Wolverine Nordic and Mountain Society
Many of Canada’s top mountain runners are converging on Tumbler Ridge for the Seventeenth annual Emperor’s Challenge, which starts on Saturday August 8 at 9 am. This year the entries for the race, which is the biggest off-road running event in British Columbia, filled up in 20 hours. The 2015 adult field is capped at 1000 participants, plus there are kids’ races in three age categories.
The 20 km circular run over Mt Babcock is billed as “the toughest and most beautiful half marathon in the world”. Once again there are almost twice as many female entries (63 percent) as male entries (37 percent). Why this is so remains a matter for debate, but this ratio has stayed pretty constant down the years. Forty-seven percent of participants are novices, who will be taking part for the first time.
Once again Fort St John has the biggest contribution, with 39 percent of entries. Tumbler Ridge contributes eight percent of the field. Expressed as a percentage of population, Tumbler Ridge leads the field, if the census numbers can be believed, with about one in thirty residents entering. Imagine if a similar proportion of Vancouverites turned up for the Sun Run!
Eyes will be on Kris Swanson of Victoria, who has won the race an incredible fifteen times out of sixteen starts. In the recent National Mountain Running Championships Swanson finished second, just ahead of Shaun Stephens-Whale, who finished second in the 2013 Emperor’s Challenge. Stephens-Whale, from Roberts Creek, is returning for this year’s race, hoping to challenge Swanson for the Emperor’s crown. Also returning is Jon Heinz of Calgary, who finished third in the last two Challenges, along with the talented Nemethy family from Vanderhoof.
Sharleen Balogh of Prince George is returning to defend her title in the women’s race. There are rumours of other exceptional athletes in the field, and locals who have been training extra-hard in order to make it into the top places.
Many athletes are due to receive their coveted in-perpetuity numbers for completing five challenges, or their special photo for completing ten. Three people have completed all sixteen events to date (Kris Swanson, Charles Helm and Birgit Sharman). All three have entered this year and hope to maintain this distinction.
The small volunteer committee that organizes the event has been hard at work, and the course is in tip-top condition. Many community groups and service organizations are involved in making this an event for all participants to truly remember and cherish. The event is aligned with the Tumbler Ridge Global Geopark, and participants are offered free entry to the Dinosaur Discovery Gallery during the weekend as an extra reward for their efforts.
Things are highly competitive at the top end of the field, but for most ordinary mortals the Emperor’s Challenge is simply an opportunity to rise to a personal challenge and to complete the grueling route, with over 2000 feet of vertical gain, within the allotted four and a half hours.