Remain calm. But the race is NEXT MONTH.
We're dialing things in on our end and hopefully you are too! Plenty of time remains to get you and your ground crew ready for this adventure. River levels look very friendly with lots of shoreline and sandbars currently above the water. Hopefully, you are getting some time in your boat and building up some stamina and calluses. And hopefully you're able to do some planning with your ground crew, whether they are physical or virtual, so that you've got a good plan A, B and C for day 1.
Below is a list of stuff you may be on top of already. If not, here's a handy to do list for the next couple of weeks.
1. Boat number: Please check the roster here: http://www.rivermiles.com/forum/YaBB.pl?num=1605122180
Verify that you have a valid boat number. If it says you need a new one, that means you chose one that was already taken. Send a new boat number choice. You can use CTRL-F to search the page for boat numbers that are taken. Ideally, the numbers should be minimum 3 inches high and reflective. The kind of numbers you can buy for your mailbox are perfect.
2. Reflective tape: Make sure your boat has reflective tape. Most commercially produced boats come with this. Shine a flashlight on your boat in a dark garage and you'll see it. If not, get some and place it along the boat so you're easy to see by fishermen, towboats, etc. Also a good idea to put some around the shaft of your paddle in case you drop it in the water and need to spot it in the dark.
3. Get a Ground Crew: Everyone is required to have a ground crew. You listed one when you registered. They can either be physically present during the race or virtual. A physical ground crew is obviously better and can help you finish by supplying you at checkpoints and keeping an eye on your condition. A virtual ground crew's primary job is to simply track you and make sure you are staying in contact with them on a pre-planned basis. If they lose track of you they must contact us to say they are concerned. Your job is to make sure they never get concerned.
4. WEAR YOUR PFD: PFD is required to be worn at ALL TIMES while in your boat. No Exceptions. Safety boats can document infractions with cell phone photos and send them to the race director. Time penalties will be added to final results. You can wear inflatables but beware that these often fail to deploy if not worn properly. Please test your inflatable prior to the race. A good, regular PFD will have handy pockets in front and be comfortable. It will also save your life.
5. Navigation Lights: Required on all boats. Red/green on bow. White on stern. These are perfect and are carried by one of our awesome sponsors! https://somebeachoutfitters.com/shop/page/3/ They run for 100 hours on a single battery. Can be attached simply with velcro to any boat. Use black tape to tape off the portion that shines towards the paddler. Make sure you are visible from 360 degrees. There should be no angle where fewer than two lights are visible. Set them to be steady on.. not blinking.
6. Strong Flashlight: A strong flashlight in your boat is essential at night. You can use it to shine up ahead and see what that noise is. Or to just turn on inside your kayak turning the whole boat into a glow stick if you're worried that fisherman can't see you. Or to signal a safety boat if you're pulled over and need help.
7. Rain gear/extra clothes: Assume you will either get rained on or otherwise cold at night. The steady drain of energy and calories can bite you at night and you can start to shiver. Simply putting on a rain shell under your PFD can reverse this immediately. Also, every boat must carry a foil "space" blanket per paddler for emergency warming.
8. Cell phone: Every boat must have at least one functional cell phone an a means of keeping it charged. This is your lifeline. Figure out how to keep it dry and charged aboard your boat.
9. Secure all gear: What happens if you flip over? What will you lose in the dark? Can you get back in your boat? What's your plan?
10. Duct Tape: Fix your paddle. Fix a small hole in your boat. Tape up your hands. For boat fixes consider taking it up a notch with having a stash of waterproof Flex Tape - https://flexsealproducts.com/products/flex-tape
11. Bring a lighter. Almost no weight penalty. Can start a fire. Your ancestors would be so jealous.
12. Some kind of footwear: Many folks end up barefoot and that's fine. But if you have to walk out of a situation it might be hundreds of yards to a road and then 5 miles until you find a house. Some sort of shoes stashed somewhere on your boat is important.
