Annie Hughes Pre-2023 Hardrock 100 Interview

A video interview (with transcript) with Annie Hughes before the 2023 Hardrock 100.

By on July 12, 2023 | Comments

Annie Hughes is no stranger to high altitude, 100-mile racing, which makes her a contender in the 2023 Hardrock 100. In the following interview, our first with Annie, she talks about how trail running pulled her away from a more traditional collegiate running career and why the longer races are so interesting to her. She also shares some stories from early season training on the Hardrock course.

For more on who’s racing, check out our in-depth preview. Follow along with our Hardrock 100 live race coverage from Friday.

Annie Hughes Pre-2023 Hardrock 100 Interview Transcript

iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. I’m with Annie Hughes. It’s a couple of days before the 2023 Hardrock 100 Endurance Run. Good afternoon, Annie. How are you?

Annie Hughes: Thank you. I’m good. How are you?

iRunFar: Good. I feel like we chose our outfits well today. [laughs] [They are both wearing bright pink Hoka tee shirts]

Hughes: Yeah, we definitely did. [laughs]

iRunFar: Yeah, I was going to say planned or not planned.

Hughes: Not planned. Meghan was going to change but I thought we should keep it. Twinning.

iRunFar: Just run with it.

Hughes: Yeah.

iRunFar: Okay, so, what color are you wearing on race day?

Hughes: Blue and orange.

iRunFar: Okay, let me rack my closet for that one. Annie Hughes, this is iRunFar’s first interview with you, though you are well known in the endurance running community. But I’d love to just hear for a moment how you, like the short version of your journey to a starting line like Hardrock 100. Like, this is a big burly 100 miler.

Hughes: Yeah, it’s been a dream of mine to run this race since I first started running ultras, which wasn’t that long ago. Like, four years ago. But I remember my college roommate is from Lake City, and she talked about volunteering at Hardrock. And so, that was kind of where I first heard about it. And then once I started running ultras, like, of course heard more about it. And yeah, I’ve just been working my way here ever since. Just running. Like, Leadville was my first 100, or like, not mountain 100. And then yeah, I got to pace that year at Hardrock. And then last year, I got to volunteer and do the trail work weekend and train out here, and then do a couple of qualifying races. So yeah, I couldn’t believe I got in. This is crazy.

iRunFar: And now is now.

Hughes: Yeah.

iRunFar: You were a collegiate runner. Like, you sort of grew up in the running sphere. And then your mind turned towards the mountains after school. Is that right?

Hughes: Yeah, yeah. So, it was a year and a half into my college career, I discovered the mountains and trail running. And yeah, I just became really fascinated by it, and decided I wanted to quit the team to pursue ultras. So yeah, I didn’t run in college for very long. Got into trails a year and a half in.

iRunFar: Okay. It’s funny to hear you say that you feel like you haven’t been an ultrarunner for long, because you have so many great results of like, really long and burly races to your name. Like you’re an interesting dichotomy, a fairly young person, but who has done a couple 200+ milers, a number of 100 milers including, like, kind of hard ones. What is it about your brain that calls you to do that type of racing?

Hughes: I think it was really a natural progression. You know, when you do one ultra, you know, you’re just kind of interested to see, you know, what it’d be like to run further than that. And so, I started with a 55k. And I remember like, the 200s piqued my interest before I even ran one ultra. I just thought that was so cool and wondered what it’d be like to do that, but I was kind of working my way up to it. So it was kind of the goal from the beginning. But yeah, the first couple years I just did a 50k, and then a couple 50 milers, and then the next year I ran my first 100 [miles.] And then 2020 all the races were cancelled. So, I did an FKT on the Collegiate Loop in Colorado, which is 160 miles. That was kind of my first multi-day adventure. And after that, I was like, you know, that took me 61 hours. I was like, If I can do that I can probably do a 200.

iRunFar: [laughs]

Hughes: So yeah, I signed up the next year. And yeah, it’s just become like, my favorite distance, 100s and 200s. Super fun.

iRunFar: Do you like sleep deprivation? Just asking.

Hughes: [laughs] I don’t, but yeah, it’s super uncomfortable. I just love like, the added challenge of it. Like, it’s not easy for me by any means. But yeah, I’m just inspired by that distance and all the challenges that come with that.

iRunFar: Something that’s so interesting about you is that you come from an altitude that’s higher than this race course’s starting line. You live in Leadville, which is above 10,000 feet. We’re here at a little over 9,000 feet. Most people are really leveling up to get here. So, kind of funny to me that you’re coming to low altitude.

Hughes: I’m kind of coming to low altitude, but the race, you stay high for a lot of it.

iRunFar: That’s true.

