Kaitlyn McElroy grew up as a cross country skier in Maine. Maggie Hogan grew up surfing and sailing in San Diego.
Both eventually discovered paddling was their sport and moved to Oklahoma City to train in the Boathouse District. They have been partners in a boat for two years, competing in 11 international events, and on Sunday they will try to qualify for their third consecutive World Championships in marathon racing.
The USA Canoe/Kayak Canoe Marathon National Championships conclude Sunday on the Oklahoma River. If their times are fast enough, the top two individuals or two-person crews in each race earn the right to represent the United States at the International Canoe Federation’s World Championships, which will be held in Oklahoma City Sept. 26-28.
McElroy and Hogan focus mostly on sprint racing, but the last two years they have also represented the United States in marathon racing at world championships in Copenhagen, Denmark and Rome, Italy.
The pair finished in the top 10 in the world championships two years ago. Hogan said the two athletes from opposite coasts have been able to successfully compete as a team faster than most paddling partners.
“We just kind of clicked off the bat,” Hogan said. “We kind of come at it from different angles but in the boat it works out pretty well. We each have opposite strengths,” Hogan said. “I can pull us the last 100 meters and she gets us off (fast) the first 100 meters.”
Their journeys to Oklahoma City also came from different angles. In Maine, McElroy started marathon canoeing as cross training for cross country skiing.
She discovered it was a lot of fun and began competing in races of distances from 70-130 miles. In 2008, she switched her focus to kayaking after a training accident prevented her from skiing at an elite level.
Growing up in San Diego, Hogan was an all-around athlete in ocean sports. A former collegiate swimmer for the University of California Santa Barbara, Hogan discovered kayaking while attending the San Diego Life Saving Academy where she learned to surf ski and was a nine-time champion in surf life saving.
She placed fifth in Iron Women at the 2004 World Championships of surf life saving and is one of five women in history to complete the Catalina Classic Paddleboard Race in seven hours.
Their experience in multiple water sports helps in a race that requires a lot of strategy. In marathon racing, competitors will race in small groups to ride someone’s wash, much like drafting in bicycle racing.
Riding the wash allows paddlers to exert less effort over the course of a race.
“There are a lot of tactics to make sure you are in prime position on someone’s wash,” McElroy said.
In long distance racing, paddlers don’t try to stay in the lead from start to finish because they would be left with no energy at the end of the race, she said.
“It’s good to get out fast, but you don’t want to be leading a race for 26 kilometers,” McElroy said. “If you are pulling and pulling and pulling, there is a good chance someone is going to catch you, sprint past you (at the end of the race) because they have expended a lot less energy (during the race).”
Hogan, 35, said the final lap typically becomes a sprint to the finish.
“The last lap of these races can be really, really exciting to watch,” she said.
McElroy, 29, said there is lot of strategy involved in marathon racing “and that doesn’t even take account of the portaging.”
In marathon racing, the competitors must dock their boats after a lap on the river, get out and carry their kayaks and paddles to another launching point on the water. The portage becomes a sprint from one spot to the other.
“The running with the boats, it’s a skill you definitely have to learn,” Hogan said.
The final race in the two-day event begins at 8 a.m. Sunday in the Boathouse District on the Oklahoma River.