Interview with the ultra-runner and athlete Jan Fokke Oosterhof
1. What are you doing? Who are you? What did you do in your life?
I am Jan Fokke Oosterhof. I just turned 43 and I am an entrepreneur since I was 18 years old. I started my first business during my studies, a consultancy company. After finishing my studies Business Economics I went on a trip to Asia. When I returned I worked for a ‘boss’ in a conference company as a conference manager. It was my one and only time working for an employer. It lasted about 8 months and ended with me starting my own successful events company.
At the moment my business consists of participating in and organising extreme sports expeditions to desolate parts of the planet. I look for sponsors, write books, take pictures, produce vlogs and I am a public speaker.
2. Can you tell us your sports background?
I have participated in diverse expeditions: polar expeditions, the Stand-Up Paddle 11 cities tour in Holland (200k), the skating 11 cities tour in Austria (200k), the Salomon4trails (crossing the Alps in 4 marathons), climbing summits in Morocco (>4.000m) and over 900 running races. I also organised expeditions for people with disabilities to make a statement and show the world that they are abler than you might expect.
3. How did you decide to run the Marathon des Sables?
Since my mother died too early in 2006, due to the consequences of cancer, I decided to try and realize my dreams. Not delaying any longer and not becoming a victim of postponed happiness.
A lifelong dream for me is the Marathon des Sables alias the Toughest Footrace on Earth. I saw this race the first time on Eurosport when I was only 9 years old. I thought about running the Sahara in the midst of camels, sand dunes and scorpions. This was my race to be, where the men are separated from the boys. This year I found a sponsor in the company ALLSAFE Mini Opslag supporting me and giving me the (financial) opportunity to participate.
The 33rd Marathon des Sables (6 – 16th April) is a foot race, open to runners and walkers, with several stages, freestyle, and with food self-sufficiency over a distance of about 250 Km. Each participant must carry his/her own backpack containing food, sleeping gear and other material. This year the longest stage was 86,2 kilometres, consisting of 60k’s of the finest sand you’ll ever see. It took me over 20 hours to complete the stage. I finished the race and am currently in my best shape ever.
4. For how long and how did you prepare for this extreme adventure?
I found my sponsor in November, so I have only been training for 4 months. I ran a marathon/ ultra every week, during several weeks. I also tried to participate in two sessions of boot camp each week to work on my core stability. To prepare myself mentally I ran a pilgrimage trail of 136k non-stop around my city, on a very cold day with 10 kilos of gear. This was to be my longest and most challenging training session.
I also prepared my gear meticulously, weighing everything and skipping every gram of (extra)weight. It took me months to prepare the lightest possible race pack of 8,5 kilos. This included a sleeping bag (349 grams), a mat (49 grams), over 20.000 kcal, extra set of clothing, medical kit and cooking set.
5. How do you feel about insect protein? Did you notice a difference in your sports performance?
Every day I survived on a meal shake for breakfast (750kcal), an expedition meal for dinner (1.000kcal) and over 500kcal of sports drinks (powder). In the end, this wasn’t sufficient. Now and then I needed a ‘bite’, the feeling of something in my stomach, the extra bit of fuel needed to push it through (and over) the limits. This was especially the case during the long stage of 86,2 k’s when I started to feel really faint after 18 hours of non-stop running. The Jimini’s energy bars with insects gave me the extra bite and incentive to push through the darkness of the Sahara. I found them tasteful and so did my colleagues. They were astonished not to find any ‘cricket body parts’ between their teeth.
I sincerely hope to have shown people that you can run the toughest footrace on earth by consuming insects. There is nothing ‘strange’ about it and there is no excuse not to try. It concerns high-quality performance products.
6. What is your biggest sports pride?
My finish in the Marathon des Sables alias toughest footrace on earth. It is a very complex race due to circumstances, heat, self-sufficiency, gear, altitude and sandstorms. In many cases, it has been compared with organizing a polar expedition due to its complexity.
My 2007 Greenland Polar Expedition of just under a month is a distant second. I ended up in a gigantic storm, all my communication gear (sat phone, BGAN satellite beacon, Toughbook and batteries) was frozen and we were not able to make contact. It made me end up in the top 25 adventurers of all times according to Dutch broadcaster SBS6. Moreover, I made a documentary about the expedition and it won an international film festival in Ireland in the category multisport: Category of adventurers and explorers that defies being categorised, for those who don’t know the meaning of stop, end, rest – these tireless maniacs are a rare breed indeed…
7. Are you conscious about the food impact on our planet? How do you act daily to reduce it?
Yes, I am! I try to eat less meat. I burn lots of calories during my extreme runs and expeditions. Sometimes my body aches and shouts for meat. Most of the times, however, I try to stick to fish and since becoming a Jimini’s ambassador I migrate to eating insects. I am more conscious of my intake.
I am also the initiator of the Green Runner Movement. I collect one piece of litter during each training run and I hope to inspire thousands of runners to do the same. Together we can clean the world. In Holland, I am a figurehead in my city Nijmegen where we try to inspire all inhabitants to collect one piece of litter on the 21st of June, the longest day of the year. Together we will clean the entire city.
8. What is your daily routine before a run?
I try to relax. During The Marathon des Sables, I was the one and only runner reading a book, lying on my backpack. About running off course😉 It attracted cameramen of several broadcasters because I seemed to be cool (inside I was boiling from exhilaration). How can you not be flabbergasted when starting under hoovering choppers with camera’s sticking out of them accompanied by the sounds of AC/DC’s Highway to Hell…
9. What do you think during a run?
I think about the first lovely, tasty, sweet and bitter beer after finishing. And the ones after that…
10. With whom do you dream to grab a grub?
Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the biggest adventurer alive, my icon and inspiration. His autobiography has the notorious title ‘Mad, bad and dangerous to know…’
Just behind him, my lovely and supporting girlfriend Iris😉
11. What is your next run?
Stubaier ultra trail, 63,1 k, > 5.000m climbing
12. A song that gives you the cricket power?
Cypress Hill, insane in the brain