An unforgettable school trip nearly 30 years ago set Olivier Lacoua on a fitness journey with a difference.
Then aged 18, the Frenchman suffered burns to 3 per cent of his body after a pan of hot milk was accidentally spilled on him during a school trip to Spain.
"Red Cross came very quickly to help me, they took me to hospital and then flew me back to France. They were so kind and reassuring.
"After emigrating to New Zealand and realising I was able to run marathons very well, I decided to put a target on my running and a charity behind it. It was natural for me to choose Red Cross."
The 45-year-old Wellington general manager plans to run 100 marathons, culminating with the Marathon de Paris in 2020.
"I have set a goal to raise $26,200 for the Red Cross - from the 26.2 miles that is a marathon. For the past four years, I have run between 10 and 12 marathons a year, but I have to slow down because I will reach my goal too soon. My wife is happy with this because I don't see her very often," he laughs. "I am trying to send a message to people around me: if you have your legs, if you have good health, please go out there and do something to help in your community. Adding a charity to your exercise adds a different dimension to it."
Lacoua has run a variety of courses and distances both on and off-road, including the Ultra-Trail Australia and Tarawera Ultramarathon. As he heads south for tomorrow's Christchurch Marathon, his focus is on the next big challenge, Marathon des Sables - a 250km six-day stage race across the Sahara Desert.
"I am taking advice from people like Lisa Tamati who have done the race before. You cannot train for those conditions - no matter what you do, you simply cannot replicate that environment, you just have to do what you can. I already have my race-specific gear. I know that more than anything it is very important to look after the feet and I am practising running on sand.
"At UTA a few weeks ago, I reached checkpoint three and was very tired. I thought: how am I going to finish this race? But I am a very determined guy. I was conscious that I needed to give my supporters, sponsors and Red Cross the confidence that I could finish the race, so that they will believe I can finish Marathon des Sables. UTA was the hardest race I have ever done, but I finished," he said.
Lacoua finds time in his busy work and training schedule to volunteer with the Achilles Foundation, guiding disabled athletes at mainstream events.
"I guided blind athlete Hannah Pascoe to run the Queenstown Marathon in 2015, and in July, I will guide another blind athlete, David Piper, over a 20km section of the WUU2K ultramarathon. The Achilles athletes amaze me that they do so much.
"It is a strong message that if you have your health, you must do something with it - you don't know what could happen to you. And you don't know when you might need Red Cross. Cyclones, earthquakes, accidents - all over the world, they are always there."
Christchurch Airport Marathon
For more information: www.christchurchmarathon.co.nz