Roman Mountain is ready, and the world?s toughest and most beautiful half marathon, in the mountains above Tumbler Ridge, is set to go. This year sees the 6th Emperor?s Challenge Mountain Race on 7 August.

For the fittest this is a very strenuous and serious race – the organizers are bringing elite athletes Kris Swanson, Claire Townsend and Stephanie Mills up from Vancouver and Victoria. But for most ordinary mortals this event is simply a personal challenge ? to finish the 21.1 km within five hours for walkers and four hours for runners. Participants gain and lose 2331 feet on the circular route which leads over the 6651 foot high summit of the mountain, with a third of the route above the tree-line. Kids run 2.11 km, exactly one tenth of the adult distance, over a challenging hilly course that finishes with the section known as the ?Twisting of the Knife?.

Swanson has taken control of the race over the past five years, winning the men?s running event each time, and in 2003 he posted a blistering record of 1 hour 38 minutes 37 seconds for the men?s run. Last year the men?s walking record was also broken, by Kevin Sharman in 3:09:04, and Deneb Carias and Carina Helm set new kids? records.

Six participants have already completed five ?campaigns? on behalf of the Roman Mountain emperor, and therefore have received their coveted ?in perpetuity? numbers. This year one runner stands to join this elite group, local entrant Lorrie Spinney.

A novel feature is the Friday night pre-race toga party, where participants pick up their race packages and are treated to a slideshow of the course, with speakers providing running tips and other information.

The race traditionally starts and finishes at the Core Lodge, a half hour drive south of Tumbler Ridge, but this structure burned down last winter. The organizing committee is therefore having strong large tents installed at the site to cope with adverse weather conditions if needed. Massage therapists will be on hand as usual to relieve aching muscles.

As of July 28, a healthy 125 had already been received. Deadline for entries is Friday 6 August, and entries on the day of the race will not be accepted. Once two hundred adult entries have been received, the field will be capped and no further entries accepted, so those who have not yet entered are advised to do so as soon as possible.

The race is not only a great event for participants, it is an absorbing spectacle for spectators as well, with telescopes trained on the mountain summit to watch the runners on the horizon, and with nearby enticing destinations such as Babcock Falls and Boulder Gardens, accessed via short hiking trails.

With the increasing popularity and prestige of the race, sponsors have been extremely generous – Duke Energy and Talisman have become ?Platinum Sponsors? ? both have donated $750 to the catering, and eight other companies have become “Gold Sponsors? by donating $250 towards the Emperor’s Challenge.

Further information on the Emperor?s Challenge is available at www.emperorschallenge.com