Sounds horrific, hail and freezing rain at altitude.
That’s horrific. Thoughts are with the other runners and all the families.
Brutal and tragic
That's really awful to read - so many lives lost. And beyond the dead, so many other people - family and friends - will be terribly affected by this.
It sounds like complete organisational failure.
Horrible news. Sounds like people were up there in T-shirts without any clothing for if the weather turned. A humbling reminder that it's a mandatory minimum kit list.
Do we have enough to say that. Let's hold off. As a runner we take risks all the time. Plenty of US runners are criticising the kit list, we often have no kit lists here so they should pipe down. If an RD tried to enforce a kit list it would be against our 28th amendment or something stupid.. maybe free speech or whatever shite yanks pipe on about on. Bt we routinely race on the mountains with no required kit lists.
The Fell Running Association rules state that where the competition requires safety equipment, the carrying of same is mandatory. It's also in the UKA rule book (in one of the Appendices).
If you go into the mountains without enough kit and push yourself to the absolute margins that must remain a personal choice.
If you choose to go without basic equipment in order to go faster then that cannot be blamed on 3rd parties.
This is utterly tragic.
From a UK perspective, almost all the fell races I have done have had minimum kit requirements (usually the standard FRA list, sometimes with additional items). Race organisers have the discretion to allow people to run without the FRA minimum kit, but in my experience that only happens for short races on lower hills in good weather. I've never done a long race which goes high up where the mandatory kit hasn't been enforced.
We don't know what the minimum kit requirements for this race were, or what people were carrying, so it's impossible to comment on what caused this. But it's worth reflecting on what can go wrong, and understanding that the minimum kit list is just that - a minimum. It can be hard to decide to carry extra kit when you see other racers heading out with a small bumbag in atrocious conditions, but we should all aim to ensure that what we're carrying is sufficient to keep ourselves safe, even if that means carrying extra.
I said we as in the US
But the FRA cut is useless if a huge storm rolls in. It buys you minutes if immobile. It contains no insulation. In shorts, singlet, a thin cag and bottoms you'll survive for a few minutes longer than your mate but not hours.
There's a huge degree of false confidence in the ability for light weight gear to provide insulation.
Exactly, the reality is the mandatory is kit is not sufficient for bad weather. Was it the Great Lakes race a decade or so ago when it was basically luck no one died. I remember Wendy Dodds saying how she made someone get up and keep going as they wanted to just sit down wearing a thin cag.
but what's basic equipment? Even the FRA kit requirement is useless if you break your angle badly in remote terrain with no help. Say you're racing on Jura, take a bad line North off one of the paps (many fell runners cant use a map or compass), break an ankle bad It could be a day or so until found on the remote parts to the North. You'd be dead.
I'd agree, but where do you draw the line? Fell running is a risky sport, and at some point you have to accept that what you're carrying will always be a compromise between safety and weight. You have to decide on the level of risk you're happy to accept, and work from there.
Depending on forecast/terrain/length, I will often add a survival bag and extra thermal layer to the FRA list. Also sugar/sweets, as running out of fuel can be a big factor in hypothermia. I aim to have enough warmth to hobble off slowly with something like a sprain, but if you're immobile in poor weather, things will get very serious very quickly.
I don't know whether the competitors in this race were experienced fell/mountain runners? If someone had a background in road running, they might not realise exactly how serious some mountain races can be, how sparsely marshalled they can be. The existence of an organised official race might give some competitors an illusion of safety that isn't reflected in reality.
Kit list here, I've no idea on the climate in that part of the world but it looks minimal:
I think this thread is descending into daily mail speculation.
It seems from the Guardian report that at least some competitors had trackers, or an ability to alert their location. Chatting about how we can stay safe running in the hills is fine. Out of respect for the runners, until we know more, we should probably not extrapolate from limited facts.
"Zhang said he fell several times, and at one point “could not get up”. He said he covered himself with the emergency blanket and set off his GPS locator before passing out."
Good post. The FRA facebook page is pretty disgusting right now with lots of people feeling very self righteous that they run with a light weight jacket which would somehow keep them safe in extreme weather, in an area of china they have no experience of..
In the US we don't have kit lists for the most part. The ethos is personal responsibility which people respect. I quite like it and I can't think of any deaths on the east coast in recent years anyway. As said the UK list is very much a minimal requirement which very few treat it as such.
