Training ramps up for CAF members hoping to attend Nijmegen marches
By Ryan Melanson,
Groups of determined military marchers have been spotted around the HRM in recent weeks, dressed in CADPAT, carrying 10kg rucksacks and traversing as much as 30-40 km per day on foot as they train for a prestigious international event.
The goal is to be one of the lucky few representing the CAF at the International Four Days Marches Nijmegen, an intense test of endurance that involves marching through the Netherlands for four days straight, from July 18-21, covering 40 kilometres each day. It’s the largest marching and walking event in the world, with as many as 40,000 military and civilian participants each year, and thousands of spectators lining the routes and even tuning in on television to watch.
CAF teams can include a max of 11 people, meaning spots are in high demand each year and many who aspire to march at the event have never had the chance. This year, however, funding has been secured for separate MARLANT and Shearwater teams, meaning double the chance to make a team and march at Nijmegen.
“The team normally consists of MARLANT and Shearwater together, with Navy, Army and Air Force marchers all together. So this year, it results in us having two teams and a bigger group of marchers making the trip, which is kind of unique and great for our military community,” said SLt Jamie Conrod, the team lead for the MARLANT group.
Trident recently caught up with teams on break during a training march in Dartmouth, as about 35 uniformed marchers stopped for a few minutes to stretch, change socks and have a snack. Everyone was holding up well after multiple 30km and 40km treks through recent weeks, which is impressive considering almost all of those training for this year’s event will be Nijmegen newcomers should they make the trip. SLt Conrod will be going for the second time, and his 2IC LS Jessica Harper will be going for her third. Similarly, the Shearwater team also has just two Nijmegen veterans among them; everyone else is hoping to tackle the historic event for the first time.
One of them is LS Larry White; he said he’s been hoping to train for Nijmegen for almost five years, and his 2017 schedule is finally allowing the time for it. He described the training process so far as a great experience, with marchers starting to build some camaraderie, sharing laughs and singing songs as they cover more ground every few days. The consistent honks and waves also help keep spirits up, he said, as pedestrians spot the group of uniformed members marching through town.
“For me, I’ve heard this was something really challenging, and I love being outdoors and doing physical stuff. I also love meeting new people, and we’re all just having a good time with it. I’m still in one piece, so it’s going well so far,” LS White said.
Others are fairly new to the idea of Nijmegen and found their way into the training groups for other reasons. MS Dennis Manke said he started marching with the team in late March after searching for a committed PT program, with exercise partners who won’t drop off or flake on him as he tries to improve his fitness. But now, he’s enjoying the marches and says he’d be thrilled to represent MARLANT in the Netherlands should he make the cut.
And as a former infantry soldier, he said he also comes equipped with a few tricks for keeping healthy feet during long marches in combat boots.
“I learned some of it, like using foot powder and changing socks often, and I wear double socks. But all the guys have their own techniques on how to avoid blisters and so on. The biggest thing is keeping your feet dry.”
The teams have a couple more weeks to go before the two final groups of 11 are formed. Requirements to make the final teams include marching back-to-back 40km days, as well as hitting a 500km total training distance. Both the MARLANT and Shearwater teams will reach those numbers soon, and while things are always friendly, competitiveness is also heating up as marchers try to prove their worth. With the team leader, 2IC and medic spots already filled, only eight spots remain for each team.
“It’s a huge commitment for everybody and they’re all putting in the work. The hardest job is going to be if we have more than 11 people at the end, selecting the team and deciding who gets to be there,” said WO Bob McDevitt, the team lead for Shearwater.
The total CAF contingent for Nijmegen normally consists of as many as 15 teams from across the country, representing all elements, ranks and trades, marching under the direction of the Commander, Joint Task Force Nijmegen. Canada’s strong participation in the marches also honours the special relationship that has existed between the Netherlands and the CAF since the Second World War.