Jeff Browning’s been running ultras for 13 years and has scored quite a few 100 mile victories in that time. He’ll try to use his experience and his iron stomach to win another this weekend at the Run Rabbit Run 100 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. In the following interview, Jeff talks about how he got into ultrarunning, why he’s so successful at running 100s, what his best ultra performances have been, and why the mental aspect is paramount at this distance.
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Jeff Browning Pre-2013 Run Rabbit Run 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Jeff Browning before 2013 Run Rabbit Run 100. How are you doing, Jeff?
Jeff Browning: Good.
iRF: You’ve been running these things for awhile now, but we haven’t had a chance to catch up. How long have you been running ultras?
Browning: This is the 13th season—13th year.
iRF: What got you into a sport like this?
Browning: I was a mountain biker before college and worked at a running shop and biking shop in college. I got into mountain biking and did that mostly through my twenties. In my late twenties, I moved to Bend, OR, and Rod Bien, who is on the Patagonia Ultrarunning team, too, got me into ultras. He introduced me to Western States 100, and in the process of training and qualifying and getting into Western States in 2002, so in 2001, racing ultras and getting accustomed to them, I got hooked. Especially the 100-mile distance—I love it.
iRF: You do race a lot, but it definitely seems like the 100 is your favorite and where you perform the best.
Browning: Yeah, I seem to do better as it gets longer, definitely.
iRF: Anything you attribute that to?
Browning: Iron gut maybe. I’m very motivated, too. I have three kids and a full-time job. I take time away from my family. When I take time away from my family, I feel like I owe it to them to perform the best I can. After 70-some ultras and this will be my 16th 100, I’ve never dropped out—no DNF’s.
iRF: That’s quite the…
Browning: Hopefully I keep that record going.
iRF: On the iron-stomach side, obviously you have to train your legs and what not…
Browning: Obviously, yeah.
iRF: But you really do run a 100 miler on your stomach as much as you do to some degree on your legs.
Browning: Absolutely. You’ve got to be able to eat, and you’ve got to be able to keep it down. I’ve only thrown up twice in all the 100s I’ve done. Both of the times, I was sick or either recovering from something and was hacking or something like that. So they count, but they don’t really count.
iRF: There’s an asterisk.
Browning: There’s an asterisk. Exactly.
iRF: Do you attribute it to… is it a gift? Is it training? If you feel it coming on in a race, you know how to deal with it?
Browning: I don’t know. I eat pretty healthy as far as a whole-foods diet and a lot of organic stuff. I have my own garden, an organic garden, and eat natural meats and that kind of stuff. I don’t know. I pay attention. I supplement in fat supplements. I don’t know. I think some of this is you either have it or you don’t. Either your stomach stays solid and you can keep putting food down it or you can’t. I tend to be able to. It definitely helps in a 100.
iRF: You’ve won a lot of 100’s—Bighorn a couple times; San Diego…
Browning: Bighorn three times. San Diego twice.
iRF: Do you have a Pine to Palm in there somewhere?
iRF: Ozark, Arkansas Traveler…
Browning: Yeah, I think 10 of 15.
iRF: Is there one of those that you think is your best performance so far? One that stands out?
Browning: I’d say Wasatch last year was solid and San Diego last year were really solid races. Probably Wasatch last year just because it’s such an old race, and it’s a hard race. Running a solid time there, I was pretty stoked.
iRF: You’re now a masters runner and you ran two of your best 100s last year. Do you attribute that to gaining experience and knowledge? Is it accumulated training base?
Browning: I think it’s all of those. Definitely in 100s, experience matters for sure. But also, every year I feel like I can train a little harder and a little more. After awhile, you kind of figure it out. You figure out what you need to do, how you peak, how you taper… you kind of get a regimen and do what works for you. I don’t know. I haven’t really changed a lot, even nutrition-wise, in races. And in training, I kind of know what I need to do—how much volume I need to put in. How much I can do personally without getting injured. That’s kind of… that recipe works for me at least.
iRF: Any advice for somebody getting involved in 100s or who has been doing them and is looking to improve?
Browning: I think, get your mental game ready. The second half is your mind. You’ve got to use your mind. You can’t let yourself have bad thoughts. You’re going to have really low spots—multiple low spots throughout a 100 miler. One, saying “I’m going to finish this thing. Unless it’s life-threatening, I’m going to finish this thing.” You’ve got to get that in your head. You can’t say, “I’ll do my best to finish it.” Because, if you have that, you’ve already… you’re going to give up because it’s going to get really hard. They’re hard. They’re their own beast for sure. It’s definitely different than a 50 miler or 100k even. After 100k you still have to run another 38 miles. That’s a long way.
iRF: Besides deciding to finish, is there anything else to keep you fighting?
Browning: Take care of yourself at the aid stations even if it takes extra time to get yourself straight. I think rushing through stuff and keep moving, unless you’re fighting time cut-offs or something, then you might not have a choice, but if you have a choice, get everything you need to get you out of there.
iRF: When you go into aid stations, do you prepare what you’re going to do and what you need before you go into them so you have a plan? It’s not just spending time…
Browning: Absolutely. I have to say I’m kind of a geek about races, too. I study maps. I go through and have splits on my wrist and everything. I do everything just to keep myself motivated and to keep myself mentally focused. I think those kinds of things help. Finding little things that help to keep you focused definitely help.
iRF: You seem like you’re very focused on a particular race. What are the highlights on this race going into it?
Browning: I found for me, I can only peak for two 100s per year. Those are kind of my focus. I’m taking time away from my family. I’ve got a two year old at home and an eight and an 11 year old. So taking away from them and my wife and all the training that goes along with peaking for a race like that… I use some races as training (50 milers and 50k’s and stuff like that), so sometimes I’m running on tired legs. I don’t know. Getting that volume in—I do a lot of stuff on the bike. I came from a mountain-biking background. I’ve got six bikes in the garage. My wife would like me to get rid of some bikes, but…
iRF: Are they a size-medium frame?
Browning: Exactly. You need a bike? I’ll sell you one. I want one of those fat tire bikes. I forgot the question.
iRF: You’ve become more involved in working with a design team at Patagonia. What shoes are you going to be wearing this weekend?
Browning: EVERlongs. Patagonia EVERlongs. New shoe. The earliest it will be out in retailers is November—any retailer that ordered early. The rest I think are out in February. This is my 13th pair on Friday the 13.
iRF: Feeling lucky?
Browning: Feeling lucky. Hopefully, we’ll see. It’s 100 miles. It’s a long way.
iRF: I’ll have to interview Karl [Meltzer] next and see if he says the same thing.
Browning: He says it’s not a long way, but you know that’s a tag line, man, I’m in marketing. Yeah, it is a long way. We’ll see.
iRF: Well, enjoy it out there. Good luck.
Browning: Thanks, buddy.
iRF: You’re still in the hot seat. Bonus question: favorite breakdancing move?
Browning: I’d say the “windmill,” because I can’t do it.
iRF: That’s why you picked it because you can’t do it.
Browning: Right. I never learned it. I had a breakdancing book when I was a kid. I’m 42, so I was in high school in the 80s. Breaking was cool back then.
iRF: Kick out some moves out on the course.
Browning: I will. I’ll try. Thanks, man.