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Attackpoint - performance and training tools for orienteering athletes

Discussion: Ultramarathon tragedy

in: Orienteering; General

May 23, 2021 1:15 PM # 
Not orienteering, but certainly of interest to our group.
May 23, 2021 1:19 PM # 
Oh wow, that’s terrible.
May 23, 2021 1:40 PM # 
I've just been reading about this. It is indeed a tragedy of almost epic proportions. 20 people out of 172 died, from my understanding, and two of the dead were top Chinese ultra runners. So they obviously weren't inexperienced.
May 23, 2021 10:21 PM # 
The BBC reports over 1000 people working in various aspects of search and rescue, including heat sensing drones.
May 23, 2021 10:38 PM # 
This is why I should never complain when organisers of Aus ARs require us to carry so much mandatory gear, especially when there are mountain sections involved.
May 23, 2021 10:52 PM # 
It raises the question of unforeseeable, unforeseen or unpredictable weather and when does one reach the point of no turning back for whatever reason (and “allow” that predicament to occur). This is as sad and unfortunate an athletic event outcome as can be.
May 24, 2021 12:03 AM # 
It sounded like the forecast the day before did not indicate cold. But by the start of the race the temperatures were at least starting to drop. (From an article I read)
May 24, 2021 1:07 AM # 
It's mountainous meaning the weather is going to be unpredictable.
May 24, 2021 1:22 AM # 
Trying to find out more about this (from the meteorological angle as well as others). It's not clear to me what altitude the issues occurred at; I found a site at ~1900m elevation about 100km to the east which was reporting temperatures around 7 degrees through the day on Saturday with 5mm of rain. Looking at the last few years data from that site, there was the odd instance of similar conditions in May but mostly in the first half of the month rather than the second. (There was also an unusually late spring snowfall on Saturday at Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia, which is around 1000km to the north but a similar longitude, indicating plenty of cold air around).

The description of the conditions themselves sound not so different to those which caused the abandonment of the JK long day a few years back.
May 24, 2021 4:03 AM # 
I've done a number of mountain ultras around that altitude and we've had to carry cold/rainy weather gear and emergency blankets, amongst other things. That gear isn't always enough to make you feel comfortable but it should help you survive. Many racers near the front carry as little as they can or choose clothing that just barely meets mandatory requirements but is far too light. It is telling that some of the mandatory gear lists specify that items like thermal shirts need to be in the runner's size.

Blair, I'm really curious about how unforeseeable and brutal the weather was. Thanks for looking for info.

As an organizer, I know there's a tendency to think that "the show must go on". As a participant, I know there's a tendency to keep racing if the course is open. It's a dangerous combination, unfortunately.
May 24, 2021 5:10 AM # 
May 24, 2021 6:21 AM # 
seems like the start was here,+Gansu,+C...

on the Yellow River at about 1400m.

15km north there are peaks up to 2600m
May 24, 2021 6:37 AM # 

not a lot of tree cover!
May 24, 2021 6:54 AM # 
Sad news. If I Iook back how we (organizers of 21k marathon / course between 300 -1000m) need to present our safety protocol to the local goverment to obtain all premissions I don't understand a few things from the news.

1. How many checkpoints were on the course
2. How many mountain rescue team members were on the course
3. How they communicate during the race, check the course from point to point

At our event we nedeed to have our people on checkpoints (avg. every 3km) and rescue team on dangereous sections. When last competitor passed one checkpoint one or two staff members need to check/clear the course to the next checkpoint.

If the race was canceled 5 hours after the start that means that checking the course was very hard task. How landslide affected the athletes is also not clear from the news.

It is tragedy for all.
May 24, 2021 7:55 AM # 
It's a semi-desert area (Lanzhou, nearby, averages about 250mm of rain per year), which may also have contributed to a lack of preparedness for wet weather.
May 24, 2021 9:29 AM # 
The description of the conditions themselves sound not so different to those which caused the abandonment of the JK long day a few years back.
If you mean 2016, it wasn't abandoned though lots of people retired. 1998 was cancelled after a bad weather forecast, but the weather turned out fine.
The big difference in O-races is the much shorter distances required to bale out to safety.
May 24, 2021 12:52 PM # 
If the Wikipedia article is correct, they had an accurate weather forecast before the race started. :(

Looking at the terrain, I can understand the appeal of running there.
May 24, 2021 6:00 PM # 
Many more details on the reliable iRunFar site, which is updating the article as they learn more. The mandatory gear list was extremely short compared to any mountain event I’ve done but there is much more to the story, and the weather sounded truly brutal.


