Just before 6:30 this morning across New Zealand, keen mountain runners sat around on their laptops watching a countdown screen on the Kepler Challenge website turn into an "entry button".

"A smidge over" two minutes later, the event was sold out.

The mountain race, which takes place every year on the first Saturday of December, is no small feat: the main event sees entrants run the entire 60km of the Kepler Track - one of New Zealand's Great Walks that usually takes trampers three to four days to complete.

The event sells out every year, which is why so many people set their alarms for early in the morning, after exchanging tips online on the best way to ensure an entry. However, it had never sold out this quickly.

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The race also includes the Luxmore Grunt, a 27km race up and down the mountain to Luxmore Hut.

The "Grunt", as the shorter race is lovingly known, sold out in four minutes.

The 20 charity spots that go on sale for $1000 before general entries open have also been snapped up in record time. All the money from those charity spots is donated to local Te Anau charities.

With global travel restrictions still in place and hospitality and tourism businesses struggling without tourists, race organisers are stoked to have New Zealanders so eager to back the race and visit Te Anau for it.

Despite current border closures, some overseas runners entered the event hopeful for a Transtasman bubble by the time the race takes place in December.

The current Kepler Challenge entry list includes five people from the US, two from the UK and 20 from Australia.

"Well at least this year the 3.40am wake was worth it, first time Kepler. Now just need to keep [fingers crossed] we can actually get there from Darwin," one person commented.

So - Who will be running up Mt Luxmore in December with us? How did you all get on? Space sold out VERY QUICKLY this morning (around 4 minutes) πŸƒβ€β™‚οΈπŸ‘πŸƒβ€β™€οΈπŸƒβ€β™‚οΈπŸ‘πŸƒβ€β™€οΈπŸƒβ€β™‚οΈπŸ‘πŸƒβ€β™€οΈ

Posted by Kepler Challenge and Luxmore Grunt Mountain Run on Friday, 3 July 2020

Steve Norris, Chair and Race Director of the Kepler Challenge, told the Herald the team is excited to be welcoming everyone into the event.

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"Initially we wondered if it'd have the same uptake this year as it does in other years but it sort of makes sense that it did, people want something to focus on," he said.

Still, the organising team did not expect the race to sell out in record time.

With 15 to 20 per cent of entrants usually coming from overseas, Norris is glad to see New Zealand runners keen enter the challenge and make up for the lack of international entrants.

"The race is always a big deal for Te Anau but more so this year," he said. Norris says the benefits of the race in the town will be even more noticeable, "more like it was 10 or 15 years ago".

He hopes both runners and supporters who travel from across New Zealand for the race use it as an excuse to have a South Island holiday.

"Hopefully people plan a South Island holiday around the Kepler Challenge this year. Normally they fly in on Friday and out on Sunday but it'd be really good if they stayed on a week, not just in Te Anau but in the South Island," he suggested.

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Hundreds of hopeful runners on the waitlist - what are their chances?

Aspiring entrants who missed out on an entry this morning could still put their name on the waitlist, which always guarantees a few spots, as circumstances change for entrants and some drop out between July and race day in December.

"I won the grunt a few years back. I was over 100 on the waitlist and got my start the week before so don't worry too much. Train like you're in," one runner wrote on Facebook.

Norris said the organisers closed the waitlist at 489 athletes as "there is no point having 1000 people on the waitlist.

The race director says that judging by previous years, the first 100 people on the waitlist should start training for the race as they are likely to get a spot in.

The Kepler Challenge has a limited capacity of 450 people for the full 60km race and 200 for the Luxmore Grunt.

The local Trails Trust also puts on a fun run in town on the day which a lot of supporters enter while the runners are out on the trail for a big part of the day.

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The race is one of the most popular events in New Zealand's trail running calendar. This year will be its 33rd edition.