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Ultra racer’s path to the podium and mentorship

Coree Aussem-Woltering’s first-grade phys ed teacher saw something in him. The teacher challenged his student to run a mile in under 15 minutes.

“He probably knew that I could,” Aussem-Woltering says. “But I didn’t know that I could. In first grade, a mile seems like forever. I tried it and finished in around 14 ½ minutes. At that point running was kind of fun, but around here people play football, baseball, basketball.”

At the time, ultra and trail running were far from his mind. It was a niche sport enjoyed and celebrated by only a small group of enthusiasts. And there were few — if any — well-known runners who were African-American.

Now, Aussem-Woltering has battled through a collection of injuries, flirted with triathlons and emerged as a competitive ultra runner. Among his accomplishments thus far: finishing second in the 2018 American River 50, winning the 2015 and 2016 Tunnel Hill 100, and at least a dozen other podium finishes in ultras.

While his running journey is far from complete, it’s rooted in the athleticism he developed growing up in Illinois.

Running, swimming, biking

After competing in middle school track and other sports, Aussem-Woltering kept active throughout high school and college. During the fall season in high school, he swam for the YMCA, in addition to running cross-country and playing soccer at his high school. He prioritized soccer — “it was my love in high school” — but had too many injuries to pursue it in college.

Still, he excelled in running. He was within seconds of making it to states in several distances, finally breaking through as a senior in the 800. One of Aussem-Woltreing’s coaches knew he had the potential to win states in the 800 but recognized that he wanted to participate in a lot of activities.

“You’re only in high school once so if you want to have those other experiences, go for it,” Aussem-Woltering reasoned.

The injuries followed Aussem-Woltering to Greenville College, a Division III school in southern Illinois, where he ran cross-country as well as indoor and outdoor track.

“I was never able to put in the mileage in college to put in a national qualifying time,” he says, noting he had six stress fractures in five years. “Since I had so many injuries, I was swimming and riding the bike a lot. It basically became one of those things where I was swimming 20,000 yards a week and doing some biking (due to injuries). Then I started to get into triathlons.”

Instead of running 80 to 100 miles a week during the summer, Aussem-Woltering would run half of that as well as swimming and biking. He did several Olympic distance triathlons and then did a half Ironman because “at that point I enjoyed putting in the time in the pool and on the bike, at least at that point in my career.”

By the time he graduated from college he had qualified for the World Half Ironman championships twice. “I thought I wanted to become a professional triathlete,” he recalls.

After college, Aussem-Woltering moved to Florida for a little while then Boulder, Colo., where he found trail and ultra running. His first taste of it came when he paced one of his friends at the Leadville 100. “Huh, trail running is kinda fun,” he recalls thinking. “I don’t know that I want to run 100 miles, but maybe I could do the shorter stuff. I ended up quitting triathlons to do trail running.”

One ticket to Western States

Aussem-Woltering jumped into ultras and in 2015 qualified for Leadville at the Silver Rush 50. But a surgery a few days after Silver Rush scrapped those plans. “I really wanted to do it.”

He has revved up his game to compete in a lot of various distances, with a mix of roads vs. trail races. “I’m trying to cut back on racing a little bit,” he says, noting he raced 23 times in 2016 and 18 times in 2017, everything from 1 to 100 miles. “This year I am cutting back to probably around 15 races.”

Aussem-Woltering will focus on shorter distance trails in the first part of this year “to get speed on trails and work on leg turnover.” He’s targeting trails this year, “I think I just needed a break from the roads.”

He had planned to run Leadville this year through the lottery or get a qualifier at Silver Rush “but I got into Western States so I didn’t have to worry about Leadville.”

His first entry into Western certainly came as a surprise. “I got in with one ticket.”

Training in the flatlands

He is building up to Western with the American River 50 and Quicksilver 50. Now that American River has concluded, he’ll focus more of his training on climbing.

“It is pancake flat here, which creates a little bit of a challenge,” he says. “Starting after Tunnel Hill last year, the goal was to work on short speed, turnover and get quick. That way, when we start the climbing phase, the legs are ready for it.”

Aussem-Woltering does a leg matrix — a series of lunges — before and after running six days a week to prepare for downhills. “I haven’t started climbs yet, but I am climbing the best I ever have — probably from all that speed work and the leg matrix.”

Looking ahead to Western States, his primary goal is to have fun with it, but if training goes well over the next couple of months, he intends to race it. “It’s really going to come down to how well you can climb in the heat.”

After Western, he is focused on returning to the Tunnel Hill 100. “For next year, I want to get into Badwater so I need to get into two more 100-mile finishes,” Aussem-Woltering says. “Everything is still so up in the air. I didn’t expect to get into Western so that threw everything else into a loop. It’s a great problem to have.

Encouraging others

Similar to his high school and college running days, Aussem-Woltering is one of the few African-Americans running long distances.

“Usually there are not many people of color on the start line of ultras and trail races,” he said, while noting that at the recent Paleozoic 50K and 25K he was joined by several other African-American runners. “It’s a smaller race with about 125 people, so that was a little surprising. Huh, I’m not the only black person here this time.”

He points out that even during road marathons, there are a disproportionate number of minorities.

“I don’t want to say that they don’t feel welcome because that has never been my experience but it could just be a lot of the bigger trail races and ultras are out west or places on the East Coast where there are not a large group of minorities. Or, if you are talking about mountain races, there really aren’t people of color who live in those areas.”

While Aussem-Woltering is sponsored by Inov-8, few, if any, other African-American trail runners are sponsored by major brands. “It could be just that people are not brought up to look up to those elite athletes.”

For minorities — or anyone — interested in getting into trail or ultra running, Aussem-Woltering offers encouragement.

“The first step would be to join a local running group,” he says, noting many offer weekly group runs for a variety of levels and abilities of runners. “Everyone is super welcoming. Find out when and where they meet and just show up. I think a lot of people may be scared that they aren’t at the level of running with this group or that group or whatever. If you are very interested in the sport, then somebody will help you.

“If there are any people of color interested in getting into trail or ultra running, let me know.”

Like other athletes, Aussem-Woltering needed support before he ascended to a champion ultra and trail runner. A challenge from an elementary school gym teacher. A high school coach who understood his needs. And Chrissie Wellington, a former English professional triathlete and four-time Ironman Triathlon World Champion who was his role model.

“I never really had a trail running idol,” he admits. “Whenever Chrissie Wellington raced, she really pushed and gave it her all and she won. That’s just awesome.”

Now, Aussem-Woltering finds himself positioned where he could be in a position to inspire young black athletes who have a similar gift of running. It’s what the sport needs to continue to grow and become more inclusive. But more importantly, it’s what young black athletes need — an encouraging push from a role model with whom they can identify with.

Speed drill

Name: Coree Aussem-Woltering

Hometown: Ottawa, Ill.

Number of years running: 18 years -- I started in 5th grade

How many miles a week do you typically run: 6 days/week with Monday off. 80-110mpw.

Point of pride: Either running 5:30:15 at Tunnel Hill 50 Mile, or the day I signed with inov-8.

Favorite race distance: Trail 50 miles, road half marathon.

Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Pre-race, Kodiak Cake Banana Muffins. During race, Sword (Endurance Drink Mix).

Favorite piece of gear: Darn Tough Vermont Socks — Happy feet, happy running!

Favorite or inspirational song to run to: Any song by Alison Wonderland. Check out the Radio Wonderland podcast.

Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: "One foot in front of the other."

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