A thunderstorm that swept through northeast Italy claimed the life of an ultramarathoner who died after being struck by lightning while competing in the Sudtirol Ultra Skyrace Saturday.
The 75-mile race through the Dolomite Mountains had been suspended about 30 minutes before the lightning strike, race officials announced, but the runner, a 44-year-old Norwegian woman whose name has not been released, was between aid stations, where runners were being held up, and could not be reached.
The strike occurred at around 7:15 p.m. near the Lago di San Pancrazio, which is about 30 miles north of Bolzano and lies at an altitude of more than 6,800 feet. The race began and ended in Balzano in the South Tyrol province (Alto Adige). Other runners saw the runner who was struck and called for help. The victim was taken by helicopter to Bolzano Hospital, where she died.
“We are shocked and deeply shaken by this tragic accident,” Josef Günther Mair, chairman of the race’s organizing committee, said in a statement. “We express our deepest condolences to the family of the athlete.”
Storms across Europe and Italy over the weekend brought relief from a heat wave that had gripped the area, bringing near 100-degree temperatures to Bolzano. Italian media reported the deaths of three people, including the runner, from the thunderstorms, hail storms and flash flooding.
For runners caught in a thunderstorm, Runner’s World offered advice from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2016. The top tip is to get inside — even if it means continuing to run until you reach a car or a building — as soon as possible, something that might not be feasible for an ultramarathoner.
The NOAA notes that squatting to lower your profile should only be used as a last resort because it doesn’t significantly reduce risk. Being the tallest object increases the danger of a direct strike, so do not stand under a tall or isolated tree. Currents from a nearby ground strike kill more people than direct strikes.
If caught outside, NOAA advises:
- Immediately get off elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges or peaks
- Never lie flat on the ground
- Never shelter under an isolated tree
- Never use a cliff or rocky overhang for shelter
- Immediately get out of and away from ponds, lakes and bodies of water
- Stay away from objects that conduct electricity (barbed wire fences, power lines, windmills, etc.)
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