Monday, July 24, 2006

Nijmegen - bummer....

As some of you have noticed, I've been training for the World's biggest march, the Dutch Nijmegen 4-day event. My team is a 33-member, Danish military one, and a couple of them were preparing to get their 30year medal down there - an incredible feat.

But after the first day, the whole thing was cancelled for the first time ever - well, it wasn't held at all from 1939 to 1945, but cancelled after it was started? Never.

The reason for cancelling was very valid: Three people dead (one of them military, which is unusual), 30 still in hospital and more than 300 had been in and out of hospital - after the first day. That number was bound to become higher in the following days due to the heat...

48,600 had pre-registered. 44,000 registered on Monday. 43,000 showed up Tuesday morning for the march. 42,000 (which is the answer, of course) completed the first day of either 30, 40 or 50 km.

Here's my story as I told it to the OakTable guys when I returned home on Wednesday night...

I have prepared rather well for this thing, although nothing can truly prepare you for 4 x 40 km with 10kg on your back, I guess. I've done a couple of 2 x 40 with 10 kg without too much of a problem, but this first day was the hardest one I've ever done.

That heat thing really does it, and even one of the team's very experienced guys (9th time doing the Nijmegen, former Triathlon lunatic) got into trouble because
he had forgotten to eat (not drink) enough, and had to have emergency sugar and be "helped" home by walking alongside some strong-willed guys who talked to him and got his mind off the hopeless situation.

The team I walked with is apparently considered one of the best Danish military team you can walk with at Nijmegen. There's an active Special Forces guy (he carries the flag), a couple of ex-Special Forces types, several people who have walked the Nijmegen between 20 and 30 times, etc., etc.

The team was a total of 33 or so, and 9 of us were "pinkies", ie. we hadn't walked the Nijmegen before. The eight other pinkies are all active-duty sergents or officers in the Danish Army currently.

At some point during the walk I began to doubt whether I could do it. I said so to the nearest guys. One of them was the flag guy. He just looked at me and said "I have NEVER walked with a team that lost a man", and that was the end of that...

Another example: We had two support guys on bikes, who make sure we get water and food at the resting areas, etc. One of them is a 73 year old ex-Special Forces guy, who got his legs pretty much mashed in an accident where a tree trunc went through the bottom of the car and into his legs, suddenly started yelling at me out there, forcing me to drink more water. He kept nagging me for about an hour, until he was satisfied.

All through the day, the guys kept shouting "Skål!" to each other in order to ensure enough water got drunk. I must have consumed 6-8 liters that day, and still there was plenty of room for beer at the end of it all :-).

All in all, not the worst guys to be with when you do this kind of thing.

A total of 5000 soldiers from about 10 nations were in the military camp (sealed off).

The biggest foreign contigent is the British one, and it's truly impressive to see them.

The second biggest foreign contigent is the Danish one, and it looks rather more relaxed and cozy than the British one, I'm sure you can imagine. Yet they can bloody well WALK, those folks, and I think standing on the parade ground with those 500 other Danish folks singing our national anthem was fantastic. Hair-raising,
to be honest. Actually, I might have had a few tears.

Then there's the biggest thing of it all: The local Dutch citizens. It's nearly impossible to do them justice, but I'll try:

We started out at 0445 hours from the camp, and from then until we were home around 1400 or so, we had Dutch people sitting and standing all along the route pretty much.

I'm talking 10's of thousands of people that were cheering the 43,000 walkers on, all the small towns had arranged for bands to be playing for us, 100's of houses had put out loudspeakers where they played rock or pop music for us, children everywhere handing out sweets, fruit, vegetable, water bottles and even little coupons that read "Dear participant - I hope you have a succesful walk... I would be really happy if you could perhaps send me a postcard to the following address...", people standing with garden hoses or just water guns and spraying water on people if they wanted it, and... it's just STUNNING!

And we're talking a Dutch holiday week where they stay at home to celebrate the walkers.

The other team members told me it just gets more intense with this whole local backup thing as the days progress, culminating in the fourth day where most of them admit they're shedding tears because they're so moved by the local's enthusiasm. Fantastic.

All military teams end their march in the huge beer tent, and are applauded in there by the ones who have already arrived. When a Danish team arrives, everyone starts singing "Oh when the Danes go marching in" - and then we have a few beers to freshen up, of course.

Yes, I'll have to do it again next year. I know. And I have a cunning plan for doing proper preparation:

I will have a HUGE Miracle sauna constructed with a built-in 40-meter long walking/running belt where the whole group can march in very high temperatures for 8 hours or more. The support guys on bicycles can just sit on stationary exercise bikes alongside the walking belt. Oh yes.

Anjo Kolk called me from Tokyo the other day and informed me that Wednesday (which should have been the second day of the marches) was the hottest day ever in Holland, I think.

It was the right thing to do to stop the marches, but I hope it's happening again next year.

This year was the 90th time, and only during WWII did they not walk, as I mentioned above.


