Kanuga tames Badwater ultra

Kerri Kanuga with the Cayman flag at this year's Badwater 135.

After grinding out 135 miles in July from the desert of Death Valley to the trailhead of Mount Whitney, California, Kerri Kanuga is back in training for her next challenge.

Now that she has the STYR Labs Badwater 135 behind her, she is setting her sights on the Daytona 100 Ultramarathon in Florida in December.

As with her other races, Ms. 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. So far, she has raised more than $35,000 for St. Baldrick’s since March of last year.

Ms. Kanuga, 46, finished Badwater in 36 hours, 15 minutes and 40 seconds, placing 36th out of 97 runners from 21 countries. She placed sixth out of 25 female competitors.

The ultramarathon is 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, and the race finishes at the 8,300 foot Whitney Portal.

Amy Costa and Kerri Kanuga celebrate on the summit of Mount Whitney. Ms. Costa was fifth overall female and Ms. Kanuga was sixth overall female at the Badwater ultramarathon.
Amy Costa and Kerri Kanuga celebrate on the summit of Mount Whitney. Ms. Costa was fifth overall female and Ms. Kanuga was sixth overall female at the Badwater ultramarathon.

“I was hoping for a top 10 finish,” Ms. Kanuga said, “so I am thrilled to have placed so well.”

The race started July 18 at 8 p.m. to avoid the scorching daytime heat in the desert.

Ms. Kanuga described some of the several challenges she met along the course:

“I stopped at mile 40 to have my feet taken care of in the medical tent, which was a mistake as it almost took me 50 minutes to get in and out of the tent,” she said.

“Sleep deprivation was also an issue, as my race started at 8 p.m. and did not finish until two mornings later.”

The worst thing that happened to her, she said, was nausea. However, “having a crew enabled me to enjoy the experience,” she said. Her crew consisted of fellow ultramarathoner Lisa Smith-Batchen, Badwater veteran Ernie Rambo and Sister Mary Beth Lloyd.

“After about mile 60, the road becomes lonely and you do not see much of the other runners until you reach the switchback to the [Mount Whitney] portal,” she said.

The course, which covers three mountain ranges in Death Valley, took its toll, as only 88 of the initial 97 athletes completed it. The number of runners invited to take part each year is limited to 100.

One of the biggest surprises of the run, Kanuga said, was when 20-time Badwater finisher and ultramarathon legend Marshall Ulrich dropped out at mile 63 due to dehydration.

“I was surprised that the elevation of the course and the climb up to Mount Whitney did not affect me much,” said Ms. Kanuga, who prepared for the mountain ranges by training with Tyrone (her training tire), running on Further Road in North Side and full circuit training in the heat of the day in Cayman.

She completed Badwater at 8:15 a.m. on July 20 and then waited for a pass to climb Mount Whitney, which she received on July 24. In just under 13 hours, she reached the summit and then descended – a 22-mile round-trip.

In the original Badwater, summiting Mount Whitney was part of the event.

“I did have second thoughts about climbing Mount Whitney due to the fact I had just run 135 miles and my feet were hamburger,” she said. “I am so very happy that I decided to summit. I had an amazing time [and] I climbed that mountain like a goat.”

She said she enjoyed the downhill running of Badwater, an aspect that has not gone so well in the past.

“I really suffered when I ran the 160-mile race in Brazil as I was not conditioned for downhill, but I was ready for [Badwater],” she said. “I also did very well at the steep downhills, which is something I had not trained for in the past.”

Ms. Kanuga is now happy to report that she is “injury-free other than my feet,” and already back in the water and in Metafit training.

To donate or for more information visit www.stbaldricks.org/fundraisers/kerathon2016 or contact Kerri at [email protected]