110 Ultra Trail Runners Evacuated from Race Course

Heavy rains caused a river to overflow, stranding runners in freezing temperatures during the Southern Lakes Ultra in New Zealand.

A 7-day, 6-stage ultra-marathon on the South Island of New Zealand, was interrupted by severe weather earlier this week, which resulted in several athletes needing to be rescued, according to the New Zealand Herald. Rains quickly became intense, causing the Arrow River to rise in the wee hours of the morning, leaving runners stranded and unable to cross. Temperatures hovered around freezing, which meant athletes started experiencing hypothermia. Rescue efforts included personnel from the New Zealand Police Department, Search and Rescue, Fire and Emergency New Zealand, and Queenstown rescue helicopters.All in, 110 racers were evacuated. Seven race participants and one official were flown to Queenstown Lakes Hospital to be treated for hypothermia. According to reports, all have been released and are doing well. The South Island of New Zealand (Te Waipounamu) is known for its stunning glacial lakes and towering mountains. Runners of the event are promised endless breathtaking views before finishing in Queenstown, known as the adventure capital of the world. Participants have the choice between the long course (261 km) or the short course (226 km), and are encouraged to go at their own pace—from hiking to competitive running. The Southern Lakes Ultra spans 6-stages from February 19-25, including a rest day. It’s billed as a race that’s perfect for experienced trail runners and beginners alike. Each stage is between 10 and 70 kilometers. According to the race website, the course requires comfort in the backcountry. “Please, do not take lightly the terrain you will be in. Some of our stages are remote. You will be climbing and descending for hours, potentially some in the dark. You must be confident in the backcountry, on trails.”

Despite the weather conditions and rescue efforts, the race is continuing as planned. Some athletes have voiced disappointment in that decision, saying the race should have been called off and river levels checked more frequently. According to reports, one athlete said, “Conditions on the mountain were treacherous in the dark for an event which was pitched for beginner ultra competitors. ‘Show must go on mentality’ seems tone deaf.” 

Most importantly, everyone is safe and accounted for. Rescue Coordination Centre Operations Manager Michael Clulow said he was grateful for everyone who helped with and supported the rescue effort. 

posted Friday March 10th
by Runner’s World