Running a marathon used to be the ultimate goal for many. Not any more. These days more and more people are lining up to run ultramarathons, pushing their bodies to the extreme. Ahead of next month's Tarawera Ultramarathon Rebecca Malcolm finds out what pushes people to take part - and why the event has been such a success.
Mike Leopard used to think that if he could run 10km he would be "really fit".
He didn't know of anyone who'd done half marathons or marathons, much less the idea of an ultramarathon, but knew that in the army you had to run 10km and therefore that was really fit.
Six or seven years ago it was a lofty goal. He couldn't run 1.5km without stopping.
So it seems quite astonishing that the 30-year-old will next week line up to run 100km as part of the Tarawera Ultramarathon.
What used to be reserved for the most elite of athletes, these days the ultramarathon attracts its limit of 1000 participants lining up to run one of three course distances from 60km through to the pinnacle 100km race.
It is so popular there is a waiting list and participants are turned away.
While a small number are out for podium finishes, most, like Mike, are "normal" people balancing work, family life with two pre-school girls, and everyday life with his all mighty challenge.
Not always a runner, Mike was inspired to take up running by his wife Sophie.
His first runs were all of about 1.5km and back then he had to do it in bursts of running with walking.
"I just kept going. I didn't really have a goal."
By 2008 he had run his first half marathon, and in 2012 he completed his first marathon - "I didn't think I would ever make it".
Last year he ran 72km as part of the cyclone-affected Tarawera Ultramarathon and this year he has the 100km finish line at Kawerau in his sights.
Watching the finishers last year is what inspired him to give the 100km option a crack - but he's under no illusion it's going to be easy.
At the end of the 72km last year he couldn't even take his shoes off, he was so sore. He could barely walk up the stairs at the celebratory dinner. And he knows this year is going to be longer still.
"For me the heat, nutrition and hydration is going to be really hard. It's a real mental battle."
He admits plenty of people have dubbed him crazy for taking on such a challenge. In December, he ran more than 400km training for the event. The toughest part, he says, has been weighing up injuries with training.
"It's pushing the body harder than you have before."
His main goal is to just finish - but he admits he'd love to go under 13 hours.
Likewise for Lee Alexander, the challenge of the 100km is what lured her to take part.
She initially registered for the 60km distance, but within weeks decided that wasn't enough of a challenge and upgraded to tackle the full 100km. "It's really out of your comfort zone. I thought I may as well go the whole hog."
Lee mulls over whether it's extreme before deciding that it probably is.
"It's nice to have a challenge. This is the first time I've ever run a distance like that. I did a 50km in November and prior to that seven marathons and a couple of half ironman events."
She became hooked on the idea of running the event after relocating to Rotorua.
What she hopes will keep her going is that finish line.
"It is going to be wonderful. I want a hug, my medal and a beer. It's going to be amazing."
Seeing ordinary people such as Mike and Lee achieve this momentous challenge is what inspires race founder Paul Charteris to deliver the race year after year.
Now firmly established in the ever-growing ultra-running scene, the event was one of the early ones in New Zealand.
Paul came up with the idea after returning to New Zealand from the United States, where the scene was "exploding".
The first year, 2007, it attracted just 67 entrants - all but one of those from New Zealand.
Each year it's grown by at least 30 per cent with 1000 individuals lining up this year and a waiting list of about 200 people turned away.
This year 380 of the competitors are international, representing more than 30 countries.
And this year will also be different for Paul, who will be joining the other runners at the start line to tackle the 100km beast.
While he always dreamed of running the race, he didn't ever imagine he'd get the chance - at least not in the first 10 years.
But last year race director Tim Day stepped up at prize giving and offered to take over the logistics of race day if Paul fronted up to compete.
Put on the spot in front of hundreds of competitors, there was no backing out.
Paul says those he'll be lining up against fall into one of three categories - elite athletes after a podium spot make up just a handful, followed by those who have done an ultra before and are aiming for a personal best.
The third category, and a group he has always greatly admired, are those who are stepping up for the first time and are terrified by the task ahead of them.
"A lot of the people, probably the majority, are sitting in an office job, they want a challenge and an adventure. A road marathon will prove a challenge but this provides that adventure. They've looked forward to this for eight months."
To finish something like this, he says, is life changing.
"They will probably go through hell and back. They'll be wondering will my body hold up, will this injury come right, will it be too hot. It's a really big sense of fear of the unknown."
He knows for many competitors about now the event will be the first thing they think about in the morning and the last thing they think about before going to bed.
"It's amazing how an event like this can consume your life."
Seeing them cross the finish line and break down crying is something he rates as the most special part.
"It's something they genuinely did not no they could finish. It's really special."
As for Paul, he's hoping his intimate knowledge of the course could be a benefit.
"I can break the course down into 500m segments."
"One of the reasons I put it on in the first places is that it is a run I genuinely wanted to do myself. I just didn't ever think I would get to do it in the first ten years."
He knows this year's race will be completely different when he lines up along side the runners.
"It's going to be pretty emotional at the start line."
While he's normally tied up with logistics, this year it will boil down to very simple things - "move, eat, drink, try not to overheat".
He hopes he can drop his organiser's hat and focus simply on racing, not getting distracted along the way if an aid station isn't quite right.
"I'll just be in my own world."
But he knows that at the finish line, he's going to experience first hand that pure elation he's seen so much of over the past few years.
TARAWERA ULTRAMARATHON: THE LOWDOWN
Saturday, February 7
- Starts at the Redwood Visitor Centre, Long Mile Rd, finishing at Firmin Park down by the river in Kawerau
- 60km, 85km, and 100km options, plus two and four person relay options in the 85km
- More than 1000 runners
- More than 300 international runners representing more than 30 countries