MR340 Adventure: The Longest Continuous Paddle Race

MR340 2018 View

Lately I’ve really been into the concept of pushing my body and being in nature. I haven’t taken it to the extreme or anything. Just trying to do a headstand in yoga is where I’m at right now. But I’ve been wanting to do more hiking, biking, and all-around outdoorsy/active things.

I do some “adventure” things here in there – one birthday I talked my husband into going to Trapeze School, another time I took some friends back there to do the silks, in 2013 I ran a half marathon, last year I went biking in Tahoe and did goat yoga in Phoenix (not hard, just fun!).

I grew up doing a lot of fun outdoor things — hiking in Colorado, repelling, rock climbing, ropes courses, float trips, skiing — and I just want to a lot more of that type of stuff as an adult, and maybe even attempt some things that are a little nuts like 29029. Basically make a big goal and train for it. I’d say my half marathon was probably the closest thing to that I’ve ever done (and I don’t really have a desire to run any other long races — too hard on my knees).

Personally I want to do some long hikes and longer bike rides, go on some yoga and wellness retreats, go to tennis camp, etc. I think in this day and age of technology we really have to TRY to unplug and reconnect with people and nature. Less Instagram, more IRL experiences!

Recently, my cousin Adam, just completed the longest continuous paddle race the MR340. It begins in Kansas City (where he just happens to live) and participants paddle 340 miles all the way to St. Charles, Missouri (near St. Louis) in under 88 hours. This endurance race takes participants across the state of Missouri. I thought it was so cool that he did this with two of his other cousins (other side of his family), so I wanted to interview him about the experience and share it with you all!

If you’ve done something unique and cool like this, please email me (see details at the end of the post) — maybe I can tell your story too!

MR340 2018 Missouri River Race

You’ve always been somewhat outdoorsy, tell me about that. 

I grew up fishing with my grandfather on his lake which was, I’d say, the introduction to outdoor activities, other than sports, and probably one of my favorite childhood memories. I’d spend the night before opening day of trout season, we’d get up early and spend the day fishing. Something about being in nature when the sun came up stuck with me.

In the past three years, my job affords me the luxury of traveling to Colorado 3-4 times per month. I fell in love with Colorado while in high school as we would ski every winter. I started hiking while on my business trips and this past summer completed my first two 14,000-feet hikes (14ers as some people refer to them), which became an instant addiction and a need to find ways to challenge myself, physically and mentally, with outdoor related activities.

You and your cousins Luke & Jake just finished the world’s longest continuous paddle race, the Missouri American Water MR340. What made you want to do it? 

The MR340 is a challenge I have wanted to participate in for quite some time now, I just never really pulled the trigger. While deer hunting last year with my cousins, we discussed trying it as a team and the idea grew momentum and became more real. We signed up on January 12, 2018. This challenge was local, affordable, and not your weekend beer-drinking float trip. I wanted the mental and physical challenge of being one of the few that have completed it.

Do you have a passion for canoeing or did the race just interest you?

My wife purchased me a fishing kayak a few years back, which I have gotten out a few times, but I would not say I had an overwhelming passion for canoeing. It was more about the challenge for me.

MR340 2018 Paddle Race

How did you guys plan for the trip?

After signing up for the race we all joined the MR340 Facebook group, which has just about every piece of information regarding the race you could imagine. We all spent hours scrolling the page, hitting refresh throughout the day to see what new information and questions were being asked.

We didn’t know much about canoes or what canoes were best for marathon racing, we just knew that we wanted/needed something that was at least 17-feet long, so after a few months of searching used canoes, we bought a 17-foot aluminum canoe for $400.

We were texting each other constantly about gear to buy, food to prepare and have on board, what paddles were more efficient and more well suited for river racing. Multiple race planning meetings happened over the course of the first six months of the year. We trained one day on the Missouri River, starting at the race launch point and paddling to the first checkpoint, Lexington, MO. That gave us an idea of our speed and time, and from there we calculated what we believed would be a reasonable and attained finish for the race.

Basically, the MR340 is all we thought about (and maybe still do) since January 12th.

MR340 2018 Rest

Walk us through the experience.

Without trying to sound cliche, it truly was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, outside of getting married and having children. Race morning was surreal, seeing all the boats, all the people trying to accomplish the same thing we were. Talk about an adrenaline rush!

The first day of paddling was basically like the longest high of your life, not a lot of down moments. We were paddling along hundreds of other boats in a line down the river. We paddled through the night both nights, the first night was a very unique experience as the river was dotted with navigation lights from other boats as far as your eye could see, not to mention paddling under a full moon without a cloud in the sky.

The comradery of being in that boat together for up to 88 hours was something we embraced. There were also many lows, or dark times as we referred to them, throughout the race. Times that really challenged your mental fortitude to overcome the thoughts “F*ck this” or “I can’t paddle anymore.” Your mind started playing tricks on you, trees started taking weird shapes, we thought we saw things on the water that were something totally different than what we ALL thought.

