‘World Cup for ordinary people’

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It is busy, often hot, you end up with sore joints and lots of blisters. Yet tens of thousands of people attend the Nijmegen Four Days Marches each time with great pleasure and dedication. The 104th edition starts at least next Tuesday: if the expected heat does not start a screw.

It can get very hot that day. A decision on any adjustments to the program is expected this afternoon, a heating protocol may come into force. But what makes it so special to go in groups?

Journalist Fons de Poel calls the four-day marches “ordinary people’s world championships”. He made a documentary about the hike in 2016 and again this year presents a TV show about it. “The participants are not athletes, but they deliver top performance,” says De Poel. “Because they really have to suffer, and thus they create a kind of eternal fame for themselves. In addition, you get more applause and appreciation than when you walk through a forest alone.”

Older participants often participate in the Four Day Marches unlike other sports. This year, 90-year-old Hub Mooren from Bergen op Zoom is the oldest participant:

Hub (90) is the oldest participant in the Four Days Marches this year

To deliver the show together. According to the study published in 2016 The power of the four-day marchers from Radboud University and the Mulier Institute, this is one of the main motifs for the Four Days Marches hikers. “It creates a connection with each other. You meet people with the same passion and the common goal of completing the journey,” says Paul Hover of the Mulier Institute.

Four Days Marches leader Henny Sackers believes that solidarity and at the same time diversity is the strength of four days. “It’s a cross – section of society. From young to old, civilian to military, people with disabilities to healthy people and from a criminal to a professor. Everyone feels connected to each other.”

Unique character

According to Hover, Four Days Marches are actually two events in one. “In addition to the walking event, there are the Four Days Marches festivities. They reinforce each other enormously. The Four Days Marches are magnificent, have more than a hundred years of history and are embraced by the city and the region. That makes it something special.”

Sackers: “In Japan and China, not the smallest countries, they have tried to emulate the 4-day march. But it cannot be compared. The 4-day march in Nijmegen is truly unique in the world.”

Fons de Poel agrees. “An army of volunteer participants, participants are accommodated all over the region, it’s really alive. You can see from everything that it’s been going on there for more than a hundred years. You can’t try that in Deventer tomorrow.”

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Hikers cross Waalbruget during the 4-day marches in 2018

In addition to the social aspect, the 4-day marches also have another social function. Paul Hover: “One sees at such events, but also at marathons or cycling competitions, that the participants train specifically for it. They are important drivers for them to practice more sports and exercise in the Netherlands.”

Still, this year’s Firdagesmarcher is not sold out for the first time in a long time. A result of the corona, Hover believes: “People have become more cautious. The number of participants is not achieved at other sporting events either. People are still afraid of infections.”

Goes hot again

Corona has ensured that people are starting to walk more. Hover: “Where other sports associations are getting smaller, the Koninklijke Wandelbond Nederland has grown considerably. People run more often in associations.” The ANWB says that the popularity of group hiking holidays has increased since 2020, and that more and more people in their 30s and families are also embracing walking.

So there is hope for Four Days Marches, says Mars leader Sackers. “The Nijmegen Four Days Marches have such a magical attraction, it doesn’t just disappear.”

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