Emperor’s Challenge gets even better

The world?s toughest and most beautiful half marathon, the Emperor?s Challenge, got a little tougher and a lot more beautiful in 2006. Thanks to co-operation between the Wolverine Nordic and Mountain Society?s race organizing committee and what is now the Peace River Coal mine, sensational changes were made to enhance the course.

Expanding mining operations meant that an alternative route would have to be created, and this was pioneered by locum physician Nigel Mathews, who is credited also with the original idea of the Emperor?s Challenge over a decade ago. This route involved a steady ascent up a straight gully which virtually bisects the mountain from the west, and has come to be known as the Mathews route.

Developing the Mathews route involved building a foot-bridge across Babcock Creek, then re-clearing an old seismic line to give access to the gully. Appreciating the importance of the Emperor?s Challenge, NEMI sprang for the costs of these operations.

The result was a new route and a new feel. The short forested trail section gave a different introduction to the race, then running up the base of the steep walled gully was a widely acclaimed and enriching experience, with the babbling creek taking the athletes? minds off the pain of the ascent. The scenery got better and better during the gruelling three kilometers of ascent (800 meters vertical gain) providing a balm for tired and aching muscles. It was hard to believe that there was a coal mine close by, as the mine was not visible at all from the new route, which joined the old between the minor and major summits of Roman Mountain. From the summit on it was ?easy?: 14 kms of downhill running to the finish, with magnificent views of the Rockies in your face.

In summary, the new route in the gully involved more uneven ground and tougher footing for a few kilometers, but the rope section which fazed a few runners in the past was avoided, and there were fewer very steep sections. Due to continuing expansion of this mine, 2007 is quite possibly the last year that the Emperor?s Challenge will be held on this route, and the organizing committee is already hard at work considering alternative route options for future years.

The ninth annual Emperor?s Challenge Mountain Half Marathon will take place on Saturday August 11th on Roman Mountain, 35 kms south of Tumbler Ridge. There was a strong field of 170 in 2006, and the steady stream of early entries suggests a record field in 2007.

Kris Swanson has entrenched himself as Emperor of Roman Mountain, winning all eight previous runs, and hopes to return this year for the race. In 2006 he clocked a new record time of 1 hour 34 minutes and 8 seconds. His string of victories is one of the great achievements of Canadian mountain-running. Stephanie Mills of Victoria set the women?s record in 2004, blazing the route in 1-48-12, and she successfully defended her title in 2005. Although the event is an ultra-tough race for such outstanding competitors, it is simply a challenge and a test of endurance for most ordinary mortals. In 2006 the youngest and oldest participants were eleven and eighty-one. Fourteen adults and six kids have received their coveted ?in perpetuity? numbers for completing five Emperor?s Challenges. Participants are free to run or walk, as long as they finish the 20 KM in under five hours.

Kids are catered to through tough races of their own, of exactly one fifth or one tenth the adult distance. A festive atmosphere prevails at the Core Lodge, which is the hub of the race, with a marquis, massages, refreshments, awards ceremony and much more. The event is spectator friendly, and telescopes are trained on the summit to see who crests it first.

There is nothing else quite like this? anywhere. Whether running, walking or watching, RISE TO THE CHALLENGE?. the Emperor?s Challenge! For further information please call Race Director Doug Foerster (242 5870) or visit www.emperorschallenge.com Registration can also be done on-line through the Running Room: www.runningroom.ca

Tumbler Ridge News has agreed to print weekly motivational articles or features on the Emperor?s Challenge as a lead-up to this year?s race. The first of these, by Trevor Kolkea, is printed in this week?s edition.