After preparing for the Four Days Marches Nijmegen 2013 it makes sense to share some observations after completing the event a few weeks ago. The short story is that walking 200km in four days can be done, it's a fun event to participate in but it can also be painful at times.
The event combines friendly people, typical Dutch music and marching military forces into a fun spectacle with its ups and downs along the way. The blisters haven't fully healed yet but I made it to the finish line so here's the story.
This year's edition was characterised by hot weather which implies a lot of sweating and drinking water to stay hydrated. Fortunately this is easier to live with than a day of heavy rain which will pretty much guarantee blisters. In my case it didn't make much difference as I had six blisters by the end of the event. I learned that blister plasters can work like magic and they allowed me to continue walking.
The organizers of the event are keen to emphasize that this is not a casual walk but an event that requires serious preparation to discourage people from signing up willy-nilly.
I didn't really prepare for fifty kilometers of walking as that is about ten hours (excluding breaks) of walking and it doesn't make sense to sacrifice so much time when you can learn to adapt during the event itself. You would also be walking that distance alone as few people are crazy enough to join you. The longest distance I walked in preparation was about thirty to thirty-five kilometers which I could do without pain and injuries so I thought I was ready to go.
On the first day you discover how far fifty kilometers is and on the other three days you walk the same distance by pacing yourself better. I made the classic beginner's mistake of walking too fast on the first day only to realize that I now had two blisters which I'd have to endure on the remaining days.
An unexpected challenge of the event is not just the walking but also the logistics surrounding it. You have to get to and from the starting line and you have to eat, shower and sleep all within 24 hours. There is plenty of time to complete the walk each day but any time spent walking can't be spent sleeping.
It would be great if you could get dropped off a the starting line, walk fifty kilometers, and then get picked up afterwards. Alas, that isn't the case and this combination of factors means the fifty kilometers on the second and third day weigh on you differently than on the first day. I have to say that walking fifty kilometers isn't that difficult but it's a different story when it's done on four consecutive days.
There is plenty of food to purchase along the way and there are also people handing out free fruit and other stuff, such as candy and liquorice. You can bring your own food but I've also seen people having their breakfast at the first possible break (e.g., a bakery with extended opening hours).
A person I talked to during the event, who had completed it numerous times, summed it up quite nicely. There are two events simultaneously taking place in the city of Nijmegen: one event is the party in the bars and streets of the city and the other event is created by the walkers and spectators alongside the road. The walk itself is their party and the spectators enjoy themselves too by watching and encouraging the walkers.
I can wholeheartedly recommend taking part in the event and I can see why some people make this event one of their annual holidays.
To be fair, at my age the distance of fifty kilometers is mandatory and practically it's much easier to prepare for fourty or thirty kilometers. Having experienced the event this year I'm not sure it makes sense to do it again next year with so many other events out there. On the other hand, it has been said that the itch to participate tends to occur next year when the application form is available online again. So, we'll see what happens.
On a final note, if you're going to participate in the Four Days Marches Nijmegen and you have any questions just let me know on Twitter.