Drew Legg has been kayaking for most of his life. It started as a young boy with his father as a way to have fun, and as Legg got older and his father got more into the sport, it slowly morphed into more.
Legg’s father joined social media groups dedicated to kayaking, and learned of the Missouri River 340 (MR340) race in Missouri; after watching one year, his father decided to give it a try.
In 2018, Legg joined his father for Legg’s first time in the MR340, and the pair competed in the men’s solo division in skin-on-frame boats they had built. The next year, they were in tandem boats followed by built skin-on-frame tandem boats in 2021. They got halfway to the finish line when they got stuck on a rock from a barge and pushed up on a wing dike, breaking their boat. The pair had to drop out of the race.
This year, Legg went it alone in a kayak for the men’s solo race.
“I did it to see how fast I could go,” said Legg of going without his father this year. The water was slower moving, but Legg was able to finish in better standing than he had in previous years.
Out of 205 racers in the men’s solo division, Legg finished 35 with a total race time of 59 hours and 52 minutes. He placed 86 overall out of 475 paddlers.
The MR340 is an annual, 340 mile long race across the state of Missouri via the Missouri River that is touted as the world’s longest, nonstop river race. Paddlers from all over the world come for their chance to compete in a variety of different divisions such as solo, tandem, and team. Racers have just 85 hours to complete the trek, which took place July 12 through 15.
The race begins in Kansas City and ends in St. Charles, near St. Louis. There are seven checkpoints along the way, and racers must arrive before a pace boat called The Reaper does. Anyone who gets there after The Reaper is disqualified. Aside from the checkpoints, there are several boat ramps where racers can stop if they need a break or get something from their ground crew.
Ground crews are vital, and required, for those on the water. The ground crew follows their boater on shore, arriving at each stop with food, water, or whatever else they might need. In Legg’s case, his dad and stepmom made up his ground crew.
“Whatever I ask for, they get it for me,” said Legg, saying they make sure he’s safe and fed, and help him get in and out of the boat.
While the paddlers can exit their boat at the appropriate areas as many times as they want, many don’t, and Legg only got out of his kayak six times. He slept once for one hour the afternoon of the second day and not again until he was done.
“I knew if I fell asleep, I was done,” said Legg.
Practice and diet
When it comes to practicing for the MR340, Legg said seat time is the biggest thing - picking a boat, picking a paddle, and using them. Legg figured he got in about 40 hours of practice prior to race time this year, but in the past has logged 200-300 hours. He practices anywhere he can, the best practice being in good, moving water.
In terms of eating both leading up to and during the race, Legg doesn’t change what he was eating, just increases the amount.
“I eat a couple hamburgers, bunch of oatmeal, high carbs, high protein,” said Legg of his meals at his stops. He chooses not to bring a lot of extra food on the kayak with him, just enough to have a little snack as needed.
Safety on the water
Though the current of the Missouri River is only about 3 mph and there are no rapids, spending a grueling 85 hours, or less, paddling is not without its dangers.
There are buoys which move about with no regard to passing paddlers. Wing dikes, as Legg has learned, are another thing to be aware of. Barges and sand dredges travel along the river, though racers get text notifications about barges that are moving upstream, and those are usually stationary at night. Then, there are the elements.
“The sun is not your friend,” said Legg, who wore a hat, sunglasses, and long sleeves every day.
Staying hydrated during the hot days is paramount, and several competitors had to drop out due to overheating. The race is planned during a full moon to allow for night paddling, which requires contestants to have a full red/green/white navigation light. Safety boats are positioned along the course for racers who are in need of assistance.
The final stretch
Referencing pictures of himself, Legg said, “Day two, [I] was in good spirits. Day three, I was ready to be out of the boat; I was over it. Still all smiles, though.”
Legg’s goal this year was to get a sub-50 time (under 50 hours), but the water wasn’t moving fast enough for him to accomplish that; he had previously made it to the end sub-60. Paddling along with Steve Pundzak of Des Moines, whose goal was a sub-60, Legg said the last 20 miles they had to really push for it.
“I made sure he got his goal,” said Legg, noting they had to keep a pace of eight miles an hour for the last bit. “We get to the end, it’s like a mile and a half….and you can see [the finish], and it’s like ‘there it is!’”
And they made it with eight minutes to spare.
By the end of the race, Legg’s body was shot from the hours spent sitting and paddling.
“I can’t walk, can’t do anything,” said Legg, who slept for a solid 10 hours through the aches and pains.
Still, the race is one that Legg is happy to participate in and looks forward to taking on again, adding another medal to his growing collection.
“The race is humbling,” said Legg. “You gotta embrace the suck; it sucks within the first four hours…at the end, it’s so rewarding to be able to do [it]. Everyone you meet is also so happy, helping everybody.”
Legg is a 2013 graduate of Central Decatur. He currently resides in Osceola, and works for Southern Windows Outdoor Living. He hopes one day to compete in the Yukon 1000, which is a canoe race down 1,000 miles of the Yukon River.