"Where is the limit of human capability?"

March 21, 2024

That question Rob Plijnaar asked himself during his years as a runner. As co-owner of Hotel Mitland, he set creditable times as a marathon runner in addition to his work at the hotel from the age of 30, but really pushing the limit was not for him. Still, times well under three hours were no exception for him.

When he stopped running in 2008, he was given a book on "Extreme running" by his son Jort. It marked a turning point. Rob was captivated by the stories of running through the desert, in high mountains or on the Arctic cap. The reason for asking this question stems from what his parents experienced in World War II. It was not talked about much, but in the lives of father and mother Plijnaar, the limit of what a person can experience during that period was reached. Rob thought a lot about that question. So he sought the answer in running. And not without merit.

Ultra marathon
His first ultra marathon was in the Moroccan Sahara. In 2008, at the age of 57, the hotelier ran the Marathon des Sables. A race in five stages totaling 250 kilometers through the desert and with 15 kilos of pack. And that in extremely high temperatures of up to 53 degrees. Rob Plijnaar was captivated by ultra marathons. Logical question: had he touched the limit of human ability? "After the finish I was physically broken, of course, but I soon came to the conclusion that I had not reached that limit," Rob looks back. "I shifted gears quickly."

Requiem by Mozart
Because it could be even more extreme. Rob participated in the North Pole Marathon in 2009. At the 90th parallel, he ran a marathon "on the roof of the world" in temperatures that fluctuated between -30 and -47 degrees. Needless to say, the pace was a lot slower. Running on the ice went smoothly and in the final kilometers a euphoric feeling took hold of Rob. "I was listening to Mozart's Requiem in my headphones and yet I was in an absolute jubilant mood." Rob completed the North Pole marathon in six hours. And still he hadn't reached his limit. Then in 2010, Plijnaar ran through the driest and highest desert on earth, the Atacama Desert in Chile. In five stages, he would again walk 250 kilometers. "Now I did reach the limit of human ability. In the last stage, after 220 kilo meters, suddenly the battery was dead. I got out, but for me the mission was still
successful. Too bad those last 30 kilometers."

Measure full?
Anyone who would think that this was the measure of the day would be wrong. The Dutchman ran the Jungfrau marathon in Switzerland in 2011. It was his third marathon that year, after the 'regular' ones in Utrecht and Stockholm. But those mountains in the Swiss Alps are not really high, you see Rob Plijnaar thinking.

Race at 5000 meters altitude
After meticulous preparation, Rob will start in the Mount Everest Marathon in 2015. A race at an altitude of 5000 meters over the traditional distance of 42 kilometers and 195
meters. It is running, climbing and scrambling, ascending and descending. Plijnaar takes a good 10 hours. Rob formulated his new goal there: a marathon on every continent. "Wouldn't
wouldn't it be great if I, 65 years old, would be the first Dutchman on the International Grand Slam list?", he thought. So said, so done. In 2016, Plijnaar planned three marathons. He ran in Florida and did the Perth Marathon in Australia. The final event was the Antarctica Ice Marathon. "I then became the first Dutchman to join the select company of the Marathon Grand Slam Club. I had run marathons on all seven continents as well as the North Pole."

Last running meters
But even now Rob Plijnaar is not done. A year later, he runs the marathon on the Great Wall of China. In 2018, he also did the Jungle Marathon in Indonesia and during the Corona period in 2020, Rob organized his own run. This became the final event. He started by himself at 2,600 meters from Pradollano in the Sierra Nevada to Granada. It became his last running meters. As he swerve for a truck, his foot double folds and he falls. He does reach the finish line, but he decides it was just as well. He hangs up his running shoes. He has run enough.

Anyone who thinks Rob Plijnaar is now sitting behind the geraniums when he's not working for Hotel Mitland is dead wrong. "I like to keep moving, even now that I can no longer run due to a broken knee. That's why I bike daily." How much then? "Six days a week I cycle 60 kilometers!"

Read our Mitland Magazine here!

Click here