21 Runners Die, Including 31-Year-Old Champion, as Extreme Weather Hits Chinese Ultramarathon
"I just ran about 30 kilometers and quit the race ahead of the third checkpoint. I fainted halfway down the mountain," one participant said
Nearly two dozen people have died in China after taking part in an ultramarathon that continued under extreme conditions, including freezing rain and hail.
According to the New York Times, 21 athletes died during the 62-mile mountain race in the Gansu Province on Saturday. Among them were 31-year-old ultramarathon champion, Liang Jing, and Huang Guanjun, who won the men's marathon for hearing-impaired runners during the National Paralympic Games in 2019, the outlet reported.
A few hours after the race began, the weather around China's Yellow River Stone Forest Park took a turn for the worst, Zhang Xuchen told the Times.
"In a short period of time, hailstones and freezing rain fell in the area, and there were strong winds," Zhang, the mayor of the host city, Baiyin, said. "The temperature dropped sharply."
Many of the 172 runners participating in the event were wearing t-shirts and shorts as they traversed up the mountainous area, the newspaper noted. The race was eventually called off due to the inclement weather and a search and rescue effort was performed.
"At 1 p.m. on Saturday, the wind got stronger. It was hard to stand up straight and move forward. When the wind was the strongest, I had to grasp the ground with both my hands to avoid being blown over," a participant said, according to the Washington Post.
"I felt nothing but cold at the time," the participant added. "I just ran about 30 kilometers and quit the race ahead of the third checkpoint. I fainted halfway down the mountain."
Members of the rescue teams had trouble reaching the athletes due to the rugged terrain and a landslide, the Post reported. A local shepherd guided at least six runners to a nearby cave for comfort.
One runner, Mao Shuzhi, said she quit the race after 14 miles due to fears about developing hypothermia.
"The rain was getting heavier and heavier," she told Reuters.
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"At first I was a bit regretful, thinking it might have just been a passing shower," she added. "But when I saw the strong winds and rains later through my hotel room window, I felt so lucky that I made the decision."
According to USA Today, China's General Administration of Sport pledged to improve safety measures in ultramarathons and other endurance races following the event.