Meet Coree Woltering: On His Ice Age Trail FKT and Diversity

Coree Woltering, 30, needed a lot of food in the process of setting the men’s supported fastest known time (FKT) of 21 days, 13 hours, and 35 minutes on Wisconsin’s 1,147-mile Ice Age Trail. As the born-and-raised Illinoisan navigated this route in Wisconsin, which creates a winding hook between the state’s west boundary at St. Croix Falls and Potawatomi State Park out on the Door County peninsula of the state’s east side, Woltering’s daily menu included 8,000 calories in gas-station hamburgers and didn’t stop there. His is most cherished meals were gifted by supporters, who followed along virtually and showed up in-person during his journey.

On day 10, an ankle injury flared to the size of a baseball. As Woltering iced his body, the crew did a Facebook Live stream on the side of road. “People were like, ‘Hey, how are you healing? What are you craving?’ I said, I’d love lasagna and red-velvet cupcakes. People saw where I was located, and met us at the next trailhead with food and cupcakes. And one family said, ‘We have a farm that goes by the trail. We made lasagna for you, and you can stay with us,’—in middle-of-nowhere Wisconsin. We absolutely went, and they put five of us up in their house. I had one of the best lasagnas I’ve ever had,” says Woltering. After they left the farmhouse, many more caloric deliveries were made by fans, which fueled the remaining miles on one of Woltering’s most treasured trails. “I trained for some of my best races, like the Western States 100, on the Ice Age Trail. It’s my home trail,” Woltering says.

Coree Woltering en route to setting the Ice Age Trail men’s supported fastest known time. Photo: Kevin Youngblood

Being invited to the dinner table by Wisconsinites reflects the cultural generosity and hospitality often shared by Midwesterners, yet is symbolic of a much larger narrative. Woltering, a Black, gay man, ran the route’s rugged singletrack, town streets, and segments of private property during one of the most historic times of civil and human rights unrest in the modern United States—coupled with the global COVID-19 pandemic. From February 23 to May 25 of 2020, several highly publicized murders of Black Americans, including that of runner Ahmaud Arbery, followed by Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, sparked protests to end systemic racism, both nationally and globally. Woltering started his three-week effort on June 1.

Emphasizes Woltering, “There is so much hate and bad news going around in the world right now. But this is a positive story that needs to be told. It’s a person-of-color story. A Black-person story. It’s also a small-town-Wisconsin-USA story. I could not be more thankful to the people of Wisconsin for what they did. They were supportive.” Black people, primarily of African and Caribbean descent, comprise six-percent of the population in the state of Wisconsin. At the beginning of June, people of all ethnicities and races gathered for protests statewide. Throughout the month, Wisconsin National Guard troops were mobilized to assist authorities during the demonstrations, to both monitor for civil safety and intervene during periods of violence that occurred. But Woltering’s experience was far different than what the news reflects.

“Any time we went into civilization or talked to people in the community, they were open and accepting. People were doing anything they could to help me succeed. That was the most encouraging thing of this whole experience,” says Woltering. He started on the trail’s west side, where the first 400 miles are fairly remote. Once the trail reentered civilization, it was a snap back to reality, as he saw an increasing number of hikers, families out running, and people in general. The trail was usually wide enough that he didn’t need to wear a mask, to help prevent the spread COVID-19. But at times, when he stopped off at any public locations, he wore one. And when fans stopped at the crew van to take photos with him, they usually stood six feet away. The only time he felt sketched out was when he crossed a newer segment between 2 and 3 a.m., which crossed various private properties. It was dark, homeowners were hosting bonfires, people could be heard outside, and random gunshots went off in the distance, which rightfully spooked him. But by and large, “It’s not everything you see in the mainstream news. There are some really good people out there,” in the world, he says.

Born and raised in Ottawa, Illinois, Woltering was always a runner. He ran the 200- and 400-meter track distances in grade school, followed by 400- through 1,600-meter events for Ottawa Township High School. Following in the footsteps of his mom, aunt, and uncle, he attended Illinois’s Greenville College (now called Greenville University), located a few hours south of Ottawa, on an academic scholarship. He pursued a biology degree and ran Division III track and cross country in the 400- through 3,000-meter events.

Coree at the 2019 Half Marathon des Sables Peru. All photos courtesy of Coree Woltering unless otherwise noted.

“Looking back, it’s funny to say that I went to a private, Christian college. Even through college, I was a gay man, and I didn’t come out until I was almost 26 years old,” he reflects. At the same time, it made sense for him during that stage of life. “I was born into a family that went to church. My family went to Greenville College, so I was expected to go there. And, Greenville has always had a fairly solid running program,” he says.

Woltering’s running eventually inspired him to try triathlons. In college, “I would get injured a lot while putting up the mileage that I thought I needed to be a cross-country runner and on the team. I also had a swimming background, so I decided that doing a triathlon would be a good mix of things that would tie everything together,” he says. He qualified twice for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships, competing in both the 2013 and 2014 editions.

Also during his college years, Woltering was back home for a visit when mutual friends introduced him to his future husband, Tom Aussem, 51, who also grew up in Ottawa. “I had not come out at the point when we met. So, we would hang out, but I was like, ‘I’m not gay—so there you go.’ He was like, ‘Sure, whatever.’ That went on for a while,” says Woltering, who then moved from Southern Illinois to Colorado for a couple of years post-college to pursue being a professional triathlete.

“I ended up coming out to friends in Colorado,” says Woltering. “[My friends all] said, ‘We always thought you were gay.’ Then, when I came out to people back home, I thought it would be this giant thing. I did it to a group of friends through a text first. Everyone was like, ‘Yeah, okay, and…? We know. You’re just Coree.’ I thought, Isn’t there supposed to be a big moment?

