Behind every successful idea there are always people with passion. Every time I meet such a person, the energy is overwhelming. Last month, during a visit to the headquarters of the 20km of Brussels, I felt the same energy as I walked into the office of the race’s co-founder Carine Verstraeten; a large, classic wooden conference table took up most of the room – trophies, awards, and historical pictures lining the walls. Carine greeted us with a warm smile, and our collective passion for running quickly surpassed the formalities of a business meeting.
The ‘20km of Brussels’ is undeniably the most recognized running event of the city of Brussels. I wondered how it all started; wanting to know more about the motives, the hardships, and the history of the race:
New Europe: Carine, as a runner, why do you run and where do you run in the city of Brussels?
Carine Verstraeten: Sports is great for the mind and the body. I believe it is essential to get some exercise after an intense day of work. Brussels is an incredible beautiful and green city, that allows runners and walkers to enjoy the many beautiful parks and historic monuments. The “Bois de la Cambre” is a great place to run, as well as the lakes of Ixelles. There are however so many beautiful places to run; the Royal Parc, the Cinquantenaire and many others.
NE: What are the benefits this exercise has brought to your life?
Running and walking are great exercise and allow us to free our mind and to challenge ourselves.
NE: How did the idea for the ‘20km of Brussels’ come about?
I have been working at the the Syndicat d’Initiative-Bruxelles Promotion (SIBP) since 1977 and co-founded the “20km of Brussels” in 1980 with Emile Dereymaeker, the Managing Director of the SIBP.
In 1980, running was not so popular… our idea to organize a running event did not meet much enthusiasm from the authorities. We did receive the authorization to hold the first run in 1980 but participants had to run on the pedestrian ways and to stop at the red lights. Our idea was to offer a popular event that would encourage participants to run or walk and have an aim to get back in shape.
Our other aim was to show how beautiful Brussels is, which you can see through the race route we chose. Quickly, the race encountered a massive success and the number of participants has risen to the amount we know today.
NE: Last year, over 40,000 participants ran the race, and this year marks the 40th anniversary. What has been or remains the biggest challenge in organizing this running event?
The secret for success is to never stop questioning what we do and why we do it… Year after year, we analyze our event to improve it and take the important challenges into account, be it in security, environmental matters and most importantly to keep improving the quality of our event for runners.
NE: Can you share with us some of the important memories you have made during 4 decades of the race?
For each edition, a special story comes to my mind be it happy or less happy. What motivates us is that we make so many people happy. Every participant on his/her own represents a story as running the “20km” is a personal and human challenge for them. Be it for a charity, a handisport, a family, a project or any other purpose, the stories are always emotional and strong.
The happiness and emotion we see on the participants face when arriving gives us the energy to prepare the next edition.
NE: Why should someone participate in the ‘20km de Brussels’?
The people who participate in our event are people who are ready for a challenge and want to get a beautiful experience in Brussels. Usually they are people in their 30s that want to get back in shape or are running for a cause. They realize that running or walking is easy and that they feel good when doing it, both mentally and physically. Once they start training, they catch the running virus and start regaining time for themselves. Year after year, the percentage of women participating rises with 2%, we hope it will be 50/50 one day!
NE: What is your advice to the runners this year?
Participate! Enjoy the beautiful party we are putting together and listen to your body and its limits. Read about our “Run for Zero” campaign on our website because an edition without any incident is the most beautiful gift for all our hard work.
Alone in life, we are nothing. We may have had luck by having a good idea at a good time but our success is hard work by a team that ‘puts in the hours’ year after year with all their heart and mind. Success demands sacrifice and a lot of work, in life you get nothing for nothing.
NE: What is your vision for the ‘20km of Brussels’?
This is an event that has a special spirit and sensitivity. It gathers people that have a like-minded peace and love approach and high positivity and dynamism. We need that in our busy lives in today’s world.
NE: One word to describe the ‘20km of Brussels’?
The Syndicat d’Initiative-Bruxelles Promotion (SIBP which was founded in 1886 asbl by the Mayor of Brussels Charles Buls aims to gather the private sector, to attract audiences and promote the Region of Brussels. Today, it organizes a series of important events destined to large audiences representing many nationalities and diverse communities of Brussels City, among them the “20km of Brussels” and the “Belgian National Day”. Last year, over 130 nationalities were represented at the “20km” and over 400 groups or communities.