Dispatch 3 [2018]

06/03/18 AT 18:55:04

Hopefully you've also had a chance to watch some of the Chris Luedke videos.   Add this one to your list:  It describes the start at Kaw Point.

Because of the size of the field and the high number of bridges in the first 5 miles of the race we have two starts.  7am for solos and 8am for everything else.  The Kansas City Fire Department has boats in the water just in case there are some capsizes around the bridges.  As Chris points out in the video, there are often capsizes in the mixing zone of the Kaw and Missouri Rivers.  The fire department sorts these out as well. 

Once you're through the enjoyable chaos of the start and you've ticked a few bridges off your list the pack sort of settles into a long conga line of boats.  Folks are getting their rhythm and are passing boats or getting passed.  Your goal during this opening hour or two should be to find that stroke rate and speed that is sustainable for DAYS.  You've hopefully already done this through training and racing in the months prior.  If so, you know there is a sweet spot for you and your boat where the miles come easy without a lot of wasted energy. 

A quiet ride is an efficient ride. 

Every hull is different but a good way to tell your boat is in the efficient zone is if it is quietly gliding over and through the water.  If you hear a bunch of water rushing around the bow of your boat, it's possible you are trying to push that boat faster than it's natural efficient cruising speed.  And that's fine if you're racing a 5k at Shawnee Mission Lake on Wednesday night but it may be an unsustainable speed when you're doing 100 5ks in a row during the 340. 

I'm not giving advice here to the podium finishers who will do this race under 40 hours.  This is for the folks who want to finish the race and have a good experience while doing so.  It's to your benefit to find that speed and stroke rate that you can work for hours on end and put miles behind you without burning out. 

This will be a different speed for everyone and for every boat.  So in this sorting process from Kaw Point to Lexington, don't stress about other boats muscling past you.  You're really just trying to find that zen state of efficiency that gives you the best shot at finishing. 

There will be guys in shiny new boats that blow out of Kaw Point with whitewater at their bow and spray flying off their paddles.  And you will pass them 15 miles later... their paddles resting in their laps.  They'll be messing with their gps, already miserable and hurting and disillusioned... and you'll glide past doing the same mph you were doing two hours ago when they flew by.  It really is the tortoise and the hare for days and days. 

So find your sustainable groove early.  And if you've been training and racing, you already may know it.

Other considerations for efficiency. 

WEIGHT:  There is some magical thinking that because you're on water, there is no penalty for weight.  But I promise you that there is a stroke penalty for every ounce you carry from Kansas City to St. Charles.  If you were walking from KC to St. Charles, or riding a bike, this would be obvious and you'd pack light.  But for some reason we think that if there's room in the canoe we might as well take it along because what difference does it make? 

Because the race is soooo long.  Small efficiencies will add up over time to make a big difference.  So think carefully about what you bring and how much.  When sitting there with all your gear, trying to decide what to bring along, imagine there's a time stamped on everything.  Think you need binoculars?  Gonna cost 8 minutes of extra paddling to drag those to St. Charles.  Lucky rabbit's foot?  1 minute.  Celebratory bottle of champagne for the finish line?  9 minutes. 

And what about you?  Same rules of physics apply to that 10 pounds you've been meaning to lose before the race.  How much will that cost you in extra time and strokes out there?  I don't know the exact math, but I know that the 190 pound version of you has a huge advantage over the 200 pound version.  Physics doesn't care.  Physics shows no mercy.

What you really need are the essentials, and that list will depend on whether you have a physical ground crew vs a virtual ground crew.  (All boats must have one or the other)   A virtual ground crew monitors your progress from home and alerts us if they haven't heard from you in a timely manner.  A physical ground crew is there on site and checks with you in person on a regular basis.  We highly recommend a physically present ground crew to resupply you at checkpoints along the way.  This will allow you to carry less gear and nourishment between checkpoints and will make you faster.