At first, Woltering and Aussem dated long distance. And during Woltering’s time in Colorado, he discovered ultrarunning when he paced a friend at the 2014 Leadville Trail 100 Mile. He “was immediately hooked on the atmosphere of the race, the scenery, the community, and the idea of running 100 miles in the mountains,” says the bio on his sponsor The North Face’s website. The following month, he raced the 2014 Quad Cities Marathon in 2:37–his first time running longer than 16 miles. That fall, he ran the Malibu Canyon 50k and finished third overall. In 2015, he finished well in a number of different trail ultramarathons, and it had completely taken over his path as a triathlete. Also in 2015, Woltering moved back to Illinois. After a year full of races and transition, Aussem found a special moment to propose, at the beginning of 2016. The duo married that summer.

Coree and husband Tom Aussem celebrating Pride Month in June.

Woltering reflects, “After I had been engaged for four months and we were getting married, that’s when I posted it all on social media. And, that also had only positive [reactions]. I was like, ‘This isn’t a big deal and nobody cares?’ Everyone just said, ‘We care about you.’”

In the spring of 2016, Woltering ran the Down to Run Endurance Challenge 50k in Florida. It was his first time flying to a race, and he forgot a pair of racing shorts. He improvised and threw on his Speedo bathing suit instead. “It was absolutely comfortable and totally fine. I was like, ‘Here we go!’ And ‘Speedo Man’ was born. I won the 50k, and people loved it,” Woltering says.

“Speedo Man” racing at the 2019 The North Face Argentina 50k. Photo: @clubdecorredoresok on Instagram

Also an active adventurer, Aussem has been a professional skydiver for 18 years including tandem jumps and competitive skydiving. “He’s a great crew chief, and does a great job of being at my running events that he can make it to. We used to be able to plan more in advance, before I was an athlete with The North Face. Now, there are opportunities that come up with shorter notice, so we’ll have someone else there for me as crew,” says Woltering. When the couple does travel together for his races, they typically fly in, race, and then hit the ground running to see all of the historic sites and art museums.

Woltering received widespread support when he announced his marriage with his husband, though it hasn’t all been easy. He gets frustrated at times with the assumptions that people make based off of their age gap. “Tom is older than me by quite a bit, so that always adds an interesting dynamic. And he’s white. It can be very hard at times. He is a very accomplished sky diver, and he’s done great things. I have done well with running and continue to get better. We’ll go places [like restaurants] and people will look at him and be like, ‘What can I get you?’ And, I’m like, ‘I’m here, too.’ And, people will see me in my element during a trail race and afterward say, ‘You had a great run. Is this your coach?’ I say, ‘No, this is my husband.’” says Woltering.

Aussem’s staging ground for his sky diving is a 15-minute drive away from part of the Ice Age Trail, which is how Woltering initially started to explore the route. “I continued to train on a lot of the southern sections of the trail. Eventually, I started exploring northern sections, too,” Woltering says. In 2018, Woltering says he used the Ice Age Trail as training grounds on his way to taking 25th at the Western States 100.

In other words, Woltering’s fitness and endurance has been well-honed over these past few years. When he pursued the Ice Age Trail FKT, Annie Weiss was the previous overall supported record-holder, which she set in 2018. He beat that record by nearly five hours. He also chipped off the men’s previous supported record, by close to 17 hours, which was formerly set by Jason Dorgan.

Woltering says, “To be here seems insane because I honestly didn’t know what ultrarunning was six years ago. I want there to be someone who looks like me on a poster that others can look up to.  ‘Hey, Black people, gay people, the LGBTQ community—we all love the outdoors. We will be out there. And you will see us.”

Coree and Tom in the fall colors at nearby Starved Rock State Park in Illinois.

Throughout his career, Woltering has consciously sought to increase representation of diversity in ultrarunning. However, his FKT wasn’t intentionally planned to take place during the protests and riots—the movement to speak out against systemic racism against Black Americans escalated fast. As he moved forward with this huge physical, mental, and logistical undertaking, he didn’t have enough mental space to fully reflect on the elevating unrest countrywide.

“That has been the extremely hard part. Because, I still don’t know I’ve had enough time to fully think about all of this…. I wanted to be flexible and adaptable. I had a photographer flying in. He is also an African American, and he said, ‘I would absolutely love to be a part of what you’re doing, because of the times.’ The really hard part was, I was trying to not have the times become something about what I was doing at the time I was doing it. Then, he called me on the way and said, ‘I’m flying into Minneapolis, Minnesota, and they are closing down certain streets [for the protests]. It’ll take longer for me to get there than I thought.’ I was hoping to address [the uprise] after this [FKT], but I had to start thinking about it before. If I’m sending my crew, which includes a black gay dude and a white gay dude, and I don’t know what’s going on in Northern Wisconsin at this time. But also, if we’re going up there, we’re going to do it in typical Coree fashion: I’m here. We are going after this FKT. I’m trying to get this job done. Let’s do this,” he says.

Woltering did have two other goals alongside his FKT. He used the effort to raise funds for the Ice Age Trail Alliance and Feeding America. “The Ice Age Trail Alliance is paid for by donations. With COVID-19, they can’t do all the fundraising that they need to do. I’m a fan of supporting trail systems and supporting people exploring outdoors, no matter what that may be for them, whether that’s section-hiking for three to five miles at a time or thru-hiking,” he says.

As a professional coach (he coaches about 15 athletes across the U.S. and Canada) and athlete, Woltering doesn’t currently have a lot of disposable income, but he can use his talents to funnel financial support for good. “I’ve been lucky enough to always have food on the table. I do not believe any kid or person should have to go to bed hungry. In 2018, Feeding America provided 4.3 billion meals. Each dollar donated provides up to 10 meals, which is insane. If you donate $10, that is potentially 100 meals. Our local food bank uses Feeding America as do some in the [Midwestern cities of the] Quad Cities, Chicago, and Wisconsin. I’m choosing to be uncomfortable, as I run, and I can stop that at any point and go home. But if someone is hungry out there, they aren’t choosing that.”

Here is Woltering’s fundraiser page for Feeding America donations, and here is Woltering’s fundraiser page for the Ice Age Trail Alliance.

