International Four Days Marches Nijmegen
The International Four Day Marches Nijmegen (or Vierdaagse) is the largest marching event in the world. It is organised every year in Nijmegen in mid-July as a means of promoting sport and exercise. Participants walk 30, 40 or 50 kilometers daily depending on their age and gender, and, on completion, receive a royally approved medal (Vierdaagsekruis). The participants are mostly civilians, but there are also a few thousand military participants.
- 30 km x 4 days
- 40 km x 4 days
- 50 km x 4 days
- 40 km x 4 days - Wearing uniform + at least 10 kg backpack for males aged 18-49 (+ water, etc.)
The "Vierdaagse" (Dutch for "Four day Event") is an annual walk that has taken place since 1909, being based at Nijmegen since 1916. Depending on age group and category, walkers have to walk 30, 40 or 50 kilometers each day for four days. Originally a military event with a few civilians, it now is a mainly civilian event. Numbers have risen in recent years, with over 40,000 taking part - including about 5,000 Military. It is now the world's largest walking event. Due to crowds on the route, since 2004 the organizers have limited the number of participants. The first day of walking is always the 3rd Tuesday in July. Many participants take part every year, including several that have taken part in 50, and even 60 different annual marches.
Each day of the marches is named after the biggest town it goes through. Tuesday is the day of Elst, Wednesday the day of Wijchen, Thursday the day of Groesbeek and Friday the day of Cuijk. The routes always stay the same unless there is a specific need to change, as it did in 2007 (route changed in 2006 but cancelled) when the walkers went through the Waalkade on Wednesday for the first time since the original route got too crowded and walkers had to wait for over an hour at some times. 2006 was the first year to be cancelled in 90 years (apart from WW II). After the first day's march there were thousands of drop-outs and two deaths because of extreme heat.
On the Friday, as participants near the finish, the public awards the walkers with Gladioli. A symbol of force and victory stemming from Roman times where gladiators where showered with Gladioli, the Nijmegen walkers are similarly 'showered' in flowers on their arrival. The entry into the city and towards the finish, the St. Annastraat, is for that reason called Via Gladiola during the Nijmegen Marches.
The marching event has three different types of awards:
- Cross for the Four Day Marches (Dutch: Vierdaagskruis): awarded to participants who successfully completed the Four Days Marches according to regulations. The medal is an official Dutch decoration that can be worn on a Dutch military uniform. It is fully named "Cross for demonstrated marching skill", as defined by Royal Decree on 6 October 1909. The walker receives a specific medal depending on the number of times he or she successfully finished the event. The Four Day Marches Cross can be awarded in bronze, silver or gold, which may have a crown above the cross, together with enamelled arms. The ribbon bears numbers and/or a laurel wreath and number or single or double pearl necklace and number, all depending on the number of times the participant has completed the marches.
- Group Medal of the Four Day Marches
- Orderly Medal of the Four Day Marches
Physical education (P.E.) in the Netherlands during the early twentieth century had been organised by teachers and former soldiers, who provided instruction in school gymnastics and basic military training. In the autumn of 1904, sergeants from the 6th Infantry Regiment in Breda founded a football club. This created much excitement among the soldiers and on the first anniversary of the club, they organised a tournament which became the 1906 and 1907 Field Army Sports Days. The success of their initiative motivated various sports associations and social organisations to set up an umbrella organisation.
On 3 April 1908 the Dutch Physical Education Association (NbvLO), the first sports umbrella organisation in the Netherlands, was founded in a coffeehouse, het Zuid-Hollandsch Koffiehuis in The Hague. Based on an idea to organise a four days march to the sports days in Breda, proposed in July 1907 by Lieutenant C. Viehoff from Arnhem, the NBvLO designed 15 routes for the first Four Days Marches in 1909. The day after the Queen’s Day celebrations, then in August, Wednesday 1 September 306 participants set out from ten barracks on the 150 kilometre walk from garrison to garrison. They were accompanied by ten civilians. In Friesland the poor condition of the roads caused their march to be cancelled and three other sections were omitted due to an outbreak of cholera in Rotterdam. ‘The Four Days’ theme was very popular in those days. At various times of the year, other events were held such as a four days (horseback) riding event, a four days cycle event over almost 500 kilometres and four days rowing on our rivers (some of which still exist). In 1910 the Association limited its four days marches to one route from Arnhem through Doesburg, Zutphen and Apeldoorn.