13. A whistle is required equipment per our insurance. Attach to your pfd. This can help us find you in the dark.
14. While we're attaching things to your PFD, a small button flashlight or other way to signal is important. Imagine separation from boat in the dark and you've swam to shore. All you have is what's on your PFD. So you've got a whistle and the flashlight or a chemical light to get the attention of a passing safety boat or fellow paddler.
15. Bring some cash: Especially important for the unsupported paddler. We have been able to get food vendors at every checkpoint and even some non checkpoints. These are usually local civic groups or boy scout troops raising money. You can eat pretty good at one of these food stands for $5-$10. Here are the places that we have food organized:
Please support these fine folks. If they don't make any money, they won't come back. Some of these same boy scout troops have been serving pancakes or burgers to paddlers for 13+ years. Some of these scouts weren't even born when we did the first MR340. Help them out if you can.
In a pinch, if you're out of food or water, ask a safety boat. There is no penalty for getting a drink from a safety boat. They will share what they have.
16. Plan with ground crew now: Sit down and look at a map and start coming up with plan A, B and C for days 1, 2, 3 and 4. Nobody sticks to plan A but you have to have one so you can throw it away. Your plan A will be where you optimally will meet, what you will want to eat at each stop, etc. If your crew is virtual, make sure you develop a plan like "I will text you at every stop and will tell you what my estimated time is at the next stop" A good ground crew will be keeping tabs on the weather for you... and also any news about barges, etc. Here's a nice little planning map put together by Steve Schnarr of River Relief! https://rivermiles.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/mr340checkpointmapmatrix2021.p
17. Watch the weather: If storms are possible, grab what you might need from ground crew. Do you need a small tent? Do you need extra clothes? Is it smarter to wait at a checkpoint and catch some sleep? If you are paddling and see distant lightning, start thinking about where you will pull off. Once a storm unleashes with wind, whitecaps, lightning and pouring rain, it's too late to pull off...you're fighting to just keep the boat upright. Better to be a half hour early pulling off than a half minute late.
18. DON'T Paddle In FOG: There are spots along the course that almost always fog up every year. It doesn't matter what fancy equipment you have or what GPS... fog is dangerous. Your GPS doesn't know if there's a barge or a dredge dead ahead. It's not worth it. Budget time for fog. If you start seeing the little wisps of fog dancing on the water, it's time to pull over. Pull out your foil blanket and get some sleep!
19. Make sure your boat is visible if on shore: If you pull over to sleep, please don't pull your boat up into the trees. Leave it where a safety boat can see it from the river. This is especially true at the back of the pack where the sweep boat is making sure no boat gets left behind. At night, go ahead and leave your nav lights on if possible.
20. Thumbs Up: If a safety boat is checking on you when pulled over or just drifting, they may just issue you a thumbs up. This is actually a question from them...Are you good? We're looking for you to return the thumbs up. This is instead of getting close enough to yell "Are you good?" 99% of the time, ya good. But sometimes there's a problem. If you need us, just wave your arms which means we need to talk.
21. Proceed as the way opens: There will be roadblocks that stop you and there will be opportunities for easy miles. Don't beat you head against a wall but also, don't turn down the gifts that will come. If your plan A was to sleep on night 2 from midnight to 5am, but you're feeling great at midnight and the moon is beautiful and you're with a good group of people...keep going! By the same token if your plan was to paddle night 2 but there's rain and thunder, climb in the tent and let the beautiful sleep wash over you. It will pay off later.
22. Use the river to stay cool: Heat stroke knocks folks out every year. Especially day 1. It will very possibly be in the mid to upper 90s with brutal heat indexes. BUT, the water in the river will be around 80 degrees. Dip your hat in it. Dip your sponge in it. Use it to help your body stay ahead of things. At a checkpoint or a sandbar or some SAFE shallow spot with your PFD on, squat in the water up to your neck and really get a reboot.
