Runner Was Passed Out, Near Death, Until Shepherd Arrived

'I owe him my life,' says ultramarathon participant in China
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 24, 2021 11:55 AM CDT
Shepherd Saves Life of Ultramarathon Runner
In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, an emergency vehicle drives toward the Yellow River Stone Forest tourist site in Baiyin in northwestern China's Gansu Province.   (Guo Gang/Xinhua via AP)

The news was hard to fathom: Twenty-one endurance athletes died when the weather turned violent during a ultramarathon in China over the weekend. If there's one speck of good news, it's this: The death toll likely would have been 22 if not for a shepherd in rural Gansu Province. Race participant Zhang Xiaotao explains that he slipped and fell multiple times as ran a particularly grueling and steep stretch of the race, because severe hail and rain kept obscuring the road from his view, per the New York Times. The last time he fell, he passed out, Zhang wrote on Weibo, a Twitter-like service in China. "I was unconscious on the mountain for about 2-1/2 hours until a herder passed by and carried me to a cave," he wrote, per Reuters. "I owe him my life."

Meanwhile, anger was mounting at the organizers of the race in Yellow River Stone Forest Park. Unexpectedly severe weather arrived a few hours after the race began, and by then, many of the 172 runners were well out of reach. Organizers "should have had people stand by in the tough section of the trail, or deployed more rescuers," says Zhang. Many of the participants did not have protective clothing, which was recommended but not required for entry, according to reports in Chinese media. One female runner described seeing multiple runners giving up near a steep ascent to gather near the side of the road, trembling. “They said it was too cold on the mountain, and they all wore shirts and shorts," said the woman, who turned back at that point. Many of those who died succumbed to hypothermia. (Read more China stories.)

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