The Alps 2 Ocean Ultra marathon was a dream that quickly became a reality for organiser Michael Sandri.
For each of the past three years, roughly 120 runners from 19 countries have lined up to take on the seven-stage 323km race from Aoraki/Mt Cook to Oamaru.
It has showcased the Waitaki district’s best scenery and hospitality to people from all over the world, catered for the elite athlete to the bucket-lister and, backed by a range of sponsors, donated thousands of dollars to the community.
Those were Sandri’s goals from the outset and, while he admitted there were some tears at the third and last Alps 2 Ocean Ultra prizegiving on Saturday, he felt a great sense of satisfaction.
“We’ve ticked all the boxes and made a lot of friends along the way who we won’t forget,” he said.
“The community support and for the race had been fantastic and I think we’ve really showcased Oamaru and what we’ve got to offer.”
It was now someone else’s time to think up another world-class event for the district, he said.
This year, 118 athletes started the race at Aoraki/Mt Cook on February 23. Only 98 crossed the finish line in Oamaru on Saturday.
“It was a brilliant week. Weather-wise it was one of the best weeks we’ve had as a race,” he said.
“We lost a few along the way, but there was a serious amount of grit and determination by those ones who did get to the end, that’s for sure.”
Many of the runners were returning for their third Alps 2 Ocean Ultra.
One of those was Alex Senior, of Blenheim. She was thrilled to be the last person to cross the finish line on Saturday, having been forced to withdraw at different stages of the race in 2018 and 19.
“She had tried for the last three years to finish the race, and finally this year she did it,” Sandri said.
“That was probably the biggest highlight, seeing Alex finish.”
But it was not just about the competitors, he said – more than 40 volunteers, including physiotherapists and doctors, gave up up to nine days for the event.
“They’re amazing – they pretty much put their hand up from one year to the next. I had to turn people away,” he said.
“They all do a fantastic job. It’s a big week, it’s massive.”
Having volunteered as the event’s doctor for the past two years, Dr Jon Scott had signed up to compete himself this year.
“At the last minute, I had to ask him to pull out of doing the run and come on as our doctor because things didn’t work out,” Sandri said.
“And he did. He said he was quite happy to give up the run himself and come in and help, which is an amazing sacrifice from him.
“We will find him a race. I said to him me, I’ll find you a race somewhere else and you can run yourself silly’.”
When there was support from other medical professionals, Scott ran some stages of the race, including the final stretch from Peaks Rd to Oamaru Harbour.
“He got a bit of both worlds, and we were really happy about that,” Sandri said.
After spending the past four years organising the race, Sandri said he was looking forward to taking a break.
“Everybody’s asking me ‘what’s next?’.
“To be perfectly honest, there’s nothing next – I’m going to chill out for the next few months, spend some time with my family.
“Then I might do some running races myself, or get the running shoes back on and go and do something that’s quite adventurous myself.”
The Alps 2 Ocean Ultra Community Trust was set up alongside the race, distributing profits into the Waitaki and Mackenzie communities, with a focus on youth initiatives.
“We need to think seriously about what we do there,” he said.