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Chinese ultramarathon runners were caught in a deadly storm with only foil blankets for protection

The last thing I remembered before Zhang Xiaotao fainted was strong winds, freezing rain, almost invisible numbness, and loss of control.

With an account given to China’s national media and posted to his social media account, a veteran runner said he A tough 60-mile mountain race in northern China An unusual storm struck on Saturday, astonishing many racers. He dressed in his wheel survival blanket, pressed the SOS button on the GPS locator, and then went black.

When Mr. Zhang regained consciousness, a few hours later he realized that he was helped by a local shepherd who took him to a cave with quilts and wood. Mr. Zhang did not answer messages to his account or phone calls. The Wall Street Journal has confirmed the authenticity of Mr. Zhang’s account with a colleague.

Many of Zhang’s fellow racers weren’t so lucky. By the end of the rescue operation on Sunday, 21 athletes, including some of China’s top trail runners, had died from exposure in an incident that caused anger and astonishment across the country.

On Monday, mountain trail races had been canceled across China, race officials said. These moves include an emergency meeting of Chinese sports officials calling on local governments to monitor safety risks on Sunday night and a government survey of the race on Saturday in Gansu Province, the state where it took place. Followed the start of.

Rescuers moved the wreckage of a runner who died in the race on Sunday to a helicopter in northwestern China.


Photo:

Gansu / Xinhua / Zuma Press Fire Department

Zhejiang Province in southern Shanghai has suspended all distance and trail running events, according to an official notice posted on the social media account of the government-affiliated Runners Club.

As China’s middle class has become richer, the popularity of city marathons and mountain races has skyrocketed in recent years, hosting new races involving many investors with the support of local governments that have accepted the event for economic development. It attracts investors to do so.

However, some races suffer from injuries and even death, often due to inexperienced organizers.

Many other participants in this weekend’s deadly race posted videos, photos and messages on social media describing their experiences, and Chinese internet users are wondering why organizers aren’t prepared for emergencies. And ask why they are not paying more attention to the possibility of bad weather.

The event’s organizer, Mayor Chang Shuchen of the city of Bayin, said on Sunday that the state would continue to investigate the case, feeling guilty about the loss of life due to sudden weather changes. Gansu Shengjing Sports Co, the race operator. Efforts to reach

Among the dead, Liang Jin, one of China’s most famous marathon runners, was held three years ago, winning a race along a winding rocky path along the Yellow River in Gansu Province.

Liang Jin, one of China’s most famous marathon runners who died in the race on Saturday, died with his wife and baby at the Vibram Hong Kong 100 Marathon last year.


Photo:

Young Chen Documentary

“We’re all really struggling to handle how this happened,” said Steve Brammer, who met Liang when he attended a similar trail running tournament directed by Brammer in Hong Kong. Said. Liang was second in the race, Vibram Hong Kong 100.

Two days after Saturday’s event, state media, social media posts, and videos revealed a more complete picture.

The Huanghe Stone Forest, where the marathon took place, is a collection of mountains and reddish rock structures that stretch toward the sky at the edge of the desert, about a 10-hour drive northwest of Xi’an.

Course videos from runners and race organizers climb steep slopes that athletes have to use and wind through narrow canyons and tunnels between sandstone vertices.

On the toughest leg, where most runners are in trouble, the course climbs from 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) to about 2,200 meters (7,218 feet) without support staff.

This area was previously proven to be dangerous. In 2018, a landslide damaged the pass weeks before the start date, forcing organizers to shorten the course. In some years, organizers were more interested in heat than cold. Runners still had to bring emergency foil blankets, but the organizers removed the requirement for windproof jackets last year.

The race took place in Gansu, a distant province of China.


Photo:

Tpg / Zuma Press

The weather was cold and windy on Saturday morning, but racers weren’t warned of bad weather by the organizers, according to multiple posts and videos from race participants. The race leader was already heading for the highest and steepest part of the course when the storm struck around noon and there was a sharp drop in hail and temperature.

In strong winds and rain, Chongqing runner Wang Jin-min took a few minutes to open the emergency blanket. It was quickly blown away from his shivering hands, he later told CGTN, a state media service, from a hospital bed.

Soon he noticed that he was lying on the ground, unable to move, and unconscious. To stay awake, he pinched himself, biting his lips and tongue, and vowed to see his family again. He managed to stay conscious until the rescue team found him around 9 pm, 12 hours after the start of the race.

Lan Renxun, a professor of associate law in southeastern China, told CGTN that he had left his wind jacket to the organizer because of the expected warm days. He was hit by cold rain and wind as he stepped in.

“My eyesight was blurred,” he said, “my brain continued.”

Zhang also said in a Weibo post that visibility began to blur as the rain increased. He overtook two fellow runners, both of whom were ill and tried to help one by placing his arms around him for support, he wrote.

The memory is ambiguous, but at some point the two must have separated, Zhang wrote. He fell many times and finally lost consciousness.

Later, he learned that both colleagues had died, he wrote.

Write to Phred Dvorak at phred.dvorak@wsj.com And Wenshin Fan Wenxin.Fan@wsj.com

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Chinese ultramarathon runners were caught in a deadly storm with only foil blankets for protection

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