Blogger Doug Burns said...

That sounds like a totally amazing event, but definitely not worth dying for!

I may try marching to the pub for the rest of this year and see if I feel ready for it next year.

Glad you made it back to the pub safely ;-)


1:08 AM  
Anonymous Carlos said...

Sounds good!

Congratulations for not giving up!

BTW: Have you ever tried a marathon?



4:21 AM  
Blogger Alex Gorbachev said...

Wow! Impressive!
Just like Doug mentioned I wouldn't be able to march further than Molly Malones or the biergarden nearby.

5:00 AM  
Blogger Moans Nogood said...

Doug, I'll be there - right beside you - in spirit (!) when you attempt your march to and fro the pub. Seems so much more sane than the Nijmegen thing, doesn't it.

Carlos - no, I've never tried a marathon, and I admire people intensely who have. I hate running, I'm not good at it, and I never was. Have you tried one, then?

Alex - One day I'll see you for a beer at one of your places :-).

2:14 PM  
Blogger jimk said...

I'm impressed, very impressed. I do the Portland to Coast walk which is a large relay race.(128 miles, 24 legs each leg about 5 miles, 12 walkers per team , so each person does 2 legs) Lots of comradare but NOT anywhere as grueling as what you are talking about!

I hope next year isn't as hot; I don't want people sucimbing to heat stroke et al!

5:13 PM  
Anonymous Carlos said...


Yes, I've run a pocketful of them.

I think I am (like many others marathonians) some kind of 'pain-junky'.

One thing that you may find interesting is that (at least here in Spain) when you reach the finish you can get beer for free (and as much as you can drink). Beer companies usually sponsor the events.



11:39 PM  
Anonymous Thomas Presslie said...

That is a real bummer that it was cancelled. How were your boots? Any blisters? I'm also curious to know if your famous sleeping bag was warm enough for you ;-)

I'm planning on putting together a Scottish team for next year. Having only done it twice before, I really need my medal upgraded with a "3". I think we'll do the 50km a day march without bicycles :) . I remember smiling at those tired looking teams with a support team of cyclists, overtaking them with bagpipes blasting out the marching tunes. Yes, we'll be there, bagpipes an' all!

7:30 AM  
Blogger Rachel said...

I think they were smart to cancel... as Dan is fond of saying "summitting (or in this case walking) is optional, returning alive is mandatory". I am honored to know you -- I would not have been able to do that, a 10K walk exhausts me!

Oh, and do you know where the term "pinkies" comes from? (yes, that's a leading question, as I DO know the answer and it has to do with something that is part of my new career choice)

7:22 PM  
Blogger Noons said...

amazing that it got to the hottest day on record. weather is indeed changing... not just in Europe either!

Anyways: can't even imagine what this sort of thing would be like. I do around 10ks per week on my mountain bike and it's about as much as my tired old legs can cope with! Good on you for doing this.

I like the cunning plan of the walk-in training sauna! sounds eminently civilized, particularly if you can leave the beer outside on the snow. :-)

8:17 AM  
Blogger Moans Nogood said...


Well, free beer has me convinced. Tell me where I can find a list of good marches there :). And my deepest respect to you for your running achievements. I could never, ever do anything like that.


You're SO fired :-). I happen to know that you walked the Nijmegen WHILE PLAYING YOUR BAGPIPE when you were 15 and 16 years old. Wauw. I'll look forward to next years march... and no, my arctic sleeping bag wasn't required.

In fact, only around 3 AM did it become mildly chilly, but then we were already up and about :).

The boots worked rather well. Absolutely no problems with the heels, which tended to be the big troublespots with the old, dreadful Danish military boots (the M58's).

Rachel: You're an angel. But no, I don't know why they call us 'pinkies' - please tell me! Please!

4:58 PM  
Blogger Rachel said...

oh Moans, since you beg so prettily..

You may recall I am studying to become a veterinary technician (think nurse, but for animals).

One of our classes is about laboratory research animals.

Pinkies are newborn rats and/or mice -- they are born hairless, helpless and blind. And their skin is a deep pink.

So calling you all "pinkies" was telling you you were newbies :)

8:01 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Like me!!

Does that mean I am the ultimate Pinkie??

1:47 PM  
Blogger Rachel said...

you don't qualify as a newbie anymore girl!

7:39 PM  
Blogger Moans Nogood said...

Rachel, I've told you before, and I'll tell you again: Why the Hell are you wasting your time on animals when you could still be doing good stuff among men?

You're fired.

3:17 PM  
Blogger Rachel said...

Ah Moans, but the animals APPRECIATE the good stuff I do for them. Unlike most of the men I've met :)

Truly, I'm happier than I've been in years. And even though I am flattered that you have fired me, well, I'm still sticking with this. I miss the people from my past life, but not the work

And I am still waiting for pictures of Viktor!

7:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hope to see you at the Nijmegen 4 days marches this year... with bagpipes.

Look for Batavorum.

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