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Shepherd saves 6 runners at ill-fated Chinese ultramarathon

Extreme weather led to the deaths of 21 people at Saturday's Huanghe Shilin Mountain Marathon

Trail running athlete crossing the dirty puddle in the forest

Twenty-one runners died at the 100K Huanghe Shilin Mountain Marathon in northwest China on Saturday after the weather turned mid-race and temperatures dropped dangerously low. When this happened, the race’s 172 participants found themselves stranded on the ultramarathon course and completely unprepared for such a dire situation. Six runners found refuge in a cave near the race route, though, thanks to a local shepherd named Zhu Keming who had turned to the shelter himself when conditions on the mountain worsened. Zhu is now being hailed as a hero, as he likely saved the lives of the six runners he ushered into the cave. 

A report from CNN said Zhu was out on the mountain with his sheep when the weather changed. With his knowledge of the area, Zhu made his way to the cave, where he had firewood and clothes. The cave was close to the race route, and soon enough, a runner arrived. 

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“I asked him, ‘How are you doing? Can you still run?'” Zhu said. The runner was moving slowly, and he said he couldn’t go any farther due to severe cramps. Zhu invited him into the cave to warm up and wait out the storm. Elsewhere on the mountain, the cold took its toll on the race’s participants, and many began to suffer from hypothermia.

Race organizers called off the event when the conditions became dangerous, and they sent out a rescue team of hundreds to recover the runners. Unfortunately, only a few athletes managed to find Zhu’s cave, and 21 runners ended up passing away while another eight were sent to hospital.

After the first runner found the cave, four more showed up, and Zhu welcomed them all in to get out of the storm. Zhu also found a runner lying outside, and he carried him back to the cave himself. On top of Zhu’s efforts to help the runners that day, many other people from his mountain community reportedly set out across the race route, taking runners clothes, blankets, hot water and food. 

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After the search was complete and the 151 surviving runners were recovered, Zhu’s story went viral in China, and people across the country commended him for his heroic actions. He responded to the outpouring of support with a simple message in which he said what he did was a “very normal, ordinary thing,” adding that he wished he could have helped more of the runners.


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