My MR340 Experience
“Don’t worry this race has never been won in the first two miles.” That is what the kayaker next to me at the starting line told me. He could see that I was nervous and assumed that it concerned where I would place or what my time would be. Truthfully I was just nervous about whether or not I would be able to finish 340 miles in 88 hours. Prior to the 2016 race only 3 SUP’s had ever completed the MR340 and this year we had 15 SUP’s so chances were good that not all of us would finish. Along with the 15 SUP’s that competed this year, we were joined by a 3 man SUP in the team division.
The first day of the 340 was by far my favorite. Bart, Mitch and Joanne jumped out to an early lead but almost every other SUP was sticking together in a group. There was a lot of laughing, talking and getting to know each other. Towards the end of the afternoon on the first day we were spreading out more and more. A few SUP’s had trouble keeping food down in the 100 degree temperatures that afternoon and had to pull out at a checkpoint to eat and cool off.
In the early evening, clouds started rolling in and it was soon followed by thunder and lightning. About 20 minutes after the thunder had started it seemed like the lightning was gone. I pulled up to a checkpoint and while standing on my board in the eddy I asked some bystanders how the radar looked. Two or three different people answered saying that, “it should be fine,” or “you might just catch the tail of the storm.” The two other paddlers I was with and I decided that we would continue at a slower pace and hope that the storm would pass in front of us quickly.
About a mile past the checkpoint the lightning was back and fiercer than ever and it was time to get off the water. Unfortunately, all of the river banks nearby were steep and rocky and looked like they would thrash any board that came too close. Since pulling over wasn’t an option it was time to turn around and ride the eddy back up to the checkpoint. This plan worked out pretty well until debris forced me out of the eddy and it was time to fight the current back upstream. Luckily, I was fighting the current with a strong wind at my back and I made it back to the checkpoint.
While waiting out the storm at the checkpoint everyone refueled on food and water and rode out the storm under a pavilion. By the time I got back on the water this storm had cost me about 2 hours between paddling upstream and waiting on the bank. On the plus side I was able to get off the board for a while and stretch. As soon as it seemed that the lightning stopped everyone was underway again. Once back on the water everything became rhythmic and consistent.
Everything went pretty smooth through night one until 3am. From 3-5:30am was the time of day that I came to dread. At 3am all of your adrenaline is gone, your back muscles are screaming from pain and your mind starts playing tricks on you. While digging the paddle into the water you are falling asleep, only for a second or two until you are awakened with a jolt from the feeling of falling.
As miserable as the period from 3-5:30am is it makes the sunrise that much greater. As soon as you can see the faintest glows of sunlight your body begins to wake up again and give you a second wind. Shortly after the sun came up I was coming upon the 24 hour mark and a checkpoint. My goal the day before was to make it to this checkpoint before stopping to sleep and it was about to become a reality, it also meant that I had just paddled 141 miles in 24 hours. Having already talked to the ground crew and establishing this as an agreed upon camp site I pulled in and they helped me haul my board up the boat ramp and into a nice grassy area. Another pleasant surprise was when the ground crew had a breakfast of pepperoni pizza and raspberry scones ready.
Pizza and scones might sound like an odd combination but it was the best breakfast I could imagine at the time. After eating and getting my land legs back it was time for a quick nap before getting back on the water. I planned to sleep for an hour and a half and wake up just before my alarm went off. An hour and a half isn’t normally a lot of sleep but after waking up from this nap I felt like a new man.
On day 1 my food intake consisted of 20 peanut butter and jelly tortilla wraps, 1 Cliff energy block chew, 2 OX Endurance and 1 bag of gummy bears. Upon starting back out on the water for day 2 I could tell that peanut butter and jellies were not going to be easy to force down again in the heat of the day. Luckily one of the paddlers I was with had packed enough food for a small army and he tossed me a bag of fried chicken and a turkey sandwich, which I promptly packed in my Ice Mule Cooler that carried my food. As I launched again the ground crew asked about the schedule for the day. We decided to meet again at Katfish Katy’s and push on through the night till the Jefferson City checkpoint.
Being back on the water brought back many of the aches and pains that had just gone away. However, armed with a little over an hour’s sleep and another packet of OX Endurance I was able to press on. When paddling 340 miles your mental state can be your best friend or your worst enemy. It is very important to focus on the positives and forget the negatives. My positive thought for day 2: I get to change shirts tonight! Changing shirts doesn’t seem like that much of a positive until you’ve been in the same one for multiple days sweating and soaking in the muddy water. You can tell after day 1 that you stink by the looks on the ground crews faces but it’s not until day 2 when you start to smell yourself.
