For Kansas cross-country runner Kenadi Krueger, getting to where she is today has been – quite literally – an uphill battle.
Krueger comes from Loveland, Colo., so she's no stranger to up-and-down topography, but the steep slopes of eastern Kansas still took her off guard when she came to KU three years ago. Lawrence's Rim Rock Farm, where the Jayhawks regularly train and host the annual Bob Timmons Classic, has some particularly unkind inclines.
And when Krueger first encountered them, her 5-foot-5 frame struggled again and again, especially in Kansas' more humid air. Her overall running showed promise, but the hills kept exacting their vengeance.
"I was surprised when I came here at all these hills for us to run on," Krueger said. "It takes a lot to learn to stay strong going up those, but I've learned a little bit how to run it."
The numbers prove it. She finished eighth in the Bob Timmons Classic in 2021 and seventh in 2022. This year, as a senior, she crossed the line first among Jayhawks runners and second overall at 18:07.7, nearly a minute better than the previous year.
She led a strong pack that also included teammates Addison Coppinger and Tori Wingrove in the top seven. KU took second overall in the season-opening women's race on Sept. 2 behind Kansas State, pushing the Wildcats all the way.
"It surprised me because I haven't run extremely well on that course in the past," Krueger said. "I definitely haven't run it to the best of my ability or felt super strong on that course, but I felt I worked really hard last summer. I was still definitely surprised by my time. I didn't think it was going to be that fast."
KU head coach Stanley Redwine was frank in his assessment that running uphill was something that Krueger initially could have done better. Now, however, he is pleased with her progress. He said that dedicated work in the weight room and other strength training has paid dividends, along with counsel from distance coaches Michael Whittlesey and Abbie Taylor.
"I'm super excited by Kenadi," Redwine said. "She has the will to achieve more than I've ever seen it. She's in shape, she's fit and she goes out and attacks it. It's a great tribute to her."
Krueger is no stranger to growing in the sport. She comes from a running family – both her parents and various other relatives ran cross country and track in school– and has been a runner for as long as she can remember, starting with 100-meter kids' track events. Her mom coached her in the early years, and her family has continued to show up at her races to cheer her on as she moved through the ranks. Her sister Olivia also runs with her at KU.
Krueger has excelled academically, too, maintaining a 4.0 GPA throughout high school and earning Academic All-Big 12 honors at KU while majoring in computer science.
That desire to excel has paid off in her athletic endeavors, where Krueger pays attention to the details.
"I want to continue to do the little things," she said. "That's helped a lot to get me to the next level. I want to believe in myself and trust myself, and work on building confidence. Hopefully, I can keep getting better."
Unlike in the computer science classroom, however, Krueger says she tries not to analyze things too intensely while on the trails.
"I feel like I try to not overthink running the way I think of a problem too hard. I try to let it happen naturally," she said. "It's totally different when I do running. I want to be super-focused but not think on it too much. I believe in my coaches and my ability. I have to kind of be in the moment and not think about it too much or the races get away from you."
Like any good cross-country runner, Krueger wants to see that happen in the context of the team, bringing her energy to encourage others in their own development and helping them succeed together. She's unsure yet if she will use her fifth-year eligibility, so this could be her final turn.
Her strong start to the season continued on Sept. 16, when she led all Jayhawks runners at the Greeno/Dirksen Invitational 5K in Lincoln, Neb., finishing seventh overall (fifth in the large-school Red Division) with a personal-best time of 17:27.08. KU took fourth as a team in its division.
Krueger knows the rest of the way won't be easy, as the level of competition will only increase as the season advances. The road eventually leads to the Big 12 Championship on Oct. 28 in Iowa – and hopefully beyond. At this point, though, no hill is too steep to climb.
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