Indeed, we all tread a line and things can get grim quickly with a quick couple of throws of the dice going the wrong way. Too soon for any kind of speculation. Sobering.
> but what's basic equipment? Even the FRA kit requirement is useless if you break your angle badly in remote terrain with no help. Say you're racing on Jura, take a bad line North off one of the paps (many fell runners cant use a map or compass), break an ankle bad It could be a day or so until found on the remote parts to the North. You'd be dead.
I thought this video by Mountaineering Scotland was really useful:
I suspect even if you were in China finding a weather forecast for that area at the altitude the event took place at would be almost impossible. The closest I could find was in Baiyin which showed a temperature in the mid 20s for the week around the race, I'm guessing the freezing conditions were a massive anomaly. I think some folk think every region on earth has the same amount of weather data as the UK does.
> Kit list here, I've no idea on the climate in that part of the world but it looks minimal:
Good link. Some moving accounts there. A truly tragic event. RIP all those that didn't make it through.
I will leave it to others better informed to make judgements. But clearly experienced people made the wrong call and not just one or two either. That would usually indicate something quite out of the ordinary had a part in this. Take care the mountains have no remorse.
Agree, a peer group mindset is easy to fall into, and not just the runners it affects marshals as well.
My partner marshalled for a top UK paid for elite race (which shall remain nameless), drawing a summit marshalling position. We both looked at the forecast and thought bugger me time wise that’s the equivalent to spending at least half the night out on the Ben at just above freezing in horizontal rain and clag.
She went up the hill with multiple spare layers including my monster belay jacket, goretex inside and out 300gr/ms2 of primaloft, plus Bothy bag, blizzard pack and mat in case a runner collapsed.
She had to help multiple contestants who’s fingers were too cold to get their minimum kit on, which was all flapping in the wind like cling film and did little to help them once on, and then point them down the hill in the right direction and hope. Most of her fellow marshals had gone up the hill with just standard hill kit and were struggling to stay functional themselves, having forgotten to appropriately factor in the five hours static on top of a hill.
All the contestants were meant to be international elite level, or UK seasoned runners. All the marshals were meant to be seasoned, or ML’s, so all should have know better.
I bet if you had taken anyone of them and pointed them up the hill on that forecast without a peer group race mindset they all would have normally either packed a lot more or not gone.
Indeed. It should be noted however that it is a mandatory minimum kit list and is by no means a replacement for personal responsibility. There are plenty of times when kit compliant with that list would not be suitable for the conditions, and it is up to the individual to assess the risk, decide what else needs to be taken and, if the conditions get worse, escape rather than press on.
The FRA minimum kit list is a good start. The 'minimum' does a lot of heavy lifting though and I think people forget this. The FRA are fairly proactive, publishing Hypothermia (and Hyperthermia) leaflets which are sent to new members and available on their website. There are often articles in Fellrunner that highlight that things can go wrong and/or provide learning, and they organise very good running-focused Navigation courses which also focus on hillcraft. They have recently sought to more clearly delineate between Fell Running and Trail Running (e.g. banning of GPS trace use, tighter registration of races) to further highlight that it is an individual pursuit and racers are in charge of their safety
Having raced (and excelled in) very wet/cold/rough races I'm now comfortable with the extra kit I rely on (e.g. heavier jacket, extra layers, survival bag, overmits, start in extra layers as well), but am always aghast that people still go out in shorts and singlet with their tracing paper waterproofs.
I do have tracing paper waterproofs, but they only go with me if the forecast is clement. Yesterday above Newlands I wore more than I have for winter fell races in the past and we were pleased with our decissions and it was a thoroughly enjoyable run in spite the conditions. Play to the conditions.
I can't speak for other clubs but the captain of mine is pushing the need to think more and prepare properly before setting out, being aware of what can go wrong, and thinking more like a mountaineer (especially in winter) and so forth. Fell Running clubs have a wide range of experiences and it's important for knowledge to be imparted and shared.
There is importance in both education and self-learning. For the former, maintaining on the correct side of 'being too preachy' is also important and can be a tough balance (I've written a few articles for club newsletter, Fellrunner and do find this difficult). For the later - well I wouldn't do now what I did when I was young, dumb and full of piss and vinegar!
