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.