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How do you do a Marathon on a river?

Karla and Steve Ramsay are team "74 (team avery's legacy)", racing in the Yukon river quest - the world's longest marathon canoe, kayak, SUP race from Whitehorse to Dawson City - 715 km down the Yukon river.

Six years ago was our 2nd Yukon River Quest. This year we decided to go back to the World’s Longest Canoe Kayak and Stand-Up Paddleboard (SUP) race to challenge ourselves and to see how we would do against a larger field, on what was likely to be a slower river. The race is 715km long and this year 118 teams hit the start line in Whitehorse. People from 13 different countries were there to race in kayaks, tandem canoes, solo canoes, SUP boards and voyageur canoes. Our class had the largest number of entries, with 40 tandem canoes taking part. Eleven Mixed Teams were in the field, 8 women’s teams and 21 men’s teams rounded out the Tandem category.

The race offers so many challenges to all the competitors. River and lake conditions, headwinds, huge temperature swings and other environmental challenges are faced by all of the racers. Physical and mental challenges come from sleep deprivation and repetitive strain. Shoulder injuries are fairly common. Blisters and chaffing often become  problems as well.This year we were well aware of the challenges we would face and we were also aware that we are now a more “senior” team. Neither of us are or were top athletes but we feel confident in the canoe and we still believe that we have decent speed in the boat. Our concerns dealt more with how our endurance over the long haul would be. We expected that our race would be about 50 hours long. Preparation over the winter had to be excellent! If it wasn’t, we knew we would be part of the 20+ percent that have to withdraw from the race at some point. Competing well is important but nothing trumps looking after your body and finding a way to cross the finish line, sore and tired, but NOT injured.

In the past I have had some fairly serious shoulder issues and this year I made training more challenging as I damaged my knee in late fall while playing volleyball with friends. Ideally, we want to get to the race at a body weight that we are pleased with. Having a strong core and back are critical and very good cardio capacity matters as well. Age and injuries can only hamper preparations so I knew it was critically important that I get help from the experts at Momentum. Through the winter I made frequent trips to the clinic in Ogden where my shoulder, lats and knee were cared for. Needling and massage helped immensely but what was likely most important was the fact that I diligently did all the recommended exercises as scheduled. If I had not done this, there is no way that I could have prepared properly and a strong race would have required a bit of luck. I would not want to be doing this race needing luck. Better to prepare perfectly.

As my knee improved I was able to increase my aerobic conditioning multiple ways. Two months from the start of the race I was jogging 10k at least 3 times each week. As my shoulders got stronger my whole body got stronger. Careful and controlled resistance training was paying off and I was able to gain strength and muscle. The last few training paddles went very well and shoulder pain was minimal. Physio and exercises at home got the results I needed. All that was left to do was show up mentally strong and execute a good strategy. The first day of the race threw a significant amount of challenges our way. The 50 kilometer lake had some huge waves but we pushed through and made it to our first scheduled stop in just under 24 hours. We rested well and during the next 18ish hours we stayed close to other boats and took advantage of the energy from their stern and side waves. On the final stretch we were pretty much alone but we paced well and crossed the finish line as strong as we could have hoped for. We are really pleased with our results and we know that we owe so much of this to the good people at Momentum who worked hard at getting me in the best health possible.

At 2:27 AM on Saturday June 29, Steve and I crossed the line in Dawson City. Of the 118 total entries, more than thirty had withdrawn from the race. We finished 16th overall. In the total canoe division (40 teams) we were the 4th place finishers. We were 2nd in the tandem mixed canoe division. Recovery has been a bit slow but we don’t have any injuries or issues that we are concerned about. It is hard to imagine that we would do this race again but at the same time we are very happy that we did. We are also very appreciative that there are people that did so much to be a part of our success. 

- Karla Ramsay