My name is Anna Hughes, the woman behind the scenes of Ultra Running Insights.
I was born in Germany and grew up in a small rural village near the city of Dortmund. As a child I spent the days mostly outside cycling or walking to farms nearby. Whether it was raining or sunny, I would always be active in nature running around, climbing trees or playing with other kids my age.
From an early age, I was given the opportunity to participate in many other activities such as ballet which has actually helped me to maintain a good body posture up to this day. Soon I moved on to playing table tennis, tennis, basketball, volleyball and even did horse-riding in my teenage years.
My brother and I regularly visited my grandfather in the Southern part of Germany where we would join him on long hikes in the Swabian Mountains and walk on the undulating, often hilly terrain stopping at breathtaking gorges and flowstone caves.
The moment that changed my life
It was at the age of 14 that I discovered running. One day my mother asked me to join her for a run on a six-mile lap in the woods. I didn't even own running shoes back then and put on a grey pair of jogging trousers and indoor trainers.
Honestly said, I didn't quite make it all the way around. Completely out of breath but not in the slightest unhappy with my performance I decided to walk back to the car and wait for my mother.
What had happened?
All I can remember is that I had felt totally engaged with myself whilst running and that it came naturally and effortless to me. From that moment on, it simply made sense to me to continue running and build confidence running with my mother on a weekly basis.
After a few weeks I was able to run six miles with her and not long after that I waved good-bye to her. Up to this day, she is a great source of inspiration to me. Someone special who continues to believe in me and empowers me to aim higher and higher.
I joined a track and field club for a few years and ran in the Varsity cross-country and track team during my year as an exchange student in America back in 1996.
In retrospect, I had probably always been a keen runner performing on an average to above-average level.
Nevertheless, although, I was always willing to work very hard in training, I'd turn up at races and not be able to tap my full potential of what I thought I could run.
It was some time later that I realised that the mind has a profound influence on performance and using mental strength was exactly the part that I needed to turn my focus towards to.
Just how could I access these inner strengths?
More or less spontaneously I signed up for my first marathon back in '98 at the age of 19. I thought that three months of physical training would be enough. It might have been until I reached the 35k-mark somewhere around the streets of Berlin.
I stopped for a moment and wondered how I would be able to run or walk the last 4.5 miles.
Within an instant I saw a chance unfold in front of me: I felt such strong emotions when I visualised crossing the finish line raising my arms up in the air that those thoughts kept me going all the way. Besides getting a finisher's medal I had also received something beyond that finish line: the gift of my own mindpower.
One year later, I entered the triathlon scene and participated in a few races including a Half-Ironman.
What made me shift to ultra running in the end?
Ten years ago, I read an article about the desert race Marathon des Sables in a magazine and also watched a TV report about it.
The second I looked at the incredibly beautiful pictures of the sand dunes I visualised myself being one of those runners one day.
To me, doing this race appeared to be the epitome of endurance running. I longed to be a long-distance runner from deep within and fulfilled this need in 2008.
The experience in the Sahara desert was THE milestone in my life as a runner. Why?
Because covering a total distance 153 miles or 245 kilometres in six stages was more an issue of battling the mind to put one foot in front of the other and rise above the physical pains that naturally occured.
After crossing the finish line breaking down in tears I felt immense gratitude and a sense of achievement. A fact that motivates me continuously to race ultramarathons.
Ultra running is barely a battle against oneself but a silent agreement between mind, body and soul.
The road to successful ultrarunning can be a smooth one which makes this sport so fascinating to me. It teaches me to bring out the best in me not only in training and races but also in my attitude towards my life as a proud mother and valuable friend to the people that feel inspired to leave the well-trodden paths to new adventures.
Going against the mainstream and creating something different is my credo in life and the sport. Ultra running enables me to discover new facets of my personality.
"The art of life is not to be a person high in rank or accumulating more money. The art of life is life itself."
Thich Thien Son
My achievements so far include:
Marathon des Sables (Sahara Desert): 245 km - 6 stages - 39hrs:52mins. - 22nd female
Baerenfels - Ultratrail (Germany): 65.5 km / 41 mi. - 1800 Hm / 5900 ft. - 7hrs:09mins. - 2nd female
Brugg 12-hour run (Switzerland): 103.780 km / 65 mi. - 1st female / 3rd overall
Maennlichen mountain half-marathon (Switzerland): 1600 Hm / 5250 ft. - 2hrs:31mins. - 4th female - 3rd age group
Swiss Jura Marathon (Switzerland): 350 km - 7 stages - 11000 Hm / 36000 ft. - 44hrs:36mins. - 2nd female
Jungfrau mountain marathon (Switzerland): 1800 Hm / 5900 ft. - 4hrs:12mins. - 26th female
Belchen mountain run (Black Forest, Germany): 11.4 km / 7.1 miles - 824 Hm / 2700 ft. - 1hr:06mins - 4th female - 1st age group
Swabian Alb ultramarathon (Southern Germany): 50K - 1025 Hm / 3363 ft. - 4hrs:23.47mins. - 4th female - 2nd age group
Chiemgauer 100 (Ruhpolding, Germany): 100K - 4400 Hm / 14435 ft. - 14hrs:08 - 2nd female / 11th overall
I have pointed out some races that aren't ultramarathons by definition but have had a very positive impact to sharpen up before a major race. Shorter races also serve to build mental strength and help to improve muscle memory.
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