Comrades 2011

That's a 2009 picture of me running with my mate Graeme Boake. He is also 1 of 4 boys. I used to remember him being a killer athlete at school. All the Boakes were. All-round sportsmen. But Graeme's also a social creature and after a few years of the good life he decided to take up running. After being taken out by cramps at the 60k mark in his 2010 Comrades attempt he came back to complete the 2011 Comrades. In the same race would be his younger brothers, Bruce and Kevin. Bruce would be doing his inaugural Comrades. Kevin his second.

Their dad, Doug Boake, has the sub-7 Comrades under his belt so never doubt the family's pedigree. he would be supporting them all on the day. Here is the Kevin's story of the race.

First of all, thanks for all the well wishes. They were so nice to receive!

I have just finished reading Richard’s Diary from Edinburgh and loved reading it so I thought I better let everyone know how my race went (even though I am not known for my report writing or spelling). I am not into long e-mails/reports so don’t feel obliged to read it, I enjoyed writing it. It was either write this report or watch ‘True Grit’ on the plane. I wrote the report.

Firstly, as my very supportive (and lovely) wife will tell you, I trained like hell for this event. I did 1634km since January 1, and I think I only missed one or two training runs. (This does not include the 1200km I did from July to Dec). I lost 2 stone, and achieve every race target I set for myself -10k in under 43mins, 21km in under 1h40, a Marathon in under 3h40 and as most of you know I actually did a 3h28 in Rome.

For those of you that don’t know, the Comrades Marathon is an ~56mile point to point race and this year was an ‘Up’ run and hence hill training was critical! But again I did over 20 hill sessions (starting in August last year) and tried to run up every hill that I could find!

So I arrived in Durban, supremely confident that I would achieve my target of 9 hours. In fact according to the official ‘time predicting’ web-site of the top coach, with my training levels and speed, I had the potential to run an 8h16 Comrades, but I decided to stick to my plan and aim for 9h00.

When my alarm went off at 3am on Sunday morning, I woke up feeling anxious but great. I even ended up standing in the pens with 8 runners from Derbyshire in the UK which was really nice! Even though it was the middle of winter the temperature was 14C and was expected to reach 25C on the course.

5.30am and the Cock crew (the official start) and we were off.

Now when Vic Chapman, an ex-British Soldier started the Comrades in 1921, he wanted to have a race that tested participants to the very limit of their ability. He had been part of the Allies East African Campaign in World War One which had chased the Germans for over 1700km. Even though a lot of people died in fighting, most ended up dying from tropical diseases. In fact Vic Chapman himself would have die, if not for the fact that one of his ‘comrades’ had carried him across sand, over rocks, up hills and thought bushes for over 50km in 40 degree in a single day. So when Vic Chapman set up the course, he did not choose the standard marathon distance, he doubled it and then added some on a course that is arguably more mountainous than hilly.

And for this course in that direction (up) I was very under prepared.

2 days later and the only word that comes to mind is ‘BRUTAL’, physically, mentally and emotionally.

After 20km of continuous climbing I had cramps, by 30km and with Botha’s Hill, the 3rd of the ‘Big 5 Hills’, in sight they were server. It was not the famous hills of Cowes or Fields that got me, it was all those other hills that just seemed to go on and on and on and on. Despite this, I was on track at halfway, but at this stage my race was no longer about my time, it was about finishing. After the long climb up the absolute monster Inchanga (3.2km), I was unable to run up hills and my soles of my feet burnt like hell. And the hills just keep coming, the climb into Camperdown, the climb into Cato Ridge, the climb to the Lion Park, the climb past Nagle Dam, the climb past the Rainbow Chicken farm, the climb to the Nondlini Sports Centre, the hills of Harrison Flats, the preamble to the worst hill of all Polly Shortts, Little Pollies. And when I final stumbled over the crest of Polly Shortts, I found out that the final 7.8 km contained 2 other unnamed brutes that made the combined Knowle hills of Longdon Road and Knowle Wood Road appear flat.

