My 3 Year Comrades Journey - by Graeme Boake

Below is a picture of me and Graeme. It was taken in 2009 when Graeme started training for Comrades 2010. Graeme ran the Comrades in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Here is his inspiring story of perseverance ....

Listed under race history on the Comrades website

Graeme Boake, race number 49567, you will find the following entries:

2010 DNF

2011 DNF 12:03:17

2012 Finished 11:11:23

I have been inspired by two Comrades reports, written by my brother Kevin, in which I feature heavily, to write about my personal Comrades journey that ended on Sunday 3 June 2012, in the late afternoon, at Sahara Kingsmead Cricket Stadium in Durban.
One of my most vivid childhood memories takes me back to 1976 (age 9) when Mom had placed me on the side of the Comrades road, water bottle in hand, waiting to give it to Dad when he came past. Well we messed up the handover and I remember sprinting down the road after my Dad to give him his water bottle. He was running at a furious pace and needless to say I never even got close to getting the water bottle to him. I was picked up by Mom, dropped a couple of kilometres down the road and managed a successful handover the second time around. Incidentally that is the year my Dad placed 89th at Comrades in a time of 06:58:00 - an unbelievable achievement that my brothers and I can only marvel at, now that we have completed the Comrades marathon. For the record, we are four brothers, three of us whom completed the 2012 Comrades marathon.

An even earlier childhood memory takes me back to 1973 (grade 1). The overnight train from Durban to Germiston station was late and as I was very wary of my grade 1 teacher, I made my Dad (who had run Comrades the day before) walk me all the way to my classroom. I clearly remember taking an extraordinarily long time to make our way from the bottom parking lot, over the sports fields, up some steep steps and to my classroom. I have always wondered how long it took him to get back to the car that morning and, after my own experiences of recovering from the down Comrades, including the decent of Fields Hill, and the resultant very stiff legs the next morning, just know that it took him a very long time.

Throughout my twenties and thirties I often watched the Comrades Marathon on TV and just about every year promised myself that next year would be the year that I entered the Comrades. In 1997 I happened to be in Durban on Comrades day and was privileged to witness the victories first hand of Charl Mattheus and Ann Trason. Over the years I have handed over quite a few cases of beer to settle pub bets resulting from my continued absence from the Comrades start line. Today we now have our infamous serviette bets at
my running club (Bedfordview Country Club) that are signed at our Comrades Aches and Pains party, annual prize-giving and several other club functions.

In January 2008 (age 40) I joined Bedfordview Country Club and even on that very first walk/run that I participated in, I already knew that Comrades was the big hairy goal that I wanted to achieve. I have really enjoyed my training with club members from our various running schools over the past 5 years.

And so on 30 May 2010 I found myself on the starting line in Pietermaritzburg to compete in my first Comrades Marathon. It really is an incredible feeling being in the starting pens for one’s first Comrades, knowing that you are going to be participating in a uniquely South African experience. The feelings of anticipation, anxiety and excitement that one feels in the final build up to the start is hard to describe. The actual morning was freezing cold, the atmosphere before the start was palatable and the almost 8 minute wait to cross the starting line after Shosholoza, the National Anthem, Chariots of Fire music, the cockcrow and the starters gun was totally nerve racking.

For the first time in a running event I experienced terrible cramps in my legs that brought me to a near standstill within the first 20 kilometres of the marathon. I managed to continue and eventually made the Drummond (half way) cut off with one and a half minutes to spare and with the continued cramping in my legs eventually had to leave the course, having completed 62km of the marathon and having 27km left to go. At that stage I had no chance of making the next cut off point and decided that I would like to get to Sahara Kingsmead Cricket Stadium to see my brother Kevin finish, who was competing in his first Comrades. (His time was 10:49:12)

The highlights of my 2010 Comrades day were:
  • Running the furthest distance (62km) that I had ever run;
  • Making the halfway cut off with one and a half minutes in hand, taking into account the leg cramps that I had experienced;
  • Making the next cut off point (Winston Park), some 14km later with around 2 minutes in hand;
  • One of the consequences of just making a cut off point is that you are pretty much the last runner on the road and there can’t be many Comrades runners who can lay claim to the fact that for a good 10km of Comrades they were the last runner on the road;
  • At the top of Botha’s Hill I went past a rather inebriated spectator who came to a sudden realisation and shouted at the top of his voice “f*** broer, you are stone last”;
  • My brother, Bruce running about 7km with me, in his slops, from the top of Botha’s Hill to Winston Park and taking the infamous photographs of me being followed by several official Comrades vehicles;
  • On two separate occasions and over a combined distance of several kilometres, having my very own entourage of Comrades vehicles right on my tail;
  • Being at the finish to witness Kevin finish his first Comrades and to see and feel the real disappointment for me at not having finished my first Comrades;
  • Winning “Bailer of the Year Award” at Club Prize-giving (thanks mainly to the photo shoot) and the genuine warm wishes of club members to tackle Comrades the following year;
  • Finally, knowing myself already on that day that I would be back the next year on the starting line of Comrades;

A year later, on 29 May 2011, I stood at the start in Durban weighing less, better trained and wondering if the up run would bring me better fortune than the year before and a first Comrades medal. I ran well to halfway, going through Drummond in 5h34, leaving myself 6h26 to complete the second half to get inside the 12 hour cut off. My second half of Comrades did not start well with the beast of Inchanga taking a big toll on my energy and reserve levels. I was very fortunate to meet up with my brother, Bruce, three quarters of the way up Inchanga, who was doing his first Comrades and we were glued together for the rest of the marathon to Pietermaritzburg.

