THE O'Keefe Rail Trail Marathon will grow considerably in its second year, with the inclusion of a new race distance and even a new sport.
Organisers outlined their expansion plans at an event launch at The Wellington hotel in White Hills on Thursday.
They include the addition of five cycling events to be staged the day before the marathon, growth to seven running events and a special 'meet the locals' participant dinner.
This year's marathon will offer a potentially world first opportunity for someone with limited mobility to complete the race in a world-leading all-terrain wheelchair.
The April 22-23 events will go ahead under the new branding of 'Run Cycle Walk and Roll - The O'Keefe'.
Event director Sandra Slatter said the event had been developed to be all-abilities and all-inclusive.
"It provides a wonderful new opportunity for participants, volunteers and their families to experience the beautiful environment between Bendigo and Heathcote, while embracing and encouraging a healthy lifestyle," she said.
Bike Bendigo committee member Garry Long said cyclists had taken to the O'Keefe Rail Trail with gusto and it was hoped the bike rides would broaden the appeal of an already top event.
"There will be a number of stages over the trail, catering for all types of rides, whether they are the elite sportspeople or families and children who want to do it for fun," he said.
"Riding from Junortoun for the longer distance people, to the shorter ones closer to Heathcote."
Distances will range from 70 kilometres and 40 kilometers, to shorter rides.
More than 550 athletes participated in last year's running events, with Athletics Bendigo general manager Craig Green hoping for a bigger turnout this year with the addition of a 26 kilometre event between Axedale and Heathcote to complement the existing marathon and half and quarter marathons.
A fun run and walk will be included on Saturday's program.
"We've had marathon entries already from New Zealand and all around Australia, which we did last year," he said.
"We've also had Kenyans trying to be invited to the race.
"We're hoping to increase the running numbers to about 800 - the cycling is a bit of an unknown, but there is a big cycling community that uses the O'Keefe."
With several distances on offer to participants, Green stressed the event was not aimed simply at serious runners.
"Particularly with the fun run it's going to be more inclusive of everyone in the community," he said.
"It's all about participation, which it always has be, with a real emphasis it on being a community event."
For entry and other details visit http://www.theokeefe.com.au/