The International Four Day Marches Nijmegen (or Vierdaagse) is the largest marching event in the world. It is organised every year in Nijmegen, Netherlands in mid-July as a means of promoting sport and exercise. Participants walk 30, 40 or 50 km daily depending on their age and gender, and, on completion, receive a royally approved medal (Vierdaagsekruis). The participants are mostly civilians, but there are also a few thousand military participants.
That’s what Wiki says.
What Wiki doesn’t say is how much fun it is walking 160km over four consecutive days in the company of 45,999 other walkers. Basically it’s a 160km party!
I arrived in Nijmegen on Sunday, giving me plenty of time to register at the start point and to have a wander around the town. My last Vierdaagse was in 2007 and the event is still as popular as ever – the whole town was buzzing. Vierdaagse is party time and the good folk of Nijmegen certainly know how to party!
Day 1, The Day of Elst
Each day is named after the largest town that the route passes through, today that town is Elst which is north of Nijmegen.
My allocated start time was 6am (the one in the morning) which meant leaving my accommodation on St Annastraat at around 5.30am, giving me plenty of time to get to the start point – and hopefully not be at the back of the queue.
I’m not sure if it was my alarm clock or the rain hammering against the window that woke me. Whatever it was, I rolled out of bed in a gloomy mood. The idea of walking 40km / 25 miles in heavy rain wasn’t very appealing. By the time I’d breakfasted and had my 2nd cup of coffee things were improving, at 5.50am the rain had stopped completely – and that was the last wet that I experienced for the rest of the walking week :-)
At 6am there was a loud cheer from the crowd as the walkers were scanned and sent on their way. Even at that time of the morning there were huge crowds of spectators, most of them seem to have been partying all night – as the week wore on some of their faces became quite familiar.
The Marches started in 1909 when most of the participants were military, today the military still have a high profile but their numbers have dwindled to around 5,000 – they come from all over the world.
It was good to meet up with some good mates from the Royal Marines, to say their company is entertaining is an understatement – their quick wit always has me in stitches. I first met this lot through motorcycling and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. Although this was a walk, this bunch of lunatics decided that running a couple of miles of the route might be a bit of a wheeze. I ran with them but that meant nothing – they were shod in full kit, including heavy boots AND they were carrying 10kg+ packs, I was carrying 3kg and was shod in running shoes. Quite barmy, the lot of them.
Day 2, The Day of Wijchen
A 5am start may sound like something out of a nightmare but it certainly wasn’t. The weather forecast for the rest of the week was hot and the idea of walking through the hottest part of each day didn’t appeal. So 5am it was, and by swapping my start times with other walkers I managed 5am starts for the rest of the week.
One for Alan
24.8km to go
I hooked up with The Irregulars – although I promised myself that I wouldn’t go drinking with them, I wanted to survive the week! The Irregulars had somehow arranged access to the military checkpoints for refreshments – very civilised!
Look who I found, East Lancs LDWA get everywhere!
Back to Nijmegen
Day 3, The Day of Groesbeek…
…and another 5am start:
I’d arranged to meet up with The Irregulars at 5am, but as an organised group they were rushed through the start and were away by 5am. I was an ‘also ran’ and had to queue, it was 5.20am by the time I got moving. I didn’t see them all that day.
Actual distance: 39.7km
Day 4, The day of Cuijk
My (successful) attempt to get through the start gate as early as possible in order to catch up with the Irregulars meant I had to be up and about at 3.30am :-(
The event is very much a 100 mile party, but the last day really is something – everyone is out for a good time, spectators and walkers alike:
How anyone can look so happy at such a ridiculous hour is beyond me!
The British Dutch Walking Fellowship (BDWF) and The Irregulars are somehow related and they tend to get involved in joint ventures such as Vierdaagse. This tie-up allows them various advantages, including access to the military checkpoints which offer food, drink, medical facilities. And toilets. There seem to be a number of groups affiliated to the BDWF. Members of the groups need to stick together on the walk to enjoy the advantages. Losing group members can be a headache for the group leaders, but not for this group:
Of all the towns and villages on the route, Linden is the most spectacular when it comes to doing spectacular….almost outdoing Nijmegen itself:
And that was only just over half-way through the day’s march, there was more to come.
Jean leading the Irregulars
The route had already crossed the River Maas once, now it was time to re-cross it. There was a slight technical problem: the absence of a bridge. The Dutch military came to the rescue, as they do each year, by constructing a temporary crossing. I wasn’t able to get a decent shot of the bridge so took the one below from the Vierdaagse website:
Above photograph from De Gelderlander
This photograph from http://www.nufoto.nl/tag/via%20gladiola/
Actual distance: 42.4km
Total distance for the week: 161.8km
101 miles in 4 days isn’t excessive – although 101 miles on tarmac takes it’s toll. I wore a fairly new pair of New Balance 854 running shoes with new Sorbothane Double-Strike Shockstoppers to quite literally cushion the blow. Other than being a bit knackered at the end of each day I didn’t suffer any adverse effects.
Some may sneer at a walk that’s mainly on tarmac and that the route is generally flat – but they’re generally the folk who haven’t taken part in Vierdaagse. It’s a huge amount of fun, ask anyone who’s taken part. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!
Next year is the 100th and I’m going to apply again. Numbers are limited to 46,000 and I suspect that the event will be over-subscribed, I’m just going to have to cross my fingers!
Me and the Mrs JJ (who didn’t take part in the event) flew from Manchester to Schiphol with KLM @ £76.00 each. We each took hand luggage (included in the ticket price) and one large case which cost around £14 extra.
Accommodation for Vierdaagse is available at reasonable cost but I wanted my own place. We rented a lovely house about a mile from the Nijmegen start / finish point at around £350 for the week. I rather hope that house is available next year.
A hire car + insurance cost £145. It’s quite practical to travel by train but a) Mrs JJ isn’t overly mobile so a car was almost essential, b) The cost of two train tickets, Schiphol > Nijmegen return, was the same as the car hire. The added convenience of having a car for the week made it a no-brainer – so a car it was.
The event itself costs around £60 to enter.
Training: not a lot. I put in half a dozen brisk 20 mile walks and some 10-14 mile run / walks in the 6-7 weeks before the event but that was about it. Interestingly I weighed myself before going to Holland and found that I weighed an unhealthy 13st. I wasn’t overly concerned, walking 101 miles in fairly quick time should shed a few pounds. Imagine my dismay when I returned home, I weighed 13st 3lbs! 6-8 weeks after the event I was down to 12st 6lbs. You tell me!
Walking pace: Quite variable. I averaged around 2.95mph, finishing each day in around 8hrs 30mins – including rest stops.
Food & drink: Butties, water and 500ml of SIS drink each day. There’s loads of food available en-route – that’s probably why I gained 3lbs in the week!
Clothing: obviously depends on the weather. I wore shorts & a wicking T shirt each day. A sun hat was needed this year, the weather was glorious. I wore running shoes with new sorbothane Shockstoppers on my feet. A carried a windproof and a very light waterproof, just in case.
That’s about it. I had a cracking week, met up with lots of old friends, enjoyed Dutch hospitality and I didn’t drink too much beer at all. Although Mrs JJ came along she wasn’t able to get out much although she sat out at the front of ‘our’ house on the last day and really enjoyed the spectacle of 46,000 lunatic walkers, all wearing manic grins, marching to the finish line.
That’s it until 2016 then.