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Dreaming big . . . Yonni Kepes hopes one day to become a world-class ultra-trail runner. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

By Robyn Bristow

Yonni Kepes is one step closer to his dream of becoming a world-class ultra-trail runner.

At aged just 17, the Waipara athlete knows he has a long way to run yet to make that dream a reality, but a fantastic effort at the Taupo Ultramarathon 100km event, has shown he can foot it with the best.

Yonni became the youngest New Zealand to ever finish a 100km race, crossing the finish line in a time of 12 hours 10 minutes and 12 seconds, and taking out 16th place from a field of 110 runners, winning the under 20 section, of which he was the only competitor.

“This has been a goal of mine for a long time and to complete a distance event such as this at the age of 17, is a phenomenal effort,” he says.

And he is now looking forward to “pushing the boundaries of distance running as a young teenager”.

Yonni’s motivation is simply to “explore what a young body is capable of”‘ as the pundits believe it is not good for a young person to do such long distances.

The St Andrew’s student ran up to a 120km a week in preparation for the event and spent time in the mountains getting as “much elevation as possible”.

That equates to about 12 to 13 hours a week training which makes it reasonably hard to “balance with school”.

“I juggle and prioritise and I some how get through.”

Taupo was his first attempt at competitive long distance running. He had run an 85km event in February and says the 100km distance was a “nice step up” particularly being able to “tick off three figures”.

“There are some big races I would love to do in Europe and the United States but for now I will just get out there and race in New Zealand,” says Yonni.

Back home in Waipara he is deeply involved in his community.

He is a recruit volunteer firefighter and the deputy chair of the Hurunui Youth Council.

“It’s a bit of a tricky balance running around trying to do things. But it is awesome to be this involved with the community and making connections and networking.

“It is awesome as these things are so valuable in a community,” he says.

Yonni is now preparing for his NCEA exams in four weeks time, but “in amongst that” he has one last race to run for the year, a 25km run on Banks Peninsula.

A lot of the time he and his father race while his mum and younger brother watch on. He also pulls on his school singlet for shorter races and cross-country.