The importance attributed by the government to the performances achieved was already reflected in the recognition of a Decoration to military participants for their marching skills (the Four Days Cross) by Queen Wilhelmina in October 1909. Utrecht (1911), Nieuw-Milligen (1916), Den Bosch (1918), Amersfoort (1919) and Breda (1924) joined Nijmegen as a starting point or centre of the Four Days Marches, before Nijmegen became the permanent host of the Four Days Marches in 1925. Despite a gradual rise in the number of civilian participants, it was not until 1919 that the first woman successfully completed the Four Days Marches: Mrs N. van Stockum-Metelerkamp from Amersfoort.
In 1928 the first walking club was founded in Rotterdam (Rotterdamse Wandelsport Vereeniging). With Amsterdam hosting the Olympic Games, march leader Jonkheer W. Schorer decided to invite international delegations to the Four Days Marches. Delegations from Germany, France, Norway and the United Kingdom arrived in Nijmegen. The forty British participants of the Road Walking Association were divided into four groups according to social class, all of which won a group prize. Even today, a relay competition is held for the ‘Nijmegen shield’, to which these four medals are attached!
The fame of the Four Days Marches grew during the 1930s, thanks to the efforts of the Koloniale Reserve (Colonial Reserve) in Nijmegen, and in particular the Indonesian ‘nasi’ meal prepared by their cooks. Walkers took home unforgettable memories of pillow fights in the attics of the Prins Hendrik barracks and in the tent camp on the Molenveld. In 1932 H.A. van Mechelen composed the music for a Four Days Marches anthem to words written by J.P.J.H. Clinge Doorenbos. As the years went by, both the organisation and the participants learned what made the Four Days Marches such a special event, renowned throughout the whole (walking) world. While some forty percent of the participants dropped out in 1921 due to the heat wave around Amersfoort (602 reached the finish post), in 1939 there was only a 2.39% drop-out rate – an unrivalled record.
After the Second World War, despite the ravages caused by the bombing of 22 February 1944, Nijmegen took up the challenge of reviving the Four Days Marches. Thanks to a fund-raising campaign among the population and the efforts of many volunteers, its efforts were successful. In 1946 there were more participants than ever before, a trend which would continue. But the war had left deep scars in 1954 the Four Days Marches organised by the Nederlandse Wandelsport Bond (Dutch Walking Association) started in Apeldoorn. However this did not stop developments in Nijmegen and after several decades there is room for both: Apeldoorn starts its marches on the second Tuesday in July, Nijmegen starts on the third Tuesday.
So after September, August and June, the "last full week of July" (decided on by Major Breunese) has become history.
Rising numbers of participants arriving from all over the world has meant that the Flag Parade had to be relocated from the courtyard of the Prins Hendrik barracks, via the Molenveld and the Wedren to the Goffert stadium. Increased prosperity and leisure time meant a rise in the number of countries taking part in the Four Days Marches from 7 or 8 to 60 in 2004. Moreover the predicate ‘Royal’ awarded to the Association (1958) and the participation of HRH Prince Claus resulted in a spectacular rise in the number of participants. By that time, more than a hundred countries have been represented at some time in the Four Days Marches, including many from Eastern Europe after 1989.