Despite many race cancellations, Woltering has also managed to race several times in 2020. At print, he is signed up for the Javelina Jundred, which has not yet been canceled. In the long-term, the Ice Age Trail is not yet complete. There will eventually be a full 1,200 miles. “I would totally do it again now to see if can do it faster. If it becomes a full 1,200 miles, I would run it, and I’d love to see what they could do [with the trail extension]. That would be awesome,” he says.

Ultimately, Woltering says, “An openly gay, Black man passed through the [rural] communities of Wisconsin. I wasn’t afraid, because I don’t tend to be—and people were so amazing. All of the positive stories that we have from what happened out there truly make me think we will be okay as a country.”

[Author’s Note: The original phrase “gay marriage” was updated to “his marriage with his husband.” We apologize for using a phrase that inherently reinforces inequality between marriages of various sexual orientations, which was not our intention. Thank you for the opportunity to learn with us.]

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

Leave a comment to share your stories of racing and running with Coree Woltering!

Tom is a professional skydiver and the couple’s dog AJ is in the background. Photo: Carly Ries

Coree at The North Face Peru 80k.

Morgan Tilton

is an adventure journalist who writes about the outdoors with a focus in travel, industry news, and human endurance. She is a recipient of multiple North American Travel Journalists Association awards including two double-award articles—“Wild & Broken: A First SUP Descent of Utah’s Escalante River” and “A Wild Space”—that share her first descent on stand-up paddle board of Utah’s wild Escalante River, a self-supported journey she shared with four friends. She works with close to 50 publications. Follow Morgan on her website and Instagram account.

There are 45 comments

  1. Ron

    Kudos to you for having the courage to write this excellent piece! There will be many who will be livid if they read this, as it will disrupt their narrative that this country is nothing but a bunch of white-privileged bigots. The fact is, this is a rare, accurate depiction of the overwhelming majority of our nation as a loving and accepting community. Honestly, most of us couldn’t care less about the color of your skin or the preference of your sexuality. Thank you for putting this there – well done!

      1. RWD

        I think you missed the nuances of Ron’s comments. He’s essentially stating that your article somehow proves there’s no systemic racism in the US, which isn’t true. I am so glad Coree was treated with kindness and respect while he was running his FKT, but that doesn’t mean racism and bigotry don’t exist, and it’s disturbing that you thanked Ron for his comments. “I couldn’t care less about the color of your skin or the preference of your sexuality” is such a loaded sentence, I am really disappointed that you didn’t pick up on how problematic it is. His comment is one loud dog whistle.

        Regarding the article itself: when you write “Woltering received widespread support when he announced his gay marriage, though it hasn’t all been easy,” you can just say marriage.

        1. Morgan Tilton

          Thanks for your feedback on this RWD. In my comment, I absolutely was not trying to reinforce that systematic racism and bigotry does not exist; nor was I supporting Ron in his assumption that “most of us do not care” about color of skin or sexuality, as I personally think the latter invalidates that fact that biases are systematic regardless of our individual intentions. In my opinion, I do not personally know Ron and there are so many nuances to this discussion that cannot be picked up in a comment thread. My thought process as the journalist who spoke with Coree, is that he genuinely wants to share a story thread about how people came together to support him, so I’m going to uplift that story. Regarding the identification of “gay marriage:” that was important to include here to identify to the reader that Coree felt support in his identity of sexual orientation but not necessarily in the age gap within his partnership. However, I agree that in everyday speech it’s essential to normalize ‘gay marriage’ as ‘marriage.’

          1. Michael Crane

            Really have to disagree with your justification of ‘gay marriage’ here. You could instead write ‘his marriage to his husband’ if you really feel it’s important to include (I would argue that it’s not since it’s established earlier in the piece that he is gay, but I understand you want to highlight the age difference at that moment of the piece).

            Again, adding the qualifier ‘gay’ before our marriages inherently makes them unequal to other marriages. We fought so, so hard to get from Stonewall to Obergefell, and while there is still so much important work to do, clarifying these small things to create a more egalitarian world is also important. These details matter, they help shape our world, how we see each other and how we see ourselves.

            1. Morgan Tilton

              Michael, Thank you so much for taking the time to share your perspective and this education with me and us. We will update this language from “gay marriage” to a phrase that is both clarifying and egalitarian – not forgetting the latter. I appreciate your energy and time.

        2. Nick

          RWD, I didn’t see Ron deny the existence of racism. He said, “the overwhelming majority of our nation [is] a loving and accepting community”. Is that wrong? Are most Americans hateful and unaccepting?

          Also, there is no “right” way to view race or sexuality – you should open your mind to the idea that other ideas may be complementary to yours. Someone saying they don’t care about the demographic details of a person is a colloquial way of saying they evaluate others by actions and temperament, which to me sounds quite fair. We all judge our friends, spouses, and life partners by these metrics – there is no one who doesn’t! So to extend that to public figures seems totally fine to me.

          Why do you think this is bad? Do you think we should judge people by their skin color and sexuality?

          1. Ron

            Thank you, Nick. I couldn’t have stated that better myself. I think the fact that your questions were met with crickets is “one loud dog whistle.”

          2. RWD

            Sorry, not going to “open my mind” to ideas like Ron’s.

            Should people be judged by their skin color or their sexual orientation? No. Should we acknowledge the reality that people are judged based on those immutable characteristics? Yes. (And btw, saying “sexual preference” rather than sexual orientation was a huge red flag that Ron was not engaging in good faith.) To say “I don’t see color” is to deny someone’s experiences – and to deny our own implicit biases. Instead of arguing that everything’s fine, push to be better. Stop invalidating the experiences of BIPOC people or queer people by claiming that we live in a post-racial/post-homophobic world.

