In taking third at the 2016 Western States 100, Jeff Browning showed us that he can be still be a king of second-half stalking on a highly competitive stage. In this interview, Jeff talks about why he prefers to start carefully and put pressure on in the second half of his 100-mile races, how the second half of the race played out for him, and if he negotiated any of his own low patches during the race.
We’ve also got video of Jeff finishing the race.
For more on the race, read our 2016 Western States 100 results article.
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Jeff Browning Post-2016 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Jeff Browning after his third-place finish at the Western States 100. Jeff, you ran one heck of a race out there. Did it feel that way?
Jeff Browning: Thanks, man. Yeah, it felt good. I stuck to my typical plan of going out easy and then steady pressure as they fade off.
iRunFar: Does it feel like steady pressure? Externally it looks like accelerating.
Browning: I’m steadily putting pressure on them to the finish. It’s more and more pressure toward the end. After so many 100’s, it’s the only fun way to do it. The other ways are risky and hurt.
iRunFar: I imagine it’s both physically and mentally more fun that way?
Browning: It is because you’re picking people off. It’s always nice to pick people off and not get picked off.
iRunFar: You probably have enough experience that when you’re in 20th place at mile 30 that you’re not, “Oh, I’m having a horrible race. I’m in 20th.”
Browning: No, I’m not worried about my place at all. I’m not really checking place until the second half. Then I’m checking in. Where am I now? I like to run within myself for the first half at least and then start bringing it more.
iRunFar: Any low patches along the way?
Browning: No, not really. I was hot a few times where it’s just like, “Ahh, man.” I did probably take too much caffeine during the race…
iRunFar: That could be entertaining, right?
Browning: Yeah, I got a few heart palpitations. I backed off on no caffeine for awhile and felt better. Little adjustments.
iRunFar: Any particularly bright spots along the way? Any places you felt like you were just totally on?
Browning: Bright spots? I felt pretty good down to the river. I really felt good from Green Gate in. Everything was smooth. I felt good. I could run hills. I powerhiked well. I’m getting ready for Hardrock, so my hiking is okay for sure. I definitely hiked a lot in the canyons pretty hard. I definitely got in the Hardrock mode.
iRunFar: The way you run, a lot of times it’s nice to have some company out on the course. But you’re kind of moving your way up through the race. Are you running with people? Is it lonely out there?
Browning: I ran with some people during the day, but this race, there’s not a lot of chatting going on. A little early, like, we were chatting all the way up the Escarpment. Everybody does. That’s your social time to catch up with everybody. Once you go over the top, it’s every man for himself it seems like to me. I haven’t done this for 14 years, but that was the vibe I got. There’s a little chatting here and there if you’re around someone, but it’s so technical in the high country that you can’t really chat. You’ve got to be like… you can do short conversations, but you’re trying to focus.
iRunFar: You still consider that first part technical?
Browning: It’s not crazy technical, but it’s enough that you’ve got to pay attention. You can’t be just off, “LAAAAAAA,” and not paying attention. You’