Rising ultraunner Annie Hughes is skyrocketing to be one of the state’s most iconic endurance athletes.
Based in Leadville, the 24-year-old crossed the finish in third place overall and first female at the Cocodona 250, a 250-mile point-to-point ultramarathon through Arizona state the first week of May. The route links historic towns, singletrack, and remote dirt roads through pine forests, the Sonoran desert, canyonlands, and mountain ranges.
Specializing in high-volume runs, Hughes started the race on May 2nd at 5 a.m. and finished 71 hours, 10 minutes later, at a steady pace of 8-minute miles.
The professional endurance runner said, “I loved the course. It was mostly runnable with nice climbs, moderate grades, great trails, some terrain that was rough and rocky, and beautiful views. You start at a lower altitude—nearly 2,000 feet above sea level— and end high at nearly 9,000 feet. It was cool to see the change of landscape.”
How Hughes won a 200-mile footrace
Hughes said eating at each aid station is vital, especially for distances greater than 100 miles. At each supported stop, the athlete devoured ramen, lasagna, pasta and meatballs, or egg wraps with avocado in addition to her race nutrition: Spring Energy Gel and Tailwind Nutrition, a calorie and nutrient-rich powder that mixes with water.
Founded and made in Colorado, Tailwind Nutrition “is an easy way to drink my calories and nutrition—gels are too sweet, and I can’t eat them for a long time. Tailwind is a great way to get my sodium and electrolytes in one powder, which is really cool, and it’s never upset my stomach. I haven’t had any issues with it,” said Hughes, who discovered the endurance fuel when she first started ultrarunning in 2019.
To prepare for the Cocodona 250, Hughes raced her first 200-mile distance, the Moab 240, in October, followed by a month of recovery.
Then, she increased her mileage for the January Goldwater Rumble 100-miler—where she got first place and a 100-mile PR, boosting her confidence—followed by 100-mile training weeks. In March, she ran another 117 miles in an unsanctioned 24-hour run to celebrate her 24th birthday.
Mentally, the racer approaches 200-mile distances in smaller segments. “I break up the 250 miles into small goals. I make a pace chart with predictions for different sections, and I break the race into days and nights,” Hughes said.
Choosing an alternative path
A Wisconsinite, Hughes grew up running track and cross-country from 6th to 12th grade.
She was always drawn to long distance: 2 miles around the track and 5Ks on dirt. During her senior year of high school, she and her parents moved to Buena Vista, Colorado. She discovered trail and ultrarunning, and climbing mountains quickly became a new passion.
After graduation, Hughes enrolled in Adams State University, 100 miles south of Buena Vista, where she ran 90-mile weeks for track and cross country.
Burnout set in, and she left the team in October 2018. “It was so structured. I was told what to run everyday and at what pace. I wanted to wake up in the morning and do what I felt like,” she said.
Her college training carried over to her ultrarunning with a few adjustments. Instead of running doubles, she consolidated her miles each day and added back-to-back high-mileage routes over two or three days.
Today, Hughes is on a school sabbatical to focus on her ultrarunning career.
She plans to finish her business degree online through Adams State University, as well as an outdoor education degree through Colorado Mountain College.
Catching her stride
Hughes ran her first ultra in February 2019: the Moab Red Hot 55K, where she took fifth place. She won her second-ever ultra, the 50-mile Jemez Mountain Trail Runs, three months later. That summer, the explorer finished summitting all of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks and secured third place at the Silver Rush 50-miler.
Despite many races being canceled in 2020, Hughes completed her debut 100-miler, the Bryce Canyon 100, finishing third.
In summer 2021, Hughes became the youngest woman in history to win the iconic Leadville Trail 100. She also took the top podium spot at the Collegiate Peaks Trail Run 50-mile race. By October, she ran—and won—her first 200-mile race, the Moab 240, a 238-mile race with an elevation change of 57,756 feet.
Next up, Hughes plans to race the High Lonesome 100, a 100-mile race in Colorado’s Sawatch Range, near Buena Vista.
Follow her journey on Instagram at @outdoorable_annie.