            1. S.K.

              to RWD: I tend to agree with Ron/Nick in their assessment of America. Racism and racists certainly exist here—though having lived/traveled outside of the US for more than half my life, I can say that there’s far less of it here than in most of the world—but I think it’s an unfair stretch to go from the actions of a few bad policemen to say that the entire structure of America is racist. It’s unfair not just because it ignores the reality of the people who welcomed Coree into their homes, but the far bigger numbers of white policemen (and doctors and teachers and shopkeepers and businessmen, etc) who have done extraordinary and ordinary good things to blacks (and Asians and Hispanics). If systemic racism is so entrenched in America, how can those good people and good actions exist? If you want to point to bad policemen to say that systemic racism exists, can I not point to good policemen to say that systemic racism doesn’t exist? If so, why not? Can a reasonable person who sees the generational suffering and problems in the black community raise questions like, “Who is actually doing more harm to the black community? Is it white policemen or black gang members? What can truly help the black community more: anti-racism training for the police force or even dismantling police departments, or something like reforming the welfare system that has led to the breakdown of the black family which is linked to so much of the problems that plague the black community (e.g. higher crime, lower education, lower income)? I’m not saying that it’s an either/or proposition, but why do the media/celebrity/progressive elites refuse to entertain the second proposition?

              Even more, why is it that when people like me make this kind of argument, we’re simply dismissed as being guilty and ignorant of implicit bias? To me, that kind of dismissal smacks of someone who is not really engaging with the issue in good faith.

              I don’t think Ron invalidated the experiences of BIPOC/queer people by saying that there’s a dominant and one-sided narrative in America. And like Ron, I am not claiming that we’re living in a post-racial utopia. I am not saying that I don’t see color in people or that I can understand fully the experiences of those who are not of my tribe. But can’t people like Ron and me be allowed to think that the best possible America is one in which each individual—whether it be a rural white policeman or an urban black youth—is judged by the content of his character and actions? Couldn’t that be the road that can actually lead to your desired post-racial society (though I tend to be pessimistic about human nature, so I think there will always be racists in every tribe/community/ethnicity.society).

              Finally, since you brought it up, I would genuinely like to know how you think Ron should “push to be better”. And as a follow-up, can you tell me how you think “being better” in that way will actually help the black community. I am asking in good faith. I don’t know many people that I can ask such questions to, so I’m taking this opportunity to understand someone who has a very different perspective from me.

  2. LudvigVBA

    Pressure must have been immense to publish this piece. It is the first such piece since I can remember (this and last year 2019), correct me if i am wrong with appropriate evidence.

      1. LudvigVBA

        Of course I endorse it !!! this article is long overdue and it makes obvious that it has been published here because of recent and systematic racism in us. I haven’t seen anything published here about black runners ever, excluding Sierre Zinal and Comrades events !

        1. Lisa

          If this piece is indeed a result of a shift in thinking, I welcome it joyfully! I am prepared for friends, family, businesses, schools, cities, EVERYONE to join the cause of building a better world.

          Nobody shamed me when I finally woke up to the injustice, and I work hard not to shame others who took time on their journey, or who lie in a different place on the ally/accomplice spectrum. They’re here now, and I’m so glad they are. :)

        2. Meghan Hicks

          LudvigVBA,

          I respectfully refer you to our archives for significant previous coverage of Black-identifying trail runners and ultrarunners from all over the world, both in and out of competitive situations, including in Ethiopia, Morocco, South Africa, Reunion and Rodrigues Islands, Europe, and the USA. However, during a careful analysis of our previous work in covering different groups over the last 1.5 months, we noted a comparable lack of non-competition-based coverage of Black American trail runners and ultrarunners in our published material. This is a balance we’d like to achieve going forward. Thank you for reading and commenting.

    1. Morgan Tilton

      Hi LudvigVBA! Author Morgan Tilton here. I wrote this news profile. Though, for the past ~1.5 years, I’ve covered the monthly column “WeRunFar”with profiles of individuals from all over the world. I can personally speak to my experience during that time – we take a strategic approach to share global representation of diverse runners across age, gender, origin, and ethnicity including BIPOC. However, given the current U.S. movement against racial injustice, you will see the voices of Black runners uplifted in that particular column. Here are a few diverse examples of recent profiles from the WeRunFar column that I welcome you to read: Marvin Sandoval (May 2020), Shaun Martin (Feb 2020), Hiroko Suzuki (Dec 2019), Monica Morant (Oct 2019), Noé Castañón (July 2019). All the profiles are available on the website!

    2. Meghan Hicks

      LudvigVBA,

      As columnist Morgan Tilton has detailed regarding her column in the last couple years, iRunFar has long been committed to telling diverse stories on the website. I invite you to explore our archives for our commitment to covering women’s competitions equally to men’s and to see our in-depth coverage of runners, running groups, and run cultures from around the world.

      However, in the last 1.5 months of learning about antiracism and analyzing our previous coverage of Black American trail runners and ultrarunners on the website, we’ve learned that we have not covered Black American trail-ultra runners with as much breadth and depth as we have other groups and we’ve been learning how we can be better advocates for them. This is a deficit we are committed to correcting, and I invite you to read the article we published a few weeks ago which discusses what we’ve learned about our previous mistakes and our commitment going forward.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, and I hope you’ve enjoyed Coree’s story.

  3. Lisa

    Coree is a brilliant runner and an even better human. I’m delighted to see him featured in such an in-depth piece, highlighting BOTH! :) Thank you for this!

  4. John H Trent

    I had a chance to write about Coree a couple of years ago for UltraRunning magazine. He’s one of the most engaging, humorous, gracious, warm and passionate folks I’ve ever interviewed. He’s an incredibly positive soul. Morgan’s piece does an excellent job of tapping into that aspect. Thanks for sharing Coree’s story and doing such a good job with it, Morgan. What I love most about Coree is he’s still at the beginning of his professional career. His best as a runner is yet to come. This FKT is only the beginning for him.

    1. Morgan Tilton

      John, Thank you so much – this all brings a huge smile to my face! I am trying to dig up your story on UltraRunning magazine right now but it’s locked!! Can’t wait to read your article on Coree, too. You’re totally right – he really is just getting started with his ultrarunning career. I can’t wait to see where he goes next. Take care.

  5. andy mc breen

    Coree,
    Fantastic and inspiring work on Your FKT. I know it’s difficult to find the same energy to run during the pandemic cancellations. I’ve completed three solo ultras and can’t imagine Your persistence in setting a long trail FKT.
    Great Job !!!

