In May, the Buena Vista High School graduate who holds the school record for the 3200 placed first among women in the Jemez Trail Run in Los Alamos, N.M.
Annie Hughes, who graduated from BVHS in 2017, completed the 50-mile ultramarathon through the Santa Fe National Forest with a time of 10 hours, 27 minutes, finishing sixth overall.
“I had a friend who was doing a 50k in Los Alamos who said ‘this is a cool race, you should do it,’” Hughes said. “I didn’t know how difficult it was. It’s considered the most difficult 50-mile run in the country.
“It’s probably a good thing I didn’t know that during the race,” she said.
Hughes described the Jemez as 50 miles of slowly but steadily climbing, technical mountain terrain. At one point, early in the race, contestants head up the slope of a blue diamond ski hill. Later, they make multiple fords of a shallow, sandy creek bed. Somewhere in between Hughes encountered a bear.
Even scarier: At one point, the trail loops back on itself, and Hughes, temporarily forgetting this in her exhaustion, dealt with the gut-punch of a realization that she may have lost the trail and been running in circles.
“It’s an ongoing sufferfest,” Hughes said of ultra-running, but when you come out of those really down moments you think, ‘woah, I can’t believe I did that ... ultra-running is the ultimate way to get the most out of myself and test my limitations.”
Hughes grew up in Wisconsin. Her family moved to Buena Vista, where she attended BVHS for her senior year.
She had been running since the 6th grade, when her father put her in track. Within 2 weeks of moving to 8,000 feet above sea level, Hughes ran for the Demons at a meet 2,000 feet even higher in Leadville.
“It definitely took some adjusting,” Hughes said.
She got the hang of it, though: she set the record for the 3,200 run in a March 2017 meet at Pueblo, finishing with a time of 11 minutes, 19.83 seconds.
Hughes graduated with a scholarship to run cross country for Adams State.
“They have a really great program in division 2,” she said. However, she soon found that collegiate running wasn’t for her.
“I really love to be in the mountains,” she said, and with Adams State’s rigorous training schedule, “I couldn’t take a day to go hike ... running had always been fun for me. I didn’t think that was what running should be.”
Ultra-running appealed to Hughes as a perfect combination of the athletic demands of cross country with the wilderness exploration of hiking, but she was burnt out on competing.
“I’ll just run 50 miles on my own,” Hughes thought.
Then she ran a 55k race in Moab, Utah, the Red Hot Moab, where she took 5th place for women, 25th overall, finishing with a time of 5 hours and 19 minutes.
“I had the most fun training for that race that I’ve ever had,” she said. “I had no idea what to expect, and I was really surprised. It felt like I was on a mountain adventure with a bunch of friends.”
So, she entered her first 50-miler with the Jemez, and, much to her surprise, she won.
“I’m not a very emotional person, but there were a couple times when it brought me to tears,” she said.
Running through the hard-to follow trail along the creek bed she called the most difficult part of the race.
And the time she worried that she had inadvertently exited the race course altogether.
And the bear?
“I was all alone at that point in the race ... I was almost too tired to be afraid. I was thinking ‘I wish this bear would get out of my way.’”
When it saw Hughes, the bear fled.
Finishing races like these becomes about setting a series of tiny goals for yourself, even if it’s just to get to the top of this hill, then the next.
“Annie, just keep running,” Hughes tells herself.
Hughes now lives in Leadville, where she’s pursuing a degree in adventure leadership from Colorado Mountain College, looking toward a career in the outdoor industry. She’s also training for her first Leadville 50. Is she nervous?