Kanuga ramps up training for 4th Badwater

Pam Chapman-Markle, right, and Kerri Kanuga will compete in the upcoming Badwater 135. - Photo: Adam Schalit

The challenges keep getting tougher, and Kerri Kanuga keeps finding greater reserves of strength.

Kanuga, an affable real estate professional and relentless competitor in her free time, will be running in her fourth straight Badwater 135 ultramarathon in July.

Kanuga has completed the race three times, and it’s taken her between 36 and 39 hours each time to complete the 135-mile slog through California’s Death Valley.

Now, she will be doing it with another incredible achievement under her belt. Kanuga ran in last September’s Tahoe 200, a 205.5-mile race with 40,200 feet of ascent. She finished the race in 99:12:22, just 47 minutes ahead of the 100-hour cutoff time.

“I don’t know how I did it. I hobbled through,” said Kanuga of the Tahoe 200. “My feet failed me early and I was in considerable pain, but I managed to muster my way through.”

Kanuga said her feet swelled to twice their normal size during the course of the race and she had to spend her time at aid stations getting treatment instead of resting.

She estimated that she probably slept four to eight hours during the race, and much of that was spent sleeping while moving. At one point, she said, she started hallucinating that she was at an aid station and gave her breakfast order to a tree.

Her blisters had blisters and she said that it felt like she had sandpaper in her socks, but Kanuga would not allow herself to quit.

“I didn’t know if I would make the cutoff,” she said, “I decided I was going to finish even if I didn’t make the cutoff. Another part of me wanted to burn all my runners and get a horse.”

Kanuga is also competing in the Badwater Ultra Cup, which consists of the Badwater Cape Fear in March, the Badwater Salton Sea in April and the Badwater 135 in July.

Only eight people finished all three races last year.

Kanuga ran with a partner, Pamela Chapman-Markle, in the Badwater Salton Sea, which took the runners from 234 feet below sea level to Palomar Mountain, elevation 5,500 feet.

The racers had to stay within 25 meters of their partner for the entire 81-mile race, and Kanuga and Chapman-Markle finished seventh overall and first among the female teams.

Kanuga took a couple of weeks to recharge her batteries after the Salton Sea race, and she returned to training this weekend with two hours climbing up and down the Camana Bay observation tower with 20 pounds on her back Saturday and a 50km run on Sunday.

“Anyone who trains here has the utmost respect for these conditions,” said Kanuga of Cayman’s heat and humidity. “These conditions are as hard as anything.”

Kanuga will be racing this year’s Badwater 135 in honor of her uncle Tom Werenka, and she’s raising funds for cancer research through the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.

The actual running of Badwater will require Kanuga to fly in three days ahead of the race and assemble her supplies, including ice, water, food and equipment. She will assemble drop bags to leave at aid stations, some of which will have alternate pairs of shoes.

Kanuga was just one of 69 finishers last year, and completed the course in 38 hours and 28 minutes. Two years earlier, she had completed the race a full two hours quicker.

Kanuga is currently one of just 14 people in the running to complete the Badwater Cup, and she’s in fifth place overall and second place among women. Her partner, Chapman-Markle, is the leader among women and stands about 40 minutes ahead of Kanuga.

“If it can’t be me, I want it to be her,” said Kanuga. “We’re kicking some man-ass too.”