06/02/16 AT 22:18:45
RaceOwl, Ground Crew and Checking In
Back in the old days of the MR340, we used to have poor souls chained to boat ramps with pencils and clipboards signing racers in and out. Then, when the checkpoint closed we'd look to see who did or didn't sign in and we'd freak out and make dozens of phone calls and figure out everyone was fine and then we'd move on down the river and do it all over again.
And that was when we only allowed 150 boats.
Finally, thanks to some smart people and some smart phones we've made the leap into the 21st century. Jeff Ilseman, Hogan Haake and Jon Marble (all 340 veterans) have combined to invent RaceOwl.com and some associated tech that make tracking racers easy for our safety teams AND spectators watching online.
Here's the basics.
Every boat is required to carry a phone. Been the rule since 2006 when the race was born. Now, instead of checking in via pencil and clipboard, you check in with a text message to a designated phone number. Those texts, if formatted perfectly, get instantly posted to RaceOwl. And if they aren't formatted perfectly, then a nearly perfect human being will process the text. This is good because sometimes you'll say something like "This Sux" and we will laugh and post your time out of Miami at 3am.
The format in a perfect world would look like this:
Boat Number(space)Checkpoint(space)Day Of The Week(space)4 digit time am/pm(space) In or Out
Example 1: 1166 Lexington Tue 05:08pm In
Example 2: 0011 Katfish Katy Thur 04:45am Out
Again, it's not a huge deal if you mess up the format. Just be sure we have the basics like boat number, checkpoint, and date/time. Our crew can figure it out and can text you back if they have a question.
If you REALLY want to get slick you and your ground crew go to the apple or android app store and download the free MR340 Checkpoint Text app from MarbleWare This is sweet. You just select the checkpoint, and select IN or OUT and it does the rest for you. There is even a space for you to post a message. For example, if you were dropping out at Glasgow you'd choose "Glasgow" and then type "we are pulling out of the race" then hit send and you're done. Download this app and play with it. We will use it in a future dispatch to test everyone out on RaceOwl. That way we will know who is paying attention.
So now you have the basics of the check in system. There are 8 checkpoints where you or your ground crew will HAVE to do this. These are the same checkpoints where we have our cutoff times. You will be a pro by checkpoint 2. Don't sweat this. We will do practice texts in the future and get you dialed in. Though you may have to train some of the older generation.
When a checkpoint closes...like Lexington at 5pm on Day 1, we look through Raceowl to determine what paddlers have not checked in. Ideally, all would be accounted for. Any that are not have to be hunted down by safety boats and shore volunteers. We will call your cell, your ground crew's cell, you emergency contact, etc. Almost without fail, a missing paddler is discovered to have quit the race, loaded his boat and is on the way home when we call. YOU HAVE TO text and let us know you are withdrawing. Sometimes the paddler tried to send a text but their phone failed, etc. Make sure the text goes through. If your phone doesn't have a signal or battery is dead, don't leave the checkpoint until you've borrowed a phone from race staff and gotten yours charged back up.
For clarification, you do not have to stop at a checkpoint. But you do have to check in. This can be done from your boat or by your ground crew on shore. You do need to paddle close enough to shore for them to confirm that it is you. You should be within voice distance so there is zero confusion if that was you or not.
This is not something to skip or ignore. You are responsible for doing this. If you don't check in, we assume the worst and have to pull resources to go find you. It is frustrating to learn later that you just couldn't be bothered with such a detail and paddled on by. This is also grounds for disqualification... pretty standard penalty for an ultra marathon adventure race of any kind. And if you decide to pull out of the race, you definitely have to text that in and let us know. Otherwise we look for you.
This brings us to ground crew. Everyone is required to have a ground crew. Most will have a physically present ground crew to help them at checkpoints and to monitor their progress. Ground crews serve an important role in that they are the first to realize if a paddler is late and possibly having problems. Your ground crew becomes very good at predicting when you will arrive at a checkpoint. If your are an hour or more late they will typically inform the safety boat team on site and we can begin to see if there is an issue.
But for unsupported paddlers, it's different. There is no ground crew on site to monitor them. They are therefore the most vulnerable to long delays in getting assistance. We wouldn't know that unsupported paddler was "late" until the checkpoint closed. Therefore we require all racers to have a ground crew, even if they aren't on site. This means that if your ground crew is home, you still need to have a plan to contact them on a regular basis. An unsupported boat MUST maintain regular contact with their virtual ground crew.
This is easily done with text messaging. Let's say John is an unsupported soloist doing the 340. His ground crew is Sara at home with their kids. John tells Sara he will text her at each checkpoint and let her know his plan to the next checkpoint. So John arrives in Lexington. He texts in to Raceowl that he has arrived. He then texts Sara:
Made Lexington. On to Waverly. Should arrive there by 7pm. Love, John.
