The origins of the Skeena River Relay

The history of the Skeena River Relay, a 142 km race from Prince Rupert to Terrace.

The Skeena River Relay

The Skeena River Relay used to be a free for all.

There were no rules, just a friendly relay for running enthusiasts who wanted to spend a day chasing each other along the 142 kilometres from Prince Rupert to Terrace.

The unofficial relay began on March 31, 1990 between Rupert Runners and the Skeena Valley Runners Club from Terrace.

“It wasn’t meant to be competitive. It was just meant to be a day out on the river. You know what it’s like,” said one of the founders of the relay, Ray Leonard.

Since there were no rules, when they got tired they could switch out with a fresh pair of legs. Leonard said it could get a bit dangerous at times.

“With a mile to go and people were jumping out of cars. It was fun. We did it a few years like that,” he said.

At first there were only two teams, Prince Rupert versus Terrace. A couple years later Hazleton and Smithers joined in. Leonard said Smithers would bring 30 kids in and they do a mile each and trade off.

While the Skeena relay was meant for fun, Prince Rupert runners put together a competitive relay team for the Jasper-Banff relay. There were 17 stages, formalized with strict rules and a 260-kilometre race that went throughout the night.

The Prince Rupert team placed third in their category in the first attempt. They continued competing for the next five years until the Jasper-Banff relay folded (the race returned in 2004).

To fill the void, the Skeena River Relay was formalized with similar rules to the Jasper-Banff relay but with 10 stages and held on the same day. In 2001, when the first formal version of the relay kicked off, there were 11 team entries and one team came down from Alaska.

The relay has grown each year and easily reaches capacity with 30 team entries. This year is the 15th anniversary and it filled up weeks before the race.

Watch out for runners along Highway 16 on June 4 starting at 7 a.m.

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