It took me just over 4h30 to do the first half and just under 6h00 to complete the second. Twice I had to sit down on the road with my legs shaking. But somehow you just keep going, because all around you the crowds are cheering and your fellow runs always have a kind work to say. And somehow you put one foot in front of the other and somehow those miles trick away and somehow that stadium in Pietermaritzburg arrives and somehow you finish.

But despite the 10h28 I had just spent on the road my Comrades 2011 was long from over. Last year one of my bothers Graeme ran but had to bail at 62km with cramps. This year he, together we another of my brothers, Bruce had entered the race. Them making the 12 hour cut off was always going to be tough. Along the route, I had received many updates from my folks and club seconders that they were both on track and looking good. But when I got to the club tent, the news was not good. They had just come over the top of Polly Shortts at 4.36pm and Bruce was been treated for cramp. They had 54mins to run 7.8 km. It had just taken me 1h03.

As the minutes ticked away to the 5.30pm cut-off the atmosphere in the Stadium built. At some point my Dad could not take it anymore and starting running back up the course. All the time our Club members are coming in (75 entered and in think I heard about 54 finished??) and we are all cheering and urging them on. 15 minutes to go, 10 minutes to go, 7 minutes to go and the big 12hour Bus arrives. By now the atmosphere is fever pitch but I have given up all hope. 2 minutes to go, 1 minute to go, 40 seconds to go, and all of a sudden Bruce appears on the home straight, running, no sprinting at a pace that would make Usain Bolt seem pedestrian. I am screaming, urging him on. And he is going to make it! The elation you feel at that moment is incredible. But as he passes the Club Tent, our eyes meet and I can see the tears in his eyes as he gestures over his shoulder shaking his head. As he crosses the line the stadium has erupted into the final countdown 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3 , 2, 1, Bang, The Gun, The race is over.

At that moment my other brother, Graeme who did not finish last year, appears on the finishing straight. He has less than 200 meters to go. Within an instant your mode swings from elation to ‘I cannot believe it’. As my brother walks past the tent, you try and cheer him on, but it will not help. You stare hopelessly as the security guards usher him to the side of the finishing line. I jumped, no rolled over 2 fences, dodged 3 security guards to get to my brothers. We all just stand there to emotionally drained to speak and to sore to hug. At some point in the next ½ hour Graeme had to be taken to the St John’s Medic Tent on a stretcher and was put on a drip for dehydration . Their splits from Polly Shortts to the Stadium were nothing less than heroic. Bruce covered the last 1km in under 6minutes. Graeme just did not have the legs.

As I said at the start, this Comrades was Brutal. It is not called the Ultimate Human race for nothing. But how could I possibly be disappointed with my time.

Gill has given me permission to give it one more go next year and thankfully it is a Down run. I look forward to running with you all in the next 12 months, but for the next 4 weeks I am taking a break.


You can click here to see Bruce and Graeme at the top of Polly Shortts. It is amazing how motivated Graeme is at this point. Giving 100% at the hardest part of the race. Inspiring. 79.3k at Polly Shortts

I can't wait until next year's race. Graeme has become part of the incredible Comrades drama. Kevin, too, in his quest to beat his dad's sub-7 record. No pressure boys! Success is inevitable.

Hasta la vittoria,

1 comment:

  1. What a read, and what a story. Thanks Kevin for sharing the drama with us, I'm exhausted just reading about how the day unfolded, and with a finish like that who could not be left with dry eyes?
    You write better than what you give yourself credit for, and really captured the atmosphere at the stadium building to that dramatic finale. To Kevin & Bruce - well done on your efforts, Comrades is one mean tough, and in your words - brutal, challenge and you did it. To Graeme, hard luck but what a great effort to keep pushing on right to the very end. You did it, but were cheated of your medal by the tiniest of margins on the clock. I have no doubt you'll be back to crack it next year.
    And yes - how can they call it the Harrison 'Flats'?!
    Enjoy the rest and good luck for next year boys! Just watch out for getting roped into running in a cowsuit :)