Hughes: Yeah, I don’t think, yeah, I don’t think it’ll feel like I’m coming down, but it probably will help.

iRunFar: You were here for a week, week and a half, not too long ago recceing the course. And yeah, doing some acclimation to the conditions of the San Juans. The course is changing, like, quite quickly. Things are melting. I think you’d have some like, fairly entertaining stories from your recceing.

Hughes: Yeah, so I went out to do Softrock. So, try to do the whole course in four days and stay in the towns along the way. And I went out on the first day, and Meghan suggested that I bring an ice axe. And I was like, It’s a trail. I don’t need that, I can use my poles and like microspikes. [laughs] And then I got to the first pass and I was like, Oh my gosh, I’m so glad I have this. And yeah, it was a very long slog. It took me 13.5 hours to do the first 30 miles of the course.

iRunFar: [laughs]

Hughes: So, hopefully it won’t take me that long on race day. I’m really hoping. [crosses fingers] Because yeah, that was definitely a long day. So, after that, I decided just to do the section from Ouray to Telluride, and then back, when that was all snow and yeah, full on mountaineering. So, yeah, it wasn’t as much running as it was climbing through snow.

iRunFar: Really got you ready for that running race, huh?

Hughes: [laughs] Yeah, exactly. Yeah, it was it was super fun, though. And yeah, a good way to like, end the training build for Hardrock.

iRunFar: For you, somebody who has experience in 200 milers like the Moab 240 and races like Leadville, which is high altitude, but a lot more like, proper running. And then Run Rabbit Run, you know, less altitude, a little bit more vert. Like, how do you situate this race in your mind? Like, how do you wrap your head around doing this one?

Hughes: Yeah, I think there’ll be a lot of, you know, challenging factors at this one, just, you know, staying at such high altitude for that long, and so much more climbing. So, it’ll definitely take longer than those other mountain 100s, just with the snow. And then, you know, more climbing and who knows all the things that can go wrong. [laughs]

iRunFar: Yeah, yeah.

Hughes: But yeah, I’m prepared for it to take a bit longer than normal, and, you know, try to run what I can. But yeah, I’m just kind of looking at it as like, a big mountain adventure. I’m really excited.

iRunFar: What’s your pacing and pacers and crewing situation looking like? Who have you brought to share the trail with you?

Hughes: Yeah, so my mentor Olga [King], she’s been crewing and helping me with like, all my races for the past couple years. And yeah, I wouldn’t be where I am now without her. So, I’m really grateful to have her there supporting me and this crew. And then for pacers, Devon Yanko is taking the first section. And then Sammy Lewis, Dreama Walton, and Jackson Cole.

iRunFar: Wow.

Hughes: Yeah, so.

iRunFar: What a dream crew. Yeah.

Hughes: Yeah. Super excited and yeah, grateful. I’m excited about pacers. I haven’t had pacers for my last few 100s, so this will be nice to have some company.

iRunFar: Something different, jokes, stories.

Hughes: Yeah. Usually I’m kind of quiet when I’m running but just to have someone there would be nice.

iRunFar: Last question for you. You’ve seen a fair bit of the course, but there still are some mystery spots. What are some, sort of, question marks that are in your mind about like, what am I going to find out there on race days?

Hughes: I guess I’m just interested to see, you know, what the snow situation will be like. Especially in the parts that I’ve already seen, just to see how much it’s melted since then.

iRunFar: Yeah.

Hughes: I think that’ll be interesting. And yeah. There’s really not a whole ton that I haven’t seen. But yeah, just this section from Animas Fork to Handies [Peak]. I’ve done Handies, but not as part of the course, so. And then, yeah, a little section after Handies, down to Engineer, but other than that, I’ve seen everything. So yeah, just a couple of spots there.

iRunFar: Awesome. Well, best of luck to you on your first trip around the San Juan Mountains and we look forward to chasing you.

Hughes: Thank you so much.

[Bonus footage]

iRunFar: Nice shirt.

Hughes: [laughs] Thank you.

iRunFar: [laughs] How’d you get here in this shirt?

Hughes: What is today? Tuesday? Tuesdays we wear pink!

iRunFar: Tuesdays we wear pink.

Meghan Hicks

Meghan Hicks is the Editor-in-Chief of iRunFar. She’s been running since she was 13 years old, and writing and editing about the sport for around 15 years. She served as iRunFar’s Managing Editor from 2013 through mid-2023, when she stepped into the role of Editor-in-Chief. Aside from iRunFar, Meghan has worked in communications and education in several of America’s national parks, was a contributing editor for Trail Runner magazine, and served as a columnist at Marathon & Beyond. She’s the co-author of Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running with Bryon Powell. She won the 2013 Marathon des Sables, finished on the podium of the Hardrock 100 Mile in 2021, and has previously set fastest known times on the Nolan’s 14 mountain running route in 2016 and 2020. Based part-time in Moab, Utah and Silverton, Colorado, Meghan also enjoys reading, biking, backpacking, and watching sunsets.