This is how the Offroad Finnmark participant is

Tor Oskar Thomassen has cycled all editions of Offroad Finnmark since 2008, he has researched the participants and he is Olympiatoppen’s expert resource on endurance, testing and sports psychology. In this interview, we got Tor Oskar to do a deep dive into the Offroad Finnmark participant.

Those who know Tor Oskar Thomassen know that when it comes to sports, training and exercise, he is an enormous capacity, with both experience and education far beyond the ordinary. With 13 finisher jerseys, he is also one of the real OF veterans.

This summer, Tor Oskar will ride with Håvard Klemetsen from Kautokeino. Klemetsen is a former combined athlete, with both Olympic and World Cup gold in the lavvoen. Now the two colleagues are in the Olympiatoppen. Klemetsen has recently been employed as head of the Northern Norway department, while Thomassen is Olympiatoppen’s professional resource on endurance, testing and sports psychology.

For many years at UiT, Tor Oskar has researched the participants in Offroad Finnmark. We asked a few questions about the participants – who exactly are these madmen who almost dedicate their lives to a bicycle race on the Finnmarksvidda?

What characterizes the participants in Offroad Finnmark?
– The participants are a complex group. Let’s look at the different segments:

Youth class cycling 50 km:
– The participants are athletes who have cycled quite a bit and are well trained, versatile and who also do other sports.

– There are also several young riders who want to try their hand at a day trip that lasts from 8-12 hours. Several “well-grown” athletes also do this distance because they are new to mountain biking. They want to see if they manage this intermediate goal on the way to trying their hand at 300 km and eventually 700 km. A positive feature is that the proportion of women has increased considerably after OF150 was introduced in 2016. In 2010, only a total of 3 women participated in OF, in 2014 23 women, while in 2019 there had been an increase to 78 female participants.

– The participants who line up in the OF300 and 700 have spent time building up physically to withstand the great strain of riding such extreme races. On the OF300 distance, you have to ford streams and rivers, long steep downhills, absorbent bogs and rocky ATV tracks, and not least climb a total of 7,000-8,000 metres. In OF700 it can be up to 14-15,000 meters in altitude. Several years of training on the bicycle seat is a prerequisite for those who climb to the top of the podium, whether it is in the men’s class, the women’s class or the mixed class. They are top performers in their sport, says Thomassen.

The exercisers:
– Then there are all the exercisers, several aged 40-60, who for various reasons have set themselves the goal of completing OF. There may be people who have been former athletes, and there may be people who have never had a sports career. The inspiration comes because a friend, work colleague or family member has shown the way. We are happy to see that there can be several participants from the same company, or that father-son, father-daughter, mother-son or spouses participate. The inspiration also comes because OF has been skilled at marketing the event both locally and across the country.

Tor Oskar Thomassen tells in this interview what characterizes the participants in Offroad Finnmark. (Photo: Jon Vidar Bull)

Why do some participate year after year?
– We see many of the riders on the participant list year after year. They are “bitten by the bug”. There are often athletes who maintain a high level of training throughout the year by participating in other endurance competitions. They are year-round cyclists with the use of fat bikes in winter, where they have the opportunity to train outdoors in scenic surroundings, and where they also participate in competitions. But there are also several of these who are keen participants in other endurance sports such as running and cross-country skiing.

– These athletes are internally motivated, they have taken ownership of their project, and they like to train regularly. The training is a way of life and has become a good habit that they are unable to put aside. They often talk about the strong joy of being out in the wonderful nature and experiencing togetherness and belonging in a nice environment. Being able to cycle the “inner fillet” of Finnmarksvidda in the midnight sun makes an impression on everyone. Being welcomed on the pedestrian street in Alta, regardless of the time of day, with people cheering, also has a lot to say. In addition to all the great experiences of arriving at a checkpoint and being welcomed with cheering squads, good food and service from all the volunteers, he says.

– They are also keen to set themselves new goals, whether it is to cycle the longest distance of 700 km, or to improve the time of 300 km. They also report on the joy of being able to cycle in technically demanding terrain where mastering new bends, crossing streams or setting off on difficult descents provides additional challenges. Then there is also something about the “total package” OF that makes it look back to something that has made a strong impression. Some of the top performers have said it so strongly that there is a life before and after OF.

Christel Heitmann and Kariana Kroken
Christel Heitmann and Karina Kroken in good spirits during preparations for this year’s race. The two friends are in many ways a good example of what Offroad Finnmark means to both public health and friendship. (Photo: Anders Abrahamsen)

What do you think Offroad Finnmark means to someone who participates year after year?
– See what is mentioned under the previous question. It means a lot for daily training all year round. They have a very concrete goal to train towards, and they know that it starts to tingle when OF approaches. For quite a few people, it has led to a new lifestyle from a sedentary existence to an active life. They cycle to work, one arranges trips with girlfriends or friends for longer training trips at weekends, and one meets to plan next year’s OF participation. More people are interested in more systematic training, they read up on training and testing, and they want to come to UIT’s test lab to carry out regular tests on their physical fitness, says Tor Oskar.

– The fat bike trails are maintained by the fact that there have been many people who take part in voluntary work to keep the trails up through a long winter. The fat bike trails in the Alta area have been used a lot in recent years, and there is even cycling on the plateau on Skareføre well into the month of May. OF has meant that work colleagues get more to talk about at work. Families become more united because several/everyone in the family can cycle together on training rides. There are also examples of people with injuries, illness or disability having a much better life by exercising regularly towards new goals.

What has Offroad Finnmark meant for public health in the Alta region?
OF is important for public health. There are approximately 400 participants in recent years who have taken part in OF. For many of these, it has led to a much more active life, with regular training all year round. Cycling to work and longer trips at weekends have become more and more common. When the physical form is improved, this will be preventive for a number of lifestyle diseases such as cardiovascular problems, diabetes and various forms of cancer. One thing is that the physical level has improved, another is the psychosocial factors. Better physical shape gives more endurance and concentration at work, generally better mood and joy of life, and you perform more at work. Research into the importance of being physically active in nature has also shown several positive effects on mental health, he states.

How do you explain that many people in the same company or family ride Offroad Finnmark?
– The explanation is linked to the social elements. We humans seek belonging and contact with like-minded people. People who are interested in the same thing search together and the experiences are often stronger when they can be shared with others, whether they are work colleagues or family members such as spouses, father-daughter, mother-son, etc. OF also encourages companies to provide as many as possible, and attention is paid to those who provide, for example, 3 generations in the same family, as we have seen examples of.

Tell us a little more about what the nature experiences mean to the participants?
– The nature experience is a moment in itself. Through experiencing forested valleys, streams, rivers, crystal clear water, sunsets and long expanses, it makes an impression on everyone. In nature, our senses are stimulated extra, they open up for more holistic influences physically and mentally. Feeling of happiness is strongly present One of the winners in OF700km told after the race how he asked himself the question along the way: “Why am I doing this? Of course it’s the mighty nature – that’s why I do it,” concludes Tor Oskar Thomassen.

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