Article by Charles Helm
Kris Swanson has indicated he will be back for the 10th Emperor’s Challenge (35 kilometres south of Tumbler Ridge) on August 9th. Swanson won the race eight times in a row until 2007, when he was pipped by the then Canadian Marathon Champion Steve Osaduik.
For most participants with a modicum of fitness the Emperor’s Challenge, although billed as the world’s toughest and most beautiful half marathon, is quite easily doable (through running or walking) in the allotted five hours. For the front runners it is another story. Last year both Osaduik and Swanson broke the previous record by minutes, and Osaduik’s comments make for riveting reading:
“The first six kilometers is thought to be the hardest but it is the last fourteen that stays in your legs for a good week and forces you to do the crab walk up and down stairs. This is the toughest race I have ever run by far, nothing I have ever run even begins to enter the ball park. I have never walked during a race but four kilometres into this one I was forced to and several other times later. My quads burned, and my back ached from being bent over for four kilometres. I was soaked from falling several times in the creek we had to follow to the summit. I slammed so hard on one fall that I busted my watch off my wrist but didn’t feel it or notice till I tried to check my time at the 5 km mark and it wasn’t there.
“In the end it was a good battle back and forth for most of the race and in my estimation the most difficult race I have ever run, so I am hoping that I can draw from that experience the next time I go through a rough spot in a race and shake my head and suck it up and pick it up, because I don’t think I will ever hurt like that again until the next time I run the Emperor’s Challenge.”
Thanks to co-operation between the Wolverine Nordic and Mountain Society’s race organizing committee and the Peace River Coal mine, the Emperor’s Challenge got even tougher in 2006 (and a lot more beautiful) with the introduction of the Mathews Gully Route. The result was a new route and a new feel. The foot-bridge across Babcock Creek and short forested trail section give a different introduction to the race, then getting up the base of the steep walled gully is a controversially acclaimed experience, with the babbling creek possibly 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. From the summit on it is “easy”: fourteen kilometres of mostly downhill running to the finish, with magnificent views of the Rockies in runners’ and walkers’ faces.
There was a record field of just under 300 in 2007, and indications from early registrations are that another bumper field can be expected. The oldest competitor in the history of the race, 83 year old Art Nolan, is reputed to be returning with a bunch of his friends from Watson Lake. A number of international entries from as far away as England have also been received.
In 2008 ten athletes are in line to receive a special award for having completed all ten races. Kids are catered to through tough races of their own, of exactly one fifth or one tenth the adult distance. A festive atmosphere prevails at the Core Lodge, which is the hub of the race, with a marquee, 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 the Emperor’s Challenge anywhere. The race motto is to run with the goats, cruise with the caribou, trot with the ptarmigan, and to RISE TO THE CHALLENGE. Further information is available at www.emperorschallenge.com and registration can also be done on-line through the Running Room: www.runningroom.ca .