Seven months ago, Brittany Hughes was crossing a street in Chapel Hill when a turning car sideswiped her and broke her foot just two weeks before she was scheduled to run a marathon. Now, the Old Fort runner and UNC student has the chance to make a comeback this November in New York City.
Hughes, 20, has been chosen as one of 17 athletes by PowerBar to run in the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon as part of the company-endorsed Clean Start Team.
“I’m so, so, so, so excited,” said an ecstatic Hughes. “I’ve never been to New York before, and I get to tour the whole city in one race.”
Hughes has been on a four-year running high since her senior year of high school. She ran in a number of 5k races in her first semester at UNC Chapel Hill and she would enter Chapel Hill’s’ Tar Heel 10-Miler every spring. From there, she said, it just snowballed.
“Yeah, so I struggle a lot with self-esteem and confidence,” Hughes admitted, “and running – especially a distance like a marathon – is a way for me to prove to myself that I can do stuff, I can run really hard and push through these races that certainly aren’t easy. I’ve had a lot of time to doubt myself and continually push through that doubt, if that makes any sense.”
It was during this time, after piling up race after race, that a wayward car and a broken foot last March temporarily derailed her from running.
“So after I ran that first marathon last fall, I signed up for another, which took place on March 25,” said Hughes. “On March 9, I went out for a little training run near campus, just before I was due to start reducing mileage before my race (or ‘tapering’). I was running back to campus and stopped at a crosswalk waiting for the light to change, and when it told me I could go, I started to run across the crosswalk. A car was turning when I was crossing, and it hit me.”
The collision broke Hughes’ left foot in two to three places, two weeks before her scheduled run. When asked about her rehabilitation process, she summed it up in one word: stubbornness.
“I started running 16 days post-fracture, with a doctor’s approval, and would do laps and laps around the field hockey field near my dorm because it was a soft surface,” said Hughes, “and as my foot healed, I started trying longer distances and gradually moved back to the roads.”
Not one to take things lightly, as demonstrated by her post-injury training, Hughes took advantage of this setback and used it as a catalyst to enter, and win, a chance to run in the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon as part of PowerBar’s Clean Start Team.
The team -- Hughes and 16 other runners -- is comprised of individuals who’ve overcome, or are in the midst of overcoming, setbacks that sidelined them from achieving their goals. As PowerBar describes it on their website, “Our team previously found themselves on the ‘did not finish’ list or suffered from health-related injuries. Each needed a goal to help them persevere, and these PowerBar Clean Start athletes are not only running for themselves in New York, they are running for their families and their support team.”
For Hughes, the experience is a great opportunity to pursue her passion, along with an additional perk.
“One of my favorite elite runners, Shalane Flanagan, is running in New York City,” said Hughes of the long-distance runner who won silver in the 2008 Summer Olympics and second-place in the 2010 NYC Marathon. “She graduated from UNC Chapel Hill and I’ve met her once before, so running in the same race as her is completely surreal.”
Hughes herself is hoping to mark her own place in the race, to go sub-four hours in the marathon and make a few time goals in the process.
“Overall I’m just really grateful for the experience and I hope to have fun!” she said.
The TCS New York City Marathon is scheduled for Nov. 5. For more information on Hughes and PowerBar’s Clean Start Team, visit https://www.powerbar.com/clean-start-team/.