Twenty-one ultramarathon runners were killed when severe weather struck a 100-kilometer (62-mile) mountain race in northwest China.
The high-altitude Huanghe Shilin Mountain Marathon began in bright sunshine on Saturday morning. However, by 1 p.m. local time, the weather had changed, with freezing rain, hail stones, and gale winds lashing runners in Gansu County, according to the state-run Global Times.
Liang Jing, a well-known ultra-marathon runner in China, was among those killed, according to a statement released on Sunday by the Hong Kong marathon group Hong Kong 100 Ultra Marathon.
According to the marathon group, Liang was a “favorite” member of the Hong Kong trail-racing community. He regularly competed in the annual Hong Kong 100-kilometer trail race, finishing second the last two years, according to the report.
It also called him “one of the world’s best ultra-endurance athletes” and offered condolences to his family.
As temperatures dropped in the Yellow River Stone Forest, runners began to report hypothermia, and others went missing.
The marathon organizers canceled the race and dispatched a 1,200-person search party to scour the treacherous terrain. After dark, the search operation continued.
The majority of the competitors were dressed in thin shorts and T-shirts.
Janet Ng, race director of the Hong Kong 100 Ultra Marathon, told CNN on Sunday that she was unable to comment on the significance or safety of the Gansu marathon, but that the trail-running community is in mourning.
One participant told the local newspaper Red Star News: “I couldn’t feel my fingers at one point (because it was so cold). My tongue was also frozen at the same time.”
He stated that he had decided to withdraw from the race. “I retreated halfway down the mountain and entered a wooden cabin at the request of a rescuer.
There had already been about ten more runners who had come down earlier, and we had been waiting for rescue in the cabin for about an hour. Eventually, about 50 runners arrived and sought refuge in the cabin.”
By Sunday morning, 151 of the 172 race participants had been deemed safe, with eight admitted to the hospital. According to the state-run People’s Daily, another 21 people were discovered dead.
The race’s 100-kilometer distance was more than double that of a standard marathon.