This Europe: Heatwave forces lighter loads for big walk

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The Independent Online

What began in 1909 as a military exercise round the ancient Dutch town of Nijmegen, near the German border, in the south-east, has grown into the biggest walking event in the world.

What began in 1909 as a military exercise round the ancient Dutch town of Nijmegen, near the German border, in the south-east, has grown into the biggest walking event in the world.

A record 43,000 walkers are taking part in the gruelling "Vierdaagse", a four-day trek that ends tomorrow when millions turn up to cheer the finishers. Some runners have died in their attempt to cross the finish line.

But after doctors warned of potential fatalities because of unusually high temperatures, organisers reluctantly agreed to bend the rules for yesterday's leg of the walk. The required daily distance is normally 50km (31 miles) or 40km (set according to age and sex) but was reduced by 10km. And soldiers, who usually carry a 10kg load, had their burdens dropped for the first time in the history of the event.

This year's walkers even had to face melting asphalt. But the organisers vowed to implement the usual rules once temperatures returned to normal.

One casualty was the battery-operated knee of Éddy Boerman. The 39-year-old, from Arnhem, found himself in trouble when his artificial leg refused to move.

And all this for an inscribed certificate, which each finisher can claim.

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