“We can confirm that the race organization required runners to carry the following mandatory kit:

Race bib
Timing chip
GPX file/route
GPS tracker
One headlamp
Water container with one-liter capacity
Space blanket
Cell phone

We can additionally confirm the race organization recommended but did not require runners to carry these items:

Electrolyte drinks, water, and energy supplies
Sun hat and sunglasses
Petroleum jelly
Trekking poles
First-aid kit”
May 25, 2021 12:01 AM # 
Sounds like a local sheep herder saved a number of lives:

“In summary, he encountered the storm between checkpoints two and three, which for him was rain, hail, very high winds, and cold temperatures. When the weather became unbearable, he says he hit the SOS button on his GPS tracker. Soon he passed out, and woke some hours later in a cave where he’d been carried by a local sheep herder. The herder had made a fire and wrapped him in a quilt. Other runners had also taken refuge there. Zhang believes he is the only survivor among the top-six men with whom he’d been running near when the storm began.”
May 25, 2021 4:00 AM # 
More proof that running a course this long really can't be good for your health
May 25, 2021 8:59 AM # 
I am absolutely not saying Chinese trail-runs are "light" on the equipment list, I am just sharing my memory of the one and only race I attended as part of a knowledge transfer session in 2017, the Wulong 110km. The course map and packing list for the 2021 edition are online at - you'll see the 110km course has 9 checkpoints, the shortest leg being 8.5km. Regarding protective clothing, only a rescue blanket and a rain jacket (weighing at least 200g) are required. The Wulong national park in May would normally not be below ca.20 degrees Celsius, however in 2017 we did have a lot of rain and some wind, making for quite a bit of wind chill. Around half the participants dropped out in total, but that was regarded as normal, proof that the race is tough and thus a good race.

Regarding the yellow river race - terrain and climate will certainly have been much harder from the outset, so it is a bit surprising the equipment list is so short. I am sad about the deaths at the event, even if I suppose dying while doing something you love is better than being hit by a texting driver...
May 25, 2021 11:42 AM # 
21 simultaneously-texting drivers is just unfathomable though :(
May 25, 2021 2:29 PM # 
Unless you just get one driving into a crowd.
May 25, 2021 11:54 PM # 
Its not appropriate to make judgements from so far away, but such incidents can cause us to re-examine our own procedures.

Around here our gear requirements for peri-urban 3hr rogaines exceed those of the Gansu event; but I worry about compliance. Less so about mountain races (hills up to 1500m with open tops) as they attract a generally more experienced clientele and there's a fixed route, with manned checkpoints. Quite a lot is known about the weather patterns, and there's enough history to characterise it as "seriously changeable" among those who care to take notice of the tragedies and near misses. I think our risks come mostly from the gung-ho newbie, who can slip through our systems in the excitement of an adventurous event. Which always start at low altitude in a sheltered location, don't they?
May 26, 2021 12:13 AM # 
At an annual (mass start) night-O that we hold on a very technical map, we require everyone to carry a backup light. It used to be that we just asked at the starting line if everyone had one. Then one year we had a tropical storm come through on the day of the event. When the question was posed if everyone had a spare light, the competitors all said yes, including one hotshot who I think rolled his eyes while saying it sarcastically. He came to regret that when he smashed his light and was alone in the dark in the pouring rain deep in complex terrain, remembering that it had also been announced that search parties would not be sent out until dawn. Fortunately, he was in the lead when this happened, so he was able to just stand still and shiver until the next two runners caught up, and he called for help and was able to follow them around the rest of the course.

We now make each runner demonstrate that they have two lights that work.
May 26, 2021 2:01 AM # 
For comparison, here's one of the gold standard mandatory gear lists for mountain ultrarunning from Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc. Like the race in Gansu, it goes above 2,000 m in places, and the weather can get nasty. The basic list includes 17 items and the runner also needs to come prepared with "kits" of additional items that can be "activated" shortly before the race if the weather will be particularly hot, cold or rainy.

