2013 MR340 Dispatch #4
It's interesting to dissect what makes a good ultra marathon paddler. We could talk about speed and proper form and stroke rate... and there's plenty of that stuff on this forum if you dig for it. But at a more fundamental level, what makes a good ultra marathon paddler? Are YOU a good ultra marathon paddler?
Well, if you're reading this, you probably are.
Why? Because you've self-selected to be here. It's a huge leap to go from hearing about the MR340 to actually signing up for the MR340. Lots of serious thought goes into that. And there are many people on this planet who have forgotten what it's like to take on an adventure or to test themselves. They will be safely in their cubicle or on their couch July 23rd. You will be attempting to cross the state of Missouri in a boat.
So good for you. The fact that you've got the guts to sign up says a lot about who you are and what brought you to this point. We like you already. You're not boring or sedated or just riding this ball of rock in circles. You're tapping into the same energy your antecedents did when they decided to grab a sharp stick and challenge the mammoth. Yes, they were badasses. So it should be no surprise that you are too!
For better or worse, we have it pretty easy these days. Food is plentiful, cars have airbags and our phones can talk back to us. Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan. But I think we all know there can be side effects to a modern, convenient life.
If you're reading this at work, like most of us do, just look around at your co-workers. What do they look forward to? What do they daydream about? The answer would probably depress you.
You've got maps and cool flashlights and a boat! All the ingredients for a great adventure. And, not coincidentally, you've signed on for a grueling, life changing quest. Does that make you superior to them? Yes. In so many ways. But try to remain humble. There's still lots of work to do.
Just because your grueling, life changing quest is still over 5 months away, doesn't mean you can't start doing grueling, life changing things right now!
1. Get in (better) shape.
Note, I did not say get in perfect shape. I mean, it's a great goal and go for it if you want to... but it's not essential to having a great 340. But I think improving your overall physical condition has lots of great bonuses that come with it. There's a mental discipline and toughness that comes from pushing yourself. And with that discipline and toughness will come some confidence. Do NOT roll your eyes. It's very true. If you start some sort of realistic, committed approach to getting in better condition, the physical and mental benefits are equal. And the race is probably more mental than physical.
Think about it. If you go into the race thinking, "I'm in horrible shape. I'm completely unprepared for this." Well, have you're ride meet you in Lexington. You will surely have talked yourself in to quitting by then. But contrast that with "This is the best shape I've been in in 5 years." I will see you in St. Charles with a smile on your face.
Here's some more advice. START TODAY. You know what to do. You do not need a gym membership. Make it a goal to be sore tomorrow. Along with that limp will come some swagger. I promise.
2. Develop your Missouri River literacy.
A lot of your possible anxiety about the race may rest in the fact that you've never paddled on the Missouri River. So you are concerned about what it may be like and if you're up to task. You keep hearing about barges and wing dykes and whirlpools and boils and it starts to sound a little intimidating. I recommend you make an effort to get out on the river, if possible, for some training runs or some of the shorter races offered prior to the MR340. This will go a long way towards assuaging your anxiety. It's also helpful to use a program like Google Earth to look at the places and things we're talking about in these dispatches. You'll be able to see the wing dikes, the islands, the checkpoint towns, etc. Won't be long and you'll have the whole route memorized. You'll know where the tributaries come in and where the best sandbars are for the impromptus that make up the race. Get your ground crew acclimated as well.
3. Proceed as the way opens.
I came upon this philosophy while reading the book River Horse and it has served me well ever since. We can never have every detail planned out and to be encumbered by a wish to have control over every aspect and possible outcome of an undertaking is to doom it. So often we talk ourselves out of things because we don't have all the answers. Or, we have so regimented ourselves in how we approach a task that we can't adapt to realities we didn't foresee. Proceed as the way opens is a great mantra to have out there during the race. You may have your whole race planned out on paper and be convinced you have the one true formula for your success. But there are unforeseen things that will happen. Some will be setbacks and some will be opportunities. You have to be open to that flow and be willing to release your plans and embrace some new ones.
Many philosophies invoke a river as a metaphor for how to approach life. Well, you'll be riding one great big metaphor all the way to St. Charles. Seems a shame not to embrace that just a little bit in both your preparation and execution.
I could write pages of examples for how this can play out during your race. Maybe you planned to sleep at Hills Island until sunrise. Your ground crew is meeting you in Miami at 10am. You approach Hills Island, paddling with a group of people you met that day... they're plan is to keep going all night. You feel great. You want to keep going. But the plan you wrote at your desk last month says stop at Hills Island. PROCEED AS THE WAY OPENS. Text your ground crew and tell them things have changed. You'll be at Miami 8 hours earlier than you thought. And you're craving pizza.
Example 2. A brutal headwind starts blowing on the afternoon of day 2. The river is rough and you're struggling to make progress in the heat. You're exhausted but you want to make Katfish Katy's before you stop and get some sleep. PROCEED AS THE WAY OPENS. You see a nice treed sandbar up ahead. You beach your boat and find some shade and sleep. Upon waking, the wind has laid down and the temperature has dropped. You're behind your schedule, but you're rested and now you can just touch and go at Katfish Katy's. Net gain!
So for now, as you plan your race strategy, promise yourself that you will be willing to adjust to both setbacks and windfalls.. It's good to have a solid plan and to prepare for that plan. But be confident, flexible and river literate enough to adjust to your advantage.
Next dispatch I want to talk more specifically about night paddling, fog and related weather issues.