City Running offers jogging tours of Ghent


City Running is the only running tour initiative in Belgium. Founder Wim Van de Putte says the active tours are ideal for visiting tourists who are pressed for time. The formula has especially been drawing business people and convention visitors. More tour types like poetry runs should follow soon.

Running tour initiative is unique in Flanders

Normally journalism is not really a physical challenge. Interviewing someone over a cup of coffee, reading documents or typing up a story: There’s little chance of sore muscles the next morning. Today will be different.

I meet Wim Van De Putte, the man behind City Running Ghent, at the Marriot Hotel on the Graslei, the tour’s usual starting point. The idea is simple: getting to know the city of Ghent while running. “The formula is ideal for someone who is staying in Ghent but has little time,” explains Van De Putte. “A half-day guided tour is often too long for someone who is only here for one night. We offer them a quick taste of the town while doing a little sport.”

And off we go. First stop is the Prinsenhof neighbourhood, birthplace of Charles V, followed by the beautiful Sint-Veerleplein, with the Gravensteen castle across the street. Classic sights for every visitor, and it would indeed be a pity to miss them due to lack of time.

Van De Putte offers a brief word of explanation, giving you the chance to catch your breath. “I am a runner myself and a real Gentenaar. For me this is an ideal way to show people something of my city and share my love for sports.”

His participants are mainly business people or those visiting conventions. “Many of them are around only for a few days and would be glad go out for a run but don’t really know where. In the end, they’ve been everywhere and seen nothing. For them, a city run combines sport and culture. Also, a lot of business people are quite sporty, so they are happy to have an opportunity to train.”

Different tours

The tour takes us from the Vrijdagsmarkt to the Vooruit, as Van De Putte talks about how the World’s Fair of 1913 has influenced the appearance of Ghent. Arts centre Vooruit (a former socialist co-operative) celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, so City Running has organised a special tour of the many places that have played a role in its history. In February, he’ll be leading a poetry run in collaboration with the Poetry Centre, visiting spots related to literary history.

An ideal way to show people something of my city

- Wim Van De Putte

But even his regular tours, he says, “are different every time. I adjust the route and the story to my audience. When I am with British or Americans, for example, I tell them about the Treaty of Ghent [the peace treaty that ended the war of 1812] or Lieven Bauwens, the man who stole the spinning machine from the English.”

There are similar running tour initiatives in other European cities, including Amsterdam, Paris and Geneva; most major cities can be explored in running shoes. But City Running Ghent is the only one in Belgium. “I have taken part in running tours in Barcelona and New York,” says Van De Putte. “In Ghent, we started in May; it’s quite recent, but the idea is working out well.”

A city run ranges from 6.5 to 8.5 kilometres, and Van De Putte is quite happy to run with only a few participants – even just one. “And a little rain won’t stop us; it’s only in case of really stormy weather that the tours don’t take place,” he says.

And the condition of the participants? “Usually no problem,” confirms. They know what they are getting into. “A 40-minute run at a leisurely pace. But a more intense running experience is also possible.”