Kanuga to tackle 160-mile run in Brazilian mountains

Raising funds for St. Baldrick’s Foundation

Ultra-distance runner Kerri Kanuga is leaving the sun and sea of Cayman behind again – this time for the mountains of Serra da Mantiqueira, Brazil. 

She is raising money for and awareness of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a charity which gives grants for research to find cures for childhood cancers. 

After finishing second in the 100-mile Yellowstone Teton Race in Montana in September 2015, Ms. Kanuga was invited to the Jan. 20 Brazil 135 Ultramarathon, which follows the most challenging segment of the Caminho da Fe (Path of Faith) in the Serra da Mantiqueira mountains, a sub-range of the Andes. 

It usually takes hikers 12 to 15 days to cover this route. Ms. Kanuga said she plans on doing the 160-mile course in less than the cutoff time of 62.5 hours. If she reaches the 135-mile marker in 48 hours, she will qualify to race in the Badwater Ultramarathon. Badwater is billed as “The World’s Toughest Foot Race,” and passes through Death Valley in July, when the weather conditions are most extreme and temperatures over 120 degrees are not uncommon. 

Other ultras 

Since last March, Ms. Kanuga has participated in other 100-plus-mile events. After tackling the “Ker-a-thon,” a 106-mile run and a 6-mile swim in a single effort in March 2015, she completed the Keys 100, a 100-mile run, in May. 

“I always bring something positive back from these adventures,” said Ms. Kanuga, who attaches slogans to each of her endeavors (“Never Give Up.” “You Can Do It”). For the Caminho da Fe qualifier, her fourth ultramarathon of 100-plus miles, her slogan is “Where hell ends, paradise begins.” 

While she is injury-free and feeling strong, Ms. Kanuga acknowledges the difficulties of training in Cayman, with its absence of hills. 

In Brazil, the total ascent over the 160-mile course is more than 30,000 feet, and “with a descent of approximately 20,000 [feet], there is only about 10 miles of flat land total. It is summer in Brazil, so it promises to be hot and humid,” she said. 

“It is the longest I have run, over six marathons back to back to back … I can rest, but my goal is to qualify for Badwater, so my current plan is not to stop. I have to be willing to expect the unexpected, and anything can happen in a race this distance, so I am preparing the best I can.” 

Her training sessions depend on the day: “I am starting a taper. Last Saturday was a 20-mile run and Sunday was a 10-mile tire pull with shorter runs and pulls during the week, as well as swimming and explosive aerobic exercises such as Medifit. I was originally planning to do the race without a crew, so my long runs were up to 30 miles with a weighted pack. 

“I decided to give myself a Christmas present and hired [a 4×4 and a] two person crew for the event, to assist me with the language gap, safety, feeding and directions. The crew is only good if it does not rain, as if it rains then the only thing that can make it through the mountain pass is a tank.” 

In honor of Cayman resident Hannah Meeson, who was diagnosed with anaplastic medulloblastoma, a form of brain cancer, in 2012 at age 4, Ms. Kanuga’s organized the Ker-a-thon fundraiser. She swam across the North Sound from Starfish Point to Barkers, approximately 6 miles, and then ran from Barkers to Starfish Point and back again, approximately 106 miles. 

“More money is needed for childhood cancer research,” Ms. Kanuga said at the time. “Up until recently there were only two pills available that were designed specifically for childhood cancer. Recently a third pill was released. I like to think I was a small part of that, and of course everyone who has donated has helped save children’s lives too.” 

“I would love to raise more money for St. Baldrick’s,” she said this week. “Between my 20K swim around Key West and the Ker-a-thon, I have raised US$33,651. My goal is to raise US$45,000 before March 1. 

“I enjoy doing endurance events, and if I can raise funding or at least awareness, it is the least I can do,” she said. 

Kerry Kanuga with Hannah Meeson.
Kerry Kanuga with Hannah Meeson.