Death Valley is beckoning Kerri Kanuga.
On Monday, she will tackle the 135-mile desert-to-mountain race, officially the STYR Labs Badwater 135, described as the most demanding and extreme running race in the world.
The start line is at Badwater, Death Valley, which marks the lowest elevation in North America at 280 feet below sea level. The race finishes at 8,300 at feet Whitney Portal, the trailhead to Mt. Whitney summit, the highest point in the contiguous United States.
To participate, athletes must submit a written application, which is reviewed by the race director and other race staff members. Only 100 athletes are invited to participate.
In order to earn a spot, Kanuga first had to complete three 100-mile races.
Kanuga is undaunted by ultramarathons – a tough challenge for someone who lives on a flat tropical island – but she said it is an honor to be considered for Badwater.
“I am astounded by the fact that I am able to compete and improve as a long-distance runner,” she said. “I have so much gratitude that my body can run at this level and I am very happy that my sport allows me to give back and raise money and awareness for St. Baldrick’s.”
As with her other races, Kanuga has been raising money for Hannah’s Heroes, a research fund of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation established in 2013 in honor of Hannah Meeson and other childhood cancer survivors in Cayman.
In preparation for the Badwater race, Kanuga has followed an intense training regime, which included completing Cayman’s Off the Beaten Track 50K ultramarathon and training with “Tyrone,” her nickname for the large tire she is often seen pulling along Cayman’s roads.
“I’ve been pre-training my butt off,” Ms. Kanuga said. “I just finished about a week ago, and am on a bit of a taper now, although a taper is still an 8-mile run.”
Training with her tire, Ms. Kanuga said, helped prepare her for running uphill.
Beyond the ascent, however, Badwater offers other major – possibly life-threatening – challenges. The nonstop race, much of it in extreme temperatures (the desert hit 126° F in June), must be completed in 48 hours. Kanuga is aiming to finish in 36.
One advantage she has is her familiarity with the course. Two years ago she crewed for ultramarathon legend Lisa Smith-Batchen in her “solo quad” spanning 584 miles, completing the Badwater race four times back-to-back.
“I was with her the entire time, so I was able to get familiar with that course the entire time,” Kanuga said.
Now, Smith-Batchen will be part of Kanuga’s crew.
“… Nobody knows the course better than she does,” Kanuga said. Smith-Batchen has competed in a total of nine Badwater ultramarathons.
Kanuga will also be depending on “crew guru” Ernie Rambo and a nun, Sister Mary Beth.
Her goal for this race? To “crawl over that finish line.”
“I’ve done quite a few of these events, and this is the one that I want to spill it all out for,” Kanuga said. “I’ve always felt like there’s something left in the tank and that just says to me I could have pushed myself harder.”
As she pushes herself to complete Badwater, Kanuga hopes to raise more money for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. To date, she has raised more than $33,000.
Kanuga was inspired to raise money after meeting Cayman-born Hannah Meeson, now 8, who was diagnosed with brain cancer when she was four years old.
“St. Baldrick’s is a wonderful organization,” said Gaylene Meeson, Hannah’s mother. “They only fund pediatric cancer research, and they do it well.”
“We are delighted that Kerri has chosen our hero fund.”
For information, visit www.stbaldricks.org/fundraisers/kerathon2016.