Running Hard

How star runner Coree Woltering got in peak shape for ‘Eco-Challenge: World’s Toughest Race’

This post is part of a series of Queerty conversations with models, trainers, dancers, and, well, people who inspire us to stay in shape–or just sit on the couch ogling them instead.

Name: Coree Woltering, 30

City: Ontario, Illinois.

Occupation: Professional runner for The North Face & member of Team Onyx on Eco-Challenge: The World’s Toughest Race – Fiji

Favorite Gym: I don’t necessarily go to the gym. I can do most of my [routine] at home.

Do you have a favorite exercise playlist? I am a huge fan of hard rock: Slipknot, Toad Orange, The Devil Wears Prada.

What’s the best food to eat prior to a workout? I love avocados, a huge fan.

What’s the best outfit for working out? I’m known for racing in a crop top and a speedo. I actually won our home town marathon a couple times while wearing a crop top and a speedo. The newspaper always finds a way to edit the picture.

How do you balance staying in shape and having fun? Staying in shape is fun. I’ve always been an active person. I’m happy I can make money running. But I love sports and outdoor stuff.

What’s a basic, if useful, work out tip you can offer?  Squats are great. You can do bodyweight squats, which is a great exercise. In terms of staying in shape or focused, break it into small segments. Do 10 seconds at a time.

What is it about running, specifically, that you find so satisfying? For me, running is a way to see how far I can push my boundaries. So when it comes to running, you can go faster or farther. Sometimes you’re trying to go faster and farther. That’s just a really awesome thing for me.

About a month ago, I clocked the fastest known time on the Ice Age trail up in Wisconsin. That’s 1,147 miles. I did it in a little over 21 days. For me, I’ve just been on a quest to see how far I can push.

How do you find it prepares you mentally and emotionally? It’s interesting. For me, because running is my job, it doesn’t feel like work. It’s a stress reliever. It also brings balance and focus to the rest of life.

How did your involvement in this show come about? Our team captain, Cliff, wanted to put together the first all African-American team to race. He found all of our teammates through Instagram. I still don’t know what he went searching for to find us. Basically, he was just looking over a bunch of athletic black people to form the team.

Related: Celebrity trainer Jason Wimberly on the virtue of working out in heels

How well did you guys get to know each other before filming? As a full team, we spent three days together before making it to Fiji. Everything was basically emails, Instagram messages, group texts, whatever. Then we did a training weekend in California.

You’re putting yourself through some grueling circumstances here. When you’re working with a team of people you don’t know well, how does that test your preparedness?

I love it. I love being put in situations like that. To be an athlete at the highest level, you really need to be super flexible and have an open mind. I knew my teammates were training. I knew they were getting the work done. So it’s fun.

Did you hesitate to say yes? It’s funny. When I got Cliff’s message, I thought, do I really want to do this? I remember watching this on TV like 10 years ago, when the last season was in Fiji. I remember thinking: I don’t know if I want to go there. I don’t think I responded right away. Then I think I came back with “no.” But, a couple hours later, I was like, “Of course I’ll go. I’d be stupid not to go.” It was also interesting because it was my first year running for The North Face. So I was trying to balance a competitive schedule of running races and to learn a bunch of new skills for this race.

In terms of what’s going on off-camera, what do you think is important for people to know?
This was absolutely an adventure race. The camera crew just happened to be there. Everything you see us do, we did that. It’s intense. You sleep very little. I think we slept maybe three hours the first four days. And I was wearing a microphone the whole time. You get put into some of the most stressful situations you will ever be in, and there’s a camera in your face as its happening.

Did the presser ever get to you? How do you remain physically, mentally, emotionally prepared when under this kind of pressure, especially with a camera pointed at you the whole time? For me, it’s one of those things where I focus on the task at hand. Sometimes even just paddling a boat can be a very difficult challenge when you don’t have sleep. For me, I don’t see it as necessarily pressure. I’m just focused on getting the job done.

You’re also an out-gay member of team Onyx. You’re traveling through some areas that are hostile to queer people. Did you ever fear for your safety? Not during the race. Honestly, the people of Fiji are amazing. Anytime we’d end up in a smaller village or area, we were always met with open arms and hospitality. So no, I never felt unsafe.

How does your approach to preparedness change when you have to work with a team? For me, it was about showing up and knowing that I could do everything I needed to do, and knowing that they were at home training and would be willing to get it done. Then, you have moments where you have to stop your team and have a talk. When you’re racing with a team you don’t know that well, it’s hard to see the warning signs of someone getting extremely tired, or someone needing to eat. So I was taking ideas from the sport of ultra running and trying to apply them across a broad scale. Also, I just trusted my teammates to speak up if they needed something.

How has doing this show affected your outlook on life in general, and your fitness for it? I think it was an amazing experience. For me, it was definitely a lesson in being uncomfortable for long periods of time, and being OK with that. At the end of the day, it’s a race. We chose to go to Fiji and put ourselves in this position. And it was fun.

What do you keep on your nightstand? Just a water bottle.

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