The Nijmegen Marches – Jane’s story

Although we had been in party mood all week, we soon realised that the real party had only just started. The music was louder, the towns were bigger, the food just kept on coming and then the flowers started raining down on us!

Anne-Louise and I ‘did’ the Marches in 2008 with Walk the Walk and had the most marvellous time – I came home and told my family and friends that taking part was one of the best experiences of my life and I still believe that. We had been looking forward to our second trip to Nijmegen for four years, we were on the Walk the Walk website constantly, waiting for the registration to open – we signed up within hours and have been on a ‘high’ ever since!

Monday 16th July, we arrived at Schipol Airport and met up with other members of the team who we had met on Facebook and now greeted like old friends – we made our way to the hotel amid lots of laughter and joking that was to last the whole of the time we were there. At the hotel, Polla and Sharon from Walk the Walk greeted us and the whole team met for the first time– we would all get to know each other well over the next few days and learn to share each other’s pains as well as success.

Bed at 9pm -we were doing the 40km walks so the mini-bus would pick us up at 4.15am on the Tuesday morning – the girls doing the 50km (affectionately known as The Crazy Gang!) were leaving at 3.15am so goodness knows what time they stumbled out of bed!

Out on the course

We arrived in the centre of Nijmegen (the Wedren) at about 5am to be greeted by hundreds of revellers who had obviously been partying all night and had stayed up to see us off. There were thousands of very excited people everywhere on the Wedren.  At 5.15am a roar went up and our queue started moving towards the start line. We were so excited, the adrenalin pumping and everyone around us singing and laughing. Soon we were on our way and the adventure really had begun.

Some of the sights!

The Nijmegen Marches were originally a military event and there is still a large contingent of soldiers from all across Europe as well as America and Canada that take part. The crowds, especially the youngsters and the young ladies, love them and reserve their best cheers and ‘free hugs’ for them.

Every village and town that the Marches pass through is highly decorated and there are hundreds of happy smiling people everywhere. Every sound system in the Netherlands must be in the Nijmegen region for the four days as there is music coming from every open window, from gazebos specially erected in front gardens, even from the middle of fields!  There are bands of every description playing in the streets and the civic dignitaries are standing under the ‘posh’ gazebos in case of inclement weather!

The week must be declared a public holiday as it seems like every resident is out on the streets cheering us on and offering sweets, fruit, cake to all the walkers – it must be the only marathon event where you put weight on by the end!

There are stretches of long country roads and forest paths where there aren’t as many people around and this is an opportunity to chat to fellow walkers. We were amazed by the number of Brits who were there and regularly go back year after year. We were delighted to bump into some of the WTW girls that we walked with in 2008. They have been coming back every year since and were due to pick up their 5 year medals – very jealous! How amazing that out of nearly 40,000 people we should see them, a very special moment. Luckily many Dutch people can speak English so we chatted to lots of people who had done the marches, 10, 20, 30 and even 43 times!  It really is addictive but also something of a tradition for the Dutch – they are very proud of the heritage and history of the event.

Friday, the last day, dawned bright and sunny which was a relief after the torrential rain of the previous day. Although we had been in party mood all week, we soon realised that the real party had only just started. The music was louder, the towns were bigger, the food just kept on coming and then the flowers started raining down on us!

The last day is when the marchers get given flowers, mainly gladioli, by the crowds as they are passing. Most of them are reserved for the soldiers who are cheered constantly. We caught our gladioli being thrown from a gantry over the road and then a lady in the crowd rushed over to us and thrust some more in our hands – a real tear jerker of a moment as she had obviously targeted us as some of the ‘Bra Girls’. As we got nearer to the town centre the crowds got bigger and the noise just grew, marching bands joined in what was now a slow procession and at times it was difficult to keep our emotions in check.

The grandstands appeared as we joined the Via Gladioli that leads to the Finish line and all the military chiefs were taking the salute of their soldiers. Suddenly, from nowhere, we heard Sharon shouting to us from the crowd and that was a really special moment – we crossed the Finish line and cried a few tears as at last we completed the Marches and could go and collect our very well earned medals.

Well done!

Nijmegen just gets me in the heart – I will definitely be back – if you have ever thought about taking on this challenge then just get training and do it in 2013, this quote sums it up for me………

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away”    (Anon.)


From Guy:

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