Ultra-distance runner Kerri Kanuga has run another 100-mile event, the Yellowstone Teton Race in Montana last week.
It was her third ultra-marathon of 100 miles since March.
This time she was running with the buffaloes. The race took her through Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, starting in West Yellowstone and finishing in Tetonia.
Not only was the foot race a mind-boggling 100 miles, the biggest challenge for the 45-year-old Canadian was the altitude, which never got below 6,000 feet.
“I did not breathe through my nose once the entire time I was there,” joked Kanuga.
Being a flat lander for the past 15 years, she attributes the training that she did pulling a car tire – which she affectionately calls “Tyrone” – for giving her the strength to manage the altitude changes. “I was amazed at how strong I was on the hill climbs.”
It was on these climbs she caught many of the people in front of her.
“Having no hills in Cayman to train on, I have been pulling Tyrone since May preparing for this race. He has made me strong.
“If someone would have told me I would be passing other runners on hills, I would have told them they were crazy, but I moved up four positions in the last 50 miles.”
It was this part of the course that had the most dramatic changes in elevation. The proof is her result. Kanuga finished ninth overall and second female with a time of 25 hours and 32 minutes.
What was even more challenging for her was the temperature. “Being from Northern Alberta, I know cold, but with a 4 a.m. start time in the mountains, it was very brisk.”
She is aware of at least two people who did not finish the race as they nearly had hypothermia. One was at mile 85. “My heart broke for him having made it so far, then being pulled by the medical team.”
This is the first race of this distance that Kanuga did not have a crew, and relied solely on aid stations that were 10–15 miles apart.
She also encountered some minor health issues. “By mile 30 my hands had swollen up like two balloons. The medics thought it was due to the heavy pack I was carrying,” she said.
Kanuga needed the pack as it was her only water supply to keep her well hydrated. Her hands continued to swell throughout the race, which was concerning, but since the medical staff did not pull her out, she was not going to let the minor annoyance stop her. It took about three days after the race for her hands to return to normal.
“The course was beautiful. When we started in West Yellowstone, Montana at 4 a.m. and I could hear the wolves howling nearby, it was incredible, just like the movies.”
She saw several shooting stars, and when the sun came up, she was above the clouds and in the middle of an amazing mountain range with the mighty Tetons in the distance.
“There were some lonely miles, and the race director recommended we carry bear spray, which thankfully I did not have a use for,” she said. “I also fell asleep on my feet a few times, but was able to finish having only taken a six-minute chair nap at mile 80.”
Kanuga’s favorite part of racing is seeing old friends and making new ones. The ultra community is small, so she often bumps into many of the same people.
“I was able to catch up with my friend Alexis Garcia, who is running the entire length of Cuba in November, and became friends with Krasse Gueorguiev, who is preparing a solo crossing of Antarctica.”
Kanuga was thrilled that she was able to stay for a few extra days and train with her mentor and coach Lisa Smith-Batchen, an ultra running legend who is preparing to run across America next spring.
“Lisa has accomplished the impossible and has helped me accomplish things I would have never imagined and keeps pushing me to achieve my dreams.”
Smith-Batchen said, “I am very impressed with how well Kerri did here in the Tetons. Her power walking up the hills was amazing and the key to her success.
“Coming from flat Cayman to the mountains of the Tetons is impressive. I am very proud of her as her friend and coach, and thrilled for her that she is invited to the Brazil 135 in January 2016. Kerri is a very talented endurance athlete and the best is yet to come.”
Her second-place finish qualified Kanuga for the Brazil 135-plus in January, which follows the most challenging segment of the Caminho De Fe (Path of Faith) held in the Serra da Mantiqueira mountains, a sub-range of the Andes.
It usually takes hikers 12 to 15 days to cover this route. She plans on doing the 160-mile course in less than the cutoff time of 62.5 hours.
Even more important for her is getting to the 135-mile marker in 48 hours, which will then qualify her to race Badwater. That race is billed as “The World’s Toughest Foot Race,” through Death Valley in July 2016.