We were always running against the clock and we both dug very deeply to keep moving forward. Bruce was experiencing leg cramps and he must have made dozens of stops to have his legs massaged by just about anyone who would listen to his pleas. It was very disheartening when the 12 hour bus went past us as we still had about 15 km to go to get to the finish. With the best will in the world we just did not have the ability at that time to keep the 12 hour bus in our sights.

We somehow made it to the top of Polly Shortts but we had a big task in front of us to get to the finish before the dreaded gunshot would signal the end of Comrades 2011. I remember one spectator saying to another spectator that it’s touch and go for the runners on the road (around 6 km to go) to get to the end on time. My watch had long since died and my ability to process anything mathematical was just about non-existent. Bruce and I had resorted to a sprint/walk strategy to get to the finish.

We eventually got into the Toyota mile and then onto the stadium field. Bruce was just ahead of me and how I never had a total wipe out when I came onto the stadium field I will never know. My legs felt like jelly and how they had not totally caved in was a miracle. In my mind I was sprinting but in reality I just don’t know how fast we were going.

The atmosphere in the Pietermaritzburg stadium was electric and at fever pitch and the announcer was busy with the 10 second count down. I had turned the final corner and the finish line was in sight when the gun was shot. I had seen my brother, Bruce finish (11:59:50); I was less than 200 metres short of the line. I came to a total standstill on the field; I was more physically shattered than disappointed at that moment. I eventually made my way over the timing mats on the field at the finish line and into the arms of Bruce and my other brother Kevin, who had hurdled over the fences at the finish line to get to us (Kevin had finished his second Comrades in 10:28:28). The pure emotion of what had just happened was unreal and the three of us just stood together, literally too shocked and wary to say anything.

I was later told by many of my club mates that there wasn’t a dry eye in the Bedfordview Country Club gazebo after they had just witnessed first-hand the agony of my Comrades finish. I was treated for dehydration in the medical tent and vowed that very night that I would back at Comrades 2012 to collect that first and now very elusive Comrades medal.

And so I found myself on the starting line in Pietermaritzburg once again on 3 June 2012 praying that it was going to be third time lucky. I really felt the pressure from many wellwishers (family, friends and club mates) telling me that this was going to be my year.

Overall I had a really fantastic 2012 Comrades run. I ran the entire way with Bedfordview Country Club members (thanks guys, you know who you are), had minor leg cramps, tons of support on the route and was absolutely thrilled to bits when I got into the stadium and over the line in 11 hours and 11 minutes. I thought I would breakdown at the finish but in truth, even though there were tears, my biggest feelings were the enormous sense of relief and of achievement that I had truly finished a Comrades Marathon. For the 3rd year in a row I met my brother Kevin (10:09:02) on the finish line and this time we were able to have a hug of victory that I had officially conquered the Comrades Marathon. I simply cannot remember another single time in our lives when Kevin was so thrilled and so pleased (it even topped the celebration after the right foot volley that he scored while we were playing for the Wits Italians versus the Wits Greeks in the late 80’s).

I was again treated for dehydration. My medical treatment was another great Comrades experience in itself with me falling off the stretcher on the way to the medical tent, arriving full of grass, being put on a stretcher bed whose leg collapsed, sending me onto the ground and being treated by a fantastic young doctor (I can’t remember her name) who was spending her birthday treating fatigued Comrades runners.

That is my Comrades journey so far. It is my personal account of my 3 year journey to earning and receiving a medal at the Comrades marathon, starting in 2010 and finishing in 2012. It is my journey and it is a unique journey. My written account was instigated and fuelled by the raw and passionate emotions for Comrades that my brother, Kevin has captured in the two Comrades reports that he has written. I have some incredible memories already from Comrades, have great running mates and maybe one day the four brothers will start a Comrades together (come on Trevor!)

Comrades 2012 was the culmination of not just getting the Comrades monkey off my back but rather, as one of my running mates put it, the Comrades hairy gorilla off my back. And this year at the Club Prize-giving my “Bailer of the Year Award” was replaced with “The Perseverance Trophy” in recognition of my 3 year Comrades journey.

Pictured above at the annual Boake-Riccardi pre-Comrades luncheon are from the left:
The Ricc brothers (Stef, Alb & Rob) and the Boake brothers (Graeme, Bruce and Kevin). 

I have enjoyed writing about my Comrades journey. I hope whoever reads it enjoys it and I am sure that in the years to come I will be able to add to my Comrades journey. 

Will I be back in 2013 to run Comrades again? Absolutely! Besides, I have already signed that serviette! And to those mates (you know who you are); it is now time for that Johnnie Walker Blue.

Keep on walking,