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The Ice Age Trail doesn’t get many thru-hikers—very few people have ever reported completing the 1,147-mile trail in a single season. Of those, most spend two to three months hiking. But Coree Woltering isn’t most people.
On June 22, Woltering, a The North Face-sponsored ultrarunner, set a new fastest known time for the Ice Age Trail, finishing it in just 21 days, 13 hours, and 35 minutes. To do it, he had to average more than 55 miles per day, running on a badly swollen ankle at one point.
While Woltering may not be a familiar name to backpackers who follow speed records, his resume as an athlete is an accomplished one. As a triathlete, he competed in the world championships before going pro. In his first marathon in 2014, he ran a 2:37 off the couch. And in his relatively short ultrarunning career, he’s finished the grueling Western States 100 and podiumed at races like the American River 50 Mile and The Dunes 100 Mile.
“Honestly, I didn’t even know what trail running was 6 years ago. I didn’t know that people race 50 or 100 miles,” Woltering says today.
Woltering had home-field advantage on his side: As a Midwesterner (he lives with his husband in Ottowa, Illinois), he logs a lot of training miles on the Ice Age Trail. After seeing Annie Weiss nab the record in 2018, Woltering started to consider doing the same. With the COVID-19 pandemic wrecking his race calendar, he decided 2020 would be the year he would go for it.
The Ice Age Trail traverses the width and most of the length of the state of Wisconsin. Along the way, hikers weave their way through deciduous forests and wet, swamp-like terrain. From the get-go, Woltering’s journey was a rocky one, characterized by rain, heat, and humidity; on the sixth day of his trip, he rolled his ankle, causing it to swell to the size of a baseball.
Injuries and terrain weren’t the only obstacles Woltering faced on his run. While he sped through Wisconsin’s public lands, Woltering met with clouds of mosquitoes and hordes of ticks that he had to pick off his exposed skin. The bugs were so bad that Woltering almost quit.
“I almost went home on day 2 because I couldn’t deal with the ticks at that point,” Woltering says. “Even DEET was not working.”
The delays added up, and by the final days of Woltering’s trip on the Ice Age Trail, he was facing steep odds. With 100 hours left on the clock, he had 275 miles to go.
Luckily for Woltering, the Ice Age Trail isn’t exactly complete; about 600 miles of it, including the final section, are road walks. As a speed-driven athlete, 275 miles seemed attainable. Woltering opened up the throttle; at one point, he ran nearly 80 miles in 25 hours. With just 5 hours left on the clock, he reached Western trail terminus at Interstate State Park, squeaking in with a new record. Besides setting a new high-water mark for the trail, Woltering’s feat raised $27,000 for Feed America.
When asked if he would do anything differently if he were to return to the IAT, Woltering says that he would pick either a fall or end-of-winter start, since the bugs and humidity make hiking in Wisconsin “inhospitable” during the summer months.
“I would absolutely do something like this again. I really enjoyed it. And I’m trying to think what is next,” Woltering says. “And honestly, I think I can go faster.”