Sonian Forest - Brussels, Belgium
I tend to prefer solo running adventures versus trail races, but races are still a lot of fun. When I’m traveling, I’ll peruse sites such as Running in the USA or ahotu Marathons to see if there is an ultra or trail race close by. On a trip to Amsterdam meeting a friend, I found the Ecotrail Brussels trail race in the Sonian Forest (Forêt de Soignes) located just south of Brussels, Belgium. Being only about a 2 hour drive from Amsterdam, Netherlands I’d be able to get away in the morning and be back in time to go out for dinner.
I arrived late on Friday night and my friends wanted to go out as soon as I landed. The result of this evening out was I struggled to wake up and thus pulled into the race just as the runners were heading into the forest. I checked in as quick as I could and then sprinted down the path to try to catch up. There were so many trails at the start I wasn’t 100% sure I was going the right way. Not the best way to start a long run, and I felt better when I finally caught up to the other runners.
The Sonian Forest makes for an excellent place to train or do an ultra run given how close it is to Brussels. Much of the run was under the forest canopy with a few sections breaking out through farmland. This marathon length run had plenty of rolling hills which added up to 2000 feet (610m) of elevation gain. I even got to see some suburbs since I made a wrong turn that resulted in two extra miles. The runners that followed me were not thrilled with my navigation.
Belgium is preserving this forest since it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to Wikipedia, “As of 2017, the Sonian Forest has been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the only Belgian component to the multinational inscription ‘Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe’.” The forest is full of history being next to Waterloo, where Napoleon was defeated for the final time in 1815. The track of this run nearly goes to the Lion’s Mound that overlooks the battlefield from a height of 226 steps (after paying a fee).
Brussels, Belgium is a very common city to visit for business and pleasure, especially given its importance as the center of government of the EU. If you are in town, be sure to visit the Sonian Forest for your own trail or ultra run as there are plenty of unpaved trails. If you are lucky enough to be there on the weekend of the Ecotrail Brussels, be sure to check it out!
Start and Finish : Hippodrome de Boitsfort
Distance : 28.7 miles (46k)
Elevation Gain : 2000 feet (610m)