Another way to create efficiency is to draft off other boats.  This is especially easy during day 1 where you will be within talking distance of boats all day and all night.  Chris Luedke made a great video about drafting and I'll let you watch that here:

And the final and most important secret to maintaining efficiency over a 340 mile race course?  It's so plainly obvious but many folks miss this one and it is the common demise of many racers.  STAY IN THE BOAT. 

Let's say you've done everything right and you have made great time from KC to your first scheduled meeting with ground crew.  You were efficient and kept a good stroke rate and carried no extra weight and passed by lots of boats that were overpacked and all over the river weaving back and forth out of the fast water.  But then, you get to that first checkpoint and you give it all back.  Your ground crew wasn't ready for you so all the gear is still in their car.  The ramp is crowded so it's a quarter mile walk to get it.  Then you get in line at the BBQ trailer.  Then you find a shady spot to eat.  Then you decide to clean the mud off your boat, etc, etc. 

Every minute you spend on land is a minute you could have been in the boat, letting the river move you to your goal. 

Everything you can do in the boat, you should do in the boat.  Can you eat in the boat?  Yep.  And the river will move you about 3mph while you do it.  Can you pee in the boat?  Heck yes.  Figure it out.  You will have to pee countless times out there.  Do you really imagine that you'll pull over each time?  Good luck with that.  You'll be so worn out from that process you will never make it to Glasgow, forget St. Charles.  Can you sleep in the boat?  If you're a tandem or team boat, sure you can take turns catching some sleep, if you've prepared for it ahead of time and got your boat set up for it. 

That doesn't mean you need to short change yourself of the experience of visiting a checkpoint and talking to racers and thanking your ground crew and posing for pictures.  That's all part of the race and fun stuff and hopefully you've banked lots of time and can relax and enjoy it.  But if you're up against the cutoff times and worried about the Reaper (our pace boat) catching and eliminating you, minimize your shore time and let the river work for you.

More about the Reaper and how the pace boat works can be viewed here:


Checkpoints and Cutoff Times:

Kaw Point, mile 367, Race Begins, 8am (7am for solo) Tuesday, July 24.   

Lexington, mile 317, (50 miles) 5pm Tuesday   Leg avg.  5.56mph  Total avg. 5.56   

Waverly, mile 294, (23 miles) 9pm Tuesday  Leg avg. 5.75mph  Total avg. 5.62   

Glasgow, mile 226, (68 miles) 6pm Wed.  Leg avg. 5.14mph  Total avg. 4.15   

Wilson's Serenity Point at Noren Access (Jeff City), mile 144, (82 miles) 7pm Thurs.  5.14mph  Total avg. 3.78    

Hermann, mile 98, (46 miles) 10am Friday  3.07mph  Total avg. 3.64   

Klondike, mile 56 (42 miles) 6pm Friday  5.25 mph  Total avg. 3.79   

St. Charles, mile 29, finish line, (27 miles)  Midnight   4.50mph  Total avg. 3.85 mph

These cutoff times are part of our safety plan filed with the United States Coast Guard and the Missouri Water Patrol.  Cutoff times are essential to adventure racing and ultra-marathon events to keep participants in a reasonable safety halo.  The times have been fine tuned over the previous 12 races.  In your preparation for the race, we recommend planning to build a cushion of time over the course of your miles so that you are not tight up against the clock at each checkpoint.  The split times between checkpoints are generous and allow for this.  It's essential to bank up some time so that when things are imperfect like weather, fog or motivation, you'll have a buffer to play with.  Barely scooting into each checkpoint is not a sustainable strategy.  One hiccup can end your race.

I know some of you have been stressing about the cutoff times.  But given time for further study, you'll soon see that there is a lot of wiggle room built in to each night.  The math is such that, in theory, a person could be off the river every night by 9pm and then back on the water at 5am and still make all the cutoff times.  I am not sure anyone has tried this.  Well, I take that back.  They have tried it, but they woke up at 5am in Waverly and decided they did not want to get back on the water.  DNF (Did Not Finish)  Not because they couldn't have made it to Miami in time, but because they were stiff and sore and the entire race was now 32 miles ahead of them and it was psychologically overwhelming to continue. 

