The Hateful 8 - Comrades 2016

Before the completion of my recent Sub-10 hour Ironman Quest, I anticipated and prepared myself for the abyss that would follow. Cowboys from the Old West had a suitable expression to deal with this hole, "Depression can't keep up with a man on a good fast horse". Winston Churchill called it the Black Dog. Some consider it a category of gloom brought on by endorphin depletion and physical breakdown.

I call it Nothing To Do.
In anticipation, and purely to cover all bases, I downloaded Gabor Mate's book "In the Realm Of Hungry Ghosts". A must read for anyone experiencing the adrenaline doldrums. It's insightful as to how bad things can really get and how to change the light at the end of the tunnel from an oncoming train to an escape hatch. Having managed to brace things into perspective, the post-Ironman South Africa-blue-period was rather pleasant as I eased my running back to speed to conquer the Comrades Down Run alongside my brother, Alberto.  
Bruce Boake, Doug Boake, Stef Riccardi (Manager of Team Riccardi),
Graeme Boake, Trevor and Julia Boake,
RobbyRicc, Alberto Riccardi, Donovan Fraser  Kevin Boake
To kickstart this blogpost, some of you may need some back story. I find it helps. 2015 was my 7th Comrades: a 9h11m up run. To satisfy the intellectual yearnings of my readership, I took blog posting to a new level by linking my seventh Comrades to David Fincher's movie "Se7en". Call me what you will - trailblazer; frontiersman; astro-wizard; smartarse - but I thought that Comrades 2015 blogpost might work. Forever nudging  the boundaries, I decided to continue along that same vein. Once you strike gold, dig deeper.  
Team Riccardi (excluding 4th brother
Marco) trying on Green Number
gear in the forbidden
and  hallowed Green Tent 
The American filmmaker, Quentin Tarantino, has been involved in numerous movie projects. However there are only eight Tarantino movies: Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, Death Proof, Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight.
I thought it uncanny that Tarantino would be on his eighth movie at the same time I was attempting my eight Comrades. Who would have thought? As such, I had to find a way to make this piece fit the title.

The Hateful Eight says it all.

You know the story line: eight travellers caught in a storm on their way to Red Rock. You could replace "eight" with "twenty thousand", "storm" with "ultra road race" and "Red Rock" with "from Pietermaritzburg to Durban" and the movie title would be a perfect fit. Uncanny. Remarkably uncanny. 

The writer,
Caroline Wöstmann  (last year's winner;
this year's incredible runner up),
and Alberto

Alberto and I arrived at the start at 3.59am. We spent the night before Comrades, as we always do at the home of our Pietermaritzburg friends-who-are-like-family, Nick and Nicky. Trevor Hoskins, our running mate who was out for 2016 having exchanged his 24th Comrades with a knee op, had made the introduction. To date, Nick and Nicky have hosted us for every Down Run. Nicky, a self proclaimed farm girl, gave up her bed for our first Comrades when she was eight months pregnant. They don't make many in her mould anymore.

Nick, well aware of the intricacies of race morning traffic, was primed in his car at 3.45am to drop us off at the start. We arrived before the 4am opening of the race paddocks. Alb and I found ourselves as the first two runners in the pen. The road was resplendent in silence and a pink light reflected off the 100 year old city hall. We noted the town hall's clock was running 20 minutes late. Of all the days that time meant anything and everything to the town's citizens. And it was twenty minutes late. A somewhat sinister omen before the downward spiral towards the sea.
The Team Riccardi strategy for this year's race was simple: I would drive the Riccardi Bus to the 60k mark at sub-8h30 pace, and then hand over the keys to Alby who would deliver us to the green of Kingsmead stadium to collect our Bill Rowan medals.  The beauty of the plan was its simplicity.

A few things to note: my fastest down run was a 9h23 from Comrades 2012; my fastest Comrades was 2015's up run with 9h11. Sub-9 is a Bill Rowan and I hadn't really been close. Alby on the other hand had been resting on the laurels of a few Bill Rowans clutched tightly between his knuckles with a PB of 8h35m46s. Give or take a few milliseconds.

So our proposed 8h30 target was not without its challenges.

The Brothers Not So Grim
(photograph taken at Bedfordview Athletic's
1st helpers table at the 21k mark)
The mighty Kevin Boake was there too. Head and shoulders above the diminutive crowd of runners. 2,000 kilometres of training in his shoes. All done on the roads and trails of the UK's Birmingham.

"The first time I ran in sunshine was on the 18th May", Kevin stated matter of factly. He trained hard yards in hard Brummie conditions.

The strains of the National Anthem, Shosholoza, Vangelis's Chariots of Fire and Max Trimborn's cockcrow reverberated in our ears as the exodus filtered its way to Durban.

