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Marching Marathons

By Gary Nelson

Updated December 25, 2009

Gary Nelson

Gary Nelson

Gary Nelson © 2001
I started in the arena of long distance marching when one of supervisors got my Air National Guard unit an invite to march with the German Luftwaffe, September of 98. In addition to other things military, we marched 18 miles (30 kilometers) in the mountains north of Cologne (Koln).

I was unprepared. My unit was attending summer camp at Spangdahlem AB near Trier. We marched with what we had. I had dress boots. Tight, unyielding boots meant to "look good" and not much else. That completed, I figured I "got the T-shirt".

Then a few days after a woman I knew in the Air Force told me about the Nijmegen March. I checked the web site and thought this would be..."interesting". 1999. I nearly collapsed. Poor training. Poor equipment (had new boots but the heels were soft, ruined the boots in two days).

When I returned to the States though, I realized I was hooked, due to tremendous encouragement and good advice from my colleagues I met during the march. I am hooked and as long as I can put one foot in front of the other I will continue.

The Non-Marching Military


Then came the next phase. Where to find long distance marches? One of the better web sites about outdoor activities is right here at Walking.about.com. I used it early on when getting into Marching Marathons. I noticed that in the forums people were looking for marathons and asking about advice to train for them. The one thing I noticed a lack of was the presence of military personnel. Has technology robbed us of the need to train military personnel in the physical aspect of marching?

I noticed that the highest percentage of drop outs from the military section at Nijmegen were the Americans. We are fit in terms of what we do. We go to the gym, work out, develop lean mean fighting physiques, but then we drive back to the barracks. It seems only the more specialized units continue to train on the ground with any serious intent. It matters not what branch of the military one is serving in, and furthermore, it matters not is one is active duty or Reserve. The need to maintain the simpler yet more demanding forms of military practices remains today as it did long before the era of shuttle buses.

Marching - Not Running


Another aspect of the game I learned was that just because someone can run 10 miles doesn't mean they can walk/march 25. The issue here is mechanics and technique. When running there are different muscles used than when walking to a great extent. And we use these muscles differently. Further, when someone runs and they have a good technique they tend to glide over the ground. Add to this that when someone runs they are taking longer strides, covering more ground between successive ground contact.

With a marcher, the steps are shorter, and the impact on the ground is greater than running. The issue here is that technique comes into play just as importantly as with running. Poor technique leads to injuries and accelerated fatigue.

Training for the Military Marathoner

One of the most frequent questions that comes from both the civilian and military side of the house is how to train. How far should one go, what style of training, should they go alone or with someone, how can they make the training easier (I love that one), and how often should one train. In the context of long distance marching, you need only go once a week. The trick is, to go until it hurts.

"What??? Until it hurts?" This is the cornerstone of long distance marching. For anyone who has gone to the gym and worked out and NOT perspired, you are wasting your time. If you lift weights and come out without a sense of discomfort, you are wasting your time. If you can go to the gym three times a week and still wear those clothes the following week and not smell bad, you are wasting your time. If you go walking with the intent of making it to the level of long distance marcher, and your feet don't hurt...noticeably...you are wasting your time. Time to move on.

The only form of walking/training that will result in positive results is in the early stages of your training, you better get some blisters. When weight lifters work out hard and long, they actually damage muscles. Their metabolism then gives off a chemical that causes their muscles to get larger and stronger. In the case of feet, one must walk and take off that weak skin which is used to nothing more than a walk to and from the parking lot to the office, or the driveway to the living room. Short strolls of a few miles won't do it. It's like spending an hour lifting ten pounds with one arm versus fifteen minutes working with much heavier weights. When blisters form the skin forms back differently. It regrows in a tougher fashion and resists further blistering. This is the only method for getting tougher feet.

Next page> Training and Marching Technique> Page 1, 2, 3

Military Marching

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