Kerri Kanuga sent two pairs of sneakers to a runner’s funeral and is still waiting for feeling to return to one of her toes. But otherwise, her third running of the Badwater 135 was a rousing success.
Last week, Ms. Kanuga finished the 135-mile California race from Death Valley to Mount Whitney in a crisp 38:28:05, placing 10th among women and 35th overall among 69 finishers. Her time was a little slower than she had managed in each of the last two years, but Ms. Kanuga can find the bright side.
“I didn’t die, which is good,” she said. “They’re reporting it to be the hottest year ever.
“It was a little bit disappointing for a lot of people out there. There were 99 people that started and 30 people dropped and didn’t make the time cut-off, which is unusual. You have to qualify for the race and there’s over 2,000 applicants, so they try to take the toughest that they don’t think will fail.”
Ms. Kanuga, who owns the local realty firm Trident Properties, had finished sixth among women in each of her first two runnings of the Badwater 135. But this edition of the race was so hot, she said, that even accomplished runners like two-time Badwater winner Pete Kostelnick were not able to finish.
The run required Ms. Kanuga, 48, to be on her feet for a day and a half. It started at night so runners could maximize their time out of the sun, but the challenge was still severe.
“It was hot. It’s always hot,” said Ms. Kanuga. “At night, I had a 9:30 start, and it was 118 degrees in the dark. And when the sun comes up, absolutely nothing grows in Death Valley. There’s no shade and it’s just beating on you. There’s no relief from it and it starts warming up from there.
“Next time I go, I’m going to bring a road thermometer, but there were people saying it was 177 degrees off the road. I’ve seen 130 from other reports, but my crew said the hottest they saw was 127 degrees.”
One runner collapsed right in front of Ms. Kanuga during the first three miles of the race, and she stopped briefly to make sure he was OK before plowing onward. For the first 42 miles, she said, she was alone a lot, pacing herself and trying not to think too much about the perilous ascent ahead.
By the time she got to Panamint Springs, about 70 miles into the race, she had already been running for more than 17 hours. From there, she still had a little less than half the race left to go.
“You can see where you want to go in the distance, but it doesn’t seem to be getting closer,” she said. “That’s the bottom of an ancient dry riverbed, and it’s usually the hottest part of the race. That’s where we saw the record temperatures. I usually fall apart a little bit there and start feeling really sorry for myself, but I did a pretty good job this year.
“It really started getting long for me once I got to the top of the hill. All of a sudden, you realize you’re 80 miles out and there’s no excuse not to run.”
The climax of the race, though, brings the toughest adversity. Ms. Kanuga said that the final portions of the race include a steep ascent all the way up to 8,000 feet.
Runners are on their last legs at that point, but there is no cruise to the finish.
“You’re basically running a half-marathon uphill. And it’s not one of those gentle, rolling things. It is up,” she said of the ascent toward Whitney Portal. “There’s no relief and there’s hardly any switchbacks. That’s why the times get a lot slower there. It’s pretty much impossible to run.
“Nobody really runs that unless you’re a beast, and I didn’t quite find beast mode this year.”
Ms. Kanuga said she sat down briefly at the 40-mile and 80-mile marks, and she took a 10-minute nap when she had reached mile 105. She melted two pairs of sneakers and said she will likely lose a toenail, which is normal for those exerting themselves over the punishing 135-mile distance of the race.
Amazingly, though, Ms. Kanuga will run an even longer distance – 200 miles – in just five weeks. She’s planning on running the Tahoe 200, which will kick off on Sept. 8.
Ms. Kanuga has dedicated her ultrarunning feats to childhood cancer survivor Hannah Meeson, and she raises money for St. Baldrick’s Foundation with each of her runs. Ms. Kanuga has raised more than $40,000 over the years.
Ms. Kanuga’s crew – Jared Struck, Tyson Rich and Terri Sawyer – helped make sure she was supplied and ran alongside her for portions of the race to keep her company. Right now, despite having just finished the race, Ms. Kanuga is already thinking about running the Badwater again in 2019.
“I will go back and do it again next year if I’m chosen,” said Ms. Kanuga. “The flats are where I lost it, believe it or not. You’d think I’d be the best at the flats, considering I run in Cayman.”