Hands down, it was the most arduous, torturous, toughest thing Patrick Wellner has ever done.
Wellner, a bridge design engineer with the state Department of Transportation, competed last month in the Missouri American Water MR340, a 340-mile endurance kayak race across the state of Missouri between Kansas City and St. Charles, a suburb of St. Louis.
Wellner came in 39th in the men’s single division, crossing the finish line after 68 hours and 48 minutes. He was one of 274 kayaks that started and 180 that finished.
And despite a tough training regiment in the months leading up to the race, it was still physically exhausting and left him feeling completely spent.
But alarmingly, Wellner said with a laugh, he’s getting to the point where he’s missing it and considering giving it another try.
“Next year, no, but in the future, maybe,” he said.
If and when he competes again, there are some changes he would make. It’s mostly little things to improve his time and comfort.
“I have no regrets on what I did. There are few things I would do differently, but no regrets,” Wellner said.
The first is to bring along better care to prevent chaffing, soreness and blisters. The gloves he brought along didn’t help prevent his hands from becoming raw to the point he couldn’t close his left one for days after the race.
The remains of five blisters on each hand could still be seen Thursday, though he admitted that was only because he’s been out on the river recently and that hadn’t helped them heal.
Next time he would also push himself farther on the first couple days and not spent so much time at checkpoints.
A change to how his support was organized could also help, he said.
Wellner was joined by other South Dakotans Kati Albers, David Mays and Doc Savage, and the four were supported by Steven Dahlmeier, Cecil Caulkins and Donna Savage. That was nice for splitting the costs, he said, but as the team grew separated on the river it became hard for that team to support everyone. Next time he’s considering having a support crew just for himself.
But, overall, the race was a success and he completed his two primary goals of simply finishing, and doing so in less than 70 hours.
“I wanted to be respectable I guess, and I think I was for a first timer,” he said.
The weather was ideal for the race, with highs in the 80s and lows in the 60s, not much rain and just a little bit of headwind – which he said would not bother a typical South Dakotan at all.
The river was also good, but different than the Missouri he knows here. With no dams nearby, the current was steady and consistently fast, especially early on in the race. He found himself going seven or eight miles per hour down the river, whereas he might get up to six around Pierre with good releases from the Oahe Dam.
Maneuvering or stopping at a checkpoint required extra skill while going that speed, he said.
And while another endurance race may be in the cards for the future, for the moment he’s sworn off multi-day events. However, there are also a few shorter races, a 100-miler in Texas and some 50- to 60-mile ones in Missouri, that he is considering.
He and some friends also plan to kayak down the Missouri between Fort Randall and Gavin’s Point Dam during the Labor Day weekend.