  6. John Vanderpot

    As a lifelong coastal urban hip dude I’m finding my geographic bias being tweaked here: when did Wisconsin become so progressive? (I remember maybe 20ish years back they were in town for the Super Bowl and they were all walking around with these hats that looked like a big piece of cheese?) Like Dylan sang, the times they are a-changin’…

    1. . S. K.

      I’m from Illinois which, other than a few big cities, resembles much of Wisconsin (outside of Milwaukee, Madison, etc). I’m also familiar with rural Iowa. And I don’t think your assessment that the treatment that Coree received from Wisconsinites is proof that it’s become “so progressive” is right. From what I know of many rural midwesterners, they are down-to-earth, fair-minded people who don’t care about the color of someone’s skin or what people do in the privacy of their bedrooms. They are welcoming of strangers and very good at hospitality–probably much better than most urban progressives in big cities and college towns. Of course, due to living in homogeneous communities and thus lacking in many cross-cultural experiences, they are bound to have misconceptions. But that is only to be expected. It’s no different than the misconceptions progressives might have about conservatives or evangelical Christians because their bubble doesn’t include them.

      To me, the real issue is, how do people treat one another, despite having thoughts that might not pass the progressive test (or the conservative test). I think Coree’s experience in rural Wisconsin needs to be shared widely (Thank you, Morgan!) because, in the end, I think it will be the character of each individual–and its resulting actions–that will largely determine how much collective good there will be in our country/world.

  7. Bill Barthen

    Incredible article! Thank you for showcasing Coree, Tom, and Kevin. I was honored to spend very short parts of 2 days in the trail with Coree. I hope we stay connected for a long time!

  8. Ronan

    Great article and runner! I have to admit I’m a bit disappointed when Coree does not run in his Speedo though! Let’s see for the next FKT or race!

  9. J Scott Kang

    Ron,

    You say, “There will be many who will be livid if they read this, as it will disrupt their narrative that this country is nothing but a bunch of white-privileged bigots.” Come on, dude. Are you seriously trying to say that liberals are going to be so darn angry (livid even) that this piece was published because it proves that white people are in fact good. If you read the comments you’ll see that people are in fact thrilled to read about Coree because he’s black and gay and a great runner. They’re happy that he and his husband have been accepted by his friends and the running community. And readers are happy to see more diverse representation in I Run Far. They aren’t angry that you (who I guess is representing aggrieved white America) are getting your redemption. This article is not about you, Ron.

    And Nick, when you defend Ron, you write, “He said, “the overwhelming majority of our nation [is] a loving and accepting community”. Is that wrong? Are most Americans hateful and unaccepting?”

    I certainly believe that Ron is wrong to say that the “overwhelming majority” of Americans are “loving and accepting.” But that does not mean I also believe that “most Americans [are] hateful.” That’s a false dilemma you’ve created. And seriously, I cannot believe that you believe that the overwhelming majority of Americans are loving toward and accepting of gay marriage. Only about 65% of Americans today approve of gay marriage even though it is legal. 25 years ago it was less than 25%. You end with another goofy strawman argument: “Why do you think this is bad? Do you think we should judge people by their skin color and sexuality?” You just pretended that the commenter RWD said or suggested something like this, when this is not at all true. Go back and read what she said.

    S.K., Coree is brave because he is cognizant of the reality of the feelings of so many Americans. I live in the rural south. Brown and black people would not feel safe running out in public in a speedo. No way! Mixed-race couples are tolerated by some. Gay couples are tolerated by some. Neither are treated or thought of as normal by most. Everyone knows who that gay couple is or who that mixed couple is. I don’t share your rosy description of rural Illinois (or Wisconsin or Iowa). I lived in that environment for many years. Yes, there are hospitable, polite folks, but black, brown, and gay people are not thought of as “normal folk.” I’ve known lots of farmers from Iowa and Missouri, and I’ve never heard any of them say, “I don’t care what race a person is and I certainly don’t care if a person is gay.” They care a lot about that, sometimes to the point of obsession. We leave these towns for a reason. And brown, black, and gay people aren’t flocking to rural America because of how open-minded it is. Let’s keep it real. Coree and Tom can’t just stop in a typical small town cafe in rural America and act like a loving, married couple without considerable worry.

    I admire Coree and I applaud the superb article, Morgan. I’m also proud that our sport is very open-minded and full of love.

    1. Ron

      Wow, let’s see, where to start? First, I don’t know how you could interpret my comments as my saying this is all about me. I do wish I had added a congrats to Coree for his accomplishment, but in no way was I trying to be the center of the issue. I simply am tired of society pushing a debate to the point of widespread and random violence, when it doesn’t really have much opposition. (Where is the “Black Lives Don’t Really Matter” crowd?) For example, literally everyone I know is outraged by what happened to George Floyd, and demands that justice be served to those involved. Of course I understand that racism still exists, and we should do everything we can to correct that, but I don’t think the solution is to constantly push an agenda that promotes hate and divisiveness. That agenda is absolutely coming from the left, and that’s what I meant when I said those with that agenda would not be happy to see this article. Anything that disrupts their narrative is infuriating to them, because they in fact don’t really want a color-blind society.

      As far as the bravery of running in a speedo, I don’t really have much comment on that. I know I’m not brave enough to do it, and for that I’ll say “You’re welcome.”

      1. J Scott Kang

        Ron,

        The “Black Lives Don’t Really Matter crowd” you ask about are the “White Lives Matter” crowd who are pretending that the Black Lives Matter saying means that “ONLY black lives matter and white lives do not matter.” Listen, man, I am thrilled that everyone you know is outraged by what happened to George Floyd, but that is certainly not the norm in rural America. It just isn’t. Conservatives were not as a group outraged when Walter Scott was shot in the back, when Ahmaud Arbery was chased and shot, and when Trayvon Martin was shot. They in fact looked to make each of these victims responsible for their own deaths.