Everyone who does finish the race paddles in the dark for portions of the journey.  Not really because they HAVE to but because they WANT to.  Paddling at night, if done responsibly and safely, will be one of your favorite parts of the event.  Ask any veteran of the race.  You'll be looking forward to sunset each day.

If paddling at night is an apprehension you have about this race, I'm here to help you unpack that a little and hopefully feel better.  Because there is a lot to feel apprehensive about paddling 340 miles in 88 hours... but paddling at night really isn't one of them if done properly.

Fear #1
I won't be able to see, I'll get disoriented and I'll hit something.

Maybe, but unlikely.  First, darkness is a very gradual process.  You'll paddle at least 73 miles in daylight from KC to Waverly.  Lots of time to learn the ins and outs of paddling the Missouri River if you're not from the area.  And lots of time to wish the sun would hurry up and go down so it wouldn't be so hot.  Somewhere between 8 and 830 it will start getting dusky and you'll finally take your sunglasses off.  Somewhere around 9pm you'll see the brightest stars.  By 10pm you'll be paddling under the full moon but you'll still easily see the gray treeline on both sides and the water will be a a darker color sparkling with reflected stars and moonlight. 

And in your nightmare where you're lost and disoriented and frantically paddling, you were probably all alone.  Not here.  If solitude was your hope for this race, I'm sorry.  You will see nothing but canoes ahead and behind.  Little red, green and white navigation lights on all the canoes and kayaks, all paddling in the same direction, all talking and singing and complaining and laughing and asking how far to the next checkpoint. 

Now, there ARE things you could accidentally hit out there.  Buoys, bridges, sand dredges, parked dredges, wing dikes, trees, etc. 

Most of these would be visible and easily avoided under normal circumstances.  Much harder to see if there is a storm or fog.  For this reason, we advise everyone to get off the river in the event of storms or fog.  More on that later.

Fear #2
What if i miss the checkpoint in the dark?

Nearly impossible.  Each checkpoint is marked with a blue flashing strobe and a large yellow flag.  They are also noisy.  You'll hear cars starting, people talking, boats clunking, etc.  And you will see the checkpoint up ahead for 30+ minutes as you paddle toward it.  Plenty of time to get your boat to that side of the river and pull in. 

It is disorienting to pull in to a checkpoint at night.  You've been paddling along on what looks and feels almost like a lake.  It's hard to discern that the water is moving. But when you set up to land on solid ground, it suddenly seems like the water is moving very fast and it takes some mental adjusting.  This is really not anything to worry about, just trying to let you be prepared for about 4 seconds of some weird river vertigo until you get your bearings.  Even multi year veterans who have been to these checkpoints in the dark again and again will feel this.  Again, you'll likely have the benefit of other boats landing ahead of you.  And lots of time to watch a few landings as you approach.  First, you identify where the ramp is.  There will be people there who appear to be standing on water.  That's the ramp.  It is angled downstream and often nearly parallel to the shore.  You will want to be near that shore, drifting alongside the ramp and as you drift past it you will then turn upstream and paddle up to the ramp.  Don't worry.  You did this earlier today at Lexington and at Waverly.  Miami is where most paddlers land after dark.  It is almost the exact ramp setup as Waverly.  There will be race volunteers down at the ramp to help you land and secure your boat.  Like the other ramps you've been to that day, they will ask if you're doing a touch and go or if you're going to be there more than a minute.  If you're staying more than a minute, they will ask you to carry your boat up the ramp (they will help you) so the bottom of the ramp remains open for the next paddler to land.  This is basic ramp operations all the way down the river.

Fear #3

How will I know where I am.

