On Life Changes and Big FKTs: A Conversation With Coree Woltering

A profile of ultrarunner Coree Woltering.

By on January 25, 2024 | Comments

Back in 2020, ultrarunner Coree Woltering made headlines, and graced the pages of iRunFar, when he set a new men’s supported fastest known time (FKT) of 21 days, 13 hours, and 35 minutes on Wisconsin’s 1,147-mile Ice Age Trail.

Now at a turning point in his life and running career, as he prepares for a move to Maine, and embarks on a new sponsorship journey with the brand Merrell, we caught up with him to see what life’s been like since the Ice Age Trail, and to find out what else he’s got in the pipeline.

Coree Woltering - Merrell

Coree Woltering. Photo: Kajsa Swanson

Catching Up on Coree Woltering’s Last Few Years of Running

A native of Ottawa, Illinois, and a lifelong runner, Woltering graduated through the ranks of track and cross-country running in high school and college, before discovering the trails — and a knack for longer distances — around 2014.

For the trail running scene the world over, 2020 was the year of the FKT, with racing on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a need for something else to fill the void. Woltering shared: “The idea for the Ice Age Trail FKT came about when racing was shut down, there wasn’t a whole lot else happening.”

This coupled with the fact that many of Woltering’s training partners were out of work due to the pandemic, and therefore available to crew, made it the perfect time to take on a challenge of this enormity.

Woltering was successful in his goal, but as can be expected following an achievement of this magnitude, it was followed by something of a lull.

Of this time, he described: “There is a low period that comes afterward. And it’s hard to give your body and mind the proper rest and recovery that it needs after doing something like that .… It was really hard to go from being out on the trail for 21 days to then not really knowing what I’m supposed to do after that.”

He added, “Because the Ice Age Trail was 1,200 miles long, there weren’t that many trails that were longer, and we still didn’t know when racing would be coming back. And so, it was hard to find direction for a while after that.”

Coree Woltering Ice Age Trail FKT

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

The following year, in 2021, Woltering had set his sights on running the 800-mile Arizona Trail, which runs north-south in Arizona from its borders with Mexico and Utah. This is a diverse trail, taking in deserts, mountains, canyons, and forests. Unfortunately, at the time he had set aside for the attempt, injury got in the way, and he shared:

“I had to take about three weeks off running, and then came up to Chattanooga, Tennessee, to do a race called the Stillhouse 100k, and I ended up dropping out of that race at 13 miles in due to the same issue that took me out of doing the Arizona Trail.”

Fortunately, a chiropractor was able to get to the root of Woltering’s problem and he was quickly back up and running — and in need of a plan C. This was when the idea presented itself to make a men’s supported FKT attempt over the 349-mile Pinhoti Trail, through Alabama and Georgia.

He shared, “I really didn’t know anything about Pinhoti, other than what I had watched on YouTube. But I was there, and I had my crew with me who were supposed to be crewing for the race, and we made the plan together to do this record attempt. It ended up working out and it was really cool, and that’s when I really fell in love with trail running in the [U.S.] Southeast.”

Woltering later moved to Chattanooga — where he has lived for the past two years — and took a job at an outdoor gear store, Rock Creek Outfitters, helping to build out their trail running and hiking offerings.

Coree Woltering - at home

Woltering at home in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Photo courtesy of Coree Woltering.

He said, “We have some pretty incredible trails here. There’s the river that comes up through town and then we have about three main routes that are on the outside of town. There are a lot of places where you can run from your house to a mountain, following a bike path.”

Having previously lived in the U.S. Midwest, Woltering is fully converted to the style of trail running found in the Southeast, and said: “We don’t necessarily have high altitude, but we still have big mountains. It’s rocky, it’s technical, it can be really wet and muddy at times. It’s just a different type of running to a lot of the stuff out west in the U.S. or even in Europe. I really enjoy that style of running.”

The move east has also opened up new possibilities for Woltering to race in Europe, which he said always felt like “the longest trip in the world” from the Midwest. Now just a six-and-a-half-hour flight away from London, England, he has raced a number of times in the U.K. and at the 2022 Kullamannen by UTMB 100k in Sweden, where he placed 11th.

On Choosing Sobriety

Late in 2021, Woltering felt a change was needed in his life, as he was becoming uncomfortable with his relationship with alcohol.

He shared: “I just wanted to figure out why I was drinking so much. It was easy to say, ‘Oh but during the pandemic everybody drank a lot.’ And maybe they did, but I feel like I drank more than most people.” He made the brave decision to check himself into rehabilitation, and begin the journey to becoming sober.

