This is an endurance event quite unlike any other. As a local, being born and raised in the area I first took part in the event twenty-two years ago and until this year I hadn’t done it again. This year is a particularly special event however as it marks the 100th Four Day Marches (Nijmegen marches). The history is well documented on the website however for locals it takes on a whole new meaning.
This area, my area, was the centre-point of Operation Market Garden during WW2. My own parents hid two English pilots under their floorboards from German searches and during the Operation the sky was filled with paratroopers and gliders, quite the sight. It was a fierce time for our country and this area especially which is why there are so many monuments, memorials, museums and more to document the history of the time.
Being the 100th event an extra option was added, that being the ability to choose a new 55k route which was previously not offered. There have been a lot of additional extras throughout the four days (this time) that I didn’t experience that first time however it is the community participation, the local celebration and the amazing atmosphere that makes this event absolutely unique. If you are a local you really do need to take part at least one, to earn your stripes as such. You’ll never regret that you did.
Being local I had the fabulous opportunity to see and visit with friends and family during the event who would walk alongside me for a time. His Royal Majesty King Willem-Alexander himself walked alongside participants for a time in Cuijk, along and over the famous Pontoon Bridge.
It was truly amazing to be able to match my love of the endurance event with seeing family and catching up with people I hadn’t seen for a while. Indeed, it seems the whole area became family as doors were open to everyone if you needed a toilet break, there were people cheering you on around the clock (even as early as 5am), sweets, fruit, food, water; anything we could want or need was offered by the great people I encountered throughout the four days.
Each and every village takes part and there seems to be an on-going friendly competition where everyone tries to out-do the other villages! There are flags, banners, posters, bands, music, shouting, laughter and so much more. It really is like a four-day festival with everyone in the community taking part and many people having taken the time off work.
During the last 10km thousands of people line the streets, cheering you on, waving flags and banners, hosepipes and more! Finishing is quite a euphoric experience and to have everyone, from complete strangers to dear friends patting you on the back (and bringing you a celebratory beer) is the icing on the cake.
The event itself ran from around 5am to 5pm each day, giving us twelve hours to complete our daily distances. Most nights I got no more than 3 hours of sleep. Some enjoyed the ongoing partying too much, making the next day very tiring or even impossible.
The weather was extreme, to say the least with temperatures of thirty and thirty-two degrees on the first two days mixed in with fierce thunderstorms and downpours. It was certainly a mish-mash of weather conditions which contributed to the average dropout rate of 5% being doubled to 10%. Despite not being someone who suffers from blisters the adverse weather conditions caught me out on the first day and so while I taped up and forged ahead today I am walking as if I have high heels on, despite the rest of my body having recovered completely!
50,000 people are permitted to take part in the four-day event however millions of people turned out to support those taking part and to celebrate the essence of the event, to remember the history and to enjoy the community atmosphere which really can’t be adequately explained in words alone.
Preparing yourself for an endurance event is something I’ve written about recently (re the Rat Race: The Wall) which might be interesting for those of you thinking about taking part in such an event. As for this particular event, nothing can adequately prepare you for the magic.