Hi there! My name is Annie Hughes. I’m 23 years old, and I live at 10,152 feet in the small mountain town of Leadville, Colorado. I’m also a new athlete on the HOKA team this year, and I recently discovered that I’m most fond of the 100+ mile distances.
I was first introduced to HOKA shoes when I worked at a running store in Wisconsin during high school. I distinctly remember the store owners explaining to me how HOKA running shoes were developed by a couple of ultra runners in France. I recall having this magical vision in my head of what it would be like to run in the French Alps, and thinking to myself, “I want to be an ultra runner one day and wear those HOKA shoes!”
Picture me as a young girl, always wearing dresses and a matching bow in my hair. My mother bought me marginal athletic shoes because my feet were still growing. I didn’t like to tie my shoes, so I kept the laces loose. That way, I could easily slip right into the shoes for gym class or recess. I was always terrible at any game we would play that involved a ball and considered myself very “unathletic” until the day we had to run the mile fitness test. To my (and everyone’s) surprise, I beat everyone in my 5th grade gym class, including the most athletic boys while wearing a dress, my lousy shoes, and a bow in my hair. This was the first time I ever saw success in something athletic. From that day on, I asked my teacher every single day if we could run the mile fitness test again until she finally said, “Ok, Annie. Stay close to the field where I can see you, but you’re welcome to run as much as you want.” So while the rest of the class played soccer, kick-ball, flag football, etc, there I would be, just running around the perimeter of the field for the entire gym period.
When the big day came for the mile fitness test in 6th grade, I won it again and beat all of the boys. This was when my father suggested I sign up for track, which I was reluctant to do. I argued I wasn’t competitive and that I got side aches. My dad signed me up for the YMCA Roadrunners track team and told me to go to three practices. If I didn’t like it, I didn’t have to keep doing it. Well… I liked it! Starting in 6th grade, I ran both track and cross country every single year until I was a sophomore in college at Adams State University in Alamosa, Colorado.
Adams State has an amazing running program and tradition, which I was thrilled to be a part of. It had been a dream of mine to run in college and live in Colorado. My family and I would come out to Buena Vista, Colorado for family vacations in the summers, and I became fascinated with the mountains. My parents actually decided to retire in Buena Vista, and we ended up moving from Wisconsin to Colorado for my senior year of high school. I remember hearing about the iconic Leadville 100 mile race the summer I moved to Colorado and thinking to myself, “I want to run that race someday.”
I remember my dad explaining the different distances people race when I first started running. “There are road runners who race distances from a 5K to a marathon, and there are also crazy people who run ultra marathons, which go all the way up to 100 miles and beyond!” I always had this feeling that I could run forever. I raced the longest possible distance in track, which was one mile in middle school, and two miles in high school. I always got so excited for Sunday long runs, and couldn’t wait for my chance to run a marathon someday, and eventually ultras.
By my sophomore year of college, I found myself completely burned out on running cross country and track. I dreaded going to practice, which was what I looked forward to the most every single day. I stopped doing all of the stretching and maintenance after each run, where I used to spend at least an hour after every run, stretching, rolling, doing strength work, ice bath, etc. I didn’t care if I got injured anymore. I didn’t want to run even though it was the thing I loved more than anything else in this world, and I never thought I’d ever run a race again. After suffering through my sophomore year cross country season at Adams State, I quit the team.
I had a fascination with the mountains when I moved to Colorado that I really wanted to explore, but never got the chance due to strict cross country and track training regimens. The day after I quit the team, I climbed Blanca Peak, a 14,000-foot mountain located right outside of Alamosa. I decided that I wanted to climb all 58 of the 14,000-foot mountains in Colorado and start working on my goal to run 100 miles and become an ultra runner. Running marathons wasn’t as appealing to me anymore because I knew the training would be like my college training on steroids, and probably wouldn’t involve many long days in the mountains exploring beautiful trails. Surprisingly, to this day, I have yet to run a marathon.
I spent the entire next summer bagging every 14er in the state and developed a love for pushing my limits in the mountains. Since I was no longer on the team, there was nothing tying me down to Adams State, so I decided to move to the small mountain town of Leadville, Colorado and finish my degree at Colorado Mountain College. I figured Leadville would be a great place to train and get into ultra running since Leadville hosts one of the most iconic 100 mile races in the country.
The summer I moved to Leadville, in 2019, I ran the Silver Rush 50 miler, which is a part of the Leadville Race Series. I ended up qualifying for the 2020 Leadville 100 and was ecstatic that my very first 100 mile race would be Leadville. Unfortunately, the Leadville 100 was cancelled in 2020, and I deferred my entry to 2021. However, 2020 didn’t go to waste. I was able to run the Bryce Canyon 100 miler, one of the few races which was able to be held in 2020. I made lots of mistakes including taking a wrong turn that cost me ten extra miles, and eating some rotten mashed potatoes in my drop bag that caused me to throw up everything I put into my body for the entire remaining 60 miles of the race. Even though my first 100-mile experience didn’t go as well as I had hoped, I learned lots of lessons and I was still able to accomplish my goal of finishing a 100 miles. After I completed that distance, I wondered if I could run farther.
I planned a 160-mile FKT (Fastest Known Time) attempt around the Collegiate Loop in Colorado that ended successfully in 61 hours. This accomplishment gave me a major confidence boost going into 2021, which is what propelled me to sign up for the Moab 240-mile endurance run. What is the limit?
This year, I decided to put my full focus into ultra running. I ran three 50-milers, one 50K, two 100-milers, the Moab 240, and signed a contract with HOKA. I’d say that I’m living my high school dream of being a mountain ultra runner and wearing HOKA shoes to the fullest! In August, I became the youngest woman to ever win the Leadville 100. This was an absolute dream come true because of its history and tradition. The fact that this iconic race is located right in my new hometown made this accomplishment extra special to me.
However, running and winning the Moab 240 was a much deeper experience. 100-milers are over in a day, but running for multiple days with no sleep, plus a gazillion number of things that can and will go wrong really tested my limits. That’s one of the things I love most about ultra running. It strips you down until you seemingly have nothing left, yet you CAN keep going. In these extreme challenges, I find balance between gritty determination to test myself and pure enjoyment of playing and adventuring in the desert and mountains. Running is when I feel the most connected to the natural world around me. Moab is a pretty incredible place and I can’t think of a more rewarding way to experience and explore such a unique valley than to travel 240 miles on foot as fast as I possibly can.
I love creating challenges for myself, especially in beautiful places, and am excited to share my plans so far for the upcoming season in 2022! I’m looking forward to seeing if I can run ten miles farther than I ever have before at the Cocodona 250 in May! This is a 250-mile point-to-point foot race across Arizona. I’m also planning to complete a 24-hour run on my 24th birthday in March as well as a couple 100 mile races later in the season (more to come on those as they’re not quite set in stone yet).
My goal with this sport is to inspire others to test their own limits in whatever medium they are most passionate about and to also realise that they are capable of accomplishing the seemingly impossible.
There are no limits! #TimeToFly