        And why are you suggesting that “hate and divisiveness” is only coming from the left? This country is full of hate and divisiveness right now, but you know that it’s coming from both sides. We can’t have productive conversations if we are oversimplifying the conversation. I just find it hard to believe that you think liberals are this obsessed with making all white people out to be awful–so much so that they would be angry to see an article showing white people being kind. If this is all coming from social media, then I wouldn’t trust it. If you have actual real-life interactions with liberals who are saying these things, I’d like to hear about them.

        Maybe you’re a lot younger than I am Ron, but most conservatives thirty years ago did not want gays in the military and would be quite honest and say that they did not want them in their locker rooms (or social clubs or golf clubs). This is absolutely true. Now, things may have changed since then. But I can tell you this, I have never heard my conservative friends who made these kind of statements say those beliefs were wrong, even though they might not say those same things today (at least in public). I don’t say this to suggest all these folks are full of hate; but again, saying the majority of Americans are so loving and understanding just doesn’t ring true to me. Again, just twenty years ago, conservative groups were outraged that the Ellen show was portraying homosexuality as a normal lifestyle.

  10. S.K.

    To J. Scott Kang,

    Thanks for the time you put into your reply. It’s something you clearly have thought about and have some degree of personal experience with. I’d like to think that I’ve thought about this and have some experience as well.

    Just a couple of thoughts before I get to your reply to my comment. You tell Ron that he is wrong, and your proof is that most commenters on the article are happy for Coree and accept him for who he is. But you seem to be assuming that those commenters are liberals who aren’t angry the way Ron thinks they would be. Can you consider that maybe some of those commenters are perhaps conservatives or rural Americans? If you can’t imagine that or believe that, then I think it makes productive discussion very difficult. I don’t know–just like you don’t know–the demographics of the commenters, but I just wanted to point out that perhaps it’s not good to assume the identity/politics/geography of runners/commenters who are welcoming of a black, gay runner.

    I don’t agree that most rural midwesterners think black people, brown people or gay people are not normal; in fact, I think that’s an outrageously hyperbolic and untrue statement. But that could just be the difference in our personal experience, so I don’t think it’d be fruitful to argue the point. So let me make a few other points:
    1) It’s not very useful to assign labels and values on people based on their addresses with such certainty since that’s also a kind of discrimination/bias toward a group of people. What if I’d written something like, “Sure there are some good people among the black urban youth, but most people and their belongings would not feel safe around them.” You might think that my statement is somehow terrible and racist while yours is just an experience-based observation, but if so, I’d challenge you to ask why that is. Could it be that the dominant narrative in our pop culture/educational system/media has made it almost impossible to even raise a question like that? Why can’t rational people discuss issues like that without being shouted down as racists?
    2) In my experience, everyone from every race, every cultural/ethnic/educational/geographical background has blind spots, misconceptions, ungenerous generalizations about those from outside their own tribe. Again, it’s only natural to misunderstand those who are not like yourself. And so the mostly white rural midwesterners need not be singled out as being somehow more racist or mean than the urban black or the progressive elite. How/why did bigotry-against-blacks and gays become the greatest sin in America when there are so many other heartbreaking sins and injustices?
    3) Because I believe point #2 to be true, I don’t think it’s useful to play the thought-police game, legislate morality, or engage in cancel culture because someone made a joke or holds an opinion that’s outside of group-think. Rather than try to condemn/punish people for opinions they might have, I think it’s more useful and fair to look at how they behave. And my takeaway from Morgan’s article is that whatever opinions the Wisconsinites had about blacks or gays, they showed hospitality and care toward Coree. (Heck, maybe even a few of them were policemen.)

    I don’t know if Ron represents “aggrieved white America” as you suggested–btw, you might want to ease up on your knee-jerk labels and generalizations–but as an Asian-American, I am also tired of the media/celebrity/elite-driven narrative that ignores the reality of the existence and actions of those Wisconsinites. So to put it positively, I was very pleasantly surprised by Morgan’s article because this kind of story is not easy to find. So I applaud her for writing, and irunfar for publishing, a great article introducing Coree and his accomplishments to a wider audience and also documenting the response of rural Wisconsinites–you know, the kind who are bitter and clinging to religion and guns–toward a gay, black man

  11. John Vanderpot

    Friends, and I like to think of you as such even though I’ll likely never cross paths with most of you, my comment, made above over a week ago, was to applaud what I perceive as progress on many fronts, including my own progress with what could be called geographic arrogance (I grew up in NY and have spent my working life here in San Diego)…yeah, well: this week there were reports, with pics and vid, of one of my neighbors driving around town flying his nazi flag, and what’s to say, I’m a long way from proud!

    If nothing else, all this suggests to me that while there’s certainly progress being made, there’s still some work to do…

  12. J. Scott Kang

    S.K.,

    I hope we can continue this productive conversation. I want to be clear from the beginning that I’m thrilled if most of the positive comments about Coree are from rural Americans. But both Ron and Nick suggested that liberals will be unhappy if there is any good news about white people/conservatives. It’s possible, I suppose, that there are some white liberals who only care about painting all whites/conservatives as evil, but again, that’s just like saying all whites/conservatives are racist. And if you are a black, brown, or gay liberal, the idea that good news about acceptance would upset you–well, that’s crazy talk. It’s not satisfying to read terrible news about violence or racism. All that good news is welcome! I said Ron was wrong to say that “the overwhelming majority is loving and accepting” and that most of us don’t care about race or sexual orientation. This has not been true in the broad history of American and not in the last twenty years. And yes, it did bother me that Ron turned this positive biographical story (which was clearly well-received) into an attack piece on liberals.

