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Auburn endurance athlete Anne Thilges has competed in ultra events on five continents

By: Tessa Marguerite, Reporter/Page Designer
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Anne Thilges’s ingredients for endurance
Shoes: Luna huaraches sandals
Clothing: Ryp Wear running skirt
Fuel: candy, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Jolly                       Ranchers, water
Accessories: Ultimate Direction pack to hold water, dog treats, food; hiking poles
Favorite cross-training activities: Sleep, yoga, TRX for core strength
Anne Thilges is a 52-year-old Auburn resident and ultra-endurance runner.
Thilges said she has been running all her life. Her first organized running event was in sixth grade. Growing up in the ‘70s at the start of the “running boom,” Thilges’ father was participating in many 10k races. 
“I saw that it was important to his so that’s what interested me,” she said. “I also enjoyed being able to go for a run and exploring parts of town that I would otherwise not have seen.” 
Thilges ran her first marathon in 1988 and finished her first Ironman Triathlon in 1995 — an Ironman Triathlon is a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride and 26.2-mile run with no breaks in between.
But what Thilges finds most rewarding about running are the friendships and bonds she has formed with other athletes.
Originally from the Midwest, Thilges moved to Auburn two years ago when her husband, Brad, was offered a job with Riskalyze. The pair met when training for a marathon and bonded over their common interest and passion for the outdoors lifestyle and fitness. With a business consulting job and fostering rescue dogs on the side, Thilges doesn’t consider herself a full-time athlete, but said spending most of their free time on the trails is her and her husband’s chosen lifestyle. 
“This is how we bond and have fun and enjoy our life outdoors,” she said.
One of the things Thilges loves most about Auburn is all the endurance events and how much it brings the community together. 
“Life isn’t about things; it’s about experiences and bonds with people,” she said. 
Thilges participates with the Auburn’s Endurance Capital of the World Committee and volunteers for many local endurance events including the Western States 100 and the Auburn Triathlon. She said helping others accomplish their goals and cheering them on makes our town stronger. 
“This is what life is all about,” Thilges said. “Making connections with other people.
Endurance running
Thilges’ most recent accomplishment was a 150-mile race in Utah on June 18. The Gemini Adventures Desert RATS Stage Race is a five-day footrace beginning in Grand Junction, Co., and traveling through the desert to Moab, Utah. 
“It was really just an amazing experience,” Thilges said.
As a stage race, the competitors run from one camp to the next running up to 43 miles in one day and sleep in tents provided by support crews. The crews provided dinner and breakfast for the runners, but during the day they carried packs with food and got water at aid stations. “Some days were really long,” Thilges said. “My goal was just to get through all the days.” 
On the last day of the race, Thilges was the third woman to cross the finish line. The first-place woman, Amanda Ax, was the youngest competitor at 25, and the second-place woman, Theresa Knakal, was the oldest female competitor at 56. 
“It’s fascinating,” Thilges said. “You have all these different demographics, men, women; it’s a big community … . We go in as strangers and come out with a really good friendship.”
Earlier this year, Thilges ran in a six-day, 250k race in Morocco called the Trans Atlas Marathon. After a week of running 20 to 30 miles each day with strangers through remote villages, she crossed the finish line with a group of friends. 
Thilges recently launched a GoFundMe campaign for a Moroccan runner, Abdelaziz, to compete in the Marathon Des Sables, the largest race in the country. There is no reduced entrance fee for Moroccan natives, and the cost of $3,600 is more than one year’s salary for most Moroccans. Thilges said everyone who raced in the Trans Atlas Marathon has contributed to Abdelaziz’s entrance fee and she hopes to raise the entire amount before race day on April 5, 2019.
Inspiring endurance
Thilges has competed in ultra events on five continents: Australia, Europe, South
America, Africa and North America. She has completed the Rio del Lago local 100-mile race, 50 Ironman triathlons across the world including five Hawaii Ironman Triathlon World Championship races. To be eligible for the Hawaii Ironman, athletes must have placed first or second in their age group in a selection of other qualifying Ironman races. Thilges sees this as her most tangible victory and a major accomplishment.
“I had to work a lot of years to get there,” she said.  
One of the five times Thilges competed in the Hawaii Ironman, she did so as a guide for a blind woman and they were the first woman team to complete the race. Their experience included a tethered swim, riding a tandem bicycle and running tethered with a band around their waists. While Thilges was tasked with caring for her partner, she was also required to care for herself. But she said guiding blind athletes, which she has done on several occasions, is more rewarding to her than coming in first. 
“It’s not about the running,” she said, “it’s about the community.”
Thilges stressed that more than anything, it’s the community she has found and the bonds she has made with other athletes that drive her. 
“If I didn’t have these people to run with, my friends, then it wouldn’t have the same feeling,” Thilges said. 
She also enjoys being outside on the trails and feeling healthy. 
“It all comes back to running in every part of my life,” she added.