Nijmegen Vierdaagse Four Days Marches

Over 100 Years of Walking Tradition to Earn the Four Days Marches Cross

Soldiers and Civilians Walk the Nijmegen Vierdaagse Four Days Marches
Soldiers and Civilians Walk the Nijmegen Vierdaagse Four Days Marches. Wendy Bumgardner ©

The Nijmegen Vierdaagse (Four Days Marches) is held in mid-July each year in Nijmegen, Netherlands. It is a challenging endurance walk that welcomes over 45,000 walkers each year from around the world.

The reward for completing the four days of 30 to 50 kilometers each day is the Vierdaagsekruis medal (Four Days Marches Cross), which is an official military medal in the Netherlands. The walk organization is a founding member of the IML Walking Association and the walk counts towards their award program.

Participants can also earn IVV volkssport credit.

History of the Nijmegen Four Days Marches

The Nijmegen Vierdaagse debuted in 1909 as an activity for the Dutch military and began accepting civilian participants in 1910. It was not held during some years of World War I and World War II. Military groups from around the world participate as well as individuals and civilian groups. 

The walk grew steadily, with 1954 being the first year more than 10,000 people registered for the walk. In 1975 it was designated the largest walk in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records. In 1998, the one millionth walker was celebrated.The cap of 47,000 registrants keeps the number of finishers at about 40,000 per year. They celebrated their 100th edition in 2016 and raised the cap that year to 50,000.

A Marathon a Day for Four Days

To earn the medal, adults must walk 40 kilometers or 50 kilometers per day for all four days, depending on age and gender.

For comparison, a marathon distance is 42 kilometers, meaning that participants must complete a marathon each day (or more) for four days to receive the medal.  For those age 60 or over or under age 15, a 30-kilometer route is offered. Military units register and participate as a group, marching together in their regulation uniforms and packs.

  For the current rules, see Four Days Marches - Distances and Rewards on their website.

The minimum entry age is 12, but there is no maximum and walkers aged 90 are not unknown. Walkers come back year after year to complete the Vierdaagse. Mrs. Annie Berkhout held the record in 1998 with 62 years completed, followed by Mr. Theo de Blecourt with 59 years completed. Walkers are proud of the numerous finishes. About three-fourths of the walkers are Dutch or from nearby Belgium, making this a huge local event as well as a major international event.

The Vierdaagse is non-competitive, they forbid running, racewalking and Nordic walking. The walkers have from 9 to 13 hours to finish (depending on their route distance) each day. Most walkers walk a steady, unhurried pace. All receive the same reward for finishing.

Ruck Sack Military Marching

The sight of military groups marching a marathon or more a day in full military gear is impressive. Military groups are comprised of at least 11 members. All members of the detachment must wear the same uniform and they are required to walk the whole of the Four Days Marches together as a unit. Detachments start from Heumensoord and walk the daily distance of 40 kilometers.

If applicable, they walk with a 10-kilogram rucksack. The units often sing marching songs, and falling in behind a military unit on the route can help individual civilian walkers keep up a steady tempo.

Vierdaagse Routes

They routes are marked with colored arrows for the different distances being walked by different age/gender groups. If you aren't on the same route as thousands of others, you have made a wrong turn. The first day is the Day of Elst, which includes crossing the Waalbrug bridge and passing the site of the Waal crossing from Operation Market Garden in World War II. The second day is the Day of Wijchen, another flat and scenic tour of the countryside and small towns.

The third day is the Zeven heuvelenweg - Road of Seven Hills, which is a little more hilly. The fourth day is the Via Gladiola with a grand entry parade into the center of Nijmegen.

To train for walking such long distance each day, it is best to use a multi-day focused marathon training schedule: Training schedule for marathon and half marathon back-to-back

Registration and Travel

Registration is conducted online during an open period starting February 1. There is first a period for people who have completed the Vierdaagse in four of the past six years and for youth walkers. Then it is opened up to everyone for a final registration period. A weighted lottery draw is done if there are more registering than the open slots, with precedence given to repeat walkers. Registration was 64 Euros in 2017. For current information, see Registration for Nijmegen Vierdaagse on their website.

Transportation: Travelers may fly into Amsterdam or Brussels, Belgium and take the train to Nijmegen, which is near the eastern border of the Netherlands. Renting a car is another option. They drive on the same side of the road as in America. To get around once you are there, you can rent a bicycle for the week or pay for week-long taxi service. Buses and trains serve the area very well. An enormous square block bike park next to the walk start points attests to the popularity of that mode of transport.

Lodging: Many private homes rent rooms to accommodate the massive numbers of walkers, which quickly fill all hotels in 30 miles of Nijmegen. Camping is also available. The Vierdaagsebed website matches walkers with host families.

Nijmegen in History and Today

Nijmegen is the oldest city in the Netherlands, a Batavian oppidum called Noviomagus conquered by the Romans in the time of Julius Caesar. It was a favorite vacation site for Charlemagne before the turn of the first millennium, and he built a castle where the present day Valkhof now sits, near the Waal bridge.

Historic treaties were signed here in the 1600's to establish the "peace of Nijmegen" and confirm France's power in the region. During World War II, Nijmegen was occupied by the Germans and then bombarded by the Americans in February 1944. Operation Market Garden, which was the subject of "A Bridge Too Far," had the objective of capturing the Waalbrug (bridge) in Nijmegen and the Arnhem bridge - which proved to be a bridge too far. Jan van Hoof of Nijmegen prevented the Nazis from destroying the Waalbrug. The US 82nd Airborne Division crossed the Waal on September 20, 1944, as commemorated in the memorial passed on the first day of the walk. A Canadian armed forces cemetery in Nijmegen has special ceremonies on the third day of the walk.

Nijmegen greets 1 million visitors during the Vierdaagse. Its normal population is around 150,000. During the Vierdaagse, walkers can unwind at the Nijmegen Zomerfeesten (Summer Festival) with entertainment, food and beer stalls. Restaurants extend out to the streets to entice the walkers and others to take a breather. Heineken beer is quite popular, and there is a special brew - Blarenbier (blister beer) - said to help ease the pain of walking too far.

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