We sat down with pro trail runner Coree Woltering to discuss his career path, the reality of being a professional athlete, future running plans, and of course, wilderness and mountains. In his nearly decade long trail running career, Coree has racked up an impressive resume, including multiple ultra podium finishes, not to mention the fastest known time on Wisconsin's Ice Age Trail. This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.
How did you get into trail running?
In June of 2014, I went to Colorado for my aunt's surprise 50th birthday party. I was still living in Illinois at the time, but I went to Colorado, and after that I decided to move to Colorado to chase the dream of becoming a professional triathlete. I guess I'd been there for like a month, maybe, and I'd been hanging out with mountain bike people and trail runners, then I started doing some trail runs. A friend needed a pacer for the Leadville 100 miler and I was like, where's Leadville? What is the 100? He had to explain all this to me. But I ended up going to Leadville to pace and crew for the Leadville 100. I fell in love with the sport as we were climbing up the backside of Hope Pass. And then getting to the top of it made me feel like this is absolutely what I want to do.
What a place to fall in love with the whole trail world! Was there just something specific you loved about the mountains and the trails? Or, was it just a general feeling?
In Leadville, going back to that experience, and pacing over Hope Pass: that was just pretty wild because I didn't realize that, you know, it's not just like there's only 10 people that do this race. There are like 600 people that are doing this race. And everyone is really excited about it.
How has that love of place in the mountains filtered into your pro career and the things that you've tackled, whether it be races, or like Ice Age (trail fastest known time)?
I approach a lot of the things I do now with the same curiosity and the love that I had back then. So like Leadville is super exciting for me because I had never been to Leadville before. I really didn't even know the history of Leadville or the race or any of that. I just knew that you get to explore some really wild and remote places on foot. And I think that today, the things that really excite me are being able to just go explore these really wild places, on foot. Because it's one thing to be able to vacation somewhere. And you know, say that you've been to wherever, but then there's actually going just you with the pack and your running shoes and actually exploring it, that’s how you really get to know it.
I’d love to hear more about your thoughts of exploring a place on foot and getting to explore wild places, and how that relates to conservation.
I would say conservation is... being able to acknowledge and preserve the land and the history.
Leadville is actually just a great example of this. I loved Leadville so much from the race that I actually moved there. Back then Leadville was still, you know, a 2,000-person town... and now it's like the housing that's been built around Leadville and the summer vacation homes, I feel takes away from that small town charm and from the magic of the place.
So I think that it's really important to actually have these open, wild places that you can still go to, and get the remoteness that I think a lot of people really want when they go out into the woods. Some great examples of this would be parts of the Appalachian trail that aren't necessarily the most traveled. Or even trails like the Pinhoti trail, that don't necessarily see a ton of foot traffic every year. Or parts of like the Ice Age trail in Wisconsin that are very rarely traveled.
That “feeling small” feeling is a good feeling.
Does conservation, and these ideas of preserving, affect how you decide what your next projects are going to be?
Yeah, that can be kind of tricky to navigate as a professional athlete. There are not necessarily a certain number of podiums that are expected of us, but if it's not going to be something that is a say, major event, like the Western States, UTMB, or any of those like serious type events, then you have to figure out a way to be able to tell a story of why it is important to you. But then not only does it have to be important to you, but it needs to be interesting enough that other people are interested in you, doing whatever it is. Because at the end of the day, these brands out there are still investing money in you and they want to see some return on that.
What do you have coming up next? What are the races you're hoping to do in the next year? And what is the overall game plan?
The North Face just took over as title sponsor of Transcanaria. So, I will be at that, which will be fun. And then a lot of things will just kind of depend on the lotteries. I’ll try to get back into Western States, or Hard Rock, possibly a UTMB type thing. And then in 2025, I will probably finally look at doing the Appalachian Trail fastest known time.
Wow, that's going to be wild. How many miles?
About 2,300 miles. I think that under 40 days is possible, and somebody's gonna do it. And so I would love to be the first to get it done. Which is interesting because, you know, everyone talks about it and it's like, yeah, how possible is it? It's definitely possible. I can move for 18 hours a day. I can sleep for five hours and then have one hour of just like stoppage time in there. And if you do that for long enough, then your body either gets super used to it and keeps on going or it starts to break down. So then maybe we're only moving for 16 hours a day and then we're still sleeping for six hours and then we have two hours of stoppage time in there, you know. So there are ways around it.
How does the idea of conservation play into this?
The Appalachian Trail is one of the most traveled hiking trails now, because of just how long it is, and people can get on it in many different spots. I'm very conflicted on it, because certain parts of the trail are just absolutely like, I don't want to say “destroyed,” but certain parts are almost destroyed, because so many people get on to it. And then there are other parts that are still very remote and rugged, which is super exciting. I mean it's all accessible. Just how much effort do you want to put into being able to go to those spots?
My biggest struggle with all of this is that there are already so many people on the trail. How big of a crew do I want to bring with me for this? I think that a lot of the preservation side will come down to trying to pick a time of year, when trail conditions are going to be okay. So you're not going out there in the super super wet stuff and just destroying the trail, or adding to the destruction of the trail. As a major plus, during a supported attempt, my crew can go ahead of me, and stop in the trail towns and can get food from local, small places and stuff like that. It kinda gives back to those communities.
Photos by Kevin Youngblug @kevlvphotography