OSCODA – An Oscoda native was part of a five-man canoe paddling team that set a new racing record in the Missouri American Water MR340, a 340 mile endurance canoe race that runs from Kansas City to St. Charles.
The racing team included Oscoda native Michael Matthews, whose team finished the endurance race in 33 hours and one minute, setting a new record for the race. Matthews, 38, Branson, Mo., has raced in the AuSable River International Canoe Marathon four times, including with his father, Jeff Matthews, brother Chase Matthews and uncle Rod Matthews.
The team beat the next fastest finisher, a solo paddler named Joe Mann, who finished the race in 36 hours and 39 minutes.
The race has hundreds of participants in many difference classes, everything from solo paddling men’s and women’s divisions, all the way up to “dragon boats,” which are canoes that carry more than 11 people.
Michael Matthews belonged to the team known as “River Fitness,” and included Phil Bowden, Wendell Smith, Brad Daniels and Dylan McHardy.
According to statistics, “River Fitness” not only won this year’s event, which took place in mid-July, but also set an overall record for the event.
“We broke the overall record, not just for that class, but for the whole race, the previous record was 34 hours and 34 minutes,” Matthews said.
According to Matthews racing on the Missouri River posed its own unique challenges compared to racing on the AuSable River. He said racing is more technical on the Missouri because of how wide the river is. He said although the AuSable is a big river, it’s a different kind of river.
“The Missouri is kind of a big highway,” he said. “The AuSable is kind of a windy dirt road. On the AuSable there are a lot more technical challenges with the river, with the twists and turns, logs, fish hides, and things like that.”
Another major difference is where the marathon has six portages over hydroelectrical dams racers have to contend with, whereas on the Missouri there are no portages.
There is also a shorter course on the AuSable, 120-miles compared to 340 miles on the Missouri course, Matthews said.
That is not to say that the Missouri River is not without its challenges, Matthews said. He said the river, which serves as a major transportation highway for industry, can be tricky.
“There are swirls that come out of nowhere,” he said. “There are also barges and dikes that are out in the river channel.”
Matthews said a major strategy for his team is to conserve energy, put the right paddle for the right time, and to race smart. For example they used different paddles, single blade paddles, and then double blade paddles (like a kayaking paddle) at different times to use different muscle groups.
There was also considerations including clothing and breaks.
“The weather takes a big toll,” Matthews said. “The elements, the sun and stuff like that. It’s important to wear clothing that pretty much covers your whole body.”
He said many marathon racers wear shorts and short sleeved shirts during their races. Unlike the marathon, the team stopped for breaks.
“We would get out every three and a half hours, a stop for about two minutes, we had a goal to get in and out, just that little bit would help us get up and move our legs. And we actually switched seats as well,” Matthews said.
He said the paddler in the bow of the canoe had the toughest job because the they had to break up the water, where the fourth man in the bat had the easiest time paddling. The person in the fifth seat, in the stern of the boat, would steer, and towards the end of the race that paddler — who was the physically freshest — was moved into a forward paddling position.
Matthews, who practices for marathon paddling with McHardy, met the other men, who have participated in the Texas Water Safari, and the team was formed.
He said the team’s goal was to do well in the race, and said he was glad they did, although they could have finished with a better time if it was not for a barge incident.
“We did swim once,” Matthews said. “We swam for about 30 minutes.”
This is because the large wake of a barge resulted in the River Fitness boat getting swamped by waves. The boat capsized, and the team had to swim the swamped boat to shore, empty it, and get back into the race.”
Matthews said he is considering doing another marathon run next year, but said it would be hard to do both races in the same year because they are both in July and too close together.
More information about the race can be found by visiting rivermiles.com.