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The 96th Four Days March is taking place in Nijmegen this week, a fact that won’t have gone unnoticed by lovers of walking and hiking all over the world. Despite the dark rain clouds that have cast an interminable shadow over the Netherlands this summer, some 39,000 people from both home and abroad, still hope to cross the finish line of the largest marching event on the planet and receive their coveted Four Days Cross.
Every third Tuesday in July, Nijmegen is turned upside down by the start of the world famous Four Days March. During this walking extravaganza, which was first organized in 1909 and originally intended for soldiers, participants walk some 30, 40 and even 50 kilometres a day, supported along the route by crowds of cheering spectators. The great thing about this particular walking event, is that you don’t need to be a seasoned athlete to take part. A sturdy pair of walking boots and a healthy dose of enthusiasm is sufficient – although of course, it does help if you have done at least a little walking in preparation! Participants often speak fondly of the special camaraderie and warm encouragement enjoyed throughout the walk, which spurs them on and ultimately results in such a memorable experience. This year the Four Days March was so popular, that around five thousand would-be walkers were unable to take part, due to oversubscription.
Each day of the march boasts its own name – the first day is called the ‘Dag van Elst’, because its main focus is the Waal bridge, which participants must cross at least twice (see photo). This is followed by the ‘Dag van Wijchen’, traditionally seen as the toughest day, and then the ‘Dag van Groesbeek’, which due to the combination of hilly terrain and this year’s downpours has proved a struggle for many. What participants really look forward to though, is the fourth day, known as the ‘Dag van Cuijk’, which actually takes place today. On this final day, participants enter the city of Nijmegen to a rapturous welcome and are congratulated by family, friends and spectators. At the finish line in St Annastraat (temporarily known as Via Gladiola) they are awarded Gladioli, just as Roman gladiators were showered with Gladioli as a symbol of victory in Roman times.
Throughout the Four Days March the walkers will have had to contend with blisters, muscle cramps, wind and rain, yet their discomfort is usually quickly forgotten upon receiving their ‘Four Days Cross’. By Thursday some 1225 participants had dropped out of the 96th Four Days March, whilst around 39,000 participants are still expected to reach the finish line, depending on how many people turn up for the start on Friday morning. The total number of participants dropping out has actually decreased for the first time in years because, according to the March leader Johan Willemstein, “more people are convinced that completing the Four Days March is an achievement worth training for”.
Interesting Four Day Facts
• The Nijmegen Four Days March is no longer simply a walking event. There are a number of other fun activities held throughout the week, such as the colourful Four-Day Festival in Nijmegen.
• Until 2004, men had to walk further than women to earn their Four Days Cross.
• Three marriages have taken place during the Four Days March. The most recent was in 2011 when two German soldiers exchanged vows on the pontoon bridge just outside of Cuijk.
• Annie Berkhout is a Four Days March record holder, having already received the Four Days Cross a remarkable 66 times!