One in 8 Runners Who Started the Race Ended Up Dying

The 'WSJ' digs into the deadly ultramarathon in China
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 17, 2021 10:55 AM CDT
How 21 Runners Ended Up Dying in a Single Race
Stock image.   (Getty Images)

Running 60 miles would feel like death for most of us. For 21 runners in China, it actually was deadly. Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Wenxin Fan takes a deep dive into just what went wrong during the May 22 ultramarathon, which saw 172 runners set off at 9am—nearly one in 8 of whom succumbed to acute hypothermia. The course, which gained 10,000 feet in elevation, had nine checkpoints along the way. It was as runners were near the second checkpoint, at 4,400 feet, that a cold front from Mongolia rapidly came upon them. Temperatures plummeted to as low as 23 degrees, "with snow pellets and wind gusts strong enough to tear apart foil blankets." Many of the runners were wearing shorts and tank tops. What was coming next was the toughest portion of the race, "a tortuous five-mile, 3,000-foot ascent to checkpoint three."

Runners needed to decide whether to press on, head back downhill, or send an SOS alert via the GPS tracker each of them was equipped with. What those who decided to press on didn't know was that it was an anemic checkpoint: No support vans, and just two volunteers there for the purpose of recording the runners' times. Though the first SOS was sent at 11:50am and many others followed, it's unclear if race organizers got them. The first response from a race organizer didn't come until 1:56pm, and they declined to cancel the race for many hours after the weather turned. Only four runners managed to make it to checkpoint four. One of them pressed on, and it wasn't until she reached checkpoint six at 8:40pm that she was told the race was canceled. (Read the full story, which describes runners passing dead bodies.)

Stories to sink your teeth into.
Get our roundup of longform stories every Saturday.
Sign up
We use cookies. By Clicking "OK" or any content on this site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. Read more in our privacy policy.
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.