Walking can provide as much of a boost in adrenaline levels as any sport
or physical activity. Interest in recreational walking has been on the rise
in recent times, as shown by the spread of volkssport associations throughout
North America. In early 2001, all 50 states had active volkssport clubs.
Volkssport clubs originated in Europe. The word has a German root -- from
volks, which means people. Volkssport clubs are groups that encourage popular
participation in sports and other activities. Walking features predominantly
on their programs.
Volkssports are designed to be appealing to everyone. Volksmarching (walking),
like all volkssports, is meant to be a non-competitive recreational activity.
Volksmarching takes walking to a whole different level by trying to make the
activity as interesting and as adventurous as possible. Volksmarchers are
guided by the pursuit of the three Fs -- fun, fitness and friendship!
Lionel Conrod is president of a volkssport federation. He says there are
generally four main types of volksmarching events.
There is a guided walk. The whole group, numbering between 30 and 50 people,
travels together and stops occasionally. The walk may be through forests,
city streets or parks.
There is also a map walk. Groups or individuals are given maps that chart
the route to be taken. With a map walk, participants don't need to begin
at the same time and may be spread out along the route.
The third type is an international volksmarch. This is a bigger event that
clubs hold about once or twice a year. There are three different routes of,
say, three miles, six miles and nine miles. The routes are all marked with
instructions for the walkers -- on telephone poles and trees, for example.
Walking starts in the morning and the routes remain open till about 4 p.m.
International volksmarches usually have a festive atmosphere. Walkers bring
food and there are other forms of entertainment throughout the day.
Then there are year-round events. As the name suggests, these are available
throughout the year. People visiting a city, for example, could join in. There
is a start point, which could be a local hotel, where walkers can sign up
and pick up maps. The route for this event is usually at least six miles and
it's a big attraction to tourists.
All these events are organized by local clubs. You can participate alone,
with family or friends. And hey, you can even bring your pet where permitted!
Conrod says his organization has about 4,000 members. "There's often
other people that tag along when we have events, so we really don't know
the number of participants we have each year. But that's about the number
of actual members."
Brandi Deemer is the special projects coordinator for the American Volkssport
Association (AVA). She says the group oversees the activities of over 500
According to Deemer, a 1997 survey revealed that about 70 percent of walk
participants were between 35 and 60 years of age. To encourage younger participants
to take up the activity, the AVA established a special youth program, working
with groups like the Girl Scouts.
Youth teams, with at least one adult, participate in 12 or more sanctioned
volkssporting events during the school year. Each member of the team receives
a certificate and a medal. Girl scouts receive a special AVA patch.
Volksmarching is meant to be non-competitive. But walkers do like to show
off their distance logbooks and other forms of recognition they've earned.
For example, the AVA has an individual achievement award program that allows
walkers to enter the distance they've walked into special distance and
event record books.
After major milestones, you can redeem the book for a certificate, a hatpin
and a patch and get your name included in a list published in the association's
magazine. But it is important to remember that volksmarchers consider anyone
who completes an event, regardless of distance, a winner.
Deemer, 22, encourages more youth to take up walking. "Walking is a healthier
alternative to running in the long run," she says. "You can have fun while
you are doing it, be with your family and friends and really be able to experience
and appreciate the majesty of the outdoors."
Graham Fawcett is the director of a volkssporting organization. He would
like to see more youth participation in recreational walking. His association
does not have a youth program, but he says young people are more than welcome.
"It's not a very sexy sport and we don't have an international
star who makes $150 million a year from endorsements," he says. "But people
who are also heavily into jogging tell me that they get every bit as much
of a physical high out of walking as they do out of jogging. It's a great
stress reliever, a way of getting out into the fresh air and of meeting people."
Conrod also says the way volksmarching events are organized makes them
far from boring. "Actually, walking can become addictive and it's not
boring," he says. "If you are walking by beautiful scenery and walking with
your friends and enjoying yourself, that's not boring!"
You can join a local club in your area or start off walking alone, depending
on your preference. "If you join a club or association, you'll find a
lot more interesting places to walk than you'll find on your own," says
Conrod. "But if you want to walk on your own, you can now find an awful lot
of trails by surfing the Internet."
If you join a club, you can get good tips from seasoned walkers regarding
how difficult or dangerous a trail is, for example. Trails are rated according
to difficulty. Trails with a one rating are easy, have no hills and may be
suitable for wheelchairs and strollers. Trails with a five rating are very
difficult and could involve a walk through rough fields or woods or up steep
If your walk takes you through an area with wildlife, it's best to
be in a group. "We've never heard of any problems with animals," Conrod
says. "Usually, people walking in groups make sufficient noise that they very
seldom encounter animals. But there are times when we see a bear. But they
usually leave quite quickly."
Depending on the severity of their condition, people with special physical
mobility needs may be able to do a trail with a one rating. Fawcett recommends
that people in poor health, say with diabetes or a heart condition, talk to
their doctor first.
Many walks are open to all, free of charge. You may need to pay a small
fee for some special events. And some clubs may have a membership fee.
Here's a list of some of the things experts suggest you get:
- Layered clothing -- remove outer layers when it gets hotter
- Shoes -- make sure they are comfortable and the right type for the terrain
- Socks -- get special double-layered socks, and go for a fabric like polypropylene
- Hat -- choose a type appropriate for the weather
- Water -- drink some water before, during and after the walk
- Sun protection
- Route plan
- ID and money
Veteran volksmarchers have suggestions on how to make the activity as smooth
and injury-free as possible. They suggest you take short strides rather than
long ones. Use your arms, not just your legs. And look up!
After you've become an experienced walker, you may want to start coaching
others. Walking coaches help new walkers improve. They also train professional
American Volkssport Association
101-1001 Pat Booker Rd.
American Walking Association
P.O. Box 20491
North American Race Walking Foundation
P.O. Box 50312
American Hiking Society
1422 Fenwick Ln.
Official publication of the American Volkssport Association
Published by the Reader's Digest Association
101 Essential Tips: Hiking,
Run the Planet
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Find a Club
Volkssports clubs in the U.S.