As for the poor souls who died in China, I've read little about them/the race other than the basics so there is no scope to comment currently on them or race organisers. RIP.
As said previously, if the weather really craps out no runner will be carrying the kind of gear that will keep them safe for an extended period of time.
The better option would be to have ensured that there were sufficient check points along the route that a competitor could have reached one of them in say 30 minutes. That would work out at one every 6 miles or so. Obviously the check points would need to provide shelter and warmth and situated somewhere a casualty with hypothermia could be evacuated from. If that's not possible then the route shouldn't go there. These races, certainly the ones in Britain, make thousands of pounds, they're commercial ventures. It's one thing for one or two runners to risk their own lives on a day out another for a commercial enterprise to risk the lives of its customers.
It's not just the tracing paper waterproofs. I was doing the kit check for my club's race and caught someone with a set of kids' waterproofs.
> It's not just the tracing paper waterproofs. I was doing the kit check for my club's race and caught someone with a set of kids' waterproofs.
I know a few very senior FRA committee members who used this trick at championship races when they knew they'd not need the kit.. it was a pretty common trick a few years back.
Obviously you never plan to get injured or caught in bad weather so its a pretty stupid thing to do.
The FRA issuing leaflets to new members and putting articles in FellRunner is of limited use given that most (?) race entries are from those with club but not FRA membership (and that therefore won’t receive these materials). That should put the onus on clubs to educate and its great to hear that your club are doing a decent job, but others aren’t! I’m not close to FRA-club interactions (other than personally needing to be an FRA member as an RO) - is there much by way of guidance given by the FRA to club committees in terms of educating members about such things?
It was remarkable just how angry they were when I pointed out that there was no way what he had constituted full body cover. Invited him to put it on and prove that it did provide full cover but they angrily declined.
Ironically he's probably now on facebook chastising the Chinese runners for not having carried adequate kit..
I worry the new gear opens up terrain too quickly for people’s experiences. Micro spikes especially.
it was pretty terrifying reading the FRA Facebook page and seeing people say they should have had a kit requirement like the FRA do as though that’s magically enough.. we’ve all worn the lightweight gear and it’s great buying you 20-30 minutes while you run off the hill. You aren’t going to sit out a storm wearing that kit and live to tell the tale.
You just have to learn from experience.
I think we’ll have situations like this in the UK and around the world as trail, mountain, sky running or whatever name it comes under broadens. I did the FRA first aid course with Wendy Dodds just after that storm at the Great Lakes run (Must have been 09 or 10) and she said that was very close to a multiple deaths situation. Everyone had the minimum gear it was just woefully inadequate.
I’m not saying we don’t have them. They arent REQUIRED. Experience tells you you need it. I think there’s a real danger with kit lists that people see them as sufficient when they can be brutally inadequate.
> I’m not saying we don’t have them. They arent REQUIRED. Experience tells you you need it. I think there’s a real danger with kit lists that people see them as sufficient when they can be brutally inadequate.
It sounds like the minimum kit lists need changing?
I don’t know, it’s often overkill but other times it’s not enough. I think all these trail running disciplines will struggle as more and more come over. Serving an apprenticeship is massive. Many don’t. Most of this site probably came to running via hiking and climbing like I did, but many now come in with little mountain experience.
The FRA are well aware of issues stretching beyond their membership. The vast majority of their disciplinary procedures involve none members. Hence under the current chair and secretary they have been working hard making the FRA more visible, pushing more people to join and making literature more widely available. They have also recently set up 'club reps' to better disseminate FRA information and literature within clubs and outside of the FRA membership.
For fell runners in general some may have come in from mountaineering/hill walking and have solid mountaincraft, but many come in from road/XC/trail running, do an easy race on gentle terrain and benign conditions, declare 'I am a Fell Runner I can do Wasdale!' (OK this may be extreme but not unthinkable). From my position in race fields and close(ish) to the pointy end, IMO there are racing snakes with little body fat to keep them warm who take too many risks around kit and mountain craft skill levels. I am well aware that I am experienced but my learning is in no way complete.
I don't know the specifics of Chris Smith's death in the Highlands last year, other than that he died of Hypothermia, but I imagine it has focused the minds of his peers near the front of the field WRT mountain craft, mountain safety and usefulness/suitability of kit carried.