Our second night of paddling was after a 2 hour 37 minute stop in Jefferson City, which was the coolest stop of the race. This night was cloudy, therefore making it difficult to use the moon as our light and see obstacles in the water. The first few hours of paddling this night were probably our biggest challenge. It was a difficult stretch of water and we had to rely more on our hearing than anything else. Listening for the rushing water, which is something your want to stay far away from, while continuing to navigate ourselves down river was very challenging, and quite frankly put us all on edge. This night was roughly 6 hour of paddling as our next stop was Hermann, Missouri, which we reached at 6:30 am. The last 8 miles in to Hermann was my darkest time. Mentally and physically exhausted and drained, having conversations with myself in my head to just keep paddling, starring down at the water passing by the front of the canoe. From a physical standpoint, my butt was what hurt the most even though we had cushioned canoe seats. Our ground crew bought us each hemorrhoid cushions as extra padding, which totally changed my comfort level the rest of the race.

Finishing the race was obviously an amazing feeling. So happy it’s over, yet so happy to become part of the community that has finished.

As far setbacks go, not knowing at the time, but a 17-foot aluminum canoe without a rudder was probably our only ‘setback’. We paddled VERY hard to earn the time we did. Paddling through four hours of heavy rain on our final push to St. Charles also sucked pretty hard.

What was your goal for the race? Did you reach it?

Our initial goal when we first signed up was just to complete the race, finish in the allotted 88 hours. After our practice run and doing some math, we calculated a 67-hour finish, which would have put as at the finish line at 3:30 am on Friday. Our plan changed multiple times during the actual race and our new goal became finishing with the sun still up on Thursday. We ended up finishing at 8:01 pm Thursday night with a time of 60 hours and 1 minute.

MR340 2018 Experience

What type of support team did you need for the race?

My wife, Ashley, my cousin’s wife, Danielle, and her brother Joey were our support team. Without them none of this would have been possible, not even close. They met us at each of our four stops (Waverly, Glasgow, Jefferson City, Hermann) with food and drinks, cleaned out our canoe, and replenished our coolers. They set up our sleeping areas and made sure we got 90 minutes of sleep before waking us up to re-tape our hands, apply icy hot to our bodies, help us back in the canoe and send us on our way. Always encouraging us and welcoming us with upbeat and positive attitudes at each stop when in fact, they received only a few hours of sleep more than we did.

What surprised you about the race?

We did a significant share of research and reading prior to the race to make sure we eliminated most surprises, but I would say the overwhelming support of everyone involved with the race was more than I imagined. Ground crews, support ground crews, and other racers we didn’t know.

I was also surprised that once the race was over, instead of telling myself that I was glad, I felt an urge to immediately get back on the water.

MR340 Adam Herndon 2018

Did everything go according to plan?

No, we had planned for many more hours of sleep and stops along the way. That plan changed and we limited our land time, extended our canoe time, and only ended up getting three total hours of sleep from Tuesday morning until the time we finished.

What did you learn from the experience?

That no matter what the challenge, if you put your mind to it, and do not accept failing as an option, you can do anything. And that it is highly addictive and I want to find more activities that challenge the mind and body like this one.

MR340 2018 Finish

What place did you finish and how do you feel about it?

We finished 155th out of 433 total boats that started the race. We feel like that is quite an accomplishment, although finishing in under 60 hours would have been really cool.

You beat your goal by 7 hours, and came in 28 hours earlier than the allotted time, would you change anything about the speed you went? 

The only thing we would change about our speed is going faster. A better boat makes a world of difference. Our average speed was 7mph, max speed was 14mph — an area of the river that was higher and moving faster.

What would you do differently if you did it again?

NOT PADDLE IN AN ALUMINUM BOAT. We feel that we could better our time significantly with a more efficient boat.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to do it?

  • Get on the river, learn how to navigate the channel. The channel can add at least 1 mph to your overall speed, which is huge.
  • Understand how your boat works and take the time to plan/map out your race. It will change, but having the blueprint is important.
  • Invest in the proper clothing and gear, it can be a game changer.
  • Recruit a ground crew that you trust, that you know has your back yet will also hold you accountable to staying hydrated and fed.
  • Don’t take the race lightly; the river is big, and wide, and can be insanely daunting at times.
  • Tell yourself you can do it and do not accept failing as an option.

Would you do it again?

Already planning next year’s race. First order of business — new boat.

Our current plan for next year is to eliminate our first stop in Waverly, which was only 30 minutes, and head straight to Glasgow. We want to see what our time could be if we followed the same plan we ended up following this year, so basically three 3-hour stops with about 90 minutes of rest/sleep at each stop. It’s really hard to settle, decompress, and relax your mind when you get off the river. At least it was for us. I believe we could cut at least 8 hours off our time. The year after next we want to take our time doing the race, finishing in the 78 hour range and experience the cool river towns along the way with our ground crew.

What’s your next adventure?

It definitely won’t be our next adventure, but one we have added to our bucket list is the Yukon 1000. 1,000 miles through the Alaskan wilderness, totally unsupported.

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Have you or a friend done something active, spectacular, adventurous, or just really inspiring? Email the highlights of your story and 2 of your best photos to hello@megbiram.com for consideration.