|Nijmegen Vierdaagse - the King of Walks|
|Part 1: About the 4-Days Walk|
I was one of the 36,809 walkers from 57 countries to start the 83rd Four Days March in Nijmegen, the Netherlands on July 20, 1999.
I was not one of the 33,234 who finished four days later. But my days in Nijmegen will be my supreme walking memories for years to come.
Photos © Wendy Bumgardner
The minimum entry age is 12, but there is no maximum and walkers aged 90 are not unknown For comparison, a marathon distance is 42 kilometers, meaning that participants must complete a marathon each day (or more) for four days to receive the medal.
Walkers come back year after year to complete the Vierdaagse. Mrs. Annie Berkhout held the record in 1998 with 62 years completed, followed by Mr. Theo de Blecourt with 59 years completed. Walkers are proud of the numerous finishes. See at left the family walking behind their grandmother (oma) who is completing her 35th year.
The walk grew steadily, with breaks for World War I and World War II. 1954 was the first year more than 10,000 people registered for the walk. In 1975 it was designated the largest walk in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records. In 1998, the one millionth walker was celebrated.
While proud of their international participation, about 3/4 of the walkers are Dutch or from nearby Belgium, making this a huge local event as well as a major international event.
The steady growth in the past 20 years is credited to General Manager and March Leader Chris Bos. Under his leadership the walk grew from 28,000 to a peak of almost 40,000. He decided that the new century should be met with new ideas and leadership and thus we celebrated his transfer of position to Mr. Willem Jansen at the close this Vierdaagse. Pictured at left are Chris Bos and his wife at the reception honoring him on the last day of the Vierdaagse.
I attended as a president of an International Marching League event, the Vancouver Discovery Walk Festival. The Vierdaagse is produced by KNBLO, the Royal Dutch League for Physical Education. KNBLO was one of the founding members of the International Marching League, which sanctions one multi-day walking event each year in 20 countries worldwide.
The event is traditionally declared open at the Flag Parade. I was honored to be invited to attend this on the evening before the first day of walking. We watched a cycling band play their instruments as they weaved their bicycles in and out like a marching band, then a troup of young dancers celebrated energy and physical fitness. But when a men's choir took the field and began their chorus, the heavens opened up in a torrential downpour which lasted over 20 minutes and fritzed out the public address system, flooded the field, and sent the onlookers from the uncovered bandstands diving for shelter. I happily had included my rain poncho in my purse and sat in relative dryness in the downpour. As a result, the 83rd Vierdaagse was never declared open. But that didn't stop us from walking it in the morning!
The Vierdaagse is non-competitive, running and racewalking are forbidden. The walkers have from 9 to 13 hours to finish (depending on their route distance) each day. Most walkers walk a steady, unhurried pace. All receive the same reward for finishing.
Military units register and participate as a group, marching together in their regulation uniforms and packs. This year their attendance was down due to the NATO activation in Kosovo, but their presence was still noticeable on the trail.