In 2004 a restriction on the maximum number of registrations is set for the first time. The maximum number of 47,000 registrations is reached within 6 weeks. One of the 47,500 participants for the 89th Four Days Marches in 2005 is the record-holder Annie Berkhout from Voorburg, a woman who succeeded in finishing the Four Days Marches 66 times. She is an onlooker of the far-reaching measure of a registration limit set by the Stichting DE 4DAAGSE, led by chairman Wim Jansen, being put into practice since 2004. In 2005, the registration limit led to an official drawing by lot, whereas this was not necessary in 2006. The number of registrations for the 90th Four Days Marches did not reach the limit.
The 90th Four Days Marches will always be remembered as "the march that lasted only one day". After one participant died during the march and another after finishing the first walking day, and a large amount of the walkers had needed help with heat-related problems during the march, the Four Days Marches were cancelled after one day. This had not happened before, even though walkers have died during one of the marches, for example in 1972, when the distances were shortened by 10 km each day. The participants that started on the first day of the 90th Four Days Marches have not received a medal, instead a remembrance pin was sent to them. The pin features various symbols denoting the 2007 situation, with a scorching sun in the middle representing the harsh climate, surrounded by a tear shaped border, denoting the sadness of the cancellation of the marches.
During the week of the Vierdaagse the accompanying festivities (known as the Vierdaagsefeesten) always draw a large crowd. It is known as one of the biggest festivities in the Netherlands, drawing a crowd of 1 million visitors. It starts on the Saturday before the marches, and ends on the Friday. There is free music during the week, and special events on each day, such as the famous firework display on Monday night. Amongst the festivities is the annual rock festival de Affaire that takes place every day during the Vierdaagsefeesten.
On Friday, thousands upon thousands of people line last few kilometers of road before the finish to cheer on the walkers. That street, the St. Annastraat, is dubbed "Via Gladiola" for the day (the gladiola is the official flower of the marches, and it is tradition to give them to the participants). As far as a week ahead people will reserve spaces alongside the Via Gladiola by placing chairs and even couches. The finish is also shown on Dutch TV.
Armed Forces and Cadets from all over the world send contingents to take part in the marches. In recent years the military participants have numbered approximately ten thousand. Although some military personnel march as individuals, they usually march in teams. Military teams can contain as few as eleven members or as many as thirty. Military teams typically march as a unit and sing marching songs, and as a result are very popular with the crowds. Military teams follow a slightly different route to other participants, this is because they do not start in Nijmegen but in the military camp Heumensoord which is built every year just south of Nijmegen. On Friday military participants change uniforms just a few kilometers before the finish, and their superiors will be waiting for them in the stands at the finish. Military participants have a choice of two options; they either walk 50 km a day or 40 km when they have at least 10 kilogrammes of dead weight (if they are over 18 years of age), in addition to large amounts of water to keep hydrated in the heat. When temperatures get too high (as in 2006), the military participants are allowed to walk without their dead weight. This decision was also made in 2006, just before the decision was made to cancel the event as a whole.
In 2005 Paul Botman, Sr., a tulip breeder named a tulip after the walking event as a thanks to the organization after completing the event.
The 92nd Four Day Marches was held from 15–18 July 2008, with 43,450 registered participants, of which 5,018 did not start, and 3,470 who did not finish, leaving 34,962 finishing participants, from 24 nations. The 2008 edition featured 6,620 participants which volunteered in a chip project where a chip was connected to the shoelaces of participants which registered on special floormats on the routes. With the data collected in this way the organization was able to monitor individual progress as well as predict bottlenecks. The chiplace project also allowed for the prediction of rush hours of emergency and first-aid posts and to predict emergency models in case of calamities.
The 2009 93rd Four Day Marches started on 21 July. Registration was from 2 February onwards until 9 April.
The 2012 Nijmegen Vierdaagse (96th) started on 17 July and ended on 20 July. The 2013 Nijmegen Vierdaagse (97th) started on 16 July and ended on 19 July. The next march (2014) will take place on 15 July - 18 July. This will be the 98th anniversary.
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