ITRA issues statement after Gansu tragedy

Twenty-one runners died last weekend in the Yellow River Stone Forest 100km race in China


by Trail Running |

In the aftermath of the tragic news that 21 runners died in a trail race in China last weekend, the International Trail Running Association (ITRA) has promised a review of current guidelines for race organisers.

Severe weather had devastating consequences at the Yellow River Stone Forest 100km race in the Gansu province of China last Saturday as a search and rescue had to be launched.

Many runners became hypothermic as temperates plunged and gale force winds and hail set in.

Among the dead was Liang Jing, winner of the Panda Trail by UTMB last year.

Questions have been raised about the safety protocol of the race, but the ITRA acknowledged not enough was yet known about the circumstances to assess the measures in place.

The association added: "We recommend open and honest examination and analysis of the events in order to learn what actions were valuable, what mistakes were made, and how we can keep our community safe in the future. Blame is not productive; we hope for collaboration with a collective goal of safety."

The ITRA went on to remind race organisers of its safety guidelines, adding: "Our medical and safety committee will use this opportunity to review and revise these guidelines with the most current information and provide an update later this summer. As our sport grows, we will continue to stay on the leading edge of runner safety."

According to the South China Morning Post, most runners at the start were wearing shorts and T-shirts or light windbreakers, expecting mild conditions. After the weather deteriorated, the race was called off and more than 1000 rescue personnel were called in.

The source quotes one runner saying: “Rain drops blown by the wind were hitting my face like a thick hail of bullets, it was really painful. I could not open my eyes because of the strong wind and thick rain, and had to squint narrowly to be able to see.

“This was the hardest part of the racecourse … the section was 8km long, with 1,000m of climbing. Only ascent, no descent. The route on the mountain was rocks mixed with gravel. Many sections were very steep,” he said.

“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.”

Safety in the mountains

Runners heading to the mountains, regardless of whether in a race or not, should be prepared for the worst weather.

1 Check the weather forecast. The Mountain Weather Information Service can give more specific forecasts for the higher climes, given that conditions can be very different to ground level. Change your route if in doubt. Remember that forecasts can be wrong.

2 Keep a constant eye on the weather as you run. Turn back if necessary.

3 Dress for the weather but also carry spare clothing, such as a leggings and a windproof jacket.

4 Carry food and drink.

5 Carry a map and compass (which should be easily accessible) and learn how to navigate. Don't rely on electronic devices, not least of all because you are not guaranteed a signal.

6 Take a fully charged mobile phone with you. Using your own navigation skills means you save the battery for calling for help if you need it. Download What3Words.

7 Dial 999 if you need emergency assistance and ask for mountain rescue.

8 Carry a whistle. If you need help, give six long blasts, stop for one minute and then repeat. Keep going until help arrives not just until you can hear them. A torch (with spare batteries) should also be taken and can be used to give the same signal.

The UK's Fell Running Association issues comprehensive advice on safety in the mountains, specifically with regards to hypothermia.

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