    I don’t understand your comment/scenario about the “black urban youth.” That’s a purposefully racist statement that would of course get people upset. So using that example really doesn’t allow you to make your point. But I agree with you about anybody getting shouted down. We ought to/need to talk things out rationally. I also agree that racism and homophobia are not the greatest sins in America. And perhaps if we didn’t suggest so, we could have more honest discussions. I know plenty of racists and people who think homosexuality is a sin. But, those folks are almost never honest about this in public. The racism label is seen as so horrific these days that only Neo-Nazi types will admit to it. But in private plenty of people (close friend groups or families or social media friend groups) will openly admit that they don’t like blacks, Latinos, or Muslims. People in the south have gone so far to the denial of the big R word that they try to say that slavery was not necessarily racist. People of color in the United States always have tolerated racism and will for a long time to come. If we thought that racism was the worst thing ever, we would have to give up a lot of friendships and quit a lot of jobs. One of the reasons it is so hard to determine how many people in the country are racists is the dishonesty about it. I have had hundreds of students who have talked with exasperation about their racist parents and grandparents. But how many of those parents and grandparents would admit to being racist? Almost none. (You said: “Rather than try to condemn/punish people for opinions they might have, I think it’s more useful and fair to look at how they behave.”) I strongly disagree with you on this point, S.K. If people who are racists or anti-gay in private, were still kind to Coree during his run, I don’t credit them for these dishonest actions. I’m glad they weren’t unkind to him, but this sort of dishonest hospitality is still, well, dishonest. It’s just a form of political correctness.

    S.K., I am trying very hard not to use any knee-jerk labels or generalizations. I am speaking very specifically about communities where I have lived and where I do live. When I lived in a fairly liberal college town in Illinois I was once confronted by a drunk white man who kept yelling in my face, “I smell Chinese food!” This guy might have ten friends who would say that he isn’t racist at all. It’s the dishonesty that bothers me. I know people (and you probably do as well) who circulated racist memes about President Obama or Michele Obama. They would say they aren’t racist. But why be dishonest about it? This is my big beef with rural America: the proud, vocal racists or anti-gays are few. But the silent majority makes brown, black, and gay people feel unwelcome. If your experience in rural America has been different, please share it. I have lived in the Chicago suburbs and in urban Chicago and I prefer country life. But it is not easy. If you are not a white Christian heterosexual, you may be tolerated, but you will not be embraced or seen as normal. This has always been true of small town America and it’s mostly true in the rest of the rural world as well (change comes slow; outsiders are not always welcome). Again, I’m speaking very specifically here. A lesbian couple lives down the road from us. They are “the lesbians” in this area and their own family makes gay jokes in private. My son is asked if he is Mexican in school (which is clearly not a positive thing in this town). My daughter’s soccer teammates ask me if I’m from China. My other daughter’s classmates say she is going to hell because she doesn’t go to church.

    I’m pretty certain that I like small town America more than most well-educated, conservative suburbanites and that I am way more tolerant of so-called rednecks (though I still might be called an elitist). Many of these same folks who defend and sometimes romanticize rural America have moved far away from and/or avoid these areas in practice (save the occasional trip to the State Fair or Rodeo). Remember that in private, middle and wealthy conservatives make fun of rural folks plenty. President Trump may say he loves this demographic when he’s campaigning, but we all know that in practice he knows nothing about rural America.

    Do I genuinely wish that the “overwhelming majority” of rural America was “loving and accepting”? Yes. But is that the reality? No. That doesn’t mean I’ll move away, but it does mean that I’m a little afraid of the folks out here who fly Confederate flags (though I’m doing my long runs anyway).

    1. Ron

      J Scott,

      Thanks for the well-thought-out response. This dialogue has actually been very encouraging to me, as it seems so much more productive than the images I’ve been seeing in most of the media. While I still can’t agree with many of your viewpoints, I think we are closer to some common ground than it initially seemed. I’m certainly willing to admit that there are aspects of your experiences to which I can’t relate, but these sort of civil communications help our understanding. I’ll continue to believe that Americans are, at their core, the greatest, kindest, and most generous people in the history of mankind. Yes, there is still much room for improvement, but I for one am very proud to be from the U.S. of A.

    2. S.K.

      Thanks again for your thoughtful reply. I’m now getting to it after a busy week.

      I have no idea what percentage of liberals are happy/unhappy with this article. But I think that this article goes against the “only whites and most whites are guilty of racism” narrative that’s pushed by the left-dominated media/elite/celebrity culture in America. Could you agree with that? Do you find it hard to imagine this story being aired in video form on NBC Nightly News or CNN? If you do, then I think you can understand why Ron was pleasantly surprised to read the article.

      I don’t think it’s true that the vast majority of Americans don’t care about race or sexual orientation—if by that you mean that people don’t have a variety of thoughts and opinions on those issues. Of course people care, because, as people, they’ve experienced certain things and have learned/heard certain things growing up, and it’s impossible to cognitively or emotionally ignore those things. By the way, that’s true of any and every culture and sub-culture; and that’s true regarding every other issue (e.g. religion, class, education, vocation, etc.) And the fact that race and sexual orientation have become the only issues of injustice that matter in America is evidence of a dominant narrative. Blacks and the gay/transgender community are not the only people who experience injustice, yet in some circles even bringing this idea up—All Lives Matter, for example—is grounds for being cancelled. But I digress.

      My experience tells me that even though some people might have unkind thoughts or misconceptions about blacks or gays, the majority of them do not act on those thoughts. They don’t discriminate, they don’t harm them, they don’t swear at them. Instead, when given the chance, they will do the right thing and offer help. The incredible generosity of Americans in times of disaster—and I think there have been studies that show that conservatives tend to give more to charity than liberals—is one piece of evidence that perhaps this country is not the hateful, racist, xenophobic place that it’s lately been painted to be, or perhaps that the biggest cause of the generational—or should it be said, systemic or social or cultural—problems in the black community is not what rural, white Americans think about them. So while I don’t at all doubt that you’ve heard private racist comments living there in the South, they aren’t the crux of the matter for me. And as I’ve said before, I don’t think it’s useful to point to our different experiences to make any claims about what most Americans are like. But I do think we should look to what most Americans have done or not done (as opposed to what they might think or say), rather than what a few bad apples in the headlines have done—which again points to the importance of the dominant narrative in America.

