In 2017, I took part for the first time in a two-day 2×42 km long-distance walk in Luxembourg. At the time, I was attracted by the challenge of walking the marathon distance and overcoming a previously unknown limit. Since then, long-distance walking has never left me and I have participated in many international marches.
Here is a summary of everything important to know about marching.
What is marching?
- Marching is about walking a longer distance.
- Marching distances vary from 10km to over 100km and more per day. The standard distance of a march is 42km.
- Every year, hundreds of organised marches, usually lasting several days, take place around the globe.
- The largest and most important international organisers of marches are the International Marching League (IML) and the International Volkssport Verband (IVV).
IML (International Marching League)
Personally, I have only participated in IML marches so far. These are characterised by the following features:
- To receive an award, the basic requirement is to walk at least 20km per day for at least two consecutive days.
- There is an IML passport that you can buy at the first walk. You get a stamp for each completed march. There are special awards for the number of marches completed, as well as for different country collections. The highest award is the golden IML medal on a blue ribbon with 3 crowns, which you receive when you have completed 600 marches (!). For all those who want to achieve this goal, marching is a life’s work.
- There are 30 IML marches worldwide every year, 19 of which take place in Europe.
- The biggest IML march in Europe is the 4-day march in Nijmegen (NL), where more than 40,000 people participate every year.
These things make long-distance walking something truly special
- Challenge: Walking long distances is a challenge that demands a lot both physically and mentally. Especially when you walk 40+ km per day.
- International community: The marches bring together people from many different countries. You quickly make new friends and always see each other again on marches. It’s one big family.
- Solidarity: When it’s raining all the time, your feet hurt or you’re running out of strength, a march can become an absolute torture. In such moments, you support each other to keep going and reach the finish line.
- No competition: Unlike running marathons, marches are not timed and there is no competition. It’s all about persevering and getting there.
- No commercialisation: Marches have so far been largely spared from commercialisation. At the IML, it is mostly small local associations that organise the marches. Participation fees are correspondingly low.
- For everyone: The participants are as diverse as the marches themselves. There are participants over 80 who walk along and are faster than the young soldiers. I have even met blind people and people over 90 on marches.
- You see a lot: marches often take place in lesser-known places that you probably wouldn’t travel to otherwise. The landscapes are often magnificent. Because of the length of the marches, you see a lot of a region and also come into contact with the locals quickly.
Wie man sich am besten auf einen langen Marsch vorbereitet
Those who would like to complete a 2 x 42 km march should prepare themselves. Those who are untrained should take about 9 weeks to reach the fitness level. I can recommend the following strategy for this:
- Week 1: 10km in one day
- Week 2: 15km in one day
- Week 3: 2 days with 10km each
- Week 4: 20km in one day
- Week 5: 25km in one day
- Week 6: 1 day 10km and 1 day 20km
- Week 7: 2 days with 20km each
- Week 8: 30km in one day
- Week 9: 2 days with 30km each
- Week 10: March
If you already have a good level of fitness, you can probably do the preparation in 4 weeks.
Tips for marches & long distance walking
- Fanny pack instead of backpack: On a long walk, every kilo less you have to carry counts. That’s why you might want to take a fanny pack instead of a backpack. A fanny pack also has the advantage that you won’t get an uncomfortably wet back on warm days.
- Do not use new shoes: You should use well-worn shoes on a long-distance walk, otherwise you will almost certainly get problems (e.g. blisters).
- Take tape & pain gel: Walking long distances is a considerable effort for your body. You will have aches and pains that can become severe. Therefore, you should take pain gel and tape with you so that you can treat the affected areas on the way.
- Exercise: Some people will certainly be able to complete a walk without training. However, you need to be prepared for the fact that the march will quickly become a torture. Ideally, you should start training about 9 weeks before a 42km march lasting several days. It is also important to know that running training is no substitute for marching training, as the physical demands are different.
- Book accommodation early: Many international marches are well attended. Accordingly, local hotels are often booked up quickly. Therefore, you should book your accommodation early. Many organisers also offer shared accommodation (e.g. in sports halls).
- Light luggage: Only take what you really need with you on a long walk. As there is usually food and drink on the way, it is often sufficient to carry only a medium-sized water bottle. In addition, there are often restaurants or supermarkets along the way where you can get some refreshments. Check the organiser’s website for information on food and drink before the walk, and you will often be told where the route will take you.
- Good rain jacket: Marches are long. If you have a rainy day, your rain jacket will have to withstand 10 hours of rain in extreme cases. So get a good rain jacket for trekking and waterproof it regularly at home to keep it protected. On rainy days, you should also take a pair of rain trousers with you, which you can pull over your normal trousers.
- Multilayer: As a walk can last many hours, often starts at dawn and the weather can change during the day, it is advisable to be prepared for different temperatures. Personally, I wear a multifunctional shirt, a fleece and, if necessary, a rain jacket as outerwear. That way I can get through changeable days with high temperature fluctuations.
- Spare socks: Hiking 40km is not only exhausting for you, but also for your socks. If a sock breaks on the way, this is not ideal. That’s why you should take a pair of spare socks with you.
- Bring your own drinking cup: Most organized marches provide refreshments along the way. Usually water, tea or juices are provided in large containers. To avoid plastic waste, you should bring your own reusable cup. You can attach it to the outside of your backpack with a carabiner, for example.
During the march
- Take breaks A walk lasts for many hours. To keep going better, you should therefore give your body breaks in between. Personally, I take a break after about 20km, 30km and a final break at 37km during a 42km walk.
- Enjoy the march A march is not a competition. It is not about who arrives the fastest. Therefore, you should take your time to enjoy the march.
- Get in touch with other marchers In marches, I think the community is just as important as the march itself. During a march you will almost always come into contact with other participants along the way. You will meet great people and sometimes even make new friends. You will gradually become part of the international marching family.
- Strengthen yourself along the way: A 42km march is exhausting and your body will need a lot of energy. Strengthen yourself on the way. Many marches offer food at the checkpoints. There are often supermarkets along the way.
- The last kilometres can be made easier with a beer
- If your feet are aching and your motivation is flagging, the last few kilometres of the march can become an ordeal. In these cases, in my experience, a cold beer can often work wonders.
After the walk
- Warm foot bath in the evening: To avoid sore muscles the following day, it helps to take a warm footbath in the evening after the walk. This loosens the muscles and gives your feet the rest they need.
- Take time to see the area: Marches often take place in magnificent places. During a march you will have little time for classic sightseeing, as you will spend the whole day walking. Therefore, you should take a few days before or after the march to explore the area.
- Take part in the program around the marching event:A walk lives through its participants. To get in touch with other walkers, you should participate in the side events and stay at the event site for a few hours after the walk. Local organizers often arrange for all kinds of performances, from bands to traditional dances.