Such a terrible, senseless end to a race

Such a terrible, senseless end to a race

It’s actually quite rare to have a sad marathon story. And certainly nothing on the scale of what took place in China last weekend.

I suppose x, y, or z just missing their PB (personal best), or someone just failing by a whisker to qualify for a major event is sad, but in the end, they are pretty much a personal sadness.

And certainly nothing on the tragic scale of the ultra marathon in China over the weekend, which resulted in 21 runners dying.

21 runners who had set out to run an exciting, challenging race, ended up dying of hypothermia, poor things.

The weather in the mountains apparently turned savage, and dressed in just shorts and Ts, the exhausted runners had no protection from rain, sleet & hail.

It would appear that the organisers did not heed the weather warnings…if that is indeed the case, it is beyond shocking and irresponsible.

There is only one nice story connected to this sad event, and that is the bravery of Zhu Keming, a shepherd who rescued several runners.

Zhu Keming said he was grazing his sheep on Saturday in the northern province of Gansu when rain began to fall and temperatures plummeted.

Nearby, the sudden weather change had caught out runners in a 100km (60-mile) cross-country race.

Mr Zhu took refuge in a cave where he stored emergency food and clothes, but while inside he saw a stricken runner.

The shepherd told Chinese state media that he escorted the runner into the cave, massaged his hands and feet, and lit a fire to dry his clothes.

Four more distressed runners made it into the cave and told the shepherd others were marooned outside, some unconscious, AFP news agency reported.

Braving hail and freezing temperatures, Mr Zhu went out to search and saved another stricken runner. 

“I want to say how grateful I am to the man who saved me,” the runner, Zhang Xiaotao, wrote on Chinese social media site Weibo. “Without him, I would have been left out there,” he said.

Mr Zhu ultimately rescued three men and three women, according to the reports. He told state media he was “just an ordinary person who did a very ordinary thing”.

“There were still some people that could not be saved,” he said. “There were two men who were lifeless and I couldn’t do anything for them. I’m sorry.”

This would be a terrible story in any case, but now that I rather grandiosely style myself as a runner, and harbour aspirations to run a high-altitude ultra myself, an incident like this truly hits home.

So it was in the light of this senseless tragedy, that I read a very interesting article in The Hindustan Times this morning, by Dr. Rajat Chauhan.

Doc is not only the man behind the gruelling La Ultra The High in Ladakh – as in he dreamed up the idea – but he is also the race director. And as such he has to take the often hard decision to pull runners from the race if they are not meeting the cut-offs. Ladakh lies at extreme altitude in the Himalayas, with extreme weather conditions, and so the vigilance that has characterised this race in its 10 years of existence is of paramount importance.


  1. That’s terribly sad. Shouldn’t there be people out along the race making sure the runners are OK? Even normal marathon runners have support. Look at the support cyclists get. I know it’s an extreme event but even so. 60 miles with no support …..Asking for trouble!

    Anne-Marie Phillips

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