Nearly 700 runners took up the Challenge

Trent Ernst, Editor


Almost 700 runners (adults and kids combined) pitted themselves against Babcock Mountain on one of the hottest days of summer.

With temperatures close to 30 degrees, and minimal wind and nary a cloud in sight until most people had finished the race, participants sweated their way to the top, then back down to the bottom. Charles Helm, who sits on the planning committee, says this created significant challenges for many participants, especially those towards the back of the pack, “as they had to endure the heat for longer.”

Adding to the challenge, the organizers nipped half an hour off the end of the race, giving people only four and a half hours to run/jog/walk/crawl the 20 km route.

These two factors combined meant that there were more people who did not finish, either failing to make the cut-off at the water stations, or suffering from the heat.

Helm says that over half the participants were doing the Emperor’s Challenge for the first time. “Two thirds of the competitors were female, one third male,” says Helm.

The men’s race featured a star-studded line-up. Kris Swanson, who grew up in Tumbler Ridge, won the event for the fourteenth time out of fifteen, one of the most astonishing feats in the annals of Canadian running.

Two minutes behind Swanson was Sean Stephens-Whale, a friend of Swanson, who has also represented Canada on the national mountain-running team. In third place was ultra-marathoner Jonathan Heinz of Calgary, ahead of Gilles Delmee, an international entry from Belgium.

Sharleen Balogh and Jacqui Benson, both of Prince George, took gold and silver in the women’s race, followed by Kayla Hardy of Grande Prairie.

This year, the route between kilometres 12 and 13 was changed, taking runners along the edge of the mountain. The new route is even more spectacular than before, says Helm, but makes the course slightly longer. “It added 200 metres to the race length, making it hard for runners to set records or achieve personal bests,” says Helm.

Only one race record fell, when Anna Birnbaum of Laglace finished the 2km race for girls aged 8-11 in 9 minutes 41 seconds.

Annah Kanda was the first female runner from Tumbler Ridge, followed by Kareana Jensen, Birgit Sharman and Kelsey Legault. Michael Kumpula, Pete Davies and Jeff Butcher were the first three male Tumbler Ridge finishers.

80 year-old Eugene Barker of Charlie Lake once again won the trophy for being the oldest finisher, this year in another excellent time. “He is rapidly becoming a legend,” says Helm.

At the other end of the age scale, 12-year-old Jordan Davis of Chetwynd won the trophy for being the youngest finisher.

Helm says that 19 participants completed their fifth Emperor’s Challenge. “This earned them their coveted in-perpetuity bibs.” As well, Fred Walkley, Gisele Stanek and Ray Clark all completed their tenth race, earning them a special EC commemorative photo.

There were over seventy volunteers, says Helm, helping put on the event, including the three water stations, manned by volunteers from each of the three mines.

The Emperor’s Challenge has become the biggest off-road running race in BC. Accolades have been pouring in,to the effect that this unique event is the finest on the running calendar.