      I mentioned the “urban black youth” as juxtaposition to what you wrote: “I don’t share your rosy description of rural Illinois (or Wisconsin or Iowa). I lived in that environment for many years. Yes, there are hospitable, polite folks, but black, brown, and gay people are not thought of as ‘normal folk.'” My point was to show the unfairness of that kind of condescending generalization. Can you imagine that your comment would upset a very large number of people who do their best to treat everyone equally, who do not see blacks or gays as subhuman?

      I wish you/your family (or any person) didn’t experience any of those hurtful comments. And I understand how anyone who has heard racist or ignorant comments would mistrust the community from which those comments came. After all, you’re only human and learning from experience is what we as humans do. So logically speaking, can you blame people who have been victimized by black criminals or watched black gangs terrorize whole sections of cities or or watched misogynistic, thug-life-glorifying rap videos or seen statistics that show the high per capita number of black criminals if they harbor some unspoken and even sometimes reluctant mistrust or fear of blacks they haven’t gotten a chance to know? Is that racist? Not any more than the initial thoughts of any black or Asian or gay or Muslim or transgender or atheist or feminist who might encounter someone from a group that they’ve had a negative encounter with.

      The great thing about the article is that, statistically speaking, there were probably a number of Wisconsinites who might have had fear/mistrust of a black man or a gay man, yet chose to show him hospitality. And perhaps there were some who came to understand, empathize with, and enjoy the company of a black, gay man more than before the encounter with Coree (and perhaps vice versa for Coree). I think these positive encounters need to be celebrated because that’s what really matters, that’s what’s going to make our country a better place. I also applaud Coree for having the courage to create such encounters. Could it be that he has done more to bring about real, lasting change than those those who encourage cancel culture, pull down statues, or callously injure innocent people in the name of protesting injustice?

  13. Justin

    I’ve been debating all day about whether to wade into this conversation.

    I want to start by addressing the folks asking things like whether the “structure of America is racist” or “where are the black lives dont matter groups?” The factual, provable answer is “yes”, “throughout our government and social systems.” At this point it’s really not debatable the extent to which racism and white supremacy are foundational to this country. We were literally built on it — from chattel slavery, to Jim Crow, to laws specifically and consciously designed to maintain systematic inequality towards the Black community. This is observable in everything from the history of our police forces, to housing loan policies, to redlining, to educational curriculums, to the literal design of bridges. This is not the same as saying all Americans or all white people are taking actively racist actions at all times — clearly that’s not the case. Rather it’s to point out that our language, perspectives, and ideas have been, and continue to be, shaped by our history and much of that history is, in fact, deeply racist. All that said, this isn’t a history site, and no one is here for a history or civics lesson. I’m happy to provide concrete examples to any point I’ve made.

    What I do want to lean into is the culture of American ultra running which is a sport that I, like all of us, hold deeply close to my heart. It’s not an overstatement to say this sport saved my life. At the same, I’d be willfully blind to not notice the underrepresentation of BIPOC folks in our sport. Im really happy to see this article, and I hope I get to see a lot more in the future. At the same time, I also ask myself “why has this site said nothing of the uprising we’re seeing all over this country and the world?” “Why has IRF remained silent when so many other companies and brands have spoken in support of Black and brown communities?” It breaks my hear to think that we don’t care. But I actually don’t think that’s the case. I think, generally, we do care but choose not say anything because we “don’t want to be political” And it’s here that we intersect with the systematic racism in America. The very notion that what’s happening is something that one can be silent about is fundamentally a political one, and one that is available only to those of us who are white. So while I don’t believe that our community under-represents or excludes BIPOC by design, I do think we’d be remise to not examine our culture and to ask honestly if we’re perpetuating the existing systems from which we’ve risen, or are we proactively breaking it down. Because those are really the only two options available.

    I cannot stress enough now much I’m not trying to shame any one here, LEAST of all the author or this site — which I love. Rather I’m hoping to be one little bit in sparking a bigger conversation about the extent to which it may not be enough for us to just accept the current state of cultural inclusion, or the rate at which we profile the non-white athletes in our our sport. Instead I think we probably need to be actively seeking out these athletes and these stories as a conscious effort to break the systems that are often so ubiquitous that they’ve become invisible.

    1. S.K.

      I don’t think every company/website must make a stand on every social issue or else be guilty of supporting some sort of systemic injustice by its silence. Do you know how many social issues there are in this country? Drunk driving, alcoholism, sex trafficking, abortion, homelessness, debt, pornography, prostitution, early sexualization of children, morbid obesity, and on and on and on. irunfar or any other website wouldn’t have time to address them all. What? You didn’t mean every social issue? Perhaps you meant only those social issues that you think is important and that you’re convinced you’re on the right side on.

      If you think that somehow the running community is perpetuating existing systems and the proof is the low number of BIPOC who participate, then what evil existing system is being perpetuated by the football or basketball community since blacks dominate those sports at the high school, college, and pro level? Or perhaps consider that maybe there are relatively fewer black runners because most of them have chosen to do football/basketball instead since, oh I don’t know, maybe they might be able to make millions at it? People choose what they like, whether it be sports, cars, cereal, underwear, etc. And let’s not forget that even in running, it’s clear what black Americans largely choose to participate in: the sprint events as opposed to ultramarathons. Can’t we just let them be and celebrate what they choose to invest themselves in, instead of wearing sackcloth and ashes because there aren’t enough black people (what, at least 12% representation means we’ve overcome systemic racism?) in distance running (or chess or water polo or children’s literature, or, or, or)?

      I agree that it’d be good to have lots more people of all types enjoy distance running. And I think all of us could be doing PR for our sport and telling our friends about it and helping people get started as runners. But let’s do it out of a sense of sharing what we’ve found to be good and rewarding, out of a sense of wanting to make connections with other human beings, rather than a sense of trying to fight systemic problems. For one, the self-righteous mindset of the SJW hardly makes good ambassadors of our sport. Also, it’ll be friendly invitations and actions (e.g. inviting someone to go on a run, helping someone make their first training plan, going on runs with someone) that’ll win converts, not writing white-guilt articles about the lack of diversity.

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