I'm in contact with the FRA secretary so could maybe bring up ways to explore better dissemination of information outside the membership further than that mentioned above. I'm also writing an article - from an experience, non-officially-trained point of view - on thinking more about kit and also summarising key learning points in my own running career, which I'll submit to the Fellrunner and maybe further (e.g. Trailrunning and athletics magazines). For articles like this I always get input and checking from MLs/MRT members I respect and trust.
I'd like to say that the best articles I've found online about looking after yourself in the hills have generally been on UKC - the winter running one stands out - and I have disseminated these amongst my small circle of contacts.
To be fair, the first pair of waterproof trousers I bought were 14 yo girls overtrousers from Decathlon. I don't know what 14 yo girls they measured them against but they fitted a 20 year old 180cm/75kg bloke well enough I could walk off the hill in them!
But yes, kids waterproofs, joke compasses, navigationally useless map that'll turn into papiermache...
Though a small pack doesn't mean ill-equipped. My OMM partner is renowned for travelling light and having a tiny pack, but everything is proper kit and good quality, he's just an expert packer and knows his limits and the hills very very well (far better than me)!
A reminder that the Fellrunners UK Facebook page is not affiliated to/run by the FRA. We all know what Facebook is like, a vacuum for rational discourse, and any useful information or pertinent views will soon be lost in a cavalcade of adverts, asking 'what shoe should I wear for the 3 peaks' and shouting matches.
FRA forum (the running-related sections anyway) is quite quiet now, but still an excellent library of knowledge and learning over the past 15 or so years
Well, on the back of this thread, the China incident and getting mightily cold at Stanage on Sunday I have stuck a post on the fell running section of my Manchester based running club's Facebook page with some text about being prepared, what mandatory kit actually menas, etc plus a link to the excellent video*. We have some pretty good fell runners but it also serves an an introductory path to the hills for many city based runners for whom running across the hills seems like a pipedream.
Spread the word!
*Cheers Tom, great link
I didn't realize that, I thought the FRA committee ran the facebook group.
Yeah I saw the FRA forum is pretty quiet, I still use it as its an amazing resource for route knowledge/long distance challenges.
> I don’t know, it’s often overkill but other times it’s not enough. I think all these trail running disciplines will struggle as more and more come over. Serving an apprenticeship is massive. Many don’t. Most of this site probably came to running via hiking and climbing like I did, but many now come in with little mountain experience.
It reminds me of trying in a low key way to get an organisation I volunteered for to start using Cellux in the chainsaw first-aid kits, a material derived from seashells which aids blood clotting even where an artery is breached, and word coming back that it was too expensive, and a member of staff commenting that it's not too expensive on the occasion you need it (once in a blue moon hopefully).
Possibly as gear improves, that might do something helpful.
Good idea, I think I'll do some low key stuff for our lot too. Will need carefully delivery - my normal message is 'give it a go, it doesn't have to be complicated'.
As a general point, paper thin cags have spread wider than the OMM/weightweenie crowd - all the gear manufacturers have caught onto the 'fast and light' stuff as a way to sell us a third or fourth coat.
It's similar with AED's, hopefully it's a waste of $3000 and you never use it, should you ever need one then that $3000 is the best $3000 you'll ever spend.
> It reminds me of trying in a low key way to get an organisation I volunteered for to start using Cellux in the chainsaw first-aid kits
I think Cellux is parcel tape isn’t it? It sits in the cheap & ineffective quadrant of the chainsaw first aid materials model 😀.
> I think Cellux is parcel tape isn’t it? It sits in the cheap & ineffective quadrant of the chainsaw first aid materials model 😀.
Oops, I meant Celox.
Just a little follow up article on a shepherd who saved several lives.
It touches on the potential for better regulations on marathons in China and also the organisers ignored the extreme weather forecasted. Hopefully lessons are learnt.
I don't fell / trail run but most of my hill time is on my own in usually remote bits of Scotland (well, before Covid). After breaking an ankle soon into a hike on a warm October night I now own a developed appreciation for how easily you could end up screwed in the hills. I always carry a SAM splint, FAK, emergency blanket and backup warm clothing. Crawling off most of the Scottish mountains would be a real challenge in good weather, easily fatal in bad. Imagine crawling through a burn in spate, negotiating a small crag...so if you are out by youself, running or walking, you should consider benightment and hope you left a plan with someone.
