FKT: Ken Chitwood - Finnewanderweg (Germany) - 2023-06-17

Route variation
one way
Gender category
Start date
Finish date
Total time
11h 29m 40s
GPS track(s)

This was my second attempt at the Finnewanderweg, following a DNF at the halfway point in 2020. It was a warm day, reaching a high of 32 degrees Celsius (89 degrees Fahrenheit). I set out from my home-base in Eisenach by train at 4:58 am, arriving at Weißenfels at 7:00 am. I was carrying 2.5L of water, a handheld flash light, bandaids, sunscreen lotion, a waterproof mini-bag, several sugar waffles, two CLIF bars, a banana, one energy gel, two packs of Haribo gummies, some Edeka-brand "power balls," salt tablets, and a few naproxen sodium tablets.

I took off on the run at 7:03 am, making my way to Naumburg (the end of the first stage of 17km) around 1:45h into the run. I was moving at a good clip, with fairly flat asphalt bike paths to run on. The sun was already beating down pretty well, but it was not particularly humid, which was a good thing. The scenery is bucolic and the few sections in the forest had some pleasant single track. Naumburg has a few sights to see, but I kept moving through town as quickly as I could, nomming on a sugar waffle and downing a significant amount of water.

The next stage flew by between Naumburg and Bad Kösen/Himmelreich (16km), broken up with a stop at a fresh spring to refill my water (using some iodine tablets to purify). The stretch just outside Bad Kösen had a detour, which I took a bit of time to figure out (having only studied the official route ahead of time). The official website for the Finnewanderweg mentioned a few sections might be out, but this was not mentioned specifically. I got lost in the forest and ran into patches of stinging nettle (ouch) before finding my way through a series of villages higher up in the range. I made the ascent around 10:00 am and the heat was already starting to get to me. I slowed my pace and walked a few stretches that were particularly exposed to the sun, as my heart rate was rising steadily. I finished that section with a descent down cobblestone pathways into Eckhartsberga, stopping at a natural spring to wash my face and cool down a bit before proceeding to Marienthal to finish the third stage (16 km).

The next stage, between Marienthal and Rastenberg is my "home stretch," as I've run this frequently from a base in Buttstädt, just south of the route. Nonetheless, as this stretch lies in the borderlands between the states of Sachsen-Anhalt and Thüringen, it is not particularly well taken care of. It is frequently overgrown, rutted, and constantly inundated with pools of water in certain sections. Even after two weeks with little to no rain, there were a couple of parts that were almost impassible because of the mud. Others presented navigational niggles, with the trail disappearing into grass and other overgrowth, fallen trees, and all sorts of other obstacles. I only got lost once. Adding to the fun, there have been several wolf sightings in the area recently (so I kept my eyes wide open). Thanks to the navigational issues, the heat, and having to stop to remove ticks every 10-15 minutes, this stage took me much longer than I expected (14 km). I finished in Rastenberg, running past the Waldschwimmbad where they were attempting a world-record pool air mattress chain. I enviously looked at the swimmers and sucked down some warm water from my tepid reservoir. Yay.

The ascent from Rastenberg slowed me to a walk. It was now 2:30 pm in the afternoon, the heat of the day, and I had another 28kms to go. I never got back to a good running clip after this, only managing to really move on the downhills from then on. My legs were shot and my water supplies running dangerously low with no creeks, springs, or other natural sources of water to turn to anymore. I settled in for the longest 17 miles of my life. In general, however, I enjoyed the remainder of the run, making my way slowly up and down the undulating territory between Rastenberg and Burgwenden, looking out on the Thüringer Becken below. When I got into Burgwenden, finishing the fifth stage (15km), a nice lady offered some water, which I declined. I was desperate for it, but wanted to remain unsupported. At the other end of the village, a man offered me a beer before climbing the hill that leads out of the settlement. This was even harder to turn down.

With flies buzzing all over and around my face, making it into my ears and nose, I started the ascent out of town. This is a courage killer and I was cursing the gods as the buckled-asphalt path continued to punish me for my early swiftness of pace between Weißenfels and Naumburg. The only grace was that the clouds started to roll in and it started to rain. The temperatures cooled slightly and as I got back up on the ridge, it started to really pour down. This reduced the bug problem and brought a bit of welcome respite from the heat. Although I was moving slowly and in plenty of pain, I enjoyed the time in the Hohe Schrecke and its alternating beech forest and open clearings, the only remaining evidence of the Soviet occupation forces' presence here in the 1940s. This really is my favorite part of the Finnewanderweg, as it offers almost unimpeded views across the Becken to the south and into the Saale-Unstrut-Triasland Naturpark to the north.

Limping along and looking quite the miserable figure, I crossed the Unstrut just before 6:30 pm, completing the final stage (13km). There were no crowds to greet me in Sachsenburg an der Schmücke, just a man who thought I might be his friends coming for a visit and a woman out on her balcony smoking who gawked as I raised my hands above my head in celebration. I must've appeared a madman. I stumbled over to a local Kneipe (the Burgschänke), asked for a cup of water and took a seat on the steps outside. I had a few ticks to take care of (one that had gotten pretty deep in there and needed a knife to dig out) and a massive bruise on my left foot from catching a branch and breaking it to pieces with my metatarsals, but was otherwise in pretty good nick. No sunburn. No significant bleeding. No blisters (I used some moleskin around two typical trouble spots and was otherwise lubed up with Vaseline between my toes, on my heels, and everywhere else there might be some friction). I was, however, fairly queasy. The Kerl at the Burgschänke offered a beer after hearing the tale of my day, but I had to decline (again). Sad story. That's two free beers missed.

My wife arrived at 7:30 pm to pick me up and take me home. She also had beer with her, which I had to once again turn down. Three beers missed. It wouldn't be until the next day that I could finally drink some more beer -- this time on a 10km hike with my parents-in-law. "Abtraining," my father-in-law called it. Abtraining indeed. My feet are swollen today, but so is my heart. I've wanted to complete this run for four years and I am glad to have it in the review mirror. 

In particular, I can't wait to run the stretch around Rastenberg again sometime soon, soaking in the memories of a day a few years in the making. The Finnewanderweg is a beast of a run. Though it only features around 4,000ft of elevation and features long stretches of paved path, it makes you pay for it with other sections that are completely re-wilded, overgrown with nettle, and threatening for many other reasons. It's no surprise that not many have tried to run the whole thing, but I'm glad I did. Now, to do the whole Rennsteig (168.5km) next year...