The river is marked nearly every 1-2 miles with mile markers.  There is one right at the peninsula at Kaw Point if you want to get a sneak peak of what they look like the day before the race.  This one says 367.5 which means 367.5 miles to mile 0 where the river enters the Mississippi.  You are only paddling 340 miles of this to St. Charles.

You'll have in your possession during the race a Safety Card with important info and phone numbers.  It is on waterproof paper.  This should be kept in a pocket on your PFD or somewhere on your person where you can easily access it.  It will have the checkpoint list and mile markers exactly as at the start of this dispatch.  You will almost have this list of mile markers memorized.  You will know that Miami is MM262 and so you will be watching these miles tick down as you approach. 

We used to have to hunt for these mile markers with flashlights and then paddle over to try to read them in the dark.  But now, good old technology has made paddling the river night or day even easier.

Jon Marble, a multi year veteran of the race and computer programmer has created the MR340 PRO Paddler app.  Talk about a breakthrough.  This $5 app does the work of an $800 chartplotter.  There is tons of utility built in for checking in to checkpoints nearly automatically to calculating your average speed and distance to next goal.  It is only available for android phones.  But if you're an apple person, it's still worth buying a used android phone and just using your home wifi to download the app.  It does NOT need phone service to function for navigation and speed display.  It just needs the internal gps to work.  So having an apple is no excuse.  Buy and old samsung galaxy 3 or newer and get the app.  It will be a great investment. 

Here are some videos about the MR340 PRO Paddler app.  Pay attention especially to the navigation features where it shows the map of the Missouri. 

Jon also has an app for texting in only.  This is highly recommended for you and your ground crew.  It is called MR340 Check Point Texter and is FREE and available for IPHONE AND ANDROID.  It doesn't do the mapping but it will format a perfect text for you with the touch of a couple buttons and send that text directly into the tracking system at RaceOwl and make everything run smoothly for our volunteers.  You can text from your boat or your ground crew can do it from shore.  Any phone can run this app.  Download it and play around with it so you can train your ground crew. 

Fear #4
The map shows the river and the wing dikes and bridges but what about the buoys and dredges and barges?

If visibility is good you will see these things.  If visibility if NOT good,  (storm, fog) you should get off the river.  A good LED flashlight ($20) can pick out almost anything that doesn't look right.  But it will be useless in rain or fog and will just shine back in your face. 

Here are two great Chris Luedke videos about paddling at night and fog.  Please watch both.  Each are about 5 minutes.

Night Paddling:


Great pictures and commentary to let you experience some of what night paddling will be like out there.

Feeling overwhelmed? 

Don't!  Everything you're stressing about or worrying about will be fine.  The things you think you won't be able to do will come easily while the things you aren't worrying about will surprise you and become challenges.  It's all part of this experience and this community of paddlers.  We all help each other.  We all cheer each other.  We all work together to get everyone down the river to St. Charles.  It will be one of the toughest things you do and also the most valued. 

We all suffer from an un-diagnosed homesickness for that feeling of cooperation and community which has sadly evaporated.  We are wired for this cooperation by tens of thousands of years of working together in small groups and getting through each day making sure everyone was safe and well.  Out there you will feel that familiar feeling, like you're part of a group with a shared goal.  It feels good.  If you're lucky, it seeps into the rest of your non-racing life a bit!

It's normal to feel anxious and to worry about the race.  Even the multi year veterans get nervous.  Even the race staff gets nervous!  It's a big undertaking for all of us!  Just know that we are all there pitching in to help and nobody gets laughed at or yelled at. 

Instead of the disaster you imagine happening to you at the starting line or somewhere down the river, picture a beautiful night with a full moon.  You're paddling among several other boats filled with friendly people.  Your ground crew is resting at the next checkpoint and ready for you.  St. Charles is getting closer every second. 

We'll do it!

More to come soon.

Until then, let me know what questions you have.


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