Paddling ultra-marathon entries redouble

KANSAS CITY, Mo (MDC) - Twice as many paddlers will take part in the 2009 Missouri River 340 as last year, and they will have less than four days to complete the punishing paddle from Kansas City to St. Louis.

When it began in 2006, the race drew just 15 entries. The second year it attracted 76.

Concerned about their ability to conduct the event safely, organizers limited last year's entries to 150. This year they raised the limit to 300. With nearly a month left before the race, 285 solo paddlers or teams have registered.

"Interest in this race is simply phenomenal," said Scott Mansker, one of the race's creators. "I have no idea how many racers we might have if we didn't limit the number, but every time we double it, the roster fills up."

Eighty percent of entries are men - 106 in the solo division plus 122 men's tandem teams. The Mixed Tandem Division is the next-largest, with 22 entries, followed by the Women's Solo Division with 19. The Team Division has nine entries with three or more paddlers each. Five women's tandem teams have signed up. The smallest division, with just two entries, is for pedal-drive canoes and kayaks.

The more than 450 contestants come from 27 states, plus Ontario, Canada. That is some indication of the prestige the Missouri River 340 has achieved in four years.

First to cross the line in 2008 was Team Texas, a six-man powerhouse that skimmed across the state in a mere 36 hours, 19 minutes, averaging 9.4 miles per hour. This phenomenal pace, plus the need to prevent the racing pack from getting too strung out, prompted organizers to shave 12 hours off the time allowed to complete the race.

"We have certain time allowances for paddlers to reach checkpoints along the way," said Mansker. "Those who don't make the deadlines are dropped from the race. They can still complete the course, but they are no longer part of the Missouri River 340. Otherwise, we could have folks strung out from Lexington to Hermann, and we wouldn't have enough safety boats to cover everyone."

Faced with running a race for 300 boats, organizers reduced the time allotted from 100 hours to 88 this year. This pushes up each of the checkpoint deadlines enough to keep the racing pack reasonably compact for safety purposes.

Texan West Hansen won the first Missouri River 340 with a time of 53 hours, 40 minutes. He was in the tandem team that won the second race with a time of 44 hours, 27 minutes. Last year he was part of the winning six-man team.

This year, three-time winner Hansen will paddle in the Mixed Tandem Division with last year's women's solo champ. Iowan Katie Pfefferkorn's time last year was exactly 50 hours. That was, down from the 98 hours, 36 minutes it took her to complete her first race in 2006.

"Pfefferkorn-Hansen is an apocalyptic pairing," said Mansker. "I've gone on a couple training runs with them. They are serious. And it will be so interesting to watch the Women's Solo Division this year. Erin Magee (2007 women's solo winner) will not be competing this year, so the women's solo championship is up for grabs."

Everything - even naming your entry - becomes a contest among such competitive athletes. This years' roster includes the "Kayakkity Yaks," "Carp Target Grannies," "Death Row," "Aquaholics" and "Cirrhosis of the River."

Spectators can watch the spectacle of "Rub-A-Dub-Dub (Three Men in a Tub)," "Hicks with Sticks" and other contestants vying for the 2009 Missouri River 340 title. The race starts at 8 a.m. Aug. 4 at Kaw Point, near the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas Rivers in Kansas City. It winds up at midnight Aug. 7 at Riverfront Park in St. Charles. Checkpoints and river accesses between these two points also provide convenient race-watching spots.

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