I think it's overseen by some people who have links to the FRA (e.g. ex-committee members) but is separate from the FRA. As it says at the top of the 'about' section: "This Facebook group is not endorsed by the Fell Runners Association. The views expressed are those of the individual posters and do not represent the views of the FRA or its Committee."
I joined it once for 5h and got so pissed off with it. Again, people seem to think "joining the Fellrunning facebook page makes me a fellrunner". Things are 'debated' there in the sense that people think shouting their opinions constitutes debate. Many people digging their oar in may have only done a couple of local trail races - you can't check credentials!
The official page is here: https://www.facebook.com/TheFellRunnersAssociation/
As you mentioned earlier, people are unwilling to serve an apprenticeship and want it now in our instant gratification (Insta gratification??) culture. They want to go and do big things now, especially if you're a good, experienced road runner and only see the physical side of it. Took me 5 years to work up to my first Lakeland Classic. Background in walking/climbing as a kid/teen; started orienteering at Uni and some local (Peak District) smaller fell races; then some longer ones locally, including my first medium lakes races and championship races in clement weather, then onto some shorter long Lakeland races before tackling my first big races. Bit of marshalling in there as well. Took about 5 years to get to my first lakeland classic (Wasdale 2012)
Speaking of Wasdale.. I did this in 2015 or 16 when it was raining right from the off. I'd packed an extra long sleeve top, even though it wasn't on the kit list, however it wasn't until Great Gable (about 2/3 of the way round) that I realised that I was cold and ought to get dressed, I'd been wearing my waterproof (a brand new OMM top that wasn't very good!).
I put on all of my kit (hat, gloves, long sleeve Helly Hansen, waterproof trousers) just before the climb and then began to warm up about 15 minutes later. All this kit stayed on until the end. So even though I had all the kit, there is often a relucatance to realise that you ought to stop and put the kit on. I've heard many other experienced runners say this. You can get in to a fog where you think you'll lose important seconds or minutes in a race, or that you'll watm up on the next uphill, however sometimes that may never happen.
Yes definitely. I've been there myself, though more when making a nav error. You save seconds early on trying to rectify a nav mistake/not putting gear on, but this just wastes minutes (if not longer) or risks your own safety later on. Switching from race mode to survival mode can occur too late.
Heading out at the start in a present, mountainous mindset would be best - but it's difficult to do in a race scenario, especially if it's a big prestigious race or a championship race.
Do Fell Running races have mass starts or staggered starts?
I'm just remembering the few half-marathon mass starts I've done where it's so easy to rush off too quickly because of crowd "pressure", and comparing that with staggered orienteering starts where the "pressure" is more to make sure you're moving in the right direction as soon as possible rather than outright speed.
Generally mass, but they thin out pretty fast. There's less pressure to think though, just run. In oritenteering it's more about the thinking than running so not getting too hyped up is essential.
This is how it goes I think ...
Part of the reason why, despite living in HK, I haven't been climbing "on the mainland" in nearly a decade, when ad hoc restrictions started popping up in places like Siguniang.
Not an unexpected reaction from the Chinese authorities. The current level of regulation has allowed this tragedy to occur, so some tightening is clearly necessary. Let's hope it's sensible regulation and not kneejerk reaction and that still allows people their freedoms to enjoy what can be dangerous activities, however much regulation their is in place. Individuals and smaller groups need to learn to make their own judgements and not rely on central bodies to look after them when taking part in such activities.
I must admit that even over here I've seen people on that kind of race who seem to have followed the letter of the kit list but not really the spirit of it and definitely would have a problem if they were rendered immobile and had to wait for the MRT on foot (as on the event concerned the weather is usually not suitable for the helicopter).
> I don't fell / trail run but most of my hill time is on my own in usually remote bits of Scotland (well, before Covid). After breaking an ankle soon into a hike on a warm October night I now own a developed appreciation for how easily you could end up screwed in the hills. I always carry a SAM splint, FAK, emergency blanket and backup warm clothing. Crawling off most of the Scottish mountains would be a real challenge in good weather, easily fatal in bad. Imagine crawling through a burn in spate, negotiating a small crag...so if you are out by youself, running or walking, you should consider benightment and hope you left a plan with someone.
