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Ready, set, go! Alps 2 Ocean Ultra organiser Mike Sandri is all set for the event to get under way after more than a year of planning and preparation. PHOTO: DANIEL BIRCHFIELD

When Oamaru running enthusiast Mike Sandri was asked why New Zealand did not have its own ultra endurance race, he thought that was a very good question.

The more he thought about it, the more he believed he should be the one to do something about it.

Next weekend, Mr Sandri’s months of hard work will culminate with the start of the Alps 2 Ocean Ultra, a race he has created that has attracted competitors from around the world.

The race, a first for New Zealand, will involve athletes running self-supported on and around the 300km-plus Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail, which extends from Aoraki Mt Cook to Oamaru, over seven stages in seven days.

As it stands, stages one and two (53.85km) on day one have a 14hr cut-off; stage three (51.34km) on day two a 13hr cutoff; stage four (86.6km) on days three and four a 34hr cut-off; stage five (43.76km) on day five a 12hr cut-off; stage six (52.66km) on day six a 13hr cutoff; and stage seven (28.67km) on the final day a 6hr cut-off.

Checkpoints will be set up every 10km to 15km, offering water and electrolytes.

Self-supported runners will have to carry their own food, sleeping mat, sleeping bag and other compulsory items for the entire seven days, while supported runners will have their food and bedding carried for them to the end of each stage.

They will still have to carry all compulsory gear and food for that day.

Each team will comprise up to four runners, and each member will carry the same as an individual.

The race’s origins go back to September 2016, when Mr Sandri took part in the Canyon to Canyon Ultra, a self-supported foot race covering about 280km over six gruelling days in testing conditions in the United States.

When talking to his fellow competitors, they queried him as to why there was no organised ultra race in New Zealand.

“I thought that was actually a pretty good question,” he said.

Mr Sandri believed the terrain from Aoraki Mt Cook to Oamaru would be perfect for such a race and, when he returned from the Canyon to Canyon event, he set his idea in motion.

More than a year later, everything is set to go.

The 126 athletes who will compete hail from 15 different countries with a split of about 50-50 between males and females. Just under half of the field is made up of athletes from New Zealand.

Mr Sandri, organising the event out of his business, Millennium Joinery, said all was in readiness for the start of the race.

“Things are looking pretty good, actually. We have got all of the boxes ticked.

“I went up twice to Mt Cook over the weekend to mark out all of the track and test the technical stuff and that all worked out, so that is a bit of a relief. We’ll go up again this weekend to mark out all of the farming properties we go across to make sure that’s all right too.”

He said organising the event had been a “massive” undertaking.

When the event starts, he will have the help of 30 volunteers to make sure it runs smoothly.

“Every one of them needs to be looked after as well. They need to be in the right place at the right time, especially the checkpoint people.

“We’ve got a checkpoint team, a road team, a course team, a camp team and a cooking team. Some of them will be working through the night, especially the course marking team.

“Plus, we have got about 130 runners that we are looking after.”

He has also organised race packs for competitors, and finishing medals, food and uniforms for his volunteers among numerous other aspects.

Mr Sandri said organising an event the size of the Alps 2 Ocean Ultra was not easy and admitted to feeling the pressure at times.

“There has been lots of sleepless nights. There’s been nights where I have been up at 2.30 in the morning to come down here and work .. to make sure we have got all of the t’s crossed and i’s dotted.

“We want to set a benchmark and make sure they go away telling people how good everything was. It’s all about delivering and making sure all of our people do their jobs and if they do, it’s going to be fantastic.”

He said the event would be memorable for all involved.

“I reckon it’s really special. I think it’s going to be really good for the town.

“On the Saturday morning when they leave for Mt Cook they will have a Maori blessing and the boys from Waitaki Boys’ High School are going to do a haka … it’s pretty special.”