Read "#10 Jacket" to see how much thought the organizers put into this.

My jacket was inspected at race check-in, including the taped seams. At one or two points on the course, I had to show some random piece of gear.

One of the best gear checks I've seen was at the end of a mountain marathon (navigation race, not a running race) in Sweden. Before we could download our SI card, we had to pass by a long table with pieces of tape down the middle naming all the items on the mandatory gear list. My teammate and I had to empty our packs and place each piece of mandatory gear beside the appropriate piece of tape - including "enough fuel to boil 1 litre of water". If we passed, we could download without penalty. Brilliant.
May 26, 2021 2:38 AM # 
"enough fuel to boil 1 litre of water"

This small piece of plutonium...
May 26, 2021 3:09 AM # 
Did you also need to provide the litre of water?
May 26, 2021 3:20 AM # 
No, but we had to demonstrate our ability to use the map to find streams.
May 26, 2021 5:59 AM # 
slow-twitch: finishing the race with wet clothing below the knees? ;-)
May 26, 2021 8:23 AM # 
@Bash - what if you needed to use that fuel during the race, how do you prove it existed when being checked at the finish? Or is that fuel required to still be remaining at the finish, similar to the "final fuel reserve" in airplanes that you're expected to never need to touch unless in real dire need?
May 26, 2021 10:43 AM # 
I like the idea of "kits" that can be activated. I ended up doing something like that for WRC in Spain a few years ago, switching out my base layers for something heavier and wearing my Gore-Tex jacket instead of the lightweight one I'd planned to carry. It was chance that I'd carried that stuff along (short trip from Scotland, where I left most of my stuff), but I was sure glad for it.

Having some contingency gear as part of the preparation expectations for all athletes is a great idea.
May 26, 2021 1:03 PM # 
I do the same whether or not there are extra kits, e.g. I pack two rain jackets that meet all requirements and choose the lighter one on race day if the forecast is good. Same with thermal shirts, tights, etc.

The race in Sweden with the finish line fuel requirement was a mountain marathon. The format was teams of two, and we spent most of the day navigating to controls, finishing at a remote area where we all set up lightweight tents to camp overnight. Then we received different maps in the morning to navigate back to the start by another route. The fuel we needed at the finish line was a safety reserve, e.g. if we got lost in the mountains and needed to camp again. Given that at least one team climbed the wrong mountain in the fog looking for a control, it was possible for teams to get misplaced. But they were mostly Swedish so everyone navigated to the finish just fine.
May 26, 2021 3:13 PM # 
More gear checks please!

One adventure race I was at a participant showed an emergency blanket that was 5x5cm in size arguing that the race instructions didn’t specify a size.

Ugh! The eqpt is required for your safety!
May 26, 2021 3:45 PM # 
If anything good can come from this tragedy, perhaps it will be more acceptance of the importance of mandatory gear. UTMB specifies that emergency blankets need to be minimum 1.4 m X 2 m and "all clothing must be the correct size for the competitor". I'm sure there are stories behind their detailed specs, as per Hammer's example! A significant minority of competitors perceive mandatory gear to be an unnecessary burden and will look for ways to carry as little as possible.

Part of the problem is that gear is not enough. In adventure racing, some racers paddle whitewater without knowing how to use the mandatory throw rope, and we carry first aid kits containing required items but not everyone knows first aid. Even in orienteering, we carry whistles but we don't talk a lot to newbies about how to use them or respond to them.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, as much as I admire a good gear check, I also have a lot of respect for the races where I've simply had to sign an agreement to carry certain items that meet particular specs and to carry "sufficient warm clothing for conditions". That's only OK where competitors are experienced and the legal system is inclined to favour personal responsibility vs. organizer responsibility. It's not just one vs. the other though, since we also have to think about risk to search and rescue personnel.
May 26, 2021 4:28 PM # 
Btw I'm not saying that a proper mandatory gear list could have saved 21 lives in China. I'm on the opposite side of the world just reading about it in the media. But there's no question that the mandatory gear list was "scant", as some polite folks have said on social media.

