The Nijmegen Vierdaagse long distance walk is internationally known as the Walk of the World, or the Four Days Marches of Nijmegen. What drives people to walk these crazy distances for 4 days in a row? It’s hard to explain, or even understand, if you haven’t experienced it for yourself.
As you crawl along the Via Gladiola on the final stretch of the last day, the euphoria that comes over you causes a natural high that may well turn into a recurring virus. You get itchy feet, and you’ll want to do it again.
The Vierdaagse virus is real
I thought I’d just do it once and be done with it. But then it gets under your skin… And you find yourself with a restless heart, just seeing all those people crossing the Waal river bridge on the first morning, the euphoria on the Via Gladiola – and everything inbetween.
This is my story about walking the Walk (and failing miserably the first unprepared time…)
If you feel inspired to give it a go, you can find practical information and details at the bottom of this article.
Resting and struggling on.
The first attempt
The first time I took part in the Vierdaagse was a rather spontaneous decision. I had one week of holiday left, and I thought I might as well give it a try. It had been in the back of my mind for ages. Especially when you grew up in the area, and witnessed the madness every year, you can’t help but feel a strong connection – and a growing urge to have a go at it yourself.
At that time it was still possible to sign up on a short notice. I registered in May, only 2 months before the start. Even though I hadn’t done any serious training in the previous months, I thought I would be able to do it.
But this is one epic journey that is not to be underestimated.
The winding Maas river dike near Overasselt.
Walk of the World
The Four Days of Nijmegen is the biggest walking event & summer party of The Netherlands. Tens of thousands of people voluntarily choose to walk 40 or 50 kilometres a day, for 4 days in a row, in the third week of July. If you’re over 60, or between 12 and 15 years old, you can do 30 kilometres. The whole city of Nijmegen turns into one big festival area during the week around it.
The Vierdaagse has been held since 1909, for over 100 almost consecutive editions. In 2016 Nijmegen celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Walk of the World.
Summer festival beneath the Waal river bridge.
Nijmegen Summer Party
Nijmegen is the epicentre and starting point since 1925, and in 1970 the Summer Festival was added to the excitement. Combined, they draw in hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.
And the atmosphere is just incredible. People from all over the world come together, to celebrate life, the summer, and to encourage the walkers along the routes – those who are brave enough to defy the adversity of blisters, sweat & tears to conquer the Via Gladiola in euphoric triumph at the end of the fourth day.
Waal harbour and river bridge.
The official Vierdaagse training schedule recommends that you should do at least 400 kilometres of walking in preparation, built up over five months of progressively increasing distances. I only did all of 2 half-serious training walks – one of 12 and another one of about 18 kilometres. Still nowhere near the 40 kilometres you have to complete each day.
But I thought I’d be allright. I knew I could walk all day. In the previous year I had done a fair bit of bushwalking in Australia and New Zealand, including some long walks. I had even done the 3 day Tongariro Northern Circuit. And that was all on rather steep, uneven, sometimes muddy and tree-root ridden tracks and terrain.
So how difficult would it be to walk on perfectly smooth, flat and paved roads, without any hills to speak of (except for the notorious Seven Hills of Groesbeek on the third day) – even if it is for four full days in a row…?
Vierdaagse ingredients: enthusiasm, trust, handsfull of applause, and luck. And a lot of hardcore training…
How wrong I was!
The first challenge is forcing yourself to go to bed on time, and sleep while the sun is still bright & shining outside. You need to get up at ridiculous o’ clock to be at the start at 5 in the morning. But I managed to drag myself out of bed in time, and set off with a feeling of hope and optimism on the first day.
And it was quite doable – up until 30 kilometres.
Sandy paths at Heumen forrest on the second day of the Vierdaagse.
But the last 10 kilometre stretch did my head in, or rather: my legs. It weaves over an endless dike, winding for miles, with the skyline of Nijmegen like a hallucination on the horizon. You think you’re almost there, but it doesn’t seem to get closer. It’s still further away than it looks.
That last bit was truly exasperating. I felt bolts & joints in places I wasn’t even aware of. I plodded on, and barely made it to the finish. After that I couldn’t even bring myself to walk any further to the nearest bus stop, about another kilometre away. Everything had just come to a screeching halt. Defeated and embarrassed, I called my mother, to ask if she could please come & pick me up.
The notorious Oosterhout dike, at the end of the first day. This is where many people hang up their boots…
(*) Since 2017 the route on the first day is reversed, so the winding and unsheltered dike is now conquered in the cooler morning hours.
I thought after a good night’s sleep my legs and feet would spring into shape again. But when I got up the next morning, I was so stiff that I wouldn’t be able to walk even 4 kilometres – let alone 40. So I dropped out, and didn’t start on the second day.
I was happy to have at least completed the first day, without getting the dreaded blisters. But I was walking like an old woman for the rest of the week. My heart was bleeding when the Vierdaagse came through Groesbeek on the third day, and when I watched the daily reports on TV.
Forty kilometres… per day!
The second attempt
After years of getting progressively restless every time the Vierdaagse and Summer Festival came around, I couldn’t take it any longer. In 2013 I had to give it another try.
This time, I took the training schedule seriously.
Still, it was pretty tough. I had no idea if I was actually going to make it through four days of 40 kilometres in a row until the very end. I just took it a day at a time, and each day I finished was a victory in itself.