Now more than two years on, he has never looked back, “At first I was like, ‘I will make this change for a while, and we will see how it goes.’ I was probably six months in when I realized this is probably going to be a forever choice.”

Coree Woltering - winter training

Woltering winter training on the roads. Photo courtesy of Coree Woltering.

As for the effects of the change on his running, he recalled that it was not a case of flicking a switch and immediately making running better, but over time he began to reap the rewards.

He said, “I thought it was going to be some big magic moment, where I’d cut out drinking for two months and magically start running better. That’s really not what happened. My first couple of months of sobriety, running really wasn’t great.”

However, he went on, “It was about one year in that things really started to change, in terms of actually feeling a difference when I’m running. And then the last four or six months have just been really good. It’s just been one of those really validating things and I’m like, ‘Hey, life is really good right now, and I’m also running well.’”

Woltering’s 2023 has included a finish at Western States 100 and wins at the Lake Sonoma Trail Marathon and the Pine Mountain 40 Mile, which was his last race with The North Face team, which had been his sponsor since 2019.

He raced Pine Mountain just off the back of a warm weather training camp in Cyprus, where he also raced the Larnaka Marathon, and shared: “Going into Pine Mountain, I’d already run a bunch of miles that week and I felt a little tired going into the race, but I thought that I ran a very solid race for where I was, and it’s always fun to get a win!”

A New Sponsorship with Merrell and Big 2024 Plans

Although grateful for the opportunities he’s had and memories made with The North Face, Woltering is excited about the move to Merrell, and shared: “Merrell  is a very underrated brand. They’re putting out some incredible stuff and I am excited to be moving forward with them.”

Coree Woltering - training in Merrell

Woltering training in his new team kit. Photo: Kajsa Swanson

For his 2024 plans, Woltering will travel to Hong Kong in February to race The 9 Dragons 50 Mile and 50k on back-to-back days, and will race the Cruel Jewel 100 Mile in May in Georgia, where he says he is “training for the win.”

But possibly the most exciting part of his year ahead is a big plan for September. He shared: “I will be starting southbound on the [2,190-mile-long] Appalachian Trail, trying to set the southbound men’s supported FKT …. Currently it’s 45 days and four hours.”

By way of preparation, he will spend the first six months of the year building fitness and racing, and then will switch for the summer to long days of hiking, fastpacking, and easy running — “Just getting used to being out there day after day for big hours.”

When asked what draws him to pursuing multi-day FKTs, he said, “I have always been a fan of adventure and pushing boundaries. I do a lot of things because I just want to know how it feels. I’ve never had to run 80 kilometers a day for 45 days, so there’s only one way to find out how it’s going to feel.”

Coree Woltering after winning the 2019 Superior Spring Trail Race 50k. Photo: Superior Spring Trail Race

The challenge of problem-solving that goes with extra-long runs also appeals to Woltering, who said: “For these long trails, things are going to go wrong, but you’ll fix it on the fly, you’ll adapt to it, you’ll overcome it. It’s you against you, and that’s what I think is really cool.”

He added, “The support crew can be make-or-break. Thankfully I have a super solid crew that’s coming out, and then we’ll definitely be relying on some local runners along the trail to come out and make it all happen.”

Checking In on Trail Running and Ultrarunning’s Work Toward Inclusivity

Although the culture of ultrarunning and trail running is gradually diversifying, it remains a predominantly white space. When we talked about the progress that’s been made, Woltering opined that: “I do think that things are changing for the better, but sometimes I question whether brands jumped on the bandwagon for a few years because it was a hot topic and then sort of forgot about it.”

He stressed that rather than one-off token gestures, it is important for brands and other entities in the sport to “make the outdoors look more appealing to a broad audience, and then also retain those people to come back and not just do it once.”

He went on, “Using more diverse marketing helps, and educating people on what is out there .… If [the outdoors] are made to look appealing, then naturally more people will come.”

And so with lofty goals for the year ahead, and the backing of a new team, we will be keeping a close eye on Coree Woltering for 2024.

Call for Comments

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Sarah Brady

Sarah Brady is Managing Editor at iRunFar. She’s been working in an editorial capacity for ten years and has been a trail runner for almost as long. Aside from iRunFar, she’s worked as an editor for various educational publishers and written race previews for Apex Running, UK, and RAW Ultra, Ireland. Based in Belfast, Ireland, Sarah is an avid mountain runner and ultrarunner and competes at distances from under 10k to over 100k. When not running, she enjoys reading, socializing, and hanging out with her dog, Angie, and cat, Judy.