Some people on social media are upset that there is any discussion of mandatory gear, interpreting this as victim blaming. I don't see it that way. It's an opportunity for us all to learn and possibly save future lives. When I go to an unfamiliar place to race, I do some research to choose my gear but I assume the organizer knows the area better than I do and has prepared an appropriate basic gear list with our safety in mind. They also know more about accessibility to the race course by service roads, the staffing of checkpoints, local emergency services and the availability of shelter near the course. Where races are more remote, more gear is needed.

I'm curious about the weather forecast and whether there was sufficient information beforehand to cancel the race or alter the course. said: "Gansu Meteorological Bureau warned of 'sudden heavy showers, hail, lightning, sudden gale-force winds' and other adverse weather conditions across the province in a report dated Friday." (The day before the race.) Yahoo News said, "Baiyin city's local branch of the National Early Warning Information Center had warned for the past three days of hail and strong winds." The organizers, on the other hand, said there were no extreme weather predictions, and I read in one source that they were sent a weather report that didn't include the storm risk. Several news reports have referred to it as a "freak" or "surprise" storm but the reports above suggest that the forecast may have been accurate.
May 26, 2021 5:55 PM # 
For interest, here's the race course map. Runners were caught in an 8.5 km stretch between checkpoints (probably staffed) that included a 1,000+ meter climb where they apparently expected the slowest runners to take as long as 3.5 hours. Compared to other 100K mountain ultras, that all seems reasonable. Parts of the climb were so steep that runners used their hands, which puts the race toward the more technical end of the spectrum and calls for more caution.
May 26, 2021 11:49 PM # 
One adventure race I was at a participant showed an emergency blanket that was 5x5cm in size arguing that the race instructions didn’t specify a size.

Sounds more like an emergency handkerchief.
May 26, 2021 11:54 PM # 
Emergency confetti.
May 27, 2021 5:41 AM # 
Bash - agree with what you're saying. The mandatory gear in races here varies quite a lot between races and I think people see it generally as the minimum to carry, but not necessarily what's sensible for them. For example there's a race up one of the mountains in the Vic Alps at the beginning of November (and then hike down). It can often pretty warm in the valley but maybe 4 out of 5 times I've done it there's been snow on the top. The race requires you carry 2 litres of water and a jacket, but no thermal or other warm clothes. I've always taken, and used on the way down, a spare thermal and down jacket. There's the mandatory requirements, then I think there's what you personally need for how long you'll be out in a race. My rule of thumb is "if I sprained my ankle, what would I like to have to keep me warm"
May 27, 2021 5:55 AM # 
Gear list includes space blanket and snakebite bandage for that race. The race ended 2km (and 200m elevation) short of the top of Feathertop the year I did it due to adverse conditions.
May 27, 2021 5:59 AM # 
yeah, they have been known to stop it short - they don't check you're safely back down the mountain though. The point really was that there's variations, and mandatory shouldn't always mean only gear - as different people have different requirements.
May 27, 2021 6:07 AM # 
No-one told me that mandatory gear for every day living in Victoria included track pants!
May 27, 2021 8:21 AM # 
Uncle JiM:
New organisers, maybe new rules
May 27, 2021 12:00 PM # 
Agreed, Jayne, I always think about what I’d want with me if I had to stop with an injury or with another injured person, so my pack is always a little bigger. I’ll be out there longer because I’m slower anyway. My background was outdoor activities - not racing - so it was a big step to go into the woods sometimes (e.g. orienteering) without fire starting supplies!
May 27, 2021 12:02 PM # 
Here’s a story about the shepherd, who is being hailed as a hero for sheltering 6 runners, one of whom had passed out and needed to be carried to safety. Like a true hero, he is sorry that he could only save 6 lives.
May 27, 2021 12:33 PM # 
It may be a media creation, but I cant get this bizarre contrast out of my head. The shepherd, tending his flock, is right out of medieval times. While Alibaba sells hi-tech lightweight running garments online to the Chinese elite (and us) who go speeding by.
May 27, 2021 1:05 PM # 
No-one told me that mandatory gear for every day living in Victoria included track pants!

Are you living in Moe?
May 27, 2021 5:58 PM # 
"Runners were caught in an 8.5 km stretch between checkpoints (probably staffed) that included a 1,000+ meter climb where they apparently expected the slowest runners to take as long as 3.5 hours."

