Logo for: National Kidney Registry

Pre-Race Dispatch: On the Way to Antarctica

Matt Cavanaugh

“Time is running out.”

That thought flashed through my head just now at the Houston Airport. Same as when I passed the exact spot 40-something days ago. The phrase came to me again because I remembered saying goodbye to my last fellow competitor/new friend, Trish Hepworth of Canada, on the return home after running the Atacama Crossing.

What inevitably happens at these international events is that all the runners depart from the same small airport, so there are dozens of us clumped in the terminal together. Then we progressively go on to larger airports, where some trickle off five at a time, then three, two, and then it’s just you and the last new friend you made over the previous week. These races don’t end. They fade away.

And then you’re alone, thinking about the next day at work.

In a way these are good endings. They’re slow, like an hourglass that runs to the last grain. They’re the ends that’re easy to see. But so many others slip past sight.

I didn’t know these were ends at the time—but I think about the last phone call I had with my grandmother, the last conversation with a classmate who died in combat, and especially the last moment in the driveway this past June when my wife and girls left our house in Colorado to drive away to our new home in Utah (leaving me to finish out my military career in Colorado until I get to rejoin them in the new year).

“Lasts” are all I can think about now as I travel to The Last Desert—Antarctica—the fourth and final stop on my attempt to be the first living kidney donor to “Grand Slam” the 4 Deserts / Racing the Planet series (all four 155-mile events in about 7 months time this year).

So far, pretty good. Somehow, over the 214 days of my 4 Deserts Grand Slam year, I’ve made it through a maelstrom of maladies, misadventures, and mistakes: back-to-back cancelled international flights; lost mandatory gear; multiple military red-tape approvals for travel; wildly inappropriate race-packing jobs; a sandstorm; packs of pissed-off wild dogs; hailstorms; zero visibility fog that halted an entire race; a broken sleeping mat; a busted water bottle in the desert; the world’s loudest snorer; a race week without sleep; a 3-hour flight next to a later-to-test-Covid-19-positive competitor; athletic tape that ripped flesh from my upper back; the ugliest bruise I’ve ever seen that looked like a fanny-back was surgically implanted in my lower back; physical therapy needles in my hip, butt, and groin; and too many post-race toenail-peel-offs to count.

From the world’s oldest desert, to a desert made of mud, to the planet’s highest and driest desert, and now, on to the last, the White Desert.

From sand to snow. From scorpions to penguins.

And after the thousands of training miles, and hundreds upon hundreds in racing miles, from November 25th to December 1st I’ll run the final 155, weather permitting.

I’ve never run on snow and ice like this, for so long like this, wearing mini-crampons like this. We’re told the weather can roll in at any time and stop a stage (or two or maybe more). I don’t know how it will go. If I’m being honest, I’m shocked I made it this far.

I can say that it is likely that when it’s all done I’ll be the fastest American to finish the 4 Deserts Grand Slam, with one of the race’s fastest series times ever. I’m over the moon about that possibility, if for no other reason than it puts an exclamation point on the fact that one kidney life has no limits—you can save a life and live an even bigger one yourself.

I can also say that it is likely the return will whittle my race-friends away until a certain spot at the Houston Airport, when, by myself, I’ll turn towards Utah, my family, and the next adventure.

“Last” ain’t so scary when you remember it’s just the pause before the next good.

Follow the race at: https://www.racingtheplanet.com/thelastdesert/live