Twenty-One Runners Die During 100-Kilometer Ultramarathon in China

Twenty-one individuals were killed, including two of China’s best marathon runners, when freezing rain and heavy winds hit a 100-kilometer ultramarathon in northern China on Sunday, according to local officials.

In ultrarunning’s biggest tragedy, 21 people, including two of China’s top marathon athletes, died after freezing rain and high winds struck a 100 K ultramarathon in northwestern China, local officials said on Sunday.

Runners were just a few hours in when rain turned to hail, and strong winds blasted through some of the most challenging parts of the racecourse. Race organizers are facing backlash for this tragedy. 

Top runners, including Liang Jing, Asia’s point leader in trail running, and Huang Guanjun, China’s top paralympic runner, have been confirmed dead. 

A sudden change in weather patterns resulted in hail storms, freezing rain and gale winds during the race, which started at about 1:00 pm on Saturday in the Yellow River Stone Forest tourist site in Jingtai county, Baiyin, northwest China’s Gansu Province, China Central Television (CCTV) reported on Sunday.

The freezing weather caused discomfort and hypothermia among marathoners, resulting in some going missing, and the race was suspended, as local authorities immediately organized multiple rescue forces to search them.

IRUNFAR published a few first-person accounts – 

This incredible and heartbreaking first-person account, published on the website, explains the situation in detail. To summarize this runner’s account, the weather was cool to cold with the noticeable wind as the race started on Saturday morning local time. Still, it worsened significantly around 1 pm, and the severe weather lasted until about 5 pm. At this time, most runners were between 21 and 30 kilometres into the race. This section of the course included an approximately 1,000-meter climb over extremely rugged terrain where you needed to use your hands at times. As runners climbed this section, they encountered severe wind, rain, and cold temperatures. Some runners retreated backward on the course, including the runner who authored this account, and/or took shelter in low points and a cabin next to the course. Many runners helped each other, working together to shelter in place and/or retreat backwards on the course. Some runners experienced additional injuries due to falling and/or being knocked over by the wind on the rugged terrain. Search-and-rescue personnel soon arrived on the scene to begin rescuing the injured.

Another first-person account, published on Chinese social media platform Sina Weibo, is from runner Xiao-Tao Zhang, who reports he was running among the top-six men when the weather turned. In summary, he encountered the storm between checkpoints two and three, which for him was rain, hail, very high winds, and cold temperatures. When the weather became unbearable, he says he hit the SOS button on his GPS tracker. Soon he passed out and awoke some hours later in a cave where a local sheepherder had carried him. The herder had made a fire and wrapped him in a quilt. Other runners had also taken refuge there. Zhang believes he is the only survivor among the top-six men with whom he’d been running near when the storm began.

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