Essential vitamin boost from the Betuwe fruit region, to keep going along the route.
Still a long way to go…
Prickly toes and the dreaded blisters
On the second day an annoying prickly feeling appeared on one of my toes – a forebode of the dreaded blisters… But the waiting time at the First Aid blister post was just too long even to consider. I’d have to wait for over 2 hours, which meant I would not be able to reach the finish on time.
So I struggled on, and was saved by a relaxing foot massage at a very convenient point about three quarters of the way. The waiting time was only 15 minutes. It was just what I needed to revive my weary feet and get through the last 2 hours ahead.
Gladiolas growing along the route. They are almost within reach…
Halfway down the Seven Hills of Groesbeek.
The Seven Hills of Groesbeek
Then the third day of Groesbeek came, with the notorious Seven Hills. The tricky bit is that they come at the end of the route, during the last 15 kilometres. But I was quite surprised to find it wasn’t as difficult as I expected.
Perhaps it’s because adaptation starts to kick in. After the initial fresh start on the first day, and the exhaustion on the second day, your body is getting used to the daily distance. I actually steamed up those hills a lot quicker & easier than those endless winding dikes and flat areas on the previous days. They seemed to give me an added energy boost.
But maybe it’s also my mountain fetishism… 😉
Street parties in Nijmegen at the end of the third day.
The temporary pontoon bridge at Cuijk on the fourth day.
The final day is the longest as well. You have to do over 42 kilometres, to make up for the previous three days when the actual distances are a little less than 40. The total distance of the four days has to add up to at least 160 kilometres.
But the fourth day is also the most euphoric of them all.
The parties along the route, the people encouraging & cheering you on are getting more intense all the way. When you reach the Via Gladiola, the last 10 kilometre stretch from Malden to the finish in Nijmegen, it becomes a complete madhouse. By then, you don’t care about whatever hardships and blisters you have had to endure.
You have made it, and it’s the point of no return. People will hand you gladiola flowers and cans of beer, and you don’t worry about getting wobbly legs anymore.
Via Gladiola – the road to glory!
It’s too late to not finish it – even if you have to crawl
The feeling of euphoria and natural high was so intense that I became overwhelmed by tears of joy & gratefulness as I stumbled along the Via Gladiola those last couple of kilometers. I was glad I was wearing sunglasses to discretely cry them behind.
I finally made it & crawled in on time. But I never knew my feet could hurt that bad!
When I finished, I thought I’d be done with it now. But when the next edition came around, I found myself with a restless heart and itching feet… And I realised it had taken hold of me. The infamous Vierdaagse virus really does exist. I succumbed to it again in 2015 and 2016.
And finally in 2022 for the fourth time. De dood of de gladiolen!
Sunflowers along the route.
Cooling off the weary feet in the Waal river after a hard day of walking!
Vierdaagse Nijmegen routes
Day 1: Blue Tuesday – The day of Elst.
Nijmegen – Oosterhout – Valburg – Elst – Bemmel – Lent – Nijmegen.
Day 2: Pink Wednesday – The day of Wychen.
Nijmegen – Alverna – Wychen – Beuningen – Weurt – Nijmegen.
Day 3: Green Thursday – The day of Groesbeek.
Nijmegen – Mook – Milsbeek – Groesbeek – Berg en Dal – Nijmegen.
Day 4: Mad Friday – The day of Cuijk and the Via Gladiola!
Nijmegen – Overasselt – Heumen – Linden – Cuijk – Malden – Nijmegen.
You can find more information about the routes on the Vierdaagse Walk of the World website.
And you can even encounter wildlife along the route!
My story also appears as a contribution in the 2019 book edition of ‘The friendliest marathon in the world’, a collection of short stories about the Vierdaagse, published by Logikos.
Cancelled for two years in a row
Sadly, the 104th Vierdaagse (and the Nijmegen Summer Festival) was cancelled in 2020 due to that other virus… the Covid-19 corona pandemic. In 2021 the organizers announced that the Four Days Marches were also not going to happen that year. It was very sad to see it cancelled for the second year in a row… But the situation in The Netherlands was still too uncertain at that moment to hold such a big international event.
The 104th Vierdaagse finally took place in 2022. The year we could walk the Road of Victory again – in more ways than one! 😉
The last stretch of the Via Gladiola in Nijmegen.
When is the next Nijmegen Vierdaagse?
The 106th Vierdaagse is scheduled for Tuesday 16 July to Friday 19 July 2024.
Registration will be open from January 2024.
Registration and training
If you want to take part in the Nijmegen Vierdaagse, you can register from January each year until the maximum number of participants has been reached. On the official Vierdaagse Walk of the World website you can also find information about the training and other necessary preparations.
Even if you don’t want to do the four days long distance walk, the Summer Festival of Nijmegen is worth a visit by itself. It all takes place during the third week of July.
(c) Nancy Claus – Wilderness Coffee & Natural High
Have you experienced the Vierdaagse, or another epic long distance walking route? If you have a question or a comment, let me know in the comment box at the bottom of this page. Your input can also be valuable for other readers. Thank you for sharing. 💚
Last update: 6 September 2023
First published: 25 March 2017
Tired, but happy after finishing the epic four days walk!
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Tongariro – The track across Middle Earth
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Haleakala – The House of the Rising Sun
The walking track to Heimaklettur – The Home Rock