Fastest Marchers July 8, 2013Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Medieval, Modern , trackback
How far can the average person walk in a day? Most of us walk about three miles an hour, which should mean that, if we didn’t develop blisters or stitch and if a man with jack boots had a pistol at our head, we could probably manage between thirty and forty miles a day. But let’s ask a bigger question. How far can a group of armed men march if they have angry officers or a desperate situation ahead or behind them and if, of course, they have no motorized vehicles or horses? Roman legions, the best organized units of the ancient world, used to manage twenty (Roman) miles a day routinely. But they were able to do more, of course. There is one particularly striking example from the war against Hannibal in Italy. In 207 B.C. Claudius Nero dragged six thousand men over 336 miles in six days to defeated Hasdrubal and then marched back up Italy to face off with Hannibal. The march down the peninsula must have been achieved in an incredible 45 miles a day. You or I could probably do this for one day: though our poor feet at the end of it. But to do this for six days with no prize at the end of the journey except a hardened Carthaginian general and his army… We’ve been disappointed by medieval equivalents (no surprise there). Edward IV is praised by some sources for bringing the Lancastrians to battle at bloody Tewksbury after marching his army a (to contemporaries) incredible 28 miles in a single day. As we move on things get, if anything, more disappointing. In 1982, in the Falklands, the Parachute Regiment and the Royal Marines ‘yomped’ across the island and managed 56 miles in three days: about 18 miles a day. Of course, there are all kinds of variables that have to be factored in. How much are you carrying? How big is your force? Are you marching through friendly or difficult territory? What is the road and weather like? Are you being provisioned or do you have to forage? Beach wonders if the very fastest troops might not be modern special units. Consider this sentence from a modern sf website:
There is a ruck marching program in the SF Guidelines that will build you up from 3 mile ruck march with a 30 lb rucksack at a 45 minute pace to 18 miles with 50 lb ruck sack in 4.5 hours.
Could we imagine a situation where a small special force unit with supplies and the fear of God in them could manage a hundred miles in a day? Other remarkable marches from history? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com
10 July 2013: Prof Michel writes: Just a note on this: When a Roman Legion reached the end of a day’s march, they didn’t just flop down in the grass. No pup tents either. They went into the nearest forest, chopped down the local trees and built an encampment for the night. These things were like small towns, with a ditch, a rampart, a wall. As they left the next morning, they burned it down to deny the use of it to the enemy. Legions were fanatical about never sleeping out in the open (auxiliaries and city cohorts, not so much). Point is, all this must have taken time, time that would not be available for actual marching. Factor that in, and I don’t think you’ll find anything to compare. But as for today, to complete the first phase of your basic training and join the French Foreign Legion you must complete the March Képi Blanc – a 60–75 mile (100–120 km) march in full kit (From Perpignan Training camp at Castelnaudary within 3 days. That’s according to wikipedia but other sources say it is a mere 50 or 65 km and that a 150-200km march (Raid Marché) comes at the end of basic training. Also take a look at this: I have relatives over there who have done it, though not in the military categories.Louis K writes: Having spent some time in the army (national service), and having had Backpacking as a hobby, plus living in the town of the Four Days Marches, gives some insight in this question. The three foremost are, as you mentioned, Roads, Supply, and Weather. If there are roads, preferably metalled), you can add at least a third to your march distance. So the Romans had an advantage there, as they had this beautiful road network (which was in existence in Italia, parts of Gallia CisAlpina and the Provence , extending into northern Spain , during the Hannibal period). Also they were (more or less) masters of the land, so their supply would have been assured. The Royal Marines and the Para’s had to yomp through some of the most dreadful bog country in the world, with lots of hills, and that in single file, and in (mostly) dreadful weather. Although they did have some resupply, and could not forage, as there was nothing to take (except lots of sheep, i’m told) they did take most of their stuff with them. I’m not so sure the Romans did that, at least not during the march that you mentioned. And if they did, they probably had loads of mules to help carry the Impedimenta. Also it has to do with your physical and mental state. During the American Civil War, the Southern troops were able, time and again, to cover more distance than the Northern troops, thereby surprising sloppy Northern Generals at least twice. The roads and the weather were not a factor here, as they were both using and undergoing the same. And supply was usually better for the Northern troops than for the Southerners. The fact that more Southern troops were from the countryside (where they were working in physical labour jobs), and that more Northerners came from cities (so less used to physical hardship) is sometimes given as a reason for this difference. Having a common goal to believe in also helps. For instance the communist troops in China (against the Japanese and the Nationalists), and the revolutionary and Napoleonic troops in France (before 1807), had better march discipline, less stragglers, and could march further, on average, then their contemporaries, and enemies. I have no examples of spectacular road marches handy, but the things mentioned above are (in my eyes at least) the main variables to measure road marching. By the way, the Four Days Marches, for military personnel, is 40 km, with full (marching) kit. Civilians do 30, 40 of 50 km. mostly with just rain gear and some food and drink.’ Beach asked whether 100 miles might be doable in 24 hours, say, in Iraq and Louis responded: I don’t know about the miles, but 100 km would be doable. And in winter/cold season, or at night. You would not want to walk that much in the summer heat. And apparently 50 miles is what some people do for fun. Borky writes: Beach it’s a fairly open secret many military round the world prescribe and develop narcotics to enhance soldierly performance especially of their elite units. Nor’s this new because of course ancient Americans used coca leaves hence the term Mexican Marching Powder for cocaine. And of course Ancient Europeans/Africans were all very big on chemical preparations to enhance all kinds of performances. And then there’s the Micah True ttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micah_True and the Rarámuri runners http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarahumara_people who use a type of running where you basically let yourself start to fall then keep the momentum going which allows you to effortlessly cover an enormous amount of rugged terrain such as a ploughed field in an incredibly short time for as long as you like so long as you keep your mind clear of all thoughts and allow no doubt hesitancy or fear to creep in basically no matter how treacherous the terrain looks or becomes you must trust yourself not to misstep otherwise you’ll go catastrophically splat.As well as Abaris and the Arrow of Apollo. Not to mention Tibetan khandromas who abreact space itself ..or from personal experience the sensation the pavement’s turned to a conveyor belt and’s carrying you effortlessly along [instead of sinking under your feet like it’s suddenly turned to sponge] making the two huge rucksacks on your back stuffed with twenty-four huge university texts books seem light as air… or even more straightforwardly streets and roads and public buildings seem to be excised from existence making journeys which should’ve taken half an hour take mere minutes.’ Then Ingo, this is Ingo from Germany, just read your post about the fastest marchers. So, to give you one example, when I was in the Army, my Company (Paratroops) did the ‘Four Days of Nijmegen‘ [see two mentions above], which is, as far as I know, one the hardest events you can do as a military unit. I can’t speak for myself, because I didn’t participate, but my comrades were pretty done. Just take a look :D. Thanks to Ingo, Borky, Louis and Michel!
30 Oct 2015, Neil H writes in with this:
Just a reminder that it isn’t only soldiers who march – artists do it too – and not the Artists Rifles. I recently went to the new exhibition of Richard Long’s work at the Arnolfini in Bristol. A pale shadow of his inspirational 1983 exhibition which remain one of the artistic highlights of my life. I don’t like modern abstract art generally but that really got me (as Ray Davies would say). Apart from stopping to organise stones Long walks – in one case 120 miles in 39 hours. (If this link dies it was Bristol to London)