The pace on day 2 slowed considerably and this day felt more like a float trip than a race. If only I knew on day’s 1 and 2 what I learned on day 3 I would have finished much sooner. Day 2 progressed much the same as day 1 except the SUP’s had spread out so conversations were with kayakers and canoers. Night 2 was much more spread out than the first night and I didn’t see anyone other than the 2 SUP’s I was paddling with.
I made it to the Jefferson City checkpoint around 3 in the morning on day 3 and it was time to ward off the hallucinations with another nap. The ground crew already had a campsite ready by the time that I pulled up to the beach at the checkpoint. When you’re extremely tired it only takes seconds after lying down to fall asleep. Somehow as sleep deprived as I was throughout this entire trip my internal clock was always able to wake me up 5 minutes before the alarm went off.
Heading out on day 3 I was hoping that I could finish later that night, so my paddling partner Frank and I rethought how we could stay on the boards and keep a faster pace. Our solution included a timed break (3-5 minutes) every hour to eat and drink water. On top of this for 5 minutes out of every 30 minutes we would go down to our knees to help save our aching and swollen feet. Taking a break on the boards every hour might seem like a lot but this was the hottest day of the race with the heat index reaching above 105 degrees. To keep our pace amongst these breaks Frank and I decided that one of us should at all times keep up our pace. If one paddler needed to cool off or get out another water out of the cooler they would tell the other paddler you’ve got the pace. The pace paddler then continues on and the other paddler can then see where they need to be to catch up to the pace allowing them to work their way back slowly without sprinting to catch up. In the early afternoon on day 3 I passed the second to last checkpoint and Frank let me know that he had to slow down, but he encouraged me to keep going and try to finish that night. With Frank’s encouragement I pushed on.
I was in a rhythm and completely zoned out making great time until back spasms hit me about 5 miles above the last checkpoint. At this point I hadn’t seen any other paddlers in roughly 2 hours so keeping pace was even tougher. Frank had our only GPS so I was trying to calculate average speed in my head by reading mile marker signs and timing myself in between.
Finally with the back spasms and cramps bad enough I sat down on the board to rest and float for 30-40 minutes. Once I was back on my feet my only thought was to get to the next checkpoint so that I could get off the board. When I reached the last checkpoint the ground crew greeted me with food and a campsite. At this point I was almost 2 hours behind my goal pace that I had set that morning. Plan A was no longer achievable being this far behind. Plan B was to paddle through the night alone; however, since I had not seen a safety boat since day 1 and had to deal with wing dikes and barges I decided that this option was not worth the risk just to shave off a couple of hours. Plan C was always to finish 340 miles in the 88 hour time limit and I was still way ahead of this pace. I decided to camp at the last checkpoint and regroup with Frank and we would finish together day 4.
Our ground crew had everything set up and dinner ready when I pulled in so I told them I’m done for the day. With everyone’s supportive words I didn’t feel like I had failed by not finishing night 3, I had given it my best effort and was happy that I was only 27 miles from the finish. After carrying my board up the boat ramp and find a patch of grass to set it down in I began to repack my board so that it would be lighter on day 4. After repacking and brushing my teeth Frank pulled into the checkpoint. We sat around and talked about our day and made plans for the final stretch. We slept from 10:30 that night until 5:45 the next morning and it felt great.
As we were eating breakfast on day 4 a storm started to roll in with wind gusts at 35-40mph, so we talked again and decided to wait a bit and see if the winds would die down. Around 7 in the morning it appeared that the high winds were all gone and that there was little chance of lightning so we headed off. Being refreshed from a full night’s sleep and plenty of food we kept a decent pace the last day but also took the time to talk and look at scenery the last 27 miles.
Frank and I came in side by side to the finish line still feeling strong but happy to be done around noon on day 4. Frank and I tied for 7th overall in the SUP division. I was 2nd out of the unlimited boards on a 14’6” AlfaSUP Thunderbolt and Frank managed to come in 4th for Men’s 14’ SUP on his Jimmy Lewis Stiletto. Considering the fact that our original goal was just to finish within the time limit we were very pleased.
The MR340 is a test of your physical and mental ability. Without a paddling partner as good as Frank this race would have been much more difficult for me. We were able to keep each other in a positive state of mind and pushing our physical limits. (I want to thank Frank’s wife Cathy. If it wasn’t for her support and selflessness to help us through each checkpoint then I wouldn’t be able to say I completed this daring challenge of 340 miles). It was a record year for SUP’s: all but 2 stand-up paddlers finished within the time limit, Bart De Zwart crushed the SUP record, and we were able to do what many of the other racers thought was not possible on a SUP. If you are a stand-up paddler looking to push your boundaries the Missouri River is the place to do it. Don’t focus on who gets a podium spot but instead challenge yourself to finish and do your best. Completing 340 miles in 88 hours or less is a huge accomplishment and I would love to see more SUP’s attempt it next year.
Check out this video from this year's MR340