Such a long difference and + 1000m elevation between checkpoints it is not possible to have at our races. It would require at least one or two additional checkpoints. Looking at the race map this would mean at least 2 times more checkpoints. It require more staff but this is our srandard. Maybe there was a helicopter but in a such bad weather you need people on the course.
May 27, 2021 6:50 PM # 
I don't know whether they had any volunteers stationed between checkpoints. Sometimes there are a couple of race staff partway up a big climb at a place that's not a formal checkpoint. On this race map, CP2 and CP3 are major checkpoints with time cut-offs and probably water, food, etc. so it's possible there would be other staffed locations. But some race courses are more remote than others, and I've gone farther than that without seeing a race volunteer. It's definitely better if there are more race staff out there but unlike their mandatory gear list, this was not wildly unusual. (I like your standards though, Kofols!)

On the flip side, it was *more* cautious than usual to require each racer to carry a GPS tracker with an SOS button. I've carried them in adventure races but have never been asked to carry one in an ultra.
May 27, 2021 7:13 PM # 
I checked out the course route on Google Earth - eye-opening. Looks like really remote and desolate terrain. The route from CP2 (24 km) to CP6 (62 km) seems to be entirely up in the high country, i.e., 2000+ m. There doesn't seem to be road access, so it's not clear that the check points would have offered a lot of supplies/protection/support.
May 27, 2021 7:27 PM # 
In a place like that, you could imagine remote CPs being stocked by helicopters or even pack animals, which sounds cool and adventurous but *boy*, you'd need to be sure of the weather.
May 27, 2021 10:18 PM # 
The one AR I did in China, every CP we went to was manned. We even had the officials at those CPs come out and help us when they thought we were taking too long. We had a tracker in that race too (and used it to contact the organisers when we got 'lost').
May 28, 2021 5:13 AM # 
@robplow... in usual times, yes, Moe. But under the current lockdown (and fourth), tracky dacks are mandatory for all work zoom meetings across the State.
May 28, 2021 5:28 AM # 
Oops I didn't realise Moe was a place (thought maybe it was an abbreviation of Melbourne). Is that where all the bogans live?
May 28, 2021 6:12 AM # 
Its a town in Central Gippsland with low income, low education levels and a reputation problem. It spiralled into a hole when Jeff Kennett privatised the State Electricity Corporation back in the early 90s. Lots of jobs disappeared from the tryptych of power towns - Morwell, Traralgon and Moe. Reputation of Moe further cemented by some very high profile crimes, particularly the murder of toddler Jaiden Leske. I think it serves the social purpose of providing other Victorians with the belief that there are worse places than where they live, though this may well be a misguided thought. I could name a few other towns with possibly worse problems, though I suspect none would have the enduring status of Moe. Well, perhaps Maryborough.
Stereotype local dress is a track suit and moccasins, though local advocates claim you can't buy them in the town. The closure of Hazelwood, and coming closures of Yallourn and later Loy Yang power stations suggest the town's reputation may be enhanced. An enduring policy challenge for Victorian governments of all persuasions.
May 28, 2021 7:06 AM # 
I've been to Maryborough. Good MTBO maps there, well maybe not Bristol Hill.
May 28, 2021 9:34 AM # 
Ah, so many meanings of "moe". And I suspect many "maryborough"s too. I wonder if "maribynong" is just a different spelling of the same thing.
May 28, 2021 10:00 AM # 
Maribyrnong is an anglicised version of the Aboriginal term 'Mirring-gnay-bir-nong', which translates as 'I can hear a ringtail possum'.

Now I know this we can use the term every time the possum who lives in our gum tree thumps it’s way across the roof
May 28, 2021 10:01 AM # 
We have one under our house.
May 28, 2021 10:15 AM # 
Maribyrnong is something that Moe and Maryborough are not... gentrified and expensive.
May 28, 2021 10:31 AM # 
Every event I did in China, running or otherwise, has been very highly manned. I don't know this area, but hiking trails are usually more crowded compared with Scotland. Obviously this adds significantly to safety, and one wonders if the current pandemic movement restrictions have had an effect.
May 28, 2021 1:24 PM # 
New article about the race, conditions sound horrendous
May 28, 2021 2:23 PM # 
Wow, more heartbreaking information there. The article answers a question we had: “The inaccessibility of the section meant checkpoint 3 was not a supply drop for food, water or warm clothes, and those caught in the section could only rely on what they were carrying, which for many was very little.” So even if runners had reached CP3, it likely wouldn’t have helped them much.

