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Emperor's Challenge in its 12th year

Billed as one of the toughest and most beautiful half-marathons in the world, the Emperor's Challenge has been attracting more athletes each year from across Western Canada and as far away as the U.S.

Billed as one of the toughest and most beautiful half-marathons in the world, the Emperor's Challenge has been attracting more athletes each year from across Western Canada and as far away as the U.S. and England looking for a challenge in the northern Rockies. With a record field of close to 500 participants in the 2009 Emperor's Challenge, the upcoming Aug. 7 race near Tumbler Ridge could see even more runners and walkers competing.

"Spring is here, and it's time for runners and walkers to start thinking about Northern B.C'.s premier mountain running event," said Charles Helm, one of the organizers with the Wolverine Nordic and Mountain Society.

"Although the event is an ultra-tough race for these outstanding competitors, it is simply a challenge and a test of endurance for most ordinary mortals."

For the first 10 years, runners climbed Roman Mountain, but last year organizers switched to a different route on Babcock Mountain to avoid the bottlenecks that were slowing some runners down in the scenic but technically challenging Matthews Gully.

The brand new Babcock course received rave reviews, and has even finer features than its predecessor, explained Helm.

"The distance is the same, and the hub of the race and start/finish area remain the same at the Core Lodge, but the new route has very different attractions. It passes through entrancing rocky scenery, right over the mountain summit and through the valley that bisects the mountaintop, past alpine tarns, with glorious views of Roman Mountain and the northern Rockies on a fine day."

The Babcock Mountain route has an elevation gain of 2,000 feet, which is not quite as formidable as Roman Mountain and the incline not as steep, but this is designed for a constant uphill battle for the first 60 per cent of the race.

Organizers are making further modifications and improvements to the course, with a challenging new kilometer of technical running in the rocky wilderness through exhilarating scenery.

Participants have five hours in which to complete the event. Times have been generally slightly faster on the new route, making it easier for walkers to come in under the five-hour limit, pointed out Helm.

Kids have a race of their own: exactly one fifth or one-tenth the adult distance (four or two kilometres).

Interested runners or walkers can go to www.emperorschallenge.com for more information.