Logo for: National Kidney Registry

My Body Has Taken a Beating, but My One Kidney is Going Strong

Matt Cavanaugh

Everything is falling apart, right when I thought it might. I’m now at the halfway point, 500 kilometers of 1,000 complete. But to get that far takes a toll, every step a new potential pain, and I’m feeling every step right now.

It started in Namibia. The extreme heat, 131 degrees Fahrenheit at one point, sapped a lot of my strength. My pack was seriously overweight, and that weight cut into my back. When I finally finished the week, my first look at my back was awful. I was bleeding between the shoulder blades and my lower back was one big rash, with red spots like an angry toddler splotched paint on me. I can remember hobbling through security on the way home. And when I got home after four flights and dozens of hours, the bottom of my legs had swelled to the point that my ankles were no more. I didn’t run for a full week after. Didn’t even think about it.

Georgia was different. The weather and terrain meant the pains came at me from other angles. It was wet. It rained every day. Hail fell dangerously a few times. I was cold a lot. My pack was lighter by one-fourth, but running up and down steep mountain trails meant it cut again due to simple physics. This time I was better prepared and used tape to preserve my shoulder-blade skin. This part was simple discomfort, which was manageable.

The tougher part was the simple accumulation of miles and kilometers. No matter what you do, the longer you go, the more likely something will start to fall apart. Wear down. Grind down.

And for me it did. By the end of the fourth stage, all the tendons and fascia on the outside of my right leg, from the hip down to the knee, tightened up so much it was like a rusted-out wheel—I couldn’t bend or rotate it. To continue on as I did in order to finish the race meant that I put greater stress on my left leg and knee, which have already gone through several surgeries.

While I have no visible blood like last time, my injuries are far worse. Because while the skin heals on its own, if the inside of my leg (or legs) doesn’t permit me to run, I’m done for.

After returning from the second race in Georgia, I beelined straight for the tools of therapy. I’ve been stretching, using a roller, and paying attention to every possible pain as never before.

Most importantly, I know I can’t dig myself out of this alone. Sports massage is a necessity. It’s the opposite of relaxing, but worth every uncomfortable moment.

I’ve also started seeing a physical therapist. He’s seen this sort of tight leg on a runner many times before and knew just what to do: stick needles in it.

It’s called “dry needling” and it’s a simple concept—he sticks needles into over-tight muscles to get them to release. I went to my first treatment yesterday, during which he stuck needles into my right hip flexor, top of glute, and groin. I cringed, I yelped, I sweated, but a day later I can see the progress. I know I couldn’t have made gains like this on my own. As painful as it was, I’m confident I’m back on the road to running health.

There we are. Looking back from the halfway mark, I can honestly say these races have taken a greater toll on me than any I’ve ever done. Everything feels like it has or is falling apart. Like my body was beyond broken. Except one critical part—my one remaining kidney seems to be doing just fine.

It’s all a stark reminder. The running part isn’t even the half of all this. It’s as much about the maintenance that takes place outside of running. The work that enables the running. The discomfort that enables the races.

I don’t know what the second half has in store for me. But I believe that if I keep doing the work outside of running, then I’ll stay in this thing long enough to get to kilometer number 1,000.