Chinese ultra running race tragedy as 21 die

Rescuers search for runners in China's northwestern Gansu province
Rescuers search for runners in China's northwestern Gansu province (Image credit: Getty Images)

An ultra running race in China has been hit by tragedy as 21 runners died in extreme weather, reports have revealed. The dead include two of China’s top long-distance athletes.

The runners in the 100km high altitude Chinese Ultramarathon in Gansu Province faced sudden freezing rain, hail and high winds. Many were wearing only shorts and t-shirts.

Hours into the event in Yellow River stone forest on Saturday, the weather deteriorated as the runners  reached the 12-mile mark, some 2000 metres above sea level, according to Zhang Xuchen, the mayor of the nearby city of Baiyin, who fired the starting pistol.

Reports suggested that some runners passed out due to plummeting temperatures and poor weather.

A video message from other participants asking for help prompted a rescue bid, including more than 700 people using thermal-imaging drones and radar detectors. 

Eight runners were injured, as well as the 21 who lost their lives in the race.  The ultra marathon was called off.

The race starts at  a tourist site near the Yellow River and follows a route through canyons. It has been organised by the local government for four years and was seen as a way to promote tourism in the area, which is in one of China’s poorest regions.

The Gansu provincial government has set up an investigation team to  look into the cause of the deaths, the newspaper, the People’s Daily, reported.

Fiona Russell
Outdoor writer

Fiona Russell is a widely published adventure journalist and blogger, better known as Fiona Outdoors. She is based in Scotland and is an all-round outdoors enthusiast with favorite activities including trail running, mountain walking, mountain biking, road cycling, triathlon and skiing (both downhill and backcountry). Aside from her own adventures, Fiona's biggest aim is to inspire others to enjoy getting outside and exploring, especially through her writing. She is also rarely seen without a running skort! Find out more at Fiona Outdoors.