Chinese Ultramarathon: A Survivor Describes the Deadly Race

The day started in jittery anticipation as 172 Lycra-clad runners jumped up and down at the beginning line of the 62-mile mountain race in Gansu Province, China. Zhang Xiaotao seen the wind because it blew the hats off a few of his rivals. It was an early signal of the problem forward.

A few hours later, Mr. Zhang, 30, can be mendacity unconscious on the rugged mountain, in line with a written account that he shared on Chinese social media.

Mr. Zhang, a sports activities blogger, was amongst the group of survivors who have been rescued when whipping rain turned to hail and temperatures plummeted hours into the ultramarathon on Saturday. More than 1,200 rescuers have been later dispatched to seek out our bodies in the storm. Twenty-one runners died, a lot of them after affected by hypothermia.

According to his account, Mr. Zhang started to climb the hardest a part of the race when icy rain and hail fell tougher and obscured his view. “It kept hitting my face and my eyes began to blur, and I couldn’t see the road clearly,” he wrote.

The wind grew so sturdy that he slipped and fell practically a dozen instances till he may now not decide himself up and ultimately handed out. He awakened in a cave, wrapped in a quilt subsequent to a fireplace constructed by a shepherd who had discovered him and carried him to security.

“I owe him my life,” Mr. Zhang wrote.

Local authorities officers who organized the ultramarathon at the Yellow River Stone Forest Park mentioned that the tragedy had been brought on by a sudden and unpredictable change in the climate that occurred just a few hours into the race when runners have been climbing 6,500 toes above sea degree to the 12-mile mark.

A runner receiving therapy at a hospital on Sunday after surviving the ultramarathon. Some state information media have raised questions on the determination to not cancel the race.Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Stories of runners stranded with no cellphone reception and unwell geared up for hail and powerful winds have gripped the Chinese headlines since Saturday. Images of runners huddling underneath foil blankets twisting in the wind have prompted outrage on social media.

By Sunday night, the increased provincial authorities in Gansu, a northwestern province, had arrange a crew to research the deaths. Some state information media have raised questions on the determination to not cancel the race and what may have been completed to forestall the lack of life. Zhang Xuchen, the mayor of the close by metropolis of Baiyin who had fired the beginning pistol, apologized on nationwide tv and bowed as he expressed his sorrow for many who had died.

Mr. Zhang may simply have been one in every of them.

Shortly earlier than he started to stumble up the mountain, Mr. Zhang overtook Huang Guanjun, the champion of the males’s marathon for hearing-impaired runners at the 2019 Chinese National Paralympic Games. As Mr. Zhang was passing, Mr. Huang pointed to his ear and waved to point he couldn’t hear Mr. Zhang.

“Later I found out that he was deaf and mute,” Mr. Zhang wrote. Mr. Huang died on the similar mountain cross not lengthy after the encounter.

At the entrance of the race, Mr. Zhang joined 5 different runners, together with Wu Panrong, who had accompanied him from the beginning line. Mr. Zhang later realized that he was the just one to outlive amongst the pack. Mr. Wu additionally died.

The race at Yellow River Stone Forest Park was in style with excessive athletes for whom operating the size of greater than two marathons could be a month-to-month occasion. It had been organized by the native authorities for the previous 4 years and was seen as a strategy to promote tourism in the space, one in every of China’s poorest provinces. This yr, 172 individuals participated.

Competitors are normally mountaineers, ultramarathon runners and path runners, a lot of whom are motivated by the prize cash in addition to the glory.

Liang Jing throughout a earlier race in Hong Kong. The ultramarathon champion was amongst the lifeless on Sunday.Credit…Sportograf

Yun Yanqiao, a revered Chinese path runner, didn’t compete in the race on Saturday however misplaced two associates, Huang Yinbin, 28, and Liang Jing, 31, an ultramarathon champion. For Mr. Huang and Mr. Liang, operating ultramarathons was as a lot about the sport because it was about the financial award, Mr. Yun mentioned. Neither Mr. Liang nor Mr. Huang got here from rich backgrounds.

The award for the Yellow River Stone Forest Park race was round $2,300, in line with the occasion’s social media account.

Mr. Yun mentioned he believed that Mr. Liang ran the race for his spouse and younger baby in addition to for his ardour. “He was someone who always worked really hard at training and at racing. He was someone who cared for his family a lot.”

Mr. Huang needed to develop into a police officer, in line with Mr. Yun. “Huang Yinbin told me this year that he wanted to take the test to become a policeman. He was someone who was always passionate about life.”

Another survivor, the well-known Chinese mountaineer Luo Jing, described her expertise to the state broadcaster CCTV. As she and different runners started the steep ascent and the air thinned with the excessive altitude, she mentioned, she seen increasingly more runners stopping on the aspect of the street, trembling from the chilly.

“They said it was too cold on the mountain, and they all wore shirts and shorts,” Ms. Luo instructed CCTV. “Someone told us: Go down the mountain, some people are already foaming at the mouth.”

In the mountains in Gansu on Saturday. More than 1,200 rescuers have been dispatched to seek out our bodies.Credit…CNS, through Reuters

Ms. Luo posted a brief video on her means down the mountain on Weibo, the Chinese social media platform.

“I’m going back now, I’m safe,” Ms. Luo says in the video as the wind batters her telephone and the waves of freezing rain obscure the background.

Many of the movies broadcast on nationwide tv confirmed the athletes in shorts and skinny Lycra operating throughout rocky, dusty, slender paths between pillars of stone. Some media protection of the occasion has prompt that the runners ought to have been higher ready.

Mr. Yun mentioned that the tragedy was as a lot a pure catastrophe as a human-caused one and that blaming the victims was not truthful.

“Someone criticized the runners, who are the victims, for having not prepared enough,” he mentioned. “But it should be the responsibility of the organizers to inform the runners of the risks and tell them how best to prepare.”

Liu Yi contributed analysis from Beijing.