After getting so sick at the Yukon and being diagnosed with a parasite I was unsure if my dream of completing the MR340 would ever be a reality. There was only 2 weeks between races and I flew home to seek medical attention and medication to start fighting the parasite. During this 2 weeks I only paddled once but thought I would make the journey to Missouri and hopefully get on the start line.
A few days before the race another obstacle confronted me, I was advised the new board I was due to get delivered would not be arriving on time for the race. The world of SUP is a great group and quickly a few people rallied round and got me hooked up with Shane Perrin (the driving force of SUP in Missouri) and he kindly said I could borrow a board from him. What a lifesaver. Thanks Bart de Zwart and Lisa Schell for putting me in touch with Shane.
I drove a 500 mile round trip to meet up with Shane and try his board. He offered me 2 boards, neither of which I had ever paddled, a 14 x 25 Glide or a 18ft unlimited. As the majority of paddlers were due to paddle 14ft I decided on the same and compete on a level playing field.
Shane said “I think the board may be taking on water in the tail but do whatever you need to get it in race shape” I paddled it for 10 minutes, I could balance on it, it tracked well and even better once I put my Black Project fin in and it was floating. I couldn’t ask for anymore.
The night before the race Chris Parker from SUP Racer asked for a few comments prior to the race starting. I asked that I give him my comments after the finish as my confidence took a hefty blow at the Yukon and I just needed this race quietly under my belt.
One hour before the start my support Mark Price and myself were way behind as we only glued on the tie downs the day before and were waiting 12 hours on them drying, now we would find out if they were firmly attached and we could start tying things down to the board. They were.
We madly rushed to get me ready and on the start line. The temperature was already at 27 Celsius (80 Farenheit) and forecast to top 40 Celsius (104 Farenheit) during the day. As a paddler that is not used to the heat and has a condition that means I do not produce sweat therefore cannot control my body temperature then this could be the big factor in taking me out of this race.
Over 100 of the 500 Teams/Solo did not start the race due to the excessive heat warning in place for the full duration of the 340 mile (547km) race.
In the past 2 weeks I had been reading up on my fellow SUP competitors and especially the other female I would be racing against. I had read Lauren was hoping to break the 24 hour World Record for distance paddled in 24 hours on flowing water and to be the first female to ever cross the finish line of the MR340. Great this meant I would have a race on my hands.
I started strong and pushed for the first 80km to the first checkpoint and got in with a few hours to spare and was sitting in 2nd place of 16 SUP entrants. However, I was already struggling with food and fluids. I had opted for liquid food and electrolyte drinks. Due to the amount of fluid I was drinking during the race, dictated by the heat, and liquid food meant a few bouts of projectile vomiting at the first rest. Mark was telling me I need to drink more fluid but it was impossible for me to do that. After projectile vomiting also at the second rest stop I knew I had to manage my fluids much better. I changed from electrolyte drink to pure water and salt tablets and that seemed to work.
Everything was going well until a storm headed over us. I was padding with a kayaker Garon Robinett as we watched the thunder and lightning storm get closer. The wind picked up and with all the weight on the front of my board I was fighting against the board purling frequently. The board I was using had some previous damage to the topside on the front of the board and it was taped over bare foam for a few inches. The last thing I wanted was to take on water on the nose, so we both made a decision to get of the water whilst the storm passed. We had to carry our board/boat and all our kit up over rocks to ensure they were out of the wind and then head further up the bank to shelter from the rain. We bivvied down for almost an hour. During this hour Mitch overtook me to take second place as he paddled through the storm.
Garon and I got back on the water and paddled together for a bit but I was starting to feel tired and opted for 45 minute sleep on the river bank. I searched for some sand or grass but had to settle for thick mud for a bed.
As I got back on the water I had no idea how many SUP entries had passed whilst I was sleeping but had to put it out of my mind and head off through the night. I then buddied up during the night with another kayaker, Mike Kubicki. He was an absolute pleasure to paddle with, we chatted all night long and kept each other going. We both got into our 4th stop at 05:30. I was ready for a break and was told no other SUP paddler got passed me and the other female was 2.5 hours behind. So I opted for an hour off the water but still could not handle real food.
I headed off and into the most brutal heat I have ever endured. Temperature got to 40 Celsius ( 104 Farenheit) with a real feel of 46 Celsius so keeping myself wet at all times was so important. Every half hour I would completely drench myself and was wearing long, leggings, long sleeve rash vest and a hat which meant my clothes were holding the water. The river is known as the Muddy River but this was not the time to get precious about the dirt or the smell.