23. Stick with a group: Groups always move faster. And the miles go easier. If you latch on with a group of two or three boats you can keep everyone safer and get to St. Charles faster. AND your ground crews end up travelling together and looking out for each other.
24. Avoid Death by 1000 Cuts: For most, there is no one big moment that ends their race. It's a combination of things that knocks them out. Sun and heat leads to not drinking enough leads to not eating enough leads to feeling sick leads to dropping out... Or a bad hand blister leads to over using the other hand leads to a sore shoulder leads to leaning awkwardly leads to lower back tightening leads to dropping out. Choose your own disaster. Pay attention to your body and put out those small fires before they become out of control.
25. How Do You Eat An Elephant? One bite at a time. 340 miles is a looooong way. Missouri is a big state and the river is crooked. But you're not doing it all at once. You're doing it in 30-50 mile bites. You're doing it one river bend at a time. One song at a time. Sometimes one stroke at a time. Your boat is this little universe that you control. It's all you have to worry about. She'll take care of you. Just keep her pointed in the right direction and keep her moving. Keep your body fed, watered and protected. Eventually, you've gone more miles than you have left to go. Every 3.4 miles is 1% of the course. Can you paddle 3.4 miles? Of course you can. 3.4 miles is nothing. How about 34 miles? That's 10% of the course. You'll do that in the first handful of hours. There will be lots of small victories that will add up fast. The veterans will tell you, this is mostly a mental event. Your brain will tell you to quit more than once. But your brain is just... you. You get to decide what it tells you. You can say to yourself, out loud, I am doing this... I don't get tired... I feel great... I can't believe how good I feel... This is so much better than being at work... I am loving this... Sounds corny, I know... but ask anyone who routinely does ultra distance events... it's proven medicine. Consider the alternative self talk... This sucks... I can't do this... I hate this... what am I doing out here... how did I think I could finish this... That person, saying those things, is never going to finish. Yep, you'll be hurting. But you don't have to amplify that pain. You don't have to give it a voice.
67% of folks who start at Kaw Point end up finishing the MR340. Real things happen out there. Folks get stomach issues. Elbows swell up. Boats get cracked. This can happen to anyone. No shame in that. You lined up and went for it. Don't push yourself to an ambulance ride. If your arm is swollen or you can't keep food down it's time to call it. You're smart and you'll know if that time comes.
If you're pulling out of the race you must notify race officials! Tell safety boat or use the DNF feature on the RaceOwl app.
26. FAMILIARIZE yourself with RACEOWL
RaceOwl is the easy to use tracking website and app system developed and maintained by Jon Marble, a multi-year MR340 Veteran. With it, you can do all sorts of things and your friends and family can watch your progress. Here's some instructions from Jon about how to familiarize yourself with the app for tracking and checking in at checkpoints.
RaceOwl provides the safety and status communication system used during the MR340. Some of its features:
· Broadcast text messages update racers and ground crew on hazards such as barge traffic and incoming weather
· Race volunteers monitor the text messaging system to respond to questions and issues 24 hours a day while the race is underway
· Checkpoint check-in and check-out is accomplished by use of a RaceOwl app or text messages
· The RaceOwl website provides up-to-the-minute leaderboard status
· Racer locations are collected and presented to race watchers on a single website map page
· Racer split times and estimated checkpoint/paddle stop arrival times are available to ground crews
So you can learn more about how to use the RaceOwl system, we’ve created a series of training materials and opportunities:
1. Review the training documents available on RaceOwl.com. (http://raceowl.com/Home/Training)
2. Participate in events that use the RaceOwl system. For example: the Freedom race (June 26) or the MR340 practice event - http://www.raceowl.com/MR3402021Practice (going on now)
3. Follow the MR340 Facebook page and Rivermiles Forum to learn about upcoming Zoom training meeting(s) and/or webinars.
It is essential that you take time NOW to familiarize yourself and your ground crew with the RaceOwl system. If you wait until the 340 check-in to start thinking about a communication strategy, then you are going to have issues.
