FKT: Wiebke Ringel, Stefanie Schout, Christian Schout - Graf-Rhena-Weg / Albtalweg (Germany) - 2022-02-27

Route variation
one way
Gender category
Mixed-gender team
Start date
Finish date
Total time
1h 56m 12s

Run The Duke

And so we meet again, old friend. They say you never forget your first. The Graf-Rhena-Weg in the Northern Black Forest will always hold a special place in my heart. This is where I ventured out onto the trails as a runner for the very first time, stumbling along on Bambi legs behind Steffi aka Coach-bij-dag-Schout-bij-nacht. While the broad and well-marked trail might not pose much of a challenge to seasoned (ultra) trail runners (you know who you are), the idea that you can simply skip your local park routine and take your running shoes Into The Woods instead was mind-blowing to me back then…

Named after a 19th century German Duke who generously donated to the Schwarzwaldverein (Black Forest hiking and conversational society), the Graf-Rhena-Weg connects the picturesque town of Ettlingen with the sleepy village of Bad Herrenalb. The trail mostly runs along the River Alb, lined by lush meadows on one side and steep forest slopes on the other, with a modest steady climb of about 300 metres elevation if you run the southbound direction, and a gentle rolling downhill if you run the northbound route.

We (Steffi, Chrissi and I) decided to run the southbound route, i.e. up the hill and into the thick of it. Since the route is point-to-point, we left the car at Bad Herrenalb station and took the local train back to Ettlingen where we started our run late on Sunday morning. With clear skies and beautiful sun, we were excited for a lovely day out. Yet the freezing temperatures and icy gales, especially at the start of the route when navigating the alleyways in Ettlingen, reminded us that Winter has not quite left the building. Steffi and I were grateful that we had decided to layer up in long tights. Chrissi, wanting to show off his chiselled calves and new funky running socks (a birthday gift for the Big 4-0), may have regretted his choice to run in shorts, at least judging from the occasional manly whimper when a particularly strong gush of wind hit.

The kilometres flew by on the first half of the route from Ettlingen to Marxzell as Chrissi and I got caught up in a book discussion turned heated geopolitical debate. Meanwhile Steffi aka Coach focused on more pressing matters, like keeping an eye on the pace and keeping us from taking wrong turns or running straight into a tree (accident-prone runner over here). Admittedly, the Graf-Rhena-Weg is pretty straightforward…still, even on our best days, Chrissi and I are a chaotic duo when it comes to navigation – think two blindfolded ADHD squirrels on a triple-shot espresso – and Steffi typically has her hands full trying to reign us in.

After crossing the street in Marxzell, we spotted a pony(!) in the backyard of one particularly house where normally a dog with a seriously threatening bark would prompt us to pick up the pace…not this time though, as the dog appeared to be as entranced by the pony as we were. From Marxzell, the elevation gets steeper ever so slightly, culminating in the dreaded climb just before Frauenalb. To the surprise of absolutely no one, Chrissi pulled away from Steffi and I on that section, quickly disappearing over the hill. As much as l like to tease him for being an Old Man, on those uphills I grudgingly have to admit that Chrissi is the Speed Goat rather than the Old Goat in our group. Meanwhile, Steffi and I were pushing through, huffing and puffing and snacking on humble pie. Chrissi graciously waited for us on the other side, where you have a stunning view of the ruins that remain of the Frauenalb monastery – a convent built next to the River Alb for unmarried daughters from noble families back in the day (hence the name Frauenalb, which combines the German word for women with the name of the river).

From Frauenalb, the trail runs through a Bannwald section, a protected forest area where foresting activities are heavily restricted, allowing nature to reclaim the space. This is one of my favourite parts of the trail as the forest has a more vibrant, almost enchanted feel to it when golden beams of sunlight shine through the canopy of trees. Just before the trail reaches the borders of Bad Herrenalb, the forest clears on your left, giving way to a panoramic view of the Upper Alb Valley and a Black Forest mountain range. Trail traffic picked up noticeably the closer we got Bad Herrenalb, as the infrequent hikers and mountain bikers were joined by larger family groups out on a Sunday walk. The last kilometre of the trail follows a street into Bad Herrenalb, where we made it over the railway tracks at a level crossing within seconds of the signal announcing an approaching train. From here, the trail turns onto a river promenade for a couple of hundred metres before ending at Bad Herrenalb station.

Overall, we ran at a moderate and sustainable pace that allowed us to enjoy the views and take pictures along the way (the pony sadly refused to pose for a photo). After taking the car back home, we refuelled with plant-based burgers and beer, a feast worthy of a duke!