The defending champion sheltered in a cave with locals and several other runners, only one of whom survived.

It sounds like the race course design relied upon decent weather and only minor injuries in a long, remote mountain section.
May 28, 2021 4:32 PM # 
More info from the South China Post including interviews with racers in hospital. I found it really sad to see the race video, which looked so normal - like dozens of races I've done and people I've run with. I noticed that many runners were wearing jackets before the storm.

Some info from this article:

"There were weather warnings issued the day before the race but nobody expected the extreme conditions that followed."

"The strength of the wind, rain and hail seems to have been such that even much better gear and clothing would not have prevented falls, hypothermia and disorientation."

Quote from racer: “Runners had to use both hands and feet to climb up – a motorbike could not pass here, so checkpoint three had no supplies. Even if you reached the top, all your hopes for food, drink and hot water were in vain. It was a barren mountain. There was no way to pull out of the race here. You had to endure to check point four.”

"Other locals ferried runners to the safety of their own homes on motorbikes."

"The local authorities are announcing suspensions of upcoming long-distance running events – not only mountain races, but also road marathons."

"At the time of his death, [Liang Jing's] International Trail Running World Association (ITRA) ranking stood at 918 points, 8th in the world, and he was China’s and Asia’s top ranked trail runner."

One source reported that "despite repeated appeals for rescue that started around midday, the organiser was reluctant to halt the race, finally agreeing to do so at around 2pm."

There is also a quote from the UTMB founder who also organizes races in China. He sounds sympathetic and points out that a similar accident happened in France in 2009 when the sport was just starting to grow there.

The lessons we can learn from this as event organizers and racers are becoming clear and I'm taking them with a dose of humility because sh*t can happen and even the best organizers can't always prevent it.
May 28, 2021 7:01 PM # 
Didn’t only one man go to moe?
May 29, 2021 1:57 AM # 
Some would say he was brave to go by himself.
May 30, 2021 3:18 AM # 
The Australian Rogaining Championships have taken place this weekend. Temperatures overnight were forecast to fall to near 0C so teams should have been prepared for a frosty night, but it actually ended up getting down to near -5C (at least at the nearest recording site) - waiting to see if anyone got caught out. (It was dry with little or no wind, which will have helped).
Jun 1, 2021 3:18 AM # 
It was cold enough camping at the HH the night before the rogaine that we decided to take extra gear, but we both had big enough packs and weren't planning to run.
Very glad we did. We ended up walking in a couple of layers of thermals + puffy and was just warm enough to be comfortable.
A lot of teams looked to be travelling much lighter than us and it sounded like a lot of people got pretty miserably cold during the night.
Jun 4, 2021 11:09 PM # 
Races have been suspended in China until standards are developed.
Jun 5, 2021 1:34 AM # 
One question which is interesting to me is how mountain rescue team is organized in the country. Our model is based on voluntary base + very few professionals. To became member one needs to go thru very intense trainings thru the years in all conditions/seasons. Goverment pays for the gear or part of the gear they need, they are approved NPO organization and are able to finance their operations also thru people income tax. Each person with income can deduct 0-5% of income tax to the approved NGOs (sport, culture, social, religion). We have had numerous debates who should cover expenses for activating rescue team to rescue you; let say you go to the mountains and you need help. As it stand now only if you are without mandatory gear the rescue team will charge you. It is on them to decide but in most cases they will charge you only in extreme cases. It is not obligatory for people to have insurance to seek help in case they need. As more and more people get injured/they have an accident/need help in the last decade there is presure to make some changes. Media and goverment put a lot of work to educate people what to do/check before you go to the mountains. It works to a certain extent but people go more extreme, more newcomers and you end up with more rescue missions. So numbers go up.

What is important here is how rescue team cooperate with the organized sporting events. If you are organizer you will need to have/pay the mountain rescue team to get permission. They check your plan and decide how many members you will need to have on the course, where on the course and how they will change their position when the race progress from point to point. As organizer you are in the contact with the leader and he communicate with his members. The system works and is precaution you need to have as an organizer. It is not only up to the athletes and organizer to decide how the safety protocols will be organized. They are third party so everybody could feel better when the race starts.
Jun 7, 2021 6:58 AM # 
Interesting points, Kofols. I've done races where I was required to carry insurance to cover mountain rescue. Here in Canada, in addition to race staff, we have a combination of professional Emergency Services personnel, volunteer search and rescue organizations, and the military for a larger disaster. Most large adventure/ultrarunning events here have some medics onsite and a connection to local Emergency Services, who would be made aware of the event.

