Thanks to a generous donation from Hawkair, Victoria elite athletes Kris Swanson and Stephanie Mills are set to return for the 7th annual Emperor?s Challenge Mountain Half Marathon over Roman Mountain on August 6.

Swanson has run, and won, every single Emperor?s Challenge since its inception in 1999. His blistering 2003 record of 1-38-37 for this, the toughest and most beautiful half marathon in the world, seems invincible?. except maybe by Swanson himself.

Stephanie Mills entered for the first time in 2004, and not only was the first woman to dip under the two hour barrier, but took an astounding 21 minutes off the previous women?s record to post 1-48-12.

Both these elite runners are in peak condition and are looking forward to getting back into the alpine tundra. Thanks to the generous donation from Hawkair, they will be flown up from Vancouver the day before the race, in time to enjoy the pre-race reception and toga party (in keeping with the Roman theme).

The race is being run clockwise this year, for the first time, and this will pose interesting challenges for Swanson, who had fine-tuned his running of the usual anti-clockwise route. Most of the 800 meter elevation gain to the 2000 meter high summit now happens in the first seven kilometers, followed by long downhill stretches with spectacular mountain scenery in the athletes? faces. The advantage of easier and drier footing, created by the reopening of some old exploration roads along the route, will be offset by one extra alpine section that has been added to avoid a potentially dangerous steep downhill ? at 21.1 kms long, the route remains the exact half marathon distance.

Five runners and walkers are in line to receive their ?in perpetuity? numbers for completing five Emperor?s Challenge ?campaigns?, and join the seven who have already attained this unique status. Unprecedented early registration numbers point to the likelihood of a record field in all the events (walking and running categories, and two shorter distances for kids).

Runners and walkers will have one extra minor challenge to deal with if they want to know how far they have traveled: brushing up on their Roman numerology. This year in the time-honoured Roman tradition, mileposts along the way are marked in Roman numerals only.

Lindsay Miller, District Sales Manager for Hawkair says: ?Hawkair appreciates the support that it gets from the residents of Tumbler Ridge, and is pleased to support an event like the Emperor?s Challenge.?

All is set for a bumper Emperor?s Challenge in 2005 ? with the hope that that the Roman weather gods smile on the event after two years of mist and cool temperatures.