HomeSportsAfter 21 Runners Died, China's Ultramarathon Looks Inward

After 21 Runners Died, China’s Ultramarathon Looks Inward

Candice Burt, an organizer of ultramarathons, several longer than 200 miles, said with the increasing popularity of the sport, those who stage races can no longer count on runners being familiar with what they need to survive the terrain. She is now discussing an expansion of the list of required safety gear.

“You may not need it, but someone else you come across in the race might,” Burt said. “There are going to be significant sections in these races that it’s going to take a while for rescuers to get to.”

The 21 deaths during the race in China served as a reminder that even as extreme activities become more mainstream, they can become fatal in an instant.

The Chinese ultramarathon took place at the Yellow River Stone Forest Park tourist site and turned catastrophic when a large storm moved in Saturday afternoon, pelting runners with rain and hail, bringing freezing temperatures and carrying wind that knocked them off their feet. The area is notorious for wild swings in the weather, in part, people familiar with it say, because of the chains of mountains to the west and the Siberian winds from the north.

One runner, Zhang Xiaotao, 30, recalls falling nearly a dozen times before passing out. A shepherd found him and carried him to safety.

Scott Warr, a longtime mid-pack trail runner and co-host of the podcast Trail Runner Nation, wondered whether “the veterans of the sport aren’t training or educating the new people as much as they need to be.”

And yet, a striking element of the tragedy in China was the level of proficiency of some of the runners who lost their lives, including Liang Jing, 31, an ultramarathon champion, and Huang Guanjun, the winner of the men’s marathon for hearing-impaired runners at China’s 2019 National Paralympic Games.


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