Despite rain and fog and wet conditions in the alpine tundra, three blistering new records were set in the 6th annual Emperor?s Challenge Mountain Race, held on August 7 in the mountains near Tumbler Ridge. The race is billed as the toughest and most beautiful half marathon in the world, and while participants agreed on the former, they had to be content with alpine flowers and occasional tantalizing breaks in the mist for the latter.
Two elite female athletes were flown up from Victoria, Stephanie Mills and Claire Townsend. Both broke the existing women?s running record. Stephanie?s blistering time of 1 hour 48 minutes 12 seconds took an incredible 21 minutes off the old record, setting a new standard for this event. She is already talking of returning next year and hopes for optimal conditions to try to improve her time.
Both walking records tumbled: in the men?s walk Nathan Bernadet in his 4th Emperor?s Challenge took 25 minutes off what had previously seemed an unassailable record. In the women?s walk Lorraine Harrison finished strongly to shave four minutes off her previous record time.
Fastest time of the day was posted by Kris Swanson, formerly of Tumbler Ridge, now studying in Victoria, who won the men?s event for the sixth successive year. Just a few minutes off his 2003 record, Swanson?s performance in the difficult conditions was masterful, strengthening his hold on the race.
125 adults and 15 kids took part, with 32 entrants not showing up due to the weather. Seventy-five year old Gilly Earl is the oldest competitor in the history of the race, and breezed in in 4?51-47. She also had traveled the furthest to take part ? halfway across the globe to be exact, all the way from South Africa. At the other age extreme were twelve-year old local boys, Jordan Pouliot and Daniel Helm. These were the youngest entries ever for the full 21.1 km run, and both finished creditably in under three hours.
The evening before the race, participants were treated to a slideshow of the course, which loses and gains over 800 meters and leads over the 2000 meter high summit of Roman Mountain. Many of the athletes and volunteers were adorned in Roman gear: togas and tunics, laurel wreaths and sandals. Swanson and others spoke eloquently of how this race is their annual mountain-running highlight.
Of the 330 athletes that have taken part in the Emperor?s Challenge, five have now completed all six ?campaigns?. Lorrie Spinney completed her 5th campaign and was rewarded with her embroidered ?in perpetuity? number. Next year five athletes, who have completed four campaigns, stand to join this elite group.
At the prizegiving, winners were being presented with Roman goblets, while exhausted runners were attended to by massage therapists. Platinum sponsors Duke Energy and Talisman Energy each donated $5000 to the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation, and the phenomenal contributions of volunteers and sponsors were praised, with special mention for the superb efforts of Tumbler Ridge Search and Rescue for manning the feeding stations, and escorting one injured runner safely off the mountain.
?I can?t wait for next year?s Emperor?s Challenge? enthused Kris Swanson, to a round of applause. After four years of great weather, and two years of mist, the 2005 event will hopefully involve scenery in addition to endurance.