Wednesday, January 19

An ultramarathon ends in tragedy: runners describe the horror of Gansu’s race | porcelain

TOAt the starting line of the Gansu ultramarathon, it was cold but the sun was shining. One competitor had trouble warming up, even after running a fast 2km, and noticed that some of the elite competitors were wearing shorts and were shaking. In nearby towns, the temperature was supposedly already falling and winds rising, but the 172 runners didn’t know it.

In a widely shared account of the horror that followed, posted online, the anonymous runner described the conditions that led to the death of 21 competitors and the admission of another eight to the hospital, and raised important questions about the safety of the increasingly popular sport. resistance. in China.

In a matter of hours, the temperature on the mountain in northwest China would drop well below zero. The corridors received rain, hail and hurricane force winds. Competitors have described being surprised by the cold, losing sensation in their extremities, overtaking people who left early and descending the track and encountering other people foaming at the mouth or immobile.

Among those who died during the Huanghe Shilin Mountain Marathon in Gansu ‘s Yellow River Stone Forest held the record Liang Jing, last photographed leading the group, wearing shorts and a slim jacket. Nicknamed Liang God, the 31-year-old father of a two-year-old was well known in China as a racing champion. He was experienced, having won, among other things, a 250-mile (400 km) race through the Gobi Desert in 2018.

According to China News Weekly, he was one of four competitors who took refuge in a cave, accompanied by two local villagers. By the time rescuers found them, three of the four, including Liang, had died.

Paralympic athlete Huang Ganjun also died during the race. Huang, who is hearing and speech impaired, won the hearing impaired men’s marathon at the 2019 National Paralympic Games. A friend described him as a “sensitive” man whose greatest joy in life was running. Competitor Zhang Xiaotao described seeing Huang between the two checkpoints, alive and continuous, but “in bad shape.”

The Gansu ultramarathon had been run three times before, but this was a new route, through remote mountainous territory. The weather deteriorated between the second and third checkpoints – a five-mile stretch of trail, 15 miles on the route. Competitors have variously described it as a treacherous and technical part of the 1,000-meter elevation route, requiring some climbing.

“There is nowhere to rest and you cannot stop and the mountains exposed… But on this day, the problems were magnified,” said the anonymous competitor.

Wang Jin-ming, 42, was one of the runners who ended up in the hospital. He told China News that the weather changed around 1 p.m., after running 17 miles. He struggled for 20 minutes to open his emergency blanket, only for the wind to rip it from his hands. He repeatedly pressed the emergency button on his GPS.

“I lost control of my hands and feet, I could only crawl, keep climbing, keep climbing … I told myself that I could not stop, that I should maintain my body temperature, stay alive and see my family.”

Rescuers looking for victims.
Rescuers looking for victims. Photograph: Xinhua / Rex / Shutterstock

Wang said he found six or seven others, also in dire straits, and urged them to keep moving, but they couldn’t. At some point he lost consciousness and woke up in the hospital. The rescue teams had not reached him until 7 in the afternoon.

The section’s inaccessibility meant that checkpoint 3 was not a drop in supply of food, water, or warm clothing, and those trapped in the section could only rely on what they were carrying, which for many was very little.

Through forums, articles and media reports, many have questioned the lack of cold weather gear on the mandatory gear list. Only a windbreaker or thermal shirt was recommended, and the winds tore apart the mandatory emergency blankets.

But no one raised objections to the list, the anonymous competitor wrote. “My jacket was packed in a transfer bag and stored in the [checkpoint 6] 62km point change on the track. Normally, I can get there before dark. “

Few passed checkpoint 3.

Estimates say that between 40 and 50 people took refuge in small huts or caves along the route, some with the help of dozens of locals, including a shepherd, Zhu Keming, who has been hailed as a national hero for saving six people. Wang Qinlin, party secretary for Hu Ma Shui village, said he coordinated with a secretary from the neighboring village and gathered residents to collect winter coats, duvets, steamed buns and hot water for the survivors.

Shepherd Zhu Keming speaks to the media in a cave, where he saved the lives of six runners.
Shepherd Zhu Keming speaks to the media in a cave where he saved the lives of six runners. Photograph: China News Service / Getty Images

As the global ultramarathon community mourns its greatest tragedy, many are debating the role of personal responsibility. Sport is an ultimate endurance test, often in difficult or treacherous conditions. Racing can, and often does, go sideways for competitors at any time along trails longer than 60 miles.

“Running on trails is the same as climbing mountains,” said Chinese mountaineer Luo Jing, who survived the race. “You have to plan for the worst case every time and not put your hopes on others.”

Luo put her survival in part in preparation, bringing warm clothes and making sure she had time to descend when the weather turned bad.

Commentators have also suggested that the explosion in popularity of endurance racing in China has led to thousands of racing events, with very few experienced teams to run them. Tourism officials often see a career as a prominent way to promote their region and win favor with their superiors, potentially without sufficient regard for danger.

Runner says he saw 'many hypothermic' during deadly ultramarathon in China - video
Runner says he saw ‘many hypothermic’ during deadly ultramarathon in China – video

Reports in the Chinese media have hinted at inadequate contingency plans and poor communication with local rescue authorities, who struggled to access the terrain and locate stranded competitors. There is conflicting information about what time was predicted and what information the organizers evaluated and transmitted. TO report published in Esquire, reconstructing a timeline of events, revealed a chaotic coordination of the rescue effort, with small teams and cars trying to reach checkpoints 2 and 4, while others, including local villagers, went on foot. Several hours passed between the first help messages and the full deployment of the rescue teams.

The incident is under investigation and China’s sports governing body has already ordered improvements, saying there were “problems and shortcomings” in the race management model, including contingency planning. Numerous scheduled races have been canceled in the wake of the aftermath and the families of some of the victims have demanded accountability for the deaths. Media reports of authorities preventing families from speaking to each other or preventing families from taking bodies back to their hometowns have only compounded concerns.

The anonymous runner said it was unheard of that most runners had withdrawn from the race before the organizers finally called it off, and urged future competitors to be prepared to take care of themselves in an emergency.

“You can only say you’re done if you get home. Safety always comes first. “

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