Comrades counts down its mileage (kilometerage?) instead of the other way around. At the 80k's to go sign, we were over 2 minutes ahead of schedule. 6 minutes ahead at 70k's to go. 13 minutes at 60k's to go. I had never been so far ahead of pace and up the field before. Several silver contenders mingled about. It was disconcerting. Did we have any business being here? The inevitable question was posed:

Rob:- Seems like you're setting the pace?
Alb:- No. This is fine. Check there's Kevin.
Rob:- We have no business being near Kevin. Feels too fast.
Alb:- It's all time in the bag. This is fine. Don't worry. Do you think Kevin is putting in a surge?

My heart rate vascillated at 140 to 150 heart beats in sync with the troughs and peaks of Polly Shortts. In my mind I knew the pacing was all Alby's. A few nudges beyond the range of my audacity.
Once past Cato Ridge, with the burning embers from the preceding hills in slow fade, our spirits perked up at the easy meandering of the road to the foothills of the monster that is Inchanga. Alb suddenly exhaled an expletive. Out of nowhere. He clutched his calf with both hands. We stopped by the roadside. No plans had been implemented for anything so dramatic. We tried a little walking. And then a bit of running. Alb hobbled as though a rabid dog had clamped itself to his lower calf.

"It pulled a few days ago while stretching. I thought the niggle would work its way out." We walked a few metres more and then started a slow jog. The limping was pronounced. "You go. I'll be fine."

I was ready for Alb to try take one for the team and immediately responded, "F$*% you Keeto. We'll walk it in."

In the 2011 Comrades, my mate Keeto (he has his own label on this blog) tried taking himself out of running together with Alb and I by calling out his injury midway in the race. A cowardly tactic. That didn't work then and, I was confident, wouldn't work now. Not with the Riccardi Wolf Pack fully aligned as it was.  

Alb was having none of it. We argued a bit about the pros and cons. His eyes squinting all the while.

"Go get Kevin", he smiled. Insisting he gave me a shove shouting after me, "Go catch him".

It broke my heart. Last year I remembered running solo which, for that long, isn't that much fun. My mom's words from earlier in the week popped into my head.

"Make sure you look after your brother. And his heart."

It occurred to me - polishing the edge of my halo - that if I stayed back, it would only make Alb feel bad and force him to run through the pain. Alb never mentions the pain or even the concept thereof except when debilitated by it. So I knew that this flaw, one of many, in his character would come back to bite him. And it'd aggravate the damage.

We said our goodbyes and, moving away from my ambling brother, I recalled how I once played the man servant, Lucius, to Alb's Brutus in a school play of Julius Caesar. And how the roles altered so that I was now the Brutus to his Caesar.
I would run the next 30 kilometres in solitude.

Team Manager, Stef, admonishing
older brother for his injury
Alb walked the next 5k's until the half way mark whereafter he stopped at every physio table to receive attention to his soleus and Achilles. He eventually composed himself to finish in 9h26m. This was quite astonishing really. Only 3 minutes shy of our 2012 PB down run of 9h23.

The solo portion of the run was a kaleidoscope of images: a quick high five with Ironman legend Kris Fessel, some mojo replenishment from the Angry Kenyan, a high five from my London days' mate Jamie Wardell, a quick kiss from the wife, some words from the Manager of Team Riccardi, and some killer salty crisps from Grees whose wife, Kate, was in the race and bearing down on me.

At 30k's from the end (maybe between Hillcrest and Kloof) Kevin's dad, Doug, told me Kevin was a minute up the road.

"Go work together" he shouted after me. It was the nitrous I required. Leaning forward, I switched off the mind. Eventually, fifteen minutes or so later, I saw the tall figure that could only be Kevin looming ahead. He looked worse than I felt which was a ridiculously comforting thing.

Kevin was broken.

Rob:- "Come on Kev. Easy does it my boy. Let's get it going."
Kevin:- "Rob, you go. I can't go any faster."

Another martyr just like Alby.
Rob:- "Short easy steps. Let's go."

Kev soon woke from his slumber and started moving again. Fields Hill chasm'd before us. My quads couldn't bear the pain and reduced me to a walk. Kev cruised down its twisting turns and disappeared down the road. Soon we was out of sight. Thank goodness he is broken I thought. The state of play caused me to laugh out loud like someone from an asylum.

As the road levelled, I bridged my way back to him. "Where did you go?" he asked.
After that Kev and I hung tough. We ran what we could, walked everything else. I'm quite tall for a short guy, 5 foot 7. It's a smidgen under 6 foot my parents tells me. Kevin is 6 foot 4. He has to lug his unit of a body, mainly muscle and sinew, up and down the hill with a thousand valleys under a hot African sun. Brummie conditions are gnarly in comparison. The two of us alongside each other in Bedfordview club colours must've made an interesting juxtaposition. 