Now Sara knows to expect another text from John at 7pm. She also knows that if John is 15 minutes late, it's no big deal. This is John, after all. But she also knows that if John were going to be much later than that, he would stop paddling and text that to her. If John was really late and Sara wasn't getting a response, she would let race officials know and we would be watching for John via safety boat.
So Sara is doing a job that our safety team could never do. She is tracking an individual paddler to the minute on his planned arrival to a checkpoint. She is watching closely over him among the 399 other boats in that field. A physically present ground crew does this as a matter of course, standing on shore watching the boats come in. Sara is doing that as well, via her phone.
Repeat: UNSUPPORTED PADDLERS MUST HAVE A GROUND CREW IN REGULAR CONTACT WITH THEM DURING THE RACE.
Also, regarding unsupported racers, every year we see wonderful ground crews "adopt" the unsupported that are paddling in the same crowd as their team. These unsupported boats would be thrilled if they could get a crew to pick them up a few items and have them at the next checkpoint. It saves them a bunch of time and helps them keep up with your team and keep them company out there in the lonely miles. Thanks ahead of time for helping where you can.
Last year was the biggest field of racers we'd ever had. We have similar numbers this year. That means the early checkpoints like Lexington, Waverly and Miami are going to be very crowded. As the first racers come through you'll see very efficient ground crews grab their empty jugs and trash and quickly replace with full jugs and food. Then the boat is GONE, barely having stopped for 30 seconds or less. Many experienced ground crews will skip crowded checkpoints in lieu of other ramps between checkpoints. (The ground crews, however, will still be at the regular checkpoints to check their teams in.)
As the fastest racers go by we start see the boats that will stay longer at the checkpoints and so crowds develop at the ramp. The ramp needs to stay as clear as possible for boats to get what they need and move out. At Lexington, there is lots of muddy shoreline where boats can pull up and so crowding is not as big an issue. But at Waverly and Miami it's almost exclusively the ramp and then things can get very busy. In Waverly or Miami, if you plan to stay more than 2 minutes, you'll need to have your boat carried up and off the ramp then relaunch after you've got what you need. The ramp will need to stay clear for boats making quick stops and for boat trying to launch after extended stops.
Waverly and Miami have teams of ramp volunteers to assist this process. Robin Kalthoff's Missouri Stream Team will be managing Waverly and the City of Miami volunteers will be covering Miami. Both sites will have a boat corral cordoned off near the ramp where boats for those staying more than a few minutes can be stored. Please work with these volunteers to keep the ramp clear and functional.
Creative ground crews will be willing to meet their boat in muddy, rocky spots up and down from the immediate area of the ramp. Your boat will arrive and be looking for a familiar face. Flag them down and point to where you want them to land.
Remember too that it't not required that you stop at a checkpoint. If you have enough food and water to make your next rendezvous, you can just make verbal contact with your ground crew and keep going. All teams must make verbal contact at minimum.
Things will spread out a bit by Glasgow but throughout the race, the ramp etiquette must be maintained. The ramp cannot be clogged with boats lingering more than a couple minutes. If you get out of your boat for any reason, you should haul it up the ramp and out of the way.
There are also many other ramps where you can meet your paddler besides the checkpoints. This is where your strategy and planning comes into play. Stop at Ft. Osage for resupply? Then you can probably skip a stop at Lexington. Or maybe stop at Lexington and get enough to make Miami so you can skip Waverly. All options exist if you know the river and the non checkpoint ramps. To help with your planning, here are links to some good map pages of the river. These will be good to have in your ground crew vehicle OR with your virtual ground crew back home.
Please note that it is impractical to meet at any ramp that is upstream on a tributary. Please also note that it is not legal to have your ground crew trespass on private property or to resupply by boat. Let me know if you have questions on this.
Being a ground crew can be a ton of fun on this race. There are all kinds of tricks and strategies that emerge and your ground crew may surprise you at several spots you aren't expecting them. And they'll make friends along the way with perfect strangers, just like you will. And the cool thing is, the paddlers you hang with will be related to the ground crews they are hanging with... So lots of opportunity for cooperation and helping each other.
Well, that's a bunch to digest. I'm happy to answer questions. Here's a list of some things to keep you busy before the next dispatch.
1. Put numbers on your boat. Minimum 3inch high and reflective. Both sides of your bow.
2. Put nav lights on your boat. Red/Green on bow. White stern.
3. Practice and train.
4. Figure out where the safety meeting is held.
5. Figure out where Kaw Point is.
6. Download the MR340 Checkpoint Text app from MarbleWare. Play around with it.
7. Train your ground crew on the checkpoint app.
8. Review maps with ground crew and make a plan.
9. If you don't have a physical ground crew, find one. If you can't find one, get your plan squared with your virtual ground crew so they are accountable for hearing from you on a regular basis.
10. Get a comfortable PFD that you can wear from gun to finish line.
Talk to you soon.