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The Last Desert, Stages 4 & 5

Matt Cavanaugh

Today was a game of last man standing—and at the end, I was still up. After five stages I’m up by 6.7 kilometers on second place. After tying for first on Stage 1, I’ve won all the stages since. (They’ve had a hard time with mistakes in record-keeping, but have fixed those mistakes when pointed out.)

As promised, we had a time-flop. We ran Stage 4 Monday night until about 9:30 p.m., then this morning (Tuesday) we got up and boarded the Zodiacs at 6:30 a.m. for a 7 a.m. start. Stage 4 was on a place called Danco Island, which featured a 300-foot slope, like a hillside you’d see kids sled down. The course was 2.1 kilometers, again due to poor weather (wet snow and wind), and if you stepped back it looked like a giant upside down Christmas tree. Switchbacks up to the top, slowly widening out to the right as you went up, connecting to a long flat at the top of the hill, followed by winding zig zags all the way down to a common point for the start/finish. 

It was ugly. Honestly, the ugliest day of running in my entire life. And that’s saying something. Most days the course hardens up over time as more feet punch down the snow to pack it in. Yesterday it got wetter as the day went on, so the snow softened over time, which meant your feet punched through more as the day went on. You just couldn’t get much speed up anywhere on course, though I did add a little to my lead. It’s a run I’d like to forget.

Today was better, but hard to turn around after a late night. We didn’t get to bed until about 11 p.m. and had to be up for a 5 a.m. breakfast and 6:30 a.m. departure. We were on Peterman Island, where the Argentinian government keeps a scientific station (though unoccupied at the moment). It was our best stage so far, our most runnable stage, with reasonably good weather, even a bit of sun, and about 1.5 kilometers in the whole loop. 

Today it became clear that the German has fallen behind, and so has the Russian—so my competition is the Japanese runner who has beaten me twice this year (I’ve beaten him once). He goes by “Mori Mori,” but I just call him “Mori.” We got into this equilibrium today where I was about half a loop up on him and we’d keep seeing one another at the same point on the course all day. We ran for about 5 hours today, so we were both well aware of our position in relation to one another. 

With about an hour to go, I did the math and figured out that if we held our pace, I’d be able to get in one extra lap at the very end, and he’d miss the cut-off and have to stop. And that’s the way it went—I got in an extra 1.5-kilometer loop in at the end of a 5 hour day—and nicked him. Believe me, it’s hard to quantify how it feels to make 5 hours of running to count for something like that. I know it seems ridiculous, but today it didn’t. 

I’m beat up at this point. The conditions have forced me to drop my eye protection most of the time, so my eyes are pretty irritated from being out in the wind and snow. My legs are OK, but incredibly stiff. 

We don’t know what’s to come. We’ve heard there’s some bad weather coming, but no more than that—we don’t know what that might mean for the race.