13k's to go.
Rob and Kev chasing PBs
The mind wanders during the hard times. Stef asked afterwards what it was like. I thought for a bit and without hesitation told him something along these lines:
"You know Game of Thrones when they torture the guys in the holding pen by tying a bucket around their waist, inserting a rat into the bucket and heating the bucket with a flaming torch causing the rat to scrape its way through the victim's stomach? Well, as I was running with Kev, I thought to myself what would I rather have: my current predicament or the rat and the bucket? And I thought about that rat...... and the bucket......and the clawing to death....and in that moment with what I was feeling - to be brutally honest - I couldn't tell or comprehend which would be worse." 
Kevin and I had spoken before the race. A Bill Rowan was never the primary goal. Breaking Alby's 8h34 most certainly was. It had to be. It'd invite bragging rights for a whole year. It'd leap you up the pecking order of bravado and with it the sense of well being that comes from being with your friends and knowing that every race thereafter, they'll be gunning for your record. It's runners' street cred.
With ten kilometres to go, the distance yawned across the expanse to the Kingsmead Stadium. The last ten stretch much further than the morning's first ten. Almost too impossible to fathom. The last ten are the Mariana Trench.
6 minutes per k is all we need for 8.30. Just focus on one kilometre at a time.
I leaned forward and thought about Game of Thrones.
A few seconds later, I sensed Kevin's presence dwindling. I turned and saw him eyes closed, looking downwards, legs grinding the tar for any inches that it would permit. He looked at me. I understood.
It was our Wild Geese moment.
You know Wilde Geese? The movie where the mercenaries escape the heavily stereotyped African country and chase a plane down the runway to escape a chasing horde of enraged presidential storm troopers and their machine guns.   
Allow me to set the scene.

Faulkner (mercenary commander) is on the plane imploring his injured friend Janders (former military tactician) to board the plane. Faulkner promised to look after Janders's son, Emile, if the operation ever went wrong. A highly crucial nugget if you're ever going to understand the scene which played out on or near the 45th Cutting and mostly in my head: 
Rob (on the plane):- Kevin! Come on! Come on! Come on, Kevin! Shawn, stop the plane!
Shawn (imaginary pilot):- I can't. If we don't get off on the first run, we've had it!
Kevin (stumbling towards the plane):- Go! Go!
Rob:- Kevin, come on! Hang on Kevin!
Kevin:- Rob! Rob, shoot me! For God's sakes, shoot me!
Rob:- No I can't! No stop the plane!
Kevin:- Emile!! 

[Gunshot echoes]

[fade to black]

Kevin clawed his way to the finish in an impressive 8h34m14s. His second Bill Rowan. 32 seconds faster than Alb's PB.  
It is always a challenge to describe the last ten k's of the Comrades.

The engines are over-revved and whining, the chassis is rattling, fuel gauges are flashing empty. The mind's wiring is tangled and smells of burnt iron filings. Thoughts misfire in rapid succession until the wandering mind narrows into a single thought: get to the finish. At all costs get to the finish.
The cramps work their way through my arms, hips and into my groin like lightening across a hurricane. A fishing vessel against a storm fighting grey steel waves which pull from all sides. It feels as though my body has been hanged, drawn and quartered and reattached by a demon seamstress using twine from a fisherman's net. Eyes become slits. Breathing becomes ragged, grinding and gnawing at the insides. The crowd's drowning squalls smother the runners. Like salted blankets.
The stadium grows from the ground like a harbour emerging from the rocky shoreline. Lines of people beckon you closer. The green of the grass is morphine to the legs. Almost too soft.  
The green grass awaits

The lactic acid weaves its way to the tear ducts and - as you cross the line and lean towards your Hateful Eighth - you smile so broadly your cheeks hurt. 
My watch displayed 8h27m and with it the knowledge that I was now the family record holder and that people (probably just Kevin and Alby) would be gunning for me.

I wouldn't want it any other way.

Storing nuts for the winter hibernation,

  • First ten k's: 47m35s
  • Last ten k's: 59m24s
  • 1st half of the race: Time 4h03m 5m24s pace (147 HR ave)
  • 2nd half: Time 4h24m 6m03s pace (147 HR ave)
  • Average running pace: 5m42s

The 12 hour aftermath

The only pacing chart that has ever worked

Rob, Shpic (9h47m PB) and Alb

First Bill Rowan

Comrades Pacing Graph for Kev, Alb & Rob


  1. flipping awesome job and great read!! congratulations :-) looking forward to the movie

  2. Thanks Andrea. Much appreciated. I have a confession too. I haven't seen the movie either! Ha ha!

  3. You missed your calling buddy, should have been a writer/professional athlete. Fantastic read, and frigging awesome achievement, what a boykie

    1. Thanks Brig! Your story and of how you survived the gunpowder from the final gun would be a best seller! Love your work. ;o)

  4. You missed your calling buddy, should have been a writer/professional athlete. Fantastic read, and frigging awesome achievement, what a boykie

  5. You missed your calling buddy, should have been a writer/professional athlete. Fantastic read, and frigging awesome achievement, what a boykie

  6. Great run and great report. For the record you also passed and held off that German chick with the pigtails and beat my wife (Kate) by about 4 mins. A proud moment for both man and men. If you weren't so close to 10 I would suggest retirement.

    1. Your wife, I know, was toying with me. She could have crushed me if she didn't have so much respect for her elders. As for the German pigtails chick, that victory was for all men out there. That was for the team. Otherwise I'd never live it down.