Vierdaagse – Nijmegen Marches
Come to Holland with me, to a lovely border town called Nijmegen, the oldest city in the Netherlands. ‘A city full of culture, sports, events, shopping, the River Waal and a varied countryside of hills, woods and polders that offers many opportunities for recreation!’ (Source:http://english.nijmegen.nl)
We will be there just in time for the biggest event in the city’s calendar; Nijmegen Marches. Four days where people line the streets in celebration of heritage and tradition. We will get to experience the city, the countryside and Dutch culture at it’s best. You really won’t want to miss this!
Don’t worry, I’ve got it all sorted, this is the plan…
For the 4 days we are there every morning we will get up at 3.30am to catch a bus into the city where we will meet up with a proportion of 46 thousand people. Then at about 4.15am we will head out of Nijmegen and walk in a big circle returning back to the town 50 km and (on average) 10 hours later. We have to register at checkpoints along the way to make sure we haven’t taken any shortcuts and we will eat only what we can collect from passing strangers such as apples, savoury biscuits and liquorice – lots of liquorice.
Once we have arrived back in Nijmegen we will wait for the bus back to the hotel. If we need to while we are waiting we can go and have the blisters on our feet popped and dressed (I know!).
Once we are back at the hotel we’ll head straight for a cold bath before putting on our flip flops (anything else would be torture to our feet) and shuffle down to the restaurant to force down a big bowl of ‘carbs’ which, even though we won’t have eaten a proper meal all day – and will have burnt off around 4000 calories – will be far too much effort. By 8pm each night we will crawl into bed trying to sleep with our legs vertical up the cold wall next to us in an attempt to relieve the ‘burning’ in our calves and because its the only way they feel remotely comfortable – while wondering how the hell they are going to get us though another day tomorrow.
But they will!
Oh and we will cry… a lot!
Now I know that probably sounds like your worst nightmare as far as holidays go. But keep reading..
Why I wish I was waking up in Nijmegen this morning!
Today, 19th July 2016, sees the first day of the 100th Vierdaagse*, the 4 day international marching event held in Nijmegen every year when 46,000 civilian and military individuals and teams get together to walk (or march) a different route of 30km, 40km or 50km each day for 4 consecutive days. There are some requirements on the routes you need to do to qualify for your medal, depending on your age and gender. Military teams do 40km in full kit including packs.
So, I sit here awake at 4.10am imagining all those people waiting on the start line to set off in the dark, while my Facebook ‘on this day’ app is reminding me of the excitement and apprehension I was feeling this time 7 years ago. All the messages of support from friends and family who I’m not sure could really comprehend what I was doing, let alone WHY!
To think it’s 7 years ago is crazy. If I’ve ever spoken to you about it you will know that I still feel every bit of emotion that built up over those 4 days. Most people are probably reading the first couple of paragraphs here and thinking it’s no wonder I cry every time I talk about it, but I will try and explain here a little about why it was so special to me.
Tradition and Emotion
Vierdaagse is a Nijmegen tradition. It sits firmly in the hearts of the locals and they are passionate about it and protective of it. I never knew my Dutch Grandad but am ery proud of my heritage which is one of the reasons I was drawn to this event. So yes, we set off at 4.15am every day and the streets were lined with local people. From that first day I can still see the family sat around their coffee table with table lamp, tea pot and plate of biscuits! The lady who called me over to give me an apple and the children excited at passing us sweets and collecting stickers from the soldiers. Around 1 million people will line the streets for the 4 days just to support the participants. Well, not just to support and cheer us on, but to encourage, motivate and congratulate us. To hand us food and water and on the last day flowers, or more specifically Gladioli. In Holland the Gladiolus with its sword like shape is thought to be a symbol of strength and victory, a reward for great achievement (source: 4daagse.nl). It’s clear to see the huge respect that the supporters have for the people taking part.
So, we have 50km to walk each day. This isn’t the required route for females but I decided if I was going out there I wanted to really challenge myself. What the charity I signed up with didn’t tell me is that I was the only person from the group doing this route, everyone else was doing 30km. So I set off each day, 2 hours before everyone else, to walk most of the 50km essentially on my own but chatted with lots of people along the way, including a man who was taking part for the twelfth time!
Viergaagse has a military background ad lots of military groups take part each year which definitely adds to the amazing atmosphere. I remember just walking alongside military teams as they chanted as this motivated me to keep going. One specific chant I don’t think I’ll ever get out of my head ‘Push.. push.. push a little harder’ made me associate the challenge at times with childbirth and occasionally made me consider which was less painful.
As an individual there is no requirement for completing each day in a specified time, however, if you’re not finished by a certain time (I think it was about 8pm) the ‘slag waggon’ picks you up! As a team you have to complete the 4 days together and 80% of your team have to complete the event otherwise nobody gets their medal.
Each day of the march takes in a different route through some beautiful towns, villages and countryside. The 30km route sticks mainly to the roads while the 50km route takes a detour through long country lanes where the roadside support is sparse and it can be quite lonely. 20km is a long way with only your own thoughts to keep you company and your own strength to keep you motivated. About 10km from the end the routes join together and all of a sudden with the masses of people, marching bands and celebration, you’re back at the party! At this point I usually met up with some of the other ladies taking part for the same charity and we’d walk the last section together. Unlike them I was fortunate not to have to visit the blister tent at all!
The Vierdaagse Kruis
Each day I arrived back to the hotel it got harder to get off the bus (especially down the steps!), harder to get in and out of the bath, harder to shuffle to the restaurant (although I did have a sports massage after dinner on the third day which was amazing!) and considerably harder to sleep comfortably. I didn’t, however, find it hard to get up each morning as I was there to complete the challenge and there was no way I was letting myself down despite the pain I was in by the end. I trained hard, really hard, for 6 months before but no amount of training can really prepare you for a physical and mental challenge like this one. There were times I sat and cried and let myself doubt for a few minutes that I could do it, or that it was all worth it, then picked myself up and got on with it. At the end of the last day I collected my hard earned medal – my Dutch royalty acclaimed medal!
I could never really explain all the individual things I saw and felt which made these 4 days so special. When i look back and think about the people I met, the little acts of kindness, the emotion and pride of the local people in the whole event, being able to be a part of my ancestors heritage, all made it an experience that I will treasure forever.
The best thing about it was that I learned so much about myself. Despite my years of work experience I could rip up my CV and write a better one based on what I learned doing Vierdaagse. I will tell you a little bit about this in my next blog and what my medal symbolises to me.
Unfortunately I can only imagine how special this 100th year event will be. But I’m looking forward to going back in 2018 (unless you want to come with me next year?)
Have I convinced you yet?
If you’re tempted to take part you can register your interest in joining us for Nijmegen Marches 2019.
You can find out more about Vierdaagse on their website.
Only by challenging ourselves do we really learn what we are capable of!
*The Dutch word Vierdaagse translates as 4 days (for obvious reasons) but over here we tend to refer to it as the Nijmegen marches. Well, when I say ‘we’ i mean the handful of people I’ve spoken to that have ever heard of it, until now!