The Nijmegen Marches 2022 - Laura’s story!

The Marches were like nothing else I’ve ever experienced – this is such a wonderful and one-of-a-kind event

I’m 58 years old and completed the Nijmegen Marches 2022 as part of the Walk the Walk team. It is such a wonderful and one-of-a-kind event.

I’m a veteran MoonWalker, having completed 13 MoonWalks since 2013. Each one presented me with a physical challenge and a true sense of accomplishment when I crossed the finish line. In 2018, I pushed myself a little further and completed the 3 Land Challenge – three marathons within five weeks (The MoonWalk London, The MoonWalk Scotland and The MoonWalk Iceland). After that, I just wanted more!

One of my new 3LC friends mentioned the Nijmegen Marches and said it was absolutely his favourite challenge and one of the best things he’d ever done; that the event was like no other. I later heard similar praise from another Walk the Walk friend and that’s all it took. I signed up for the 2020 Nijmegen Marches, full of anticipation and, to be honest, a healthy dose of fear and a sense of, “Yikes, what have I done?” 

Power walking a marathon is hard work, both mentally and physically and I’d just signed up to walk four marathons in four days! Uh-oh. But deep down, I was ready to challenge myself and do whatever was required to be ready for the event. I wanted to experience all the wonderful things my friends had shared with me – the enthusiastic and supportive crowds, the bonds that grow from walking with a team, the thrill of walking alongside military units from all over the world, the exuberance of both the crowds and the thousands of walkers along the Via Gladiola on the final day of the marches.

Nijmegen is the largest multiple-day walking event in the world and was first held in 1909. The medal awarded for completion is an authentic Dutch military medal. The event is one of the biggest festivities in The Netherlands. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? I was scared, but I was all-in! 

I became a mad-woman fundraiser in order to meet the £750 minimum required. I decorated bras for other walkers in Walk the Walk events in exchange for donations. I asked friends and family to support me and I did several training walks in a tutu – someone will always donate if you’re willing to do something silly in return. I met/exceeded my fundraising goal and turned my attention to the training plan.

Then, along came Covid. Nijmegen was cancelled in both 2020 and 2021. Having to postpone didn’t deter me, it just made me more determined to train for and complete this challenge. In April 2022, my training began in earnest. I was already training for The MoonWalk London, but I wasn’t at my top fitness level and I was overweight. I knew I had to do more to be ready for Nijmegen, so I began a strength/endurance program at my local gym and adopted a healthier, protein-rich diet. My only cardio activity was walking. The Nijmegen training plan requires five days a week of it, in total over 500 miles during the 14-week plan. It’s a huge time commitment, especially if, like me, you work full-time and have a family.

As with MoonWalk training, I first made the mental commitment and then the physical followed. I had to get up early on weekdays to walk. I devoted a lot of weekend time to walking. As a solo walker during training, I listened to loads of music playlists and podcasts to keep me motivated as I clocked up the miles. I had to get creative in finding new places and routes to walk – you can only walk circles around your own town so many times! It was hard, one of the hardest things I’ve ever committed to. But I began to feel the benefits, little by little.

My per-mile walking pace steadily increased. I could soon stride up hills with determination and not lose my breath. I did long back-to-back walks with quick recovery in between. I lost 20 lbs during training and I feel better and more fit than I have in years. If I can offer any advice to someone considering this challenge, it would be to train, train, train! Follow the plan exactly, don’t miss even a day if you can help it. It works! It prepares you mentally and physically for the event and gives you the confidence and stamina you need to finish.

The excitement of arriving in Nijmegen was overwhelming, especially after waiting two additional years. There was an electricity in the air that is indescribable. On Registration Day, hearing my name read, receiving my event wristband and posing for Walk the Walk team photos were all moments I’ll never forget, and we hadn’t even started yet.

Because Walk the Walk takes part in the Nijmegen Marches as a team, we did everything together – we stayed at the same hotel, ate meals together, and spent non-walking time together. When the first day of the marches was cancelled due to the extreme and dangerous heat, we headed out very early for a shorter team walk through the woods and local area of our hotel, just to keep our motivation going. That’s another piece of advice I would offer – embrace the team and the fact that you will all walk together during the event.

Firstly, it’s something you agree to when you sign up, but secondly, and more importantly, it will get you through. You’ll feel so much more a part of it all when you are walking proudly with your Walk the Walk team, singing call-and-response chants and wearing your iconic bra t-shirts. Your fellow team members become your brothers and sisters – lifting you up when you need encouragement and sharing your sense of accomplishment at the end of every day.

The walks themselves were like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. My friends were right! Every town you walk through, people are smiling, waving, singing, playing music, clapping and cheering you on. They offer watermelon, sweets, cups of water, pastries and other treats as you walk by. On the very hot days, they’ll douse you with their garden hose (only if you ask them to, and I did on many occasions!) and provide sprinklers for you to walk through. It’s a full-on love fest between walkers and spectators and there are so many emotional and unforgettable moments.

When you’re starting to hurt after all those miles, all you need to do is look around you. Someone will be there with a smile of encouragement, a fist-pump, an offer of food or a shout of “You’re amazing! Keep going!” and then you will do just that – keep going.

Before you know it, the days will have passed, you’ll have walked all those miles, and you’ll receive your much-deserved Nijmegen medal. And then, if you’re like me, you’ll start thinking about doing it all again next year…

Thank you for sharing your story Laura! Register your interest for The Nijmegen Marches 2023!


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