Anything can happen in a 135-mile foot race through Death Valley and beyond in the extreme heat of July.
Like when Dean Karnazes, a 46-year-old California man who won the Badwater Ultramarathon in 2004, finished this year in 22nd place, seven hours slower than his winning time five years ago.
Or when as many as 10 runners, including those who traveled from France, Italy and Canada, succumbed to the extreme conditions and recorded the dreaded "DNF," or did not finish, despite months of training and preparation.
Two Utahns, Lorie Hutchison and Jarom Thurston, entered the 32nd Badwater race, which started at a desolate, hot place called Badwater — the lowest point in the lower 48 states, at 282 feet below sea level.
There are only a few outposts between Badwater and the finish line at the Mount Whitney Portal, elevation 8,360 feet. In between, temperatures reached more than 120 degrees through Death Valley, where whipping winds, combined with the heat, quickly suck the life out of the average person.
This year, a field of 86 endurance athletes (88 entered) started in three waves, at 6 a.m., 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. on Monday. They had 60 hours to officially finish the race, with the help of support crews.
If they completed the unbelievable challenge in less than 48 hours, the finishers were rewarded with a commemorative belt buckle. All finishers got a medal.
The 2009 winner, Marcos Farinazzo, 40, of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, ran Badwater in 23 hours, 39 minutes. He beat last year's winner, Californian Jorge Pacheco, 41, who this year fell back to sixth place.
Jamie Donaldson, 34, of Colorado, was again the first female to cross the finish line (fifth finisher overall) with a time of 27:20, about 40 minutes slower than her winning time among females in 2008, when she also took third overall.
This year, only two females broke the top 10 finishers, compared with five last year, when Salt Lake resident Lorie Hutchison, 45, finished eighth overall, behind three other women.
Hutchison's 2009 time was 31:23, nearly an hour faster than last year. She finished 12th overall Tuesday afternoon and was the third female this year to finish, bettered only by Donaldson and perennial Badwater threat Pam Reed, 48, of Arizona.
Fellow Utahn Jarom Thurston, 35, of Payson, had reached the 131-mile mark at 47:23 and was expected to finish his second Badwater Wednesday morning.
This year's field of athletes came from 13 countries and 18 U.S. states. Most runners are men, with only 17 females entering. The average age of the runners is 46, although one runner this year is only 19. Many of the runners compete for the benefit of various charities.
In a strange twist this year, there was a small fire near the finish line, which is located in a stand of pine trees. As a result, the finish line late Tuesday was moved about three miles down the steep road to the race's end.
For more on the Badwater Ultramarathon, visit www.badwater.com.