Three runners were in critical condition in hospital yesterday after warm and humid conditions took a heavy toll on competitors in the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon events.
There was a record number of admissions to hospitals for runners suffering injuries and illness in what seasoned runners described as one of the toughest races weather-wise in recent years. The new route, taking in an uphill climb for Stonecutter's Bridge, also made life more difficult for competitors.
The Hospital Authority said 55 runners - 43 men and 12 women - were admitted to Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital and Ruttonjee Hospital, many having suffered stroke or ankle injuries. The admissions were the highest since 2007 when there were 35 competitors taken to hospital. Last year there were just 27 admissions.
By late yesterday afternoon, 32 runners remained at Ruttonjee Hospital, including three men, aged between 38 and 46, in critical condition in the intensive care unit.
Among them was a 38-year-old Filipino man who had travelled with his wife and three children to Hong Kong to join the annual full-marathon event. He fainted after the finish line but regained consciousness later.
During the 10km events, a middle-aged man who had difficulty breathing collapsed on the Eastern Corridor. Another full-marathon runner collapsed and had to be taken away by medical officers shortly before he finished the run.
More than 1,500 people suffered cramp and received ice packs and dehydration treatment, according to figures reported at noon yesterday, the organisers said. No further update on injuries was available.
Dr Lobo Louie, assistant professor of the Department of Physical Education at Baptist University, said yesterday's warm and humid weather was far from perfect for a marathon and other long-distance events. The conditions meant the body's ability to lose heat was hampered.
The ideal conditions for running marathons are when temperatures are below 15 degrees Celsius and the relative humidity is between 50 and 60 per cent. The temperature was around 24 degrees with relative humidity between 88 and 93 per cent for events yesterday morning.
In 2007, three runners died in the Chicago marathon when the temperature reached 28 degrees.
The first death in the history of the Hong Kong marathon was in 2006, on a day when the air pollution was very high.
Louie said: 'Many of the runners might do their training in the cold season and it is difficult for them to suddenly adjust to a warmer environment.' But Louie said while the hot and humid weather was a factor, the runners' preparation might also play a role. 'The weather is unpredictable. What one can control is how much training is done before a race. In most cases, it is the problem of the runner rather than of the organiser. Inadequate training can kill,' he said.
William Ko Wai-lam, of the organising committee, said the humid and warm weather affected the performance of even the professional runners.
'The route is designed to be unique, passing through three bridges and three tunnels. The overseas runners have told us they really like the design because it is a real challenge. But the weather inevitably slowed down the runners,' he said.
Organisers distributed bottled water and sports drinks to runners at spots 2,500 metres apart while there were more than 500 medics on duty to attend to the runners' needs.
Last year, 27 ill or injured competitors were taken to hospitals
The number of runners taken to hospitals yesterday: 55