Logo for: National Kidney Registry

Atacama Crossing, Stage 4

Matt Cavanaugh

I’ve just completed the 4th stage, but before I share how that went, I’ve got to tell you a story about the sandstorm on Tuesday afternoon.

You may remember a few years ago when there was extreme rain and wind in Washington, D.C., and the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington continued to stand watch. It was carried by most major news networks.

On Tuesday, when we heard the order to evacuate camp, there were still runners out on the last stretch of the course trying to get to the finish line. It’s a tradition at these events that there’s a drum beating for every finisher. As bad as the wind got—and as I mentioned in my last update, a runner got hit with a flying wooden table and had to go to the hospital—the drummer at the finish line kept beating the drum for everyone still coming to the finish. That blew me away (as I boarded a truck to the evacuation spot).

I’ve finished 4 stages now, my legs are all cut up, my back’s opened up again, and I’m coming in every day scraping salt off of everything. (The American flag patch on my shoulder looked like the red was gone, it was so covered by my body’s salt.) I finished a strong 2nd place today, and I think I’m now a minute or two or three behind Mori overall (which puts me in 3rd overall). This event is a much faster, deeper field, so I’m feeling pretty great about that placing.

I haven’t covered this yet, but I think timeline is important. I typically come in by midday, and sort of just die in my tent for about 3-4 hours. I sip water, try to eat a little, and rest. At about 4 p.m., I get up and try to get in the cyber tent, which is hit or miss—sometimes they don’t have it set up, sometimes there’s an enormous line, and sometimes we find out the bad weather shuts down their ability to pulse out the afternoon’s messages.

After the cyber tent, I start getting ready for the next day’s run. And tomorrow is the Long March stage. I think they’ve had to trim it to 40 miles due to the fact that the sandstorm has already claimed our rest day. (That means we’ll run a very long stage tomorrow, and instead of a rest day/buffer after that for the slower runners, we’ll go right into the last day/last stage on Saturday. If they went the traditional 50 miles, the slower runners would never make it back in time for the Saturday morning finish.)

I wake up at 4 a.m. every day for my first trip to the bathroom. I know that’s a little inelegant to write about, but you can rest assured that it’s very, very important to “eliminate” before a very, very long running race. Just as important, with my single remaining kidney, is to stay on top of my hydration so that I aim to pee roughly every hour on the course.

I’ll finish by mentioning that sometime tomorrow, as I’m running, one of my mentees through the National Kidney Donation Organization will be donating her kidney in Utah. I couldn’t have a better source for motivation than that—someone I’ve connected with, someone I’ve counseled, is going to save her sister’s life. One more spring in the step.