When does someone go from emerging talent to already there? At just 25 years old Annie Hughes is starting to find herself in the second camp. Her 2022 included three 100-mile wins and an impressive win at the captivating Cocodona 250-mile. She’s the youngest ever winner of the Leadville 100-mile, and when you watch her run she makes the incredibly hard look incredibly easy. For what many would consider an emerging talent in the long-course ultrarunning world Annie’s rise has been meteoric. Consider us huge fans! Ahead of the Canyons Endurance Runs by UTMB, in conjunction with HOKA, we sat down for a little Q&A before our own Ryan Thrower tagged along for a vert focused workout in Buena Vista, Colorado – camera in tow.
FT: You came onto many radars in 2021 when you became the youngest person to win the Leadville 100-mile race and then backed that up with an incredible run and win at Moab 240 – when did you catch the trail running bug?
AH: The 2021 Leadville 100 was definitely my “break-through” race, but I ran my first ultra in 2019 at the Moab Red Hot 55K. I had never raced more than a 10K before, and was coming off of my last cross country season after leaving the college cross country and track team at Adams State to peruse mountain climbing and trail running. I really enjoyed the challenge of running further than I ever had before at Red Hot, and wondered what it would be like to run even further than the 55K, which felt like the limit at the time. I immediately signed up for a 50 miler after that first race, so I would say I “caught the bug” pretty quickly. I spent the next couple years experimenting with different distances. I came up with a lot of my own ultra challenges like running from my house to the top of 14ers, and back. I dabbled in some ultra races and did a few 50 milers, 100 milers, and ran a 160 mile FKT on the Collegiate Loop here in Colorado. I also finished my goal to climb all 58 of the 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado. It honestly wasn’t until I won the Leadville 100 in 2021 that I thought I might be “good” at ultras. I had zero intentions to try to be competitive. I came into this sport from a place of pure joy, curiosity, and love for running and being in the mountains.
FT: Most of us know you as a Colorado runner, having made your home in Leadville at over 10,000 feet – but you actually grew up in Wisconsin moving to Colorado during your senior year of high school. How formative was that move to Colorado on your trail and ultra running pursuits?
AH: I most definitely wouldn’t have found ultra or trail running as quickly as I did without the opportunity to move to Colorado for my senior year of high school. My family would come out to Colorado on summer vacations, and I always knew I wanted to live here, go to college here, etc. I also knew from the time I first started running in 6th grade that I wanted to be an “ultra runner” someday. The seeds were definitely planted all along, I just didn’t put it together until I was actually living here and had the opportunities to explore in the mountains through climbing some of the 14ers. I was a little distracted with cross country and track running at first, so it took a couple years for me to have the realization that I could be running up mountains instead of running around a golf course, but I eventually caught on.
FT: In 2022 you ran and won four 100-mile races and the Cocodona 250 mile race – what was your motivation to tackle such a huge year?
AH: 2022 unintentionally turned into a huge year for me. I’m starting to learn the balance between running the races I want to do with the races my sponsors want me to do, but I didn’t do as good a job with that last year, and ended up kind of outdoing myself by the end. I really wanted to run Cocodona 250 and the High Lonesome 100. Run Rabbit and Javelina were both sponsorship requirements for UltrAspire and Hoka. I totally fell in love with the 200-mile distance after Moab 240, and really wanted to do another one of those races. Cocodona felt like the most logical next step since it’s 10 miles further! I ran a 100 miler in January as a training race for Cocodona, and also ran the 12 hour event at Running Up for Air Colorado in February where I got about 56 miles. And I know this doesn’t count, but I also ran for 24 hours on my 24th birthday in March as a fun challenge/training run for Cocodona and got about 117 miles. Just the training for Cocodona was a lot, let alone the actual race itself, and then I had three 100s after that! I was somehow able to pull that all off, but I’m definitely going to be smarter about how much I’m racing in one season in the future years.
FT: You’re headed into the Canyons Endurance Runs 100-mile race by UTMB this upcoming weekend – after a long Colorado winter how are you feeling headed into the race?
AH: I’m feeling as prepared as possible going into Canyons. I’ve had a really strong, consistent winter of training. I think winter base work is the most important part of the year because it lays the foundation to pile on more intensity/race specific work during the actual season, so I take it very seriously and have gotten into a good routine these last four months. I ran a checkpoint race at the Behind the Rocks 50 miler last month, and ran even faster than I predicted. That was a good confidence boost to see where I’m at, but who knows what will happen on race day. All I know going into it is that I’ve put in the work and I’m as ready as I can be, so I’m just excited to see what I can do!
FT: We were all pretty excited to see your name come out of the Hardrock 100-mile lottery, and knowing Courtney Dauwalter’s Moab 240 in 2017 was an inspiring performance for your own running, what does it mean to get to line up alongside her in Silverton in July?
AH: I’m still in disbelief I got into Hardrock 100! It’s my dream race, and one of the first ultras outside of Leadville that I had ever heard of when I was starting to become more interested in the sport. I’ve paced and volunteered the last couple years, so I’m excited to experience the race from the runner’s perspective this year. Courtney is obviously a huge inspiration to me as well as so many others in the sport, so it will be really cool to share the iconic Hardrock course with her!
Freetrail Schedule for Canyons Race Weekend
Thursday 4/27 4pm PST – Elite Athlete Panel with Heather Jackson, Annie Hughes, & Cole Watson Friday
4/28 at 12pm PST- Freetrail Friday, live analysis and prognostication show with Sage Canaday and Corrine Malcolm
Saturday 4/29 – Race Companion Livestream (timing TBD)
Saturday 4/29 at 5pm PST – Post-race wrap up show
Thanks to HOKA for supporting our coverage! Make your fantasy predictions for a chance to win the new HOKA TectonX2 Trail Shoe.