10th Emperor’s Challenge

Charles Helm

In warm, windless, cloudless conditions Kris Swanson dominated the tenth Emperor?s Challenge from start to finish. On a day when the heat took its toll on many participants and slowed down times, his time of 1-31:33, just three minutes outside of Steve Osaduik?s 2007 record, is testimony to one of the finest efforts in the history of this grueling event, in the mountains south of Tumbler Ridge.

It is billed as the toughest and most beautiful race of its kind in the world, gaining and losing 2800 feet in a circular route that leads over the summit of Roman Mountain. Swanson has now won nine Emperor?s Challenges out of ten, an astounding feat that places him amongst the greats of Canadian mountain running.

In second place was Brian Nemethy, a talented Masters athlete from Vanderhoof, in 1-47, followed by Peter Watson of Grande Prairie. The Women?s event was closely contested, with Rena McLeod (2-10:18) of Dawson Creek two minutes ahead of Katherine Stone of Grande Prairie, followed by Caroline Toews of Fort St John. New records were set by Robyn Barcisse in the Girls 7 and Under race, and by Simon Nemethy in the Boys 7 and Under race.

In a record field of 331 adult participants, six athletes finished in less than two hours, each thus earning a gold finishers medal. One hundred and thirty six finished in under the three hour silver medal cut-off, while 315 completed the race in under the allotted five hours. Adding in the 29 entrants in the kids? races, the total of 360 is an increase of well over 20% over the 2007 previous record number, and bodes well for the future of the race.

Seven athletes received a framed commemorative print for having finished all ten Challenges: Carina Helm, Charles Helm, Daniel Helm, Birgit Sharman, Laura Sharman, Natalie Sharman and Kris Swanson. Twelve athletes received their coveted ?in-perpetuity? bibs for having completed five Challenges: Erin Tattersall, Sandy Treit, Lisa Ramer, Max Legault, Garry Roth, Glen Pud, Roland Diehl, Sara Irvine, Kelly Joy, Ben Foster, Jan Legaspi and Gisele Stanek. They join the twenty three runners previously honoured in this fashion.

2008 saw a wonderful age range of entries, with the youngest and oldest in the history of the race, starting with 2 ½ year old Ali Arnold of Dawson Creek who completed the Girls 7 and under run, but could not be roused from a snooze to receive her award. Ten year old Elias Thompson of Cecil Lake was the youngest finisher in the 20 km run, while at the other end of the spectrum the legendary Art Nolan of Watson Lake, 83 years old, demonstrated the value of increased training by achieving a personal best time.

Dawson Creek was the source of most participants (19%) followed by Fort St John (15%), Tumbler Ridge (11%), Chetwynd (10%), Grande Prairie (9%), and Prince George (8%). Runners from the UK and USA provided a welcome international element.

The traditional male ? female split persists: over the last few years it has become evident that there are more female participants, and in 2008 the ratio was 61:39. Many people, it seems, come once to say they have done the Challenge: sixty-one percent of entries in 2008 were novices.

Much has been said about the dreaded Mathews Gully, the scenically spectacular but rough route used to relentlessly ascend the mountain (the summit is reached at just 5.5 kms in the 20 km race). Less controversial is the next six kilometres, in amongst the caribou, in which the sublime majesty of the northern Rockies rejuvenates the souls of tired runners, followed by the homeward grunt of the final stretch. Amongst many superb achievements, those who toil for close to five hours under the sun and come

in with just minutes to spare are some of the greatest heroes of the Emperor?s Challenge.

What of the future? The Emperor?s Challenge Committee is working closely with Peace River Coal, and has already constructed a new route, in case mining activity disrupts the existing route. However, there is a good chance that the current route will still be viable in 2009. In case anyone was wondering, the new route would be a bit more challenging still, involving four summits and a vertical gain and loss of 3200 feet.

It takes a special community to put on a race like this: over seventy volunteers and many service organizations helped out this year, a truly remarkable performance, and one which enables the reputation of the Emperor?s Challenge to spread far and wide. Physical fitness, healthy lifestyles, glorious scenery, achievement of personal goals, camaraderie and support, economic diversification through sports tourism ? there are many things that make the Emperor?s Challenge both precious and unique. May it continue to enthrall, inspire and satisfy in years to come.

SPECIAL MESSAGE FROM DOUG FOERSTER, CO-RACE DIRECTOR

The 2008 Emperor?s Challenge was a remarkable success according to the participants and organizers alike. From my point of view as co-race director this year, very ably assisted by Kelly McManus, who heroically volunteered (?) to take over this category for next year, it was a major success, and personifies the fabulous terrain that we enjoy here in our back (front) yard.

It was due to the hard work and dedication throughout the year of the Emperor?s Challenge Committee ? Charles and Linda Helm, Birgit Sharman, Bert Schalekamp, Shirley Fry, Fred and Shawna Booker, and many others who dedicated much needed time and expertise in order to bring this event to a seamless conclusion.

That so many participants returned from previous years was most gratifying to us, and also to hear their reasons for doing so. This was exemplified by the oldest competitor, Art Nolan ? age 83, who was recognized again with a special trophy, and who returned with added vigour and a big smile.

As one person who telephoned me about entering mentioned, he had been advised to concentrate on this Race rather than other mountain runs. The Emperor?s Challenge, he had been told, was the best, most interesting and challenging event on the circuit.

Thanks for this needs to be directed to all of the 70-plus volunteers, without whom it would NOT work ? they can all take a bow, and are being presented with a special Emperor?s Challenge mug.

The Emperor?s Challenge has many features:

1)Kids Races on a tough 2 km and a 4 km course. Volunteers maintain continuous line of sight contact.

2)Pre-Race ?Bear alert? strategy, and emergency helicopter coverage donated by Ridge Rotors. This is a first class addition to the support and confidence factor of the competitors, and is the third year of such greatly appreciated help.

3)Search and Rescue and Ambulance presence, and water stations ? first aid coverage at six strategically located water stations serviced by volunteers, who braved heat, fatigue and isolation for a few hours of action. Luckily the ambulance attendants had just minor complaints to deal with, but their presence is much appreciated.

4)Complimentary food to all as supplied by the Lions Club via a grant from the Emperor?s Challenge Committee.

5)A superior final program with medals for all finishers, and other hardware for the winner and top placers.

6)Four massage therapists!

This could not be possible without the cheerful and competent volunteers who were seemingly everywhere ? from the pre-race to the final clean-up. Thanks to you all, and to the Town of Tumbler Ridge for their help.

An extra special thanks to the people and corporation of Peace River Coal for so much help in so many ways.

Only one interesting addition that was suggested: ?can?t think of anything else that could be added, except, perhaps cold beer at the water stations as and alternative???

Now, if we could get a volunteer supplier?.?

Kelly McManus, next year?s Race Director, is anticipating 400 for next year ?ouch!

On behalf of hard working Fred Booker, President of the Wolverine Nordic and Mountain Society and the Emperor?s Challenge Organizing Committee,

Cheers till next year.

Doug Foerster.