One thing that struck me about this tragedy was that they dispatched 1200 people for search and rescue. Wow! That's a lot of people and they probably saved a lot of lives. At the same time, it highlights the fact that a large rescue team after the fact is not enough and other things need to be done to prevent this kind of tragedy.

Outside Online published an article about the temporary ban with a different tone, talking about risk in adventure sports in general.
Jun 7, 2021 5:14 PM # 
In all articles about the race I still miss one data. Do they had information what is happening on the course when weather change dramaticaly and how long they needed to cancel the race and start rescue mission. Also how long they needed to reach athletes on the course. I know that race was in a very remote area but still I think 1-2 hours should be max. time from canceling the event to reach all athletes.
Jun 7, 2021 6:37 PM # 
Did they have information about what was happening on the course?

- According to one report (which may or may not be accurate), the first runners contacted organizers for help about two hours before the course was officially closed. At least some of them had good cell signal because several sources reported that athletes requested rescue over social media. It sounds like race organizers started trying to help the athletes with their own staff, then they called in the larger rescue team. I don't know how long it took them to start sending people to help runners.

How long did it take to reach athletes on the course?

- I haven't seen that information anywhere but it sounds like they would have been limited to rescuers traveling on foot so your estimate of 1-2 hours sounds reasonable. One report said the storm lasted for about 4 hours. Although runners had GPS trackers, it sounds like many of them went off-course due to poor visibility and high winds. Many of them ended up behind rocks or in caves or crevices, either because they wanted shelter or because the wind blew them there. It would have been very difficult for rescuers to find everyone, especially with some runners passing out. It's horrific to imagine.
Jun 11, 2021 2:31 PM # 
Uncle JiM:
Jun 11, 2021 2:40 PM # 
"The investigators said the tragedy was a public safety incident brought about by extreme weather including high winds, heavy rain and plunging temperatures, as well as unprofessional organisation and operation."

"China's sport administration said last week it was suspending all high-risk sports events that lack a supervisory body, established rules and clear safety standards. The activities halted include mountain and desert trail sports, wingsuit flying and ultra-long distance running."
Jun 14, 2021 7:44 PM # 
From yesterday’s NYT, “…officials said on Friday that 31 people would be held responsible and that the leader of the county in which the ultramarathon was held had died in a fall from a high-rise building.”
Jun 14, 2021 8:26 PM # 
Oct 11, 2021 5:11 PM # 
In a different country, arguably much closer to civilization (nothing racist here, just that Salt Lake is a major metropolis with, like, light rail, an airport, Olympics and whatnot, all of which they have in China in spades, just not in Gansu). A very different outcome. Hot chocolate for all in the end.



it causes problems for all of us. Especially when the Washington Post gets involved.

Looking at the report, I missed a totally fun jog in 45 cm of snow. Maybe next year.
Oct 11, 2021 5:24 PM # 
>>Especially when the Washington Post gets involved

aka Pravda on the Potomac
Oct 11, 2021 7:39 PM # 
Ultramarathons stretch longer than the 26.2 miles of a marathon, covering grueling distances of 26.3 miles or more.

Oct 13, 2021 1:02 PM # 
iRunFar published a report on the race that includes a great video by one of the runners. See the midpoint for the conditions up high. The runner said he is used to running in snow but on this day, the problem was that runners got soaked in rain before climbing into the snow. He was never in trouble but planned to drop out even before the race was cancelled.
Oct 13, 2021 10:41 PM # 
From the link above, "...some even bringing pants as a precaution". Sounds like the exception rather than the rule. They were very very lucky.
Oct 14, 2021 2:10 AM # 
Agreed. I've only done a few ultras that required racers to carry or wear full leg coverings and rain pants. Some runners wear shorts at almost any temperature.
Oct 14, 2021 5:28 PM # 
Almost nobody wearing pants in these pics. Moral... for most ultrarunners exhibiting/observing leg-skin carries more value than performance or comfort. Corollary... organizers, don't put them into situations where they can gravely indulge.
Oct 14, 2021 10:03 PM # 
In the UK, with our capricious weather, emergency kit and extra clothing is mandatory in fell races and most ultra races. For a summer event it might include, leggings, a long sleeved top, hat, gloves, quality waterproof top and trousers, an emergency bivvy bag, plus emergency food, that must be carried to the finish where you risk being disqualified if it has been used. If torches are required, spare batteries will be too.
Oct 14, 2021 10:44 PM # 
The forces of fashion are very powerful.

