I suspect Brussels isn’t too high on most people’s lists of European cities to visit. If it wasn’t for the EU institutions I doubt there would be a reason to visit at all. Which is a shame because it really is a beautiful city with some fantastic architecture and lovely parks. I was paying a long overdue visit to a friend and as no foreign trip is complete without a race (the longer the better – best way to tour a city), I timed it to coincide with the Brussels 20km, one of two big annual races on closed roads through the city, the other being the marathon in October. The marathon is quite small whereas the 20km is Belgium’s equivalent of the Great North Run. It started in 1980 and has now grown to 40,000 runners in this edition with starts in multiple waves.
There is no entry ballot and as I entered on deadline day I was afraid I would be starting at the back but thankfully my predicted time of 1:30 allowed me a place in the first wave. It starts and finishes in Parc du Cinquantenaire, a lovely park built to celebrate Belgium’s fiftieth anniversary of independence. There’s a massive arch in the center that’s sort of like Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate on steroids. The undulating route is a simple loop of the city taking in views of the Royal Palace (cobblestone streets!), European Commission, the Palace of Justice (biggest courthouse in the world), a couple of parks including the Bois de la Cambre, a hilly park the size of the Town Moor that leads into a forest, and returning to Cinquantenaire with a final punishing climb at 18km.
Belgium seems to be immune to weather forecasting. The forecast for my five day visit was for daily thunderstorms when instead I was treated to glorious sunshine with temperatures around 25 degrees. So even while having a great time wandering around the city I was growing increasingly nervous at the forecast of violent thunderstorms on race day. Thankfully this inconsistency continued and it stayed dry and overcast but so very humid! I’ve never experienced humidity in a race like it, not even in the Gulf.
I was drenched in sweat only two kilometres in and my hope of finishing in 1:25 was quickly slipping away as the gradual incline for the first four kilometres took its toll. Two long tunnels at this point and I was sure my Garmin pace readout was all wrong so from there on, just staying with the 1:30 pacer was the goal but I passed three of them at various stages! A couple of parks with big crowds and then a mile long stiff climb near the end followed by a gentle downhill to finish under the arch in the park in just under 1:29. Overall, a great race if a bit overcrowded, with plenty of water stations, great support and live bands lining most of the route. All for just 25 euros (tshirt costs extra but who needs em!).
The forecast finally came true the following day when thunderstorms all over Western Europe caused a delay to many flights including mine and resulted in an overnight stay in Amsterdam!