The following are some common strategies used by racers to check in/out and to be tracked down the river for family and friends.
1. ‘Checkpoint plus Tracking’: (BEST CHOICE)
This maximizes the cool utility of the RaceOwl App and your friends and family (and ground crew) will see you moving down the river.
You perform the required checkpoint status updates as required by the race and you provide periodic position updates to RaceOwl (aka position pings). RaceOwl then tracks and reports your current position.
This strategy is strongly encouraged because:
· Safety crews have an approximate current location of each racer
· Ground crews can know when to expect you at the next checkpoint or paddlestop.
· Spectators can enjoy tracking racers during the event.
There are two ways to track your position during the race:
· Use a satellite tracker, such as Garmin InReach or SPOT Tracker. The benefit of using a satellite tracker is that you will have continuous connectivity over the entire race course. However, satellite trackers can be very costly. RaceOwl requires the tracker ID’s be registered with the RaceOwl website. Instructions for registration are included in the RaceOwl training material on the website. Please register your device as soon as possible after the MR340 becomes available on RaceOwl in early July.
· Use the RaceOwl app for iOS or Android. The RaceOwl app offers the ability to both track the racer and handle the required checkpoint logging. The apps will not be able to send your position when there is no cell service. During these times, the app will save your position pings and then send when service becomes available again. In the newer phones, position pings have minimal impact on battery usage. However, you will still need to have some sort of recharge capability. Consider a 20k mah charging brick and charge your phone in a shaded dry area (e.g. a water proof electronics box).
2. The NON-Tracking, Check IN/Out at checkpoints strategy: (simple, no tracking, meets checkpoint requirements)
This means you have downloaded a RaceOwl app and you (or your ground crew) check in/out/dnf at checkpoints as you enter or exit. The apps are available for iOS or android:
Make sure if you have an older version that you update to the latest version for important updates and bug fixes.
There is also an older SMS (text based) version of the checkpoint app available for iOS and Android here:
The older version is no longer maintained and it is missing some of the ‘ease of use’ features from RaceOwl. It is recommended as a backup app if the more advanced version fails for whatever reason. But it does work and will format the text for the system. It is simple and SMS based (text based) so it will work in areas when you do not have data.
If you do not have a smart phone you can use your flip phone to text in your checkpoint status to the RaceOwl text in number provided at the safety meeting. The RaceOwl system needs the message formed in a specific way to automatically recognize your status. That format is: ‘[boat number] [checkpoint] [Day] [Time] [status]’. Where status can be in, out, or dnf (did not finish). An example is: ‘1234 Waverly Tues 4:30PM in’ This strategy is not recommended. This satisfies minimum safety requirements. But, as you grow tired and everything hurts, typing a text becomes exceedingly difficult. Many of the texts will become unreadable by the automated system. In that case, the texts are forwarded to the volunteers. Text message interpretation provides some comic relief but can lead to inaccuracies and un-necessary distractions from other safety critical situations. So ideally, you'll use one of the free RaceOwl apps to format the text for you on a smart phone. But if the flip is all you have, that will work. And you can keep resending the same message and just change the checkpoint and time so that the format stays intact.
If you have any questions, contact RaceOwl at RaceOwl.Info@gmail.com
Remember, your first check in from the RaceOwl app on your phone happens the day before the race at Kaw Point Park between noon and 8pm. Please come with the app on your phone and if you have questions we can help answer them there. Once you get that first check in under your belt, the next one isn't until the next day at Waverly. We'll iron out the questions for you if any. But if you download the app and play with it a little, you'll catch on quickly.
Download some of the above choices and start familiarizing yourself now. It sounds daunting if you've never used any of them. But by playing with them now you'll find that you quickly "get it" and can easily grasp the concept. And we're here if you have questions! And there will also be volunteers and safety boats at the ramps to help.
That's a bunch of stuff to digest for now. We'll check back in soon with the next dispatch.
See you July 19th at Kaw Point Park!!
The Race Team