I Rose to the Challenge

Jade Steckley

Standing on top of the world: Jade Steckley hits the peak of Babcock Mountain.
I’ve always wanted to be a runner. Sure, I have “experimented” with it over the years, but it’s never gotten serious. A little track and field in high school, two weeks of 6:30am runs in college, that sort of thing. After every baby I’ve had, I thought I’d start then…you know, to lose the baby weight. I even joined the Couch to 5K running group on Facebook to motivate me. Of course I would push it too hard the first time I went running, feel like I was going to die, taste blood, and get “runner’s cough” for days. Like all good runners, that would be my first, and last run; at least for that year.
For the last 13 years, Tumbler Ridge has hosted the Emperor’s Challenge. I remember watching the runners come over the finish line those first couple of years and being in awe. They just RAN up and over a MOUNTAIN. It’s where my desire to run started. I wanted to be able to do that. In the past seven years I have had four daughters…and this year it was time to do something to take care of my body after renting it out to babies for so long. After so many failed attempts at running, I decided that this was IT, and in March, I excitedly submitted my registration.
I had been going to a Zumba class at Addison and Tegan’s school twice a week since September, and my cardio was getting pretty decent, so one night I thought, “hey…I wonder if I can run for more than a minute now without getting winded? I’m going to try this!” The first run, I made it 3 km, and even though it was painfully slow, my lungs and legs both tolerated it and I felt good for a change!
After that, I was addicted. There is just something about running that is good for the soul, you know? I have now tried morning runs and evening runs, and I find that I prefer the evening. I’m not quite sure how it’s going to work once it starts getting dark at 5pm, but I figure I’ll just cross that bridge when it lies before me. 
Right now, I just love it. My husband is home every evening, which makes it easy to get out of the house. Normally, I put the girls to bed around 7:45 and am out the door by 8. I live on a dirt road with very few neighbours, so I don’t even worry about headphones; just crank up my music and hit the road! The fresh air, the exercise, the quiet time…it’s all very, very good. About a week ago I wrote a Facebook status that said, “for the next 45 minutes, all questions and complaints can be directed to your father…mama’s going running!” and while that’s a fairly long motto, it runs through my head as I begin each run.
Back to the Emperor’s Challenge. The very fact that it is held on a mountain in Tumbler Ridge means it’s going to be more challenging than jogging down a dirt road. Over the years I’ve heard the horror stories. Lots of uphill, people losing toenails, freezing rain at the summit…those sorts of things. When people heard that I was doing it, they made sure to tell me to train running hills so I would be ready. I did some, but I mostly worked on my endurance. 
That being said, by the time the race rolled around, the longest distance I had run to that point was 7.4Km, which is slightly more than one third the distance I would be running today. Up until I was standing at the start gate, doubts crept in; “how do you even think you are qualified to run this, you’ve never run even close to that far?” I managed to smother those doubts with this thought: “It doesn’t have to be pretty, I just have to finish in under five hours. A couple of years ago I did a 25Km hike when I was out of shape, and did that in six hours with a 30lb pack on my back. I can do this.” One year ago I would have never even dreamed that I could run the 7K, let alone more, so that in itself was a huge personal achievement for me!
So there I was, standing at the start gate with a few fellow runners, ten minutes from race time. Candice asked me if I had eaten the energy gel that we got for free the night before. “Nope, but it would probably help me, hey?” So I ate it. Even now, I’m not sure if I regret that decision or not. It may have helped, but it’s a packet of thick gel with two grams of sugar to try and hide the fact that you’re eating a thick, pasty gel. Blech.
Before I knew it, the race had started. I’ll spare you the detailed commentary of the race itself, but one thought that went through my head at regular intervals was, “this would be so much easier if I were a mountain goat”. I thought I knew that the race was difficult. I thought I knew that there was 11Km of uphill. I thought I knew that I wouldn’t be able to actually “run” the entire race. I knew nothing.
By the 3Km mark, my legs were burning with each step and I hoped as I rounded each corner that there would be a plateau for some relief. Nope. That mountain kicked my butt. As I got higher, I had to make a physical effort to lift my eyes and look at the scenery around me, because I all I could concentrate on was making my feet take “one more step”.
At the 8Km mark was a much needed water station, at which the “figure 8” part of the trail happens. For about 200m we who were still trekking upwards shared the path with the super human mountain runners who were already at their 14km mark on the way down. At one point, time  stood still as I watched three of them bound past me like gazelles, and I stood in awe. Just pure wonder at how their bodies could do that. 
At the summit, 11Km in, a fellow runner and I took pictures of each other “on top of the world”. It was a brief, much needed break, then onwards and…downwards. Finally.
At 17 Km I was feeling pretty darn good about myself; only three kilometres to go, and it’s all downhill! Then the mountain decided to kick my butt one more time. Boom. I rolled my ankle and came down hard…with the added embarrassment of it being just feet away from the next water station. The volunteer was amazing though. She ran up to me with a cup of Gatorade and an encouraging word, “Are you ok? You can do it…even if you have to crawl across the finish line!” I decided to try walking and see if I could bear my weight, and within a kilometre, I was running again, yay! It felt like a scene from a movie; that climactic moment when the protagonist pushes through seemingly impossible circumstances to attain their goal. It probably wasn’t that noticeable to anyone around me, but in my head, the dramatic music was playing!
Finally, the end was in site. Only a few hundred feet to go! I have never felt anything like I did as I literally forced my body across the finish line. So much pain, so much mind over matter, and then…relief! I came in at 2 hours 58 minutes and 7 seconds, which earned me the honour of having a silver medal placed around my neck as I crossed the line.
My mom and daughter Tegan met me at the line. The fact that I had just completed one of my biggest goals to date, combined with the fact that my mom was in such awe that I had earned a silver medal brought a few happy tears to my eyes. THAT is where the exhilaration came in. Just amazing.
Oh, and my sweet, sweet Tegan wanted to help me out, so she brought me another energy gel, bless her heart. So as not to offend her, I managed to eat a little bit of the apple cinnamon flavoured paste before heading over to the barbecue for a burger! 
Emperor’s Challenge, I’ll see you next year.