The weather was perfect – sunny, 20 degrees, with just a gentle breeze. Runners and walkers had gathered from across the region and western Canada, and from as far away as Australia, for the Emperor’s Challenge in Tumbler Rudge, the biggest off-road running event in B.C. It is billed as “the toughest and most beautiful half marathon in the world”. Three months before race day all available places had already been filled, with 800 participants registered. At 9 a.m. on August 11th Race-director Jerrilyn Schembri sent them off on the demanding 20 km course over Babcock Mountain that would see them gain and lose over two thousand feet in elevation. A short while later, the kids’ races of 2 km or 4 km began.
The great conditions led to excellent times, with no fewer than five records being broken: Sharleen Jackson of Prince George in the women’s 20 km (shaving thirteen seconds off Fiona Benson’s record in a blistering performance); Laurel van der Giessen of Bezanson in the Girls’ 7 and under, Chantel Amstutz of Bezanson in the Girls 8-11, Simon Nemethy of Vanderhoof in the Boys’ 8-11, and Mikayla Capelle of Dawson Creek in the Girls’ 14 and under event.
Kris Swanson, a product of Tumbler Ridge, now living and training in Victoria, continued his incredible dominance of the event. This was the fourteenth Emperor’s Challenge; Kris has won it thirteen times. This is one of the great achievements in Canadian mountain-running history, and ample demonstration of why he is such a valued member of the national mountain-running team. He powered over the mountain, breaking the tape in a time of one hour twenty-two minutes, fully thirteen minutes ahead of the next runner.
However, that next runner’s achievement was no less remarkable. Alexander Nemethy of Vanderhoof clocked 1-35 25, an amazing achievement for a fifteen year old – this is clearly a force to be watched in future years. Nick MacLean of Quesnel ran a solid race to finish third in 1-38, just ahead of fifty-one year old Brian Nemethy (a masterly performance from the first Grand Master).
The oldest and youngest competitors were recognized through trophies donated by Anglo American – Peace River Coal, and celebrated the results of two amazing athletes. Seventy-nine year old Eugene Barton finished in 3-17, while eleven year old Tate Haugen dipped under the magical two hour barrier in 1-57. (Actually, he first ran the Emperor’s Challenge 20 km course in 2009, aged 8!) Twelve year old Damian Skin had less tough competitors shaking their heads in astonishment – he took off his running shoes in the first kilometer and ran the rest of the race barefoot!
Eighteen adults and five kids received their coveted in-perpetuity numbered bibs for having completed five Emperor’s Challenges. Altogether 93 adults and 22 kids have now had this honour bestowed upon them.
So many people come together to put on an event of this magnitude that it is impossible to acknowledge them all. What is critically important to the Organizing Committee, however, is to put on as safe an event as possible. Having helicopter support donated through Ridge Rotors, the presence of the Rangers and Search and Rescue teams on the mountain, and BC Ambulance and Triple K Safety providing medical support at the base are therefore vital, and hugely appreciated.
Darryl Krakowka, in addition to making numerous donations to the race, realized the evening before the race that that there would be a shortage of ambulance personnel, and chose to give up the run for which he had trained for months, and instead to operate the ambulance station. The supportive efforts of the Lions in providing delicious refreshments, Stride and Glide Sports for seamlessly looking after the timing and results, the District of Tumbler Ridge and Teck Ltd and Peace River Coal are likewise gratefully acknowledged.
Some of the statistics are interesting: there are more than twice as many female athletes (68%) as male athletes (32%) in the adult race. Fifty-six percent in the adult race did the Emperor’s Challenge for the first time. Just under thirty percent of entries came from Fort St John. There were 85 entries from Tumbler Ridge.
It is the volunteers who make it all possible, and just under a hundred contributed, from establishing the impeccably marked course, to marshaling, operating feeding stations, helping out at registration etc. Each of them deserves a gold medal too, and each came away with an attractive Emperor’s Challenge T-shirt. This truly makes the Emperor’s Challenge a community event, whose fame is spreading by word of mouth (the advertising budget of the race remains constant at $0.00).
The Emperor’s Challenge Organizing Committee is already at work planning the 2013 race, working on route improvements so as to provide and even more scenic experience. This committee, which is made up of a handful of Tumbler Ridge volunteers, would like to thank everyone who contributed in any way to making this an event of which Tumbler Ridge can justifiably feel proud.