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Going the distance . . . Winners of last year's team race Alexandre Lucas (left) and Vincent Hulin, of France, run through the Mackenzie district, with Mt Cook in the background. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Following the success of the inaugural Alps 2 Ocean Ultra marathon last year, race director Mike Sandri says the pressure is on to deliver another world-class event next week.

The second running of the event starts on February 24, again from the base of Mt Cook, and covers 323km to Oamaru, following the Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail for much of the journey, with the addition of trails through private farmland.

Interest, especially international, has been strong for this year’s ultra marathon, and Sandri said overseas competitors made up almost two-thirds of the 120 entries.

New Zealand is well-represented, with 46 expected on the start line, including about 10 North Otago athletes, and Australia provides the largest number of offshore athletes for one country with 34.

There are nine competitors from the United States and Canada, and remaining competitors are from England, Scotland, Ireland, Brazil, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Tonga.

“Last year’s event had 126 amazing competitors from all over world along with 30 volunteers who spent seven days together, sharing some moments, emotions and experiences that will last forever – and we’re ready to do it all again this year,” Sandri said.

“It’s amazing how quickly a year has gone.”

Ultra running was a slightly crazy, but highly addictive world, he said.

“You’re all doing something pretty tough and you get to know each other pretty well as you’re together for a week surviving on limited sleep and food and if someone else cries you cry too,” he said.

“Last year there were tears, smiles, fears and there was uncertainty, anxiety and frustration but at the same time excitement. Every emotion you could ever think of was shared.”

Sandri, who has competed in ultra-running events around the world, knows better than anyone what the athletes go through. He will once again be at the start of every day and will greet every single person as they cross the finish line of each stage, often well into the evening.

He shares the excitement, heartaches and pain as each runner finishes every gruelling stage, and said he would love to compete in the race.

The success of last year’s event had seen even more local support from farmers who have opened up more access to land, meaning the course had changed slightly from last year.

“The local farmers have been great. They realise what we’re trying to do and that we are all donating our time and effort so it’s opened up opportunities to improve the course which is great,” Sandri said.

About 35 volunteers, including physio and medical support, would be helping out over the week-long race this year.

“I am really fortunate to have some absolutely dedicated and unbelievable people involved to help me run the event,” he said.

Sandri said it was because so many people gave up their time at no cost to the event, they could place a real focus on raising as much money as possible to put back into the local community.

“We’ve set up the Alps 2 Ocean Ultra Community Trust with the objective of benefiting the people of North Otago and the Mackenzie Country, with a particular emphasis on our youth,” he said.

The event has raised over $270,000 dollars – a result of which Sandri and his team are very proud.

The Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail had already benefited to the tune of $31,000 and another $25,000 had gone to support young local athletes.

“It is a real privilege to be able to support our community to help local children reach their goals,” he said.

“We plan to continue to make a difference in people’s lives just as all those who compete during race week do with many of them running for great causes and charities as well.”

Ultra-running was a very personal challenge, each runner had their own reasons for entering, and it was often a life-changing experience, Sandri said.

“There is without doubt an extreme element that is mental and physical in the Alps 2 Ocean Ultra,” he said.

“It’s not an easy race. It is hard but it is still achievable and I expect comments this year like I’ve never been so twisted in all my life.”

Alps 2 Ocean Ultra

February 24 – March 2

Stage 1: Mt Cook, 7km

Stage 2: Lake Pukaki, 50km

Stage 3: Lake Pukaki to Lake Middleton, 50km

Stage 4: Lake Middleton to Loch Laird, 88km

Stage 5: Loch Laird to Waitaki River, 45km

Stage 6: Kurow to Peaks Rd, 53.9km

Stage 7: Peaks Rd to Oamaru, 29km

Total: 323km