Every time Mike Sandri watches The Last Ultra, he gets a lump in his throat.
The short film about the last Alps 2 Ocean Ultra marathon premiered at a function on Monday night to thank volunteers, landowners and sponsors, and marked the end of the event and four years of hard work for Mr Sandri.
For each of the past three years, roughly 125 runners from 29 countries have lined up to take on the seven-stage 323km race from Aoraki Mt Cook to Oamaru.
But the third Alps 2 Ocean Ultra, held in February and March this year, was also the last.
The decision to draw the final curtain down was not taken lightly and it had been hard for Mr Sandri to “let go” of the event.
“I’ve really struggled over the last few months,” he said.
“It’s been four years in the making and we just wanted to finish on a high.
“I knew this moment would come .. and I’m just really thankful for the people who are in my life and that have helped make that possible.”
The Alps 2 Ocean Ultra was a dream that quickly became a reality for Mr Sandri, who has competed in several ultra-running events overseas.
He first pitched the idea more than four years ago and said he did not struggle to find volunteers.
“It was quite an exciting thing for our little town,” he said.
“Within a week or so, everybody was putting their hands up to volunteer.
“We’d put a feeler out to some people who I’d run with overseas and said would you come to a race if I organised it?’ and everybody said mandate was there to keep pressing forward on it.”
Mr Sandri, Linton Clarke and John Crombie formed the core group of organisers, and they set out with three goals – to create a race with plenty of heart, to bring people to Waitaki and to raise some money for the community.
They ticked all three boxes.
The race 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, raised almost $700,000 for the community.
“I guess the biggest thing is everybody has done it for nothing, apart from helping their community,” Mr Sandri said.
Raising money was “probably the least important goal”, he said.
“But we did it that well. It’s really hard to know what to do with [the money],” he said.
The Alps 2 Ocean Ultra Community Trust had already dished out about $160,000 to individual athletes, schools, sports clubs, community groups and organisations. That included $75,000 to the Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail.
“That was a commitment we made right from the very start, that we would give $25,000 each year back to the trail to help with maintenance and ongoing development,” Mr Sandri said.
But more than $500,000 still sits in the trust’s bank account.
“We’ll get together shortly and decide what we’re doing – it’s a lot of money and we need to make sure we do the right thing.”
Options being considered included continuing to donate money out in smaller amounts, funding a big project in the community, or investing it in a way that could generate funds to be invested into the community into the future.
Whatever option the trust chose, the money would do a lot of good in the community, Mr Sandri said.
Organising the race over the past four years had been a lot of work, but also a lot of fun, he said.
“The first year was massive, absolutely massive – it was just 24 hours a day, thinking about it all the time,” he said.
“As we grew as a team throughout the years, we grew in confidence and we started having lot more fun.
“We got better and better and better as the years went on.”
The overwhelmingly positive feedback from runners every year had made it worth it.
“It’s amazing the amount of letters, emails and messages you get sent thanking us for what we did as a race,” she said.
“For some of them, it was life-changing.”
Ultra-runners all ran for different reasons, Mr Sandri said. But the Alps 2 Ocean Ultra bound them all together as they shared the excitement, heartaches and pain of every stage, and then got up the next day to do it all over again.
“They become a group of people who want each other to get to the end,” he said.
“And if you don’t get to the finish line, it doesn’t really matter. It’s what you get out of the whole lesson, or the whole journey that you’ve been on.”
It was now someone else’s time to think up another world-class event for the district, he said.
“I guess everything starts from a bit of a thought, or a dream – and if you’ve got a drive and you want to do something, you go and do it.
“Just go for it.”