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The Countdown That Never Ends

Matt Cavanaugh

By the time you read this, there’ll be about 60 days until the Namib Race’s first stage start line.

I’m typing it with 67 days left.

I’ve never raced in an event where I could feel the clock ticking before the starter’s pistol. Usually you over-check your watch during the event.

But with this one there’s so much to do. Right now I’m working to get everything about my race pack figured out. How to wear it. How to load it. How to use it.

Most importantly, how to get comfortable with wearing a toddler on my back for 4-5 hours a day for several days, and then a mammoth 8- or 9-hour session. My younger daughter’s obsessed with kangaroos and their pouches—my running backpack is like some awful reverse version where the joey is on the back (and never, ever leaves).

I have the major ingredients for the pack. The biggest, by far, is food. I have a set of dehydrated food and am eating my way through it to ensure my gut’s acclimated to each meal. I also have a few small tools, a few odds and ends, like a titanium spork, an emergency blanket and two headlamps (it’s race policy for competitors to carry a second as a backup). 

My biggest gap right now is in the clothing department. This isn’t any old shirt-and-shorts kind of race. You’re required to wear two patches on each sleeve of everything you wear while there. One is a national flag (for me, Old Glory—the Red, White, and Blue), and the other is the race’s logo (Racing the Planet). To those we’ll add a 1K4D patch or silkscreen image, and I’m working with a company to get that done expeditiously so as to have the weight ready to add to my pack. For a week of racing, I may take 2 total shirts, 2 total shorts, 1 jacket for warmth, and 1 jacket for bad weather. That’s it. (Did I mention there aren’t any showers?)

I anticipate having everything, full-on everything, ready by the end of March. That last weekend of March I’ll fly, with race pack, to Las Vegas, and run in Red Rocks Canyon. It’s a 3-training-day dry run, with everything in and on my pack. That’s with 37 days remaining until the start line.

I’ve been watching the television remake of Around the World In 80 Days on PBS. Every episode starts with a “Day #,” which signifies where we are in the grand scheme of things. Not only in terms of a physical location—Mr. Fogg travels to France, Italy, Yemen, India, Hong Kong, a Pacific island, the U.S.—but also in terms of days toward a desired objective.

Countdowns aren’t just for Hollywood. Performances, shows, use them to get large groups of people on the (sometimes literal) same page. Space programs use them as a background rhythm to blastoff. Prospective kidney recipients use them to dream about a better life post-transplant.

There’s an elegant, powerful phrase—wrongly attributed to Abraham Lincoln—that reminds us to avoid counting the days, and instead to make the days count. It may not have been Lincoln, but it’s still got that Honest Abe ring to it.

Still, when we number our days, when we count, there is something good in it. We can see them for what they truly are. Finite. Precious. Once-in-a-lifetime. A gift.

And when we do that—then, then we can best make them count.