The sad death of experienced and equipped fell runner Chris Smith on an afternoon run last October was a wake up call for me to always carry a survival bag when up there alone (not sure a space blanket would be much use in high wind..)
People need to be reminded that it is a mandatory minimum kit list and in no way a replacement for personal initiative or responsibility. Yeah you want to keep things light, but you can't win if you don't finish.
> People need to be reminded that it is a mandatory minimum kit list and in no way a replacement for personal initiative or responsibility. Yeah you want to keep things light, but you can't win if you don't finish.
Certainly the RD of the race I'm thinking of does, but people still seem to push their luck.
I get that fell running culture with regard to kit does differ from hillwalking culture (and for good reason), but people really do need to take account of having to potentially wait hours for rescue with the kit they've got - we're talking about not dying (of hypothermia), not just not finishing.
As one example (and the RD of the race I'm thinking of again does push this) - space blankets are useless, you need a proper bivi bag or shelter. They do not even slightly protect against wind, and wind is the main danger in bad weather on a mountain.
After this disaster there were people on the fell running Facebook page saying how much difference water proofs make if immobile, and that at one first aid course the instructors made them sit on the floor in the gear and they were fine.. which is rubbish. If you are wet and put on these very thin waterproofs you’ll just die. I’ve done similar at first aid courses to demonstrate just how cold you get so no idea how that was their take away.
and as you say, a space blanket won’t trap any heat, especially in strong winds. This should be a wake up call but instead many seem to just be thinking that their light weight gear would be enough. It seems like something like this is inevitable in the UK.
What I have is a blizzard bag.
Sometimes I take a bothy bag.
Frequently anyway I'm carrying a tent etc. as I like to camp in the hillls.
Racing is a different mindset to walking alone.
It's all too easy to think because your on an organised/supported event, that some one else is responsible and will come get you if there is a problem. To an extent this is true, but as this tragedy demonstrates only too well, when nature turns on the works, there is no guaranty that any one else will be able to come and get you.
From personal experience, I know I carry less kit on an organised event against the clock, than when I walk alone on the same ground in similar conditions. But the difference is not that great. The biggest weight saving on organised events, is carrying less water/food.
Typically I consider I was carrying the right amount of kit, if I get back after a trouble free walk and have a full layer of clothing in my bag that I have not needed to wear. In addition to my emergency bivi bag.
One thing I don't see on kit lists is warm head gear. A small warm hat under a light weight shell, makes a significant difference to how long you can stay warm for, if incapacitated. Perhaps that should become a compulsory item.
> One thing I don't see on kit lists is warm head gear. A small warm hat under a light weight shell, makes a significant difference to how long you can stay warm for, if incapacitated. Perhaps that should become a compulsory item.
It is a compulsory item with fell kit. Although the common question on the fell forums is "is a buff a hat?".
I was up on leg 3 of the BG this weekend (ar lass got round in 23h10, super proud), cracking day and a lot of flags out for the following day's Scafell marathon skytingumy race - commercial, trail race, no way linked to the FRA, but over fell terrain. Little flags every 10m or so. I was thinking that if something newsworthy went wrong on that race it would immediately be branded as a Fell Race and people who have no say over the event would get dragged in to the media.
You look at the '3000 people unaccounted for' headlines from the 2008 OMM (Highly experienced and respected organisers; stringent kit requirements; focus on self-reliance; People knowing they look after themselves; 1 MR issue which was a bit scary but rectified - I know as it was my housemate) and you can see how things can be got wrong/blown out of proportion by press/those viewing from outwith the outdoor community.
It's important to note (as I have earlier) that there is a definite delineation between Fell and Trail running. The 'Fellrunners UK' facebook page is NOT FRA endorsed (and can be full of people who don't know what they're talking about - see all facebook pages). Education effort is being put in by clubs and FRA, but it is an Augean task and there is some impetus on runners themselves to take up this education and act sensibly.
There are good and not so good event organisers out there in all facets of on- and off-road running. With the boom in Trail Running popularity I am left to wonder the safety precautions and suitability of some organisers and runners, information provided to the runners, and the preparedness of some of those who may be drawn in by advertising by more commercial events.