The old cahoot ran in his boots.
Weren’t too many of anybody who believed he could.
The kids and I read about the old guy one night after supper and the dishwasher’s moaning away, crumbs still across the counter.
How the old guy ran for 544 miles. His name was Cliff Young and he wasn’t so much. He was 61 years old. He was a farmer. Levi grins big.
Mr. Young showed up for the race in his Osh Kosh overalls and with his workboots on, with galoshes over top. In case it rained.
He had no Nike sponsorship.
He had no wife – hadn’t had one ever.
Lived with his mother. Never drank. Never ran in any kind of race before. Never ran a 5 mile race, or a half-marathon, not even a marathon.
But here he was standing in his workboots at the starting line of an ultra-marathon, the most gruelling marathon in the world, a 544 mile marathon.
Try wrapping your head around pounding the concrete with one foot after another for 544 endless, stretching miles. They don’t measure races like that in yards – -but in zip codes.
First thing Cliff did was take out his teeth.
Said his false teeth rattled when he ran.
Said he grew up on a farm with sheep and no four wheelers, no horses, so the only way to round up sheep was on the run. Sometimes the best training for the really big things is just the everyday things.
That’s what Cliff said: “Whenever the storms would roll in, I’d have to go run and round up the sheep.” 2,000 head of sheep. 2,000 acres of land.
“Sometimes I’d have to run those sheep for two or three days. I can run this race; it’s only two more days. Five days. I’ve run sheep for three.”
“Got any backers?” Reporters shoved their microphones around old Cliff like a spike belt.
“No….” Cliff slipped his hands into his overall pockets.
“Then you can’t run.”
Cliff looked down at his boots. Does man need backers or does a man need to believe? What you believe is the biggest backer you’ll ever have.
The other runners, all under a buffed 30 years of age, they take off like pumped shots from that starting line. And scruffy old Cliff staggers forward. He doesn’t run. Shuffles, more like it. Straight back. Arms dangling. Feet awkwardly shuffling along.
Cliff eats dust.
For 18 hours, the racers blow down the road, far down the road, and old Cliff shuffles on behind.
Come the pitch black of night, the runners in their $400 ergonomic Nikes and Adidas, lay down by the roadside, because that’s the plan to win an ultra-marathon, to run 544 straight miles: 18 hours of running, 6 hours of sleeping, rinse and repeat for 5 days, 6 days, 7 days.
The dark falls in. Runners sleep. Cameras get turned off. Reporters go to bed.
And through the black night, one 61-year-old man far behind keeps shuffling on.
And all I can think is:
The light shineth in the darkness, but the darkness comprehendeth it not.
καταλαμβάνω Katalambanō – Comprehend. Understand. Master.
Cliff Young runs on through the night and there is a Light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not master it.
The darkness doesn’t understand the light, doesn’t comprehend the light, doesn’t get the light, doesn’t overcome the light, doesn’t master the light.
Darkness doesn’t have anything on light, on hope, on faith.
The darkness that sucks at the prodigal kid doesn’t have anything on the light of his mother’s prayers.
The black of pornography that threatens at the edges doesn’t master the blazing light of Jesus at the center.
The pit of depression that plunges deep doesn’t go deeper than the love of your Jesus and there is no place His light won’t go to find you, to save you, to hold you.
That low lying storm cloud that hangs over you can’t master the light of Christ that raises you.
“Darkness can’t drive out darkness. Only light can do that,” Martin Luther King had said it, had lived it.
Only words of Light can drive out worlds of dark.
Only deeds of Light can drive out depths of dark.
Only lives of Light can drive out lies of dark.
Darkness can never travel as fast as Light. No matter how bad things get, no matter how black the dark seeps in, no matter the depths of the night — the dark can never travel as fast as Light. The Light is always there first, waiting to shatter the dark.
You can always hold His Word like a ball of light right there your hand, right up there next to your warming heart.
You can always count on it: Jesus is bendable Light, warmth around every unexpected corner.
The accepted way professional runners approached the race was to run 18 hours, sleep 6, for7 days straight. But Cliff Young didn’t know that. He didn’t know the accepted way. He only knew what he did regularly back home, the way he had always done it: You run through the dark.
Turns out when Cliff Young said he gathered sheep around his farm for three days, he meant he’d run across 2,000 acres of farmland for three days straight without stopping or sleeping, without the dark ever stopping him. You gathered sheep by running 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.
Cliff gained ground because he didn’t lose ground to the dark. Cliff gained ground because he ran through the dark.
And somewhere at the outset of the night, Cliff Young in his overalls, he shuffled passed the toned runners half his age. And by the morning light, teethless Cliff Young who wasn’t young at all, he was a tiny shadow — far, far ahead of the professional athletes.
For five days and fifteen 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. He crossed the finish line first.
Beating a world record. By two. whole. days.
The second place runner crossed the finish line 9 hours after old Cliff.
And when they handed old Cliff Young his $10,000 prize , he said he hadn’t known there was a prize. Said he’d run for the wonder of it. Said that all the other runners had worked hard too. So Cliff Young waited at the finish line and handed each of the runners an equal share of the 10K.
While others run fast, you can just shuffle with perseverance.
While others impress, you can simply press on.
While others stop for the dark, you can run through the dark.
The race is won by those who keep running through the dark.
Could be the year to pull a Cliff Young.
When those reporters asked Old Cliff that afterward, what had kept him running through the nights, Cliff had said, “I imagined I was outrunning a storm to gather up my sheep.”
And I sit there in the thickening dark.
With the One who mastered the dark and overcame the storm to gather His sheep and now there is a Light Who shines in the darkness and the darkness can never overcome it.
And you can see them out the front window, far away to the west, out on there the highway —
the lights all going on through the dark.