I was hoping to head to Katfish Katy but did not make it. I had to stop 10km short due to the heat. My feet at this point were so swollen my toes were barely visible and the pain was unbearable. Whilst I was waiting on Mark I was looked after by an amazing lady, Loretto Ray. I have to thank Loretto for her kindness.
Mark tracked me down and got ice on my feet and legs and put me to sleep for an hour. I decided the only way to get my feet down was to paddle in compression socks. Mark told me at this point that Lauren’s tracker had her placed 40km ahead of me but we could not figure out where she had passed me from the morning stop. This angered me and made me paddle harder. I could not understand how she had got so far ahead when no one had seen her at the stops ahead of me. I had to put it out of my head and just try to work to make up time. 2 hours ahead Mark called me into the river bank and told me Lauren’s tracker was now 70km ahead of me and she was catching Bart De Zwart. At this point I realised it would be virtually impossible for me to make up a 70km lead so I held back a bit and paddled at a speed that was going to get me easily to the finish. This was now just about finishing the race. At just after midnight I was leaving Jefferson City and saw Mike again. I thought he was heading into the stop and was saddened to not be paddling again with him. Ten minutes later I had the biggest smile when he pulled up beside me. We could be paddle buddies again through the long, hot, dark night. Again we talked about everything from Charity Work, Families and American Politics. We took an easy pace through the night and stayed safe by paddling in the centre and not chasing the fast water by the wing dikes. I was so grateful to be paddling with Mike into Hermann as it was an extremely long straight to the stop that really played with your mind. We saw the Hermann bridge for what seemed to be an eternity.
I took another hour break at this stop and was told by Mark Lauren’s tracker was wrong and she was actually over 4 hours behind and had never passed. This made me happy but also angry as I eased off so much for almost 14 hours.
It was now time to get my head in gear and race the final 110km. I paddled on my own for the next 70km and just got my head in a good place. I headed into my last stop with my female competitor 5 hours behind now so time to push. I called Pete before getting into the last stop and asked that he tell Mark at this stop I wanted all the weight off my board and to run the final 40km with only hydration in my pack, 2 bottles of liquid food and a can of Red Bull. As I pulled up to the boat ramp I would not even leave the water I was throwing everything I did not need off the board and leaving myself with the bare minimum. Time to make this last leg count. On my conversation with Pete heading into the final leg he said you need to hold 10kph and do not stop. I decided to do him proud and chase every piece of fast water and paddled like I was racing 10km. My other motivation was I did not want to see a third consecutive sunset over the river. I pushed hard and averaged just under 13kph for the last 40km.
When I passed under a bridge leading into St. Charles I was sure I still had 2 miles still to go but I then saw the finish line. This was the only time I cried. Tears of happiness as I had just been gifted 2 miles in a 340 mile race.
As I got close to the line I saw Mark and Bart waiting for me and I had the biggest smile. I conquered the MR340, despite unbearable heat, water that would boil in front of you with no notice and want to spin you off the board, lack of sleep, feet that looked like inflated puffer fish and hands destroyed with blisters.
Mark Price was great as support and the morning after I had one more task for him. I needed him to brush my hair as my hands were swollen and raw and holding a brush was impossible. I owe him a lot.
After dropping Mark at the airport Bart and I headed to the finish line to spend the day watching our SUP friends finish. It was great to see Lauren finish as the only other female competitor and finally laugh about her roaming tracker that drove me crazy.
Special moment was watching Shane Perrin, Dale Sanders and Jerico Lefort cross the finish line, it was a very heart-warming moment.
Now for a small break and get ready for the next one
Thanks to Shane Perrin, you saved me by supplying me with a board, Mark Price for support, Black Project Fins, the Maliko carbon kept me tracking straight and increased the amount I could paddle on one side, Red Bull, I went through 5 cans during the race (and a few I passed out to keep paddlers going) to keep me alert during the night and also one hour before the finish for that final push and Pete Vale for being my virtual support and keeping me sane with the phone calls through the race.
Bart De Zwart 51:16
Mitch Anderson 52:12
Joanne Hamilton-Vale 61:26
Blake Thornton 64:48
Colin Watts 68:31
Lauren Rodriguez 76:50
Frank Dreiling 77:09
Ryan Fullerton 77:09
Shane Perrin, Dale Sanders, Jerico Lefort 79:23
Phil Rodway 80:23
Chip Walter 80:23
Nathan Waldera 80:26
Mike Zink 82:57
Joe Alfafara 84:54
Patrick Albert DNF
David Harper DNF