Running Down Her Dream
Despite race cancellations, CMC student and ultrarunner Annie Hughes runs her own races
Originally published on educationatelevation.com
The famous Leadville 100 Run Ultramarathon has put Leadville, CO on the map and on the minds of runners around the world. For many students it’s the community of runners that initially attracted them to the Cloud City. Collegiate runners come to Leadville to compete on the CMC Eagles cross country running team and train on renowned trails. Other students, like Annie Hughes, came to Leadville for the celebrated ultrarunner community and to see just how far her feet can carry her.
Moving Through the Mountains
It was 4 A.M., pitch black and bitterly cold when Annie Hughes left her house in Leadville. She couldn’t quite make out the towering peaks of Mount Elbert and Mount Massive in the distance but she knew they were there. The fifty mile course was planned out in increments, and if everything went as planned, soon she would be standing atop those two mountains.
“It’s so inspiring to look at Mount Massive and Mount Elbert everyday,” says Annie, a 22-year-old Colorado Mountain College student “I wanted to run from my doorstep to the top of the peaks and back. It’s a cool experience to see a peak off in the horizon and then run to it.”
On that frigid late November morning, Annie headed west towards the first destination of the day, running 12 miles of road to the Half Moon Road trailhead. When she reached the trailhead she was greeted by her friend Gwen, who waited with a warm car, snacks and more layers.
Together, Annie and Gwen climbed up Mount Massive, the second highest peak in Colorado. The early winter conditions slowed them down but it didn’t stop them from reaching the summit around 10 A.M..
“The conditions were the biggest challenge,” reflects Annie, “The snow made it difficult to run and I was post-holing but once I made it up Mount Massive I was like Okay I can do this!”
After stopping at the trailhead for another brief impromptu aid station at Gwen’s car, Annie headed back up towards Mount Elbert. She reached the summit of Colorado’s highest peak at 14,433 feet, shortly after 3 P.M..
Annie was tired, but feeling on top of the world when she descended, heading in the direction of home. Marley, Annie’s roommate, was the third and final mobile aid station of the day, fueling the exhausted runner with hot ramen soup for the final leg of her journey.
This wasn’t the first time Annie ran to the top of Mount Massive and Mount Elbert, but the additional 28 miles of road running to and from the trailhead added a challenging new element.
In 15 hours and 13 minutes Annie covered 50 miles with more than 10,500 feet of elevation gain. She conquered frigid temperatures and knee deep snow drifts, returning home just in time to see the sun dip behind the familiar peaks.
Digging Deep on the Collegiate Loop
Annie ran the Silver Rush 50 and qualified for the 2020 Leadville 100 Run, but like almost all events this year, the race was canceled. Of course she was disappointed, but Annie didn’t let that stop her from running.
Using fastestknowntime.com, a website that tracks record times for popular routes, Annie decided to build her own race. She settled on the Collegiate Loop, a 160-mile stretch of the Colorado Trail through the Sawatch Mountains. She planned her route, solicited friends to be her pacers and organized supplies at strategic aid stations. Her family and friends supported her any way they could, meeting her along the route, making sure she ate enough food, and boosting her confidence when she doubted herself.
“The first 24 hours were brutal,” says Annie, “I was about to quit at one point. Two friends were pacing me and showed up at the right time. We ran together and they asked me why I was doing this and reminded me about my goals and the purpose of doing that run. It was exactly what I needed to hear.”
Annie finished the Collegiate Loop in 2 days 13 hours 19 minutes and 16 seconds. She now holds the record for supported females on the Collegiate Loop.
“Ultrarunning is an incredible feeling,” says Annie, “Few things take you to a place where you have nothing left. You can be in such a low moment, struggling through the first 50 miles of a 160 mile route convinced you’ll never finish, and come out of it to keep climbing to such a high point. There’s so much beauty in that pain and overcoming it.”
Leadville is for Runners
Before transferring to Colorado Mountain College Leadville, Annie attended Adams State where she ran on the cross-country team. After two years of short-distanced fast running, she yearned for a long distance challenge. Annie quit the cross country team and signed up for the Moab Red Hot 55k—her first ultra race.
“Once I started trail running I realized that I didn’t want to live in Alamosa,” says Annie, “I wanted to live in the mountains, somewhere I could train… somewhere with trails right at my backdoor.”
In high school, Annie’s family moved from Wisconsin to Buena Vista, CO. As a senior, she took classes at Colorado Mountain College through the concurrent enrollment program and was familiar with Leadville.
“I’ve always loved Leadville,” says Annie, “There is an awesome endurance athlete community here and the mountains are super inspiring. It’s a unique place with lots of character and it is an incredible place to train at high altitude.”
Today Annie is working towards a bachelor of arts degree in education at Colorado Mountain College Leadville. She takes online classes and works as a server at Treeline Kitchen. In her free time, you’ll likely find Annie on the trails, training for her next race.