Emperor’s Challenge gets even better

The world?s toughest and most beautiful half marathon, the Emperor?s Challenge, just got a little tougher and a lot more beautiful. Thanks to co-operation between the Wolverine Nordic and Mountain Society?s race organizing committee and the NEMI mine, sensational changes have been made to enhance the course.

Last year the race was run clockwise for the first time, making the most of the spectacular mountain scenery. The first few kilometers lay close to the coal mine, and expanding mining operations meant that 2006 would have been the last year that the existing route could be used. An exciting alternative route was pioneered by locum physician Nigel Mathews, who is credited also with the original idea of the Emperor?s Challenge a decade ago. This route involves 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 involves 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 and has looked after this construction, which is much appreciated by the Wolverine Nordic and Mountain Society.

The result is a new route and a new feel. The short forested trail section will give a different introduction to the race, then running up the base of the steep walled gully is an enriching experience, with the babbling creek taking the athletes? minds off the pain of the ascent. The scenery gets better and better during the gruelling three kilometers of ascent (800 meters vertical gain) providing a balm for tired and aching muscles. It is hard to believe that there is a coal mine close by, as the mine is not visible at all from the new route. The new route joins the old between the minor and major summits of Roman Mountain, and from there on it is easy: run over the summit and then enjoy the 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 involves more uneven ground and tougher footing for a few kilometers, but the rope section which fazed a few runners in the past has been avoided, and there are fewer very steep sections.

The eighth annual Emperor?s Challenge Mountain Half Marathon will take place on Saturday August 12th on Roman Mountain, 35 kms south of Tumbler Ridge. There was a record field of 195 in 2005, and entries are pouring in steadily.

Kris Swanson has entrenched himself as Emperor of Roman Mountain, winning all seven previous runs, and plans to return this year for the race. His record time of 1-38-37 seems invincible. 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 these outstanding competitors, it is simply a challenge and a test of endurance for most ordinary mortals. In 2005 the youngest and oldest participants were ten and sixty-five. Eleven adults and six kids have received their coveted ?in perpetuity? numbers for completing five Emperor?s Challenges. Another five adults and one kid are in line to receive this award in 2006. Participants are free to run or walk, as long as they finish the 21.1 km course in under five hours.

Kids are catered to through tough races of their own, of exactly one fifth or one tenth the adult distance (4.2 or 2.1 kms). 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