The doubts only came in the stifling, suffocating heat of the sauna.

"The sauna was tough," said Lorie Hutchison, who worked her way up to 45 minutes at a time in the sauna in preparation for what is known as "the world's toughest foot race" — the Badwater Ultramarathon. "Especially the last week, my mind was just whirling. It was tough to sit there in the heat."

No, this flight nurse would rather run in the heat, which is why the 44-year-old Salt Lake City resident will undertake the 135-mile race from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney's portal.

It's a race that covers three mountain ranges and thousands of feet in elevation. Runners start at 282 feet below sea level and finish at 8,360 feet above sea level. Temperatures in the area this time of year have reached a record 134 degrees in Furnace Valley, which is where Hutchison was headed for a pre-race meeting Sunday night.

This year is the 31st anniversary of the Badwater race, and two Utahns are among the 83 athletes hoping to finish before the 60-hour time limit.

Many athletes are running for charities, including Payson's Jarom Thurston. The 34-year-old's efforts are on behalf of those with Sturge-Weber Syndrome, a rare congenital, neurological and skin disorder.

Hutchison said she wasn't aware of the charity aspect of the race but decided to undertake the challenge simply to see if she could do it.

"I just read an article saying it was the toughest foot race, and I thought, 'Really? I wonder if I can do that?'" said the veteran of five Wasatch 100 races. "I just wanted to do it for the pure challenge of it."

On the eve of the race, Hutchison she'd only had doubts about her decision last November to enter the race, which starts today in Death Valley, when she began trying to acclimate her body to extreme heat by sitting in a sauna.

"I started with 15 minutes and worked my way up to 45 minutes," Hutchison said. She did much better, she said, when she was moving in the heat. So every night after work, she "went for a short three-mile run just to get myself hot" and then she put on a plastic suit, used by wrestlers to shed water weight. She then drove home, a 45-minute commute, with the heat full blast.

"That was better for my psyche," she said. "I have to drive anyway."

She's also spent the last few days in St. George and Nevada hoping to work out in hotter temperatures.

"It was about 112 degrees in St. George, but Nevada wasn't too hot," she said. "After we hit Las Vegas, the hottest day was maybe 100. It wasn't the Death Valley 120 degrees we were hoping for."

Hutchison said the Badwater challenge is as much about the science of getting the proper hydration and nutrition as efficiently as possible as it is about running, walking or hiking 135-miles. She hopes to do it in 40 hours.

"You lose more water than you can drink," she said, adding that she has studied this issue extensively in preparation for the ultramarathon. "The person who can figure all that out will make it."

She said her friends and family have been very supportive of her unusual endeavor.

"They all think I can do it," she said.

Her five crew members — Stephen Speckman, Margaret Rose, Jodi Derouchey, Drew and Andrea Harrell — all volunteered upon hearing she was signed up.

"The reaction I got a lot was, 'Man, you're crazy! Do you need any help?'" Hutchison said. "It wasn't hard to get a crew at all. I was surprised."

That's because the race can be as agonizing, as exhausting and as dangerous for the support crews as it is for the runners.

"The medical people treat the crew members more than they do the runners," she said. "I think that's because I will have five people looking at me, making sure I'm OK, but who is looking at them? I think I have a really well-prepared crew, though. And hopefully they'll watch each other."

Her crew will also work in shifts, so while some are helping her along the route, the others are resting in hotels they've rented along the race route. As the start of the race approaches, she alternately battles nerves and excitement.

"I'm really nervous," she said. "I think I'm just wondering, like I always do, if what I've done is enough. I actually feel very good about my physical training."

Hutchison said she would eat her last whole foods Sunday night and then it's all powdered nutrition until the race is over. Her post-race celebration plans?

"I think I'll want to sleep," she said.


Editor's note: Deseret News staff writer Stephen Speckman is a member of Lorie Hutchison's crew and is documenting her race with photos and stories.


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