beat the world record by two whole days, the second place runner crossed the finish line nine hours after old Cliff.

Cliff couldn’t believe he won a $10,000 prize because, he said, he had just run for the wonder of it. And, because he knew the other runners had worked hard, he stood at the finish line and handed each of the runners an equal share of the $10,000, keeping none of it for himself. 

Voskamp said, “While others run fast, you can shuffle with perseverance. While others impress, you can simply press on. While others stop for the dark, you can run through the dark. 
 
Yes, “The race is won by those who keep running through the dark.”

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
University of Valley Forge, Phoenixville, Pa. 
Responses can be mailed to president@valleyforge.edu 
Official page: Facebook.com/DrDonMeyer
Follow on Twitter: @DrDonMeyer
Archives at www.valleyforge.edu/thinkaboutit