The Ardennes with the Negative Split Running Tribe

Since 2018 the city of Antwerp has an urban running tribe called Negative Split. When hearing their name, you imagine city streets, graffiti and noisy traffic. But this tribe prefers the forest trails and single tracks, and we are invited to join them. We meet in the small village of Cens for a 30k trail run. When we arrive in their weekend residence, the Negative Splitters are all hastily preparing: packing their trailvests, filling soft flasks and having a last visit to the toilet. Then we drive to the trailhead in Laneuville-au-Bois. At the parking near the church we make a group picture and off we go.

Negative Split is founded by Sebastiaan Vandermolen and Michiel Meekels. They are friends since their childhood, but became serious runners on a later age. Sebastiaan, or Seba as friends call him, started running in 2012. He wanted to loose some weight and registered for a full marathon. He found out that he was quite a good runner, especially on the long distances. A few years later he ran the Marathon des Sables and that was a real game changer for him. After this multi-stage desert run, his friend Weking asked to join him on a huge running adventure that connected Alaska and Patagonia in 590 marathons, running 25.000 kilometres. Project Via PanAm was born. Seba convinced his girlfriend to join and quit his job. In June 2016 they started in Deadhorse Alaska for their first marathon and in March 2018 they finished their 590th in Ushuaia, South Patagonia. Now Seba is racing the ultra distances and in 2019 he ran the Tor des Géants, a 330k race in the Italian Aosta Valley.

After running our first two kilometres on a flat forest track, we cross a small river and start a steep climb. When we arrive at the top of this 100 meters ascend, we go down again and follow the valley of the small river Ruisseau de Basseille. The heavy rains from the last few weeks transformed the forest trails in mud pools and we go in ankle deep. Soon we leave the forest and enter the open grasslands.

When Seba returned from his ViaPanAm adventure, Michiel and Seba started talking about founding a running group in Antwerp and so Negative Split started. Although they initiated an urban running tribe, they prefer running through the green areas in and around Antwerp. They chose to call it a tribe because the basic values for them are friendship, dedication and believe in running as a way of life. They want to bring running back to the roots and on the way have some fun. Michiel and Seba try to put all these aspects in their runs, races and weekend drops. The tribe is an open community for runners who share their passion for the sport. “Running is the answer. Who cares what the question is”. Negative Split wants their community to be a family, no matter the background of their members.

After 10 kilometres we reach the highest point of our trail run. On a 600 meters high hill we pass two radar towers of the military airport of Saint Hubert. Build in the late fifties this airport is a remnant of the cold war and is one of six Belgian reserve airports for emergency landings and military exercises. The forests surrounding the airport are protected natural areas. When we descend the airport hill we are almost half way and it’s time for a break. Michiel cuts his homemade banana bread and soon everyone is eating this healthy carbs.

When we continue running after the break we talk to some members of Negative Split. Most of them started running just a few years earlier and got infected by the trails. Michiel also started running four years ago after he left his previous business. He had more time for sports and registered for the Antwerp Ten Miles. Soon after that race he discovered the trails and running became a way of life for him. A healthy body and a relaxed mind, a little bit competition some now and then, but most of the time it’s about having fun with his fellow runners.

We climb some impressive hills, have astonishing views, pass some rivers and on the way have numerous laughs. After 30 kilometres we arrive in Laneuville-au-Bois again. Michiel opens the backdoor of his car and soon we all are having a drink and some recovery food. This running tribe is all about friendship, having fun and enjoying the trails. We drive back to the house in Cents were the Splitters will recover from today’s run and prepare for another one the next day. For us it’s time to say goodbye and thanks Michiel, Seba and the rest of the Negative Splitters for this beautiful running experience.

Follow Negative Split Running Tribe on their website.

All about the Via PanAm project you can find here.