Ultrarunner Coree Woltering had run nearly 1,000 miles in three weeks on the Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin, but he had to cover the final 157 miles in 40 hours if he wanted to beat the existing fastest known time (FKT) on the trail. It was a tall task –one that would take two all-nighters if he wanted to beat that record.
Woltering, 30, only spent three weeks preparing for his first-ever FKT attempt of any kind. It wasn’t totally spur of the moment; running the Ice Age Trail had been on his mind since he moved back to the Midwest in 2017, and he often trained in the southern portion of the 1,147-mile trail.
When ultrarunner Annie Weiss captured the FKT in 2018 (21 days, 18 hours, and seven minutes), he thought it would be something he attempted to do one day – but he was thinking more like two to five years from now.
Yet, as the coronavirus pandemic nixed his plans to go after a Western States golden ticket, he set his eyes on other pursuits.
In April, he set a goal to 'run every street' of his home in Ottawa, Illinois, which he did over 12 days, totaling more than 200 miles. Then in May, he decided to go for the Ice Age Trail FKT.
'It came much quicker than I expected,' Woltering told Runner’s World US. 'Apparently, three weeks isn’t that long.'
Scarce prep time didn’t deter the June 1 start, just north of Minneapolis on the Wisconsin border, for Woltering and his three-man pacing crew. Though the first day went smoothly, he nearly called it quits on day two –not because of pain or an injury, because of a big problem on trails in northern Wisconsin this time of year: ticks and mosquitos.
Woltering and his crew had planned to camp the entire way, but they instead opted to stay in hotels because 'there were so many ticks.'
'We only did 20 miles on day two because I’d do a few miles and end up pulling 30 or 40 ticks off of me at a time,' Woltering said. 'I was reconsidering the whole trip and almost ended up saying that we were going home. Most breakdowns don’t happen early on. Not even four miles into day two, and I was just over it.'
But Woltering and his crew continued through the constant barrage of skin-biting insects, and despite the delays, they were ahead of pace through the first third of the trail. That is, until day five, when Woltering rolled his ankle, causing it to swell up to the size of a tennis ball days later. He was forced to walk for days, using trekking poles to keep weight off of it and wearing compression socks and sleeves when he walked and slept. He even saw a sports chiropractor that his crew found.
The injury knocked Woltering 43 miles off pace—he still had about 460 miles to go with just a week left to finish in order to capture the record. The outlook wasn’t looking good until he woke up on day 16.
'I had gone to bed with a swollen ankle, and when I woke up, my ankle had pretty much healed itself,' he said. 'I just don’t know how or why. We were 700 to 800 miles in at that point. It was insane.'
With most of the swelling gone and most of his range of motion returned, Woltering slowly chipped away, fuelling with about 8,000 calories a day. (This consisted of mostly Kwik Trip gas station purchases of Smucker’s Uncrustables, Kwik Trip hamburgers and chicken sandwiches, and Campbell’s Chicken & Stars soup and Spaghettios—the last two he ate cold, right out of the can.)
With just 40 hours remaining to get the record, Woltering had 157 miles to go. That meant he needed to pull two all-nighters.
'I walked into Kwik Trip that morning, and I bought every chicken sandwich, hamburger, breakfast croissant, and Starbucks drink they had,' he said. 'The cashier there was looking at me like I was crazy. I don’t think she’d ever seen anyone buy that many sandwiches before. I spent like $70, and we were good for two days.'
The first 100 miles of the remaining distance flew by, with Woltering completing it in 23 hours and 30 minutes. Still, time was not on his side with 57 miles to go, so he asked for his dinner in a plastic bag, took a 20-minute nap, and took off again.
He and his crew were tired after weeks on the trails. Woltering even went sections without a pacer for parts of the night because he had worn them out with the all-night effort. To stay motivated, he took it mile-by-mile. When that got tough, he did mailbox to mailbox.
Rain slowed him down on the final 57 miles, but as light started to fade into night on June 22, he exited the woods to find blinding headlamps waiting at the finish line. He kissed the rock marking the end of the trail and secured the FKT in 21 days, 13 hours, 35 minutes beating the previous record by less than five hours.
'For this [challenge] not being on the radar even seven weeks ago, I feel like it went well,' he said. 'I think I could have done it faster, which is what [now former FKT holder] Annie Weiss said. Who knows, maybe she’ll go after it again or maybe we’ll do it together. She paced me a few times for this, so I think we could do it.'
With the FKT done, Woltering enjoyed a beer with his crew at the finish before looking for food in nearby Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin – unfortunately, most places were closed at 11pm on a Monday night, so they headed to the only bar that was open and dined on frozen pizzas.
A few days after, Woltering’s legs are feeling good, but his feet are a different story. Rest is his plan for the next two weeks. Not just for himself, but because he is scheduled to be a pacer at Badwater 135. Beyond that, he doesn’t know what his plans are.
'To go after this big FKT and make it happen on the first time, it’s still crazy to me,' Woltering said. 'I’m not sure what I want to do next, but I know I enjoyed being out in the woods for three weeks.'
With his run, Woltering also raised money for the Ice Age Trail Alliance, which maintains the trail entirely through volunteers and donations, and Feeding America, a national nonprofit that helps food banks all over the country. He’s raised around (US)$26,000 so far, and you can donate to his fundraiser here.
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