The ultra-marathon in northwestern China turned into tragedy as cold weather took the lives of 21 athletes when the race took off at a high altitude last weekend.

The 100-kilometer (62-mile) mountain race began in Northwest China’s Gansu Province, inside Baiyin City, on Saturday, May 22. The trail started from a bend in the Yellow River and would lead competitors up an arid plateau of 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) high through canyons and hills, reports Breitbart.

The race was entered by 172 competitors, who from social media accounts appeared to be only wearing t-shirts and shorts with little to safeguard them from the cold temperatures in the area.

The disaster struck as noon approached, with hail, freezing rain, and gale-force winds that hit the high-altitude route, resulting in a dramatic drop in temperature, endangering the lives of those who were inadequately equipped to withstand the extreme cold.

As the drastic situation became apparent, a rescuing assembly of more than 1,200 personnel was deployed overnight in the freezing temperature to search for the athletes who did not return. An ensuing landslide made the effort even more challenging.

By the next day, the team finally confirmed there were 151 safe participants, with 21 others who could not make it and had died, including two national best long-distance runners identified as Liang Jing, Asia’s point leader at International Trail Running Association (ITRA), and Huang Guanjun, China’s top paralympic runner.

Ultramarathon in China’s Gansu Province on May 22, 2021 (The Starzz/Screenshot via TheBL/YouTube)

According to one survivor Mao Shuzhi who had abandoned the race when he has already accomplished roughly 24 km of the route, although the severe weather in the area was forecast, bad conditions had been underestimated.

“It was very hot one day before the race, and although the weather forecast said there would be wind and moderate rain in Baiyin on Saturday, everybody believed it would be mild,” said Mao, according to Breitbart News. “It’s dry in northwestern China,” he said.

Throughout the history of the ultramarathon that has been hosted three times before, the weather has never been as severe as this year’s event, another runner Lin Ao commented to China Youth Daily, cited by Global Times.

The intense challenge of plunging temperatures had resulted in several of the runners suffering from hypothermia, in addition to the heavy rain and strong winds that forced them off the track.

“A few are unconscious and are foaming at the mouth,” one of the surviving athletes shared.

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