A closer-to-home low-altitude example is the widespread use of the singlet among runners. They seem to have transitioned over my lifetime from a garment we all wore under a shirt, unseen, to something that shouts "I'm an ATHLETE". On a cold wet Saturday morning at my local parkrun, I will see lots of runners in singlets.

Another example is the repeated put-down, including in this forum, of the older-style two-piece orienteering suit ("pyjamas"). In this case the modern replacements may be just as functional or more so, I'm just examining our attitudes here.
Oct 14, 2021 11:21 PM # 
A singlet is just a minimal garment to which one can pin a race number, right?
Oct 15, 2021 12:47 AM # 
I'm one who dresses reasonably minimally for running (not orienteering) - I blame the influence of an old-style high-school cross-country coach who saw it as his mission to instill toughness into soft middle-class boys (a positive influence on me in many ways). In dry and calm weather my standard thresholds were 0C for gloves, -5C for a hat, -10C for long sleeves (the last two are only ever likely to be reached on Northern Hemisphere visits). Different story if it's wet and/or windy, of course.

Almost got caught out when in Albuquerque for a conference in 2001, on a morning which was -8C at the airport but probably closer to -15C on the valley floor. (The irony here is that one of the things I've done papers on, although not at that specific conference, is the sensitivity of extreme low temperatures to local topography).
Oct 15, 2021 2:31 AM # 
Topography being the garment you wear over your singlet?
Oct 15, 2021 3:07 AM # 
Your coach was apparently the opposite of the coach of a guy I know, who when he heard once that I was going out for a run when it was cold*, sternly cautioned me against it and recommended I find an indoor treadmill if I really wanted exercise that badly. His coach had taught him that it was dangerous to exercise if the temperature dropped below... something like -4C, I think. My reply was that an attitude like that would quickly put an end to most winter sports.

*Granted, the day I was going out, it was really cold, something like -18C. But I was dressed for it.
Oct 15, 2021 3:59 AM # 
Orienteering is a winter sport in Australia.
Oct 15, 2021 4:36 AM # 
Winter is the busy orienteering season in Ontario, Canada too.
Oct 15, 2021 5:18 AM # 
We also don't tend to get below -4C here.
Oct 15, 2021 7:59 AM # 
Blair - I think the pe teachers at our school had similar thoughts - have memories of being a skinny 11 year old being made to run cross country in a netball skirt and polo shirt in northern England, at the end of November in hail. Nearly put me off running cross country for ever, at least until I was allowed to choose to wear thermals.
Nov 16, 2021 9:11 AM # 
An interesting account of the China tragedy.
Nov 16, 2021 10:50 AM # 
extreme sports such as trail running, ultramarathons and wingsuit flying
Nov 16, 2021 3:36 PM # 
Ugh. Also, "There have been reports that not even a chess tournament managed to escape the new measures."
Nov 18, 2021 9:28 PM # 
Bash’s link to the UTMB gear list mentions tests for waterproofness (Schmerber) and breathability (RET).

I’ve never seen manufacturers show these numbers. Does any group or publication test and publish results for these tests?
Nov 19, 2021 9:10 AM # 
That's surprising, cedar. Try and look at "Features".
Nov 19, 2021 11:09 AM # 
Most brands list waterproofness and breathability measures now.
Nov 19, 2021 11:33 AM # 
I had that problem, Cedarcreek. That information wasn’t (and still isn’t) provided for my jacket on Salomon’s Canadian website, which uses terms like “rainfall ready” and “storm ready”. Luckily, I could find those numbers in UK reviews for my jacket. Also, I see that Salomon Canada now has a page talking about jacket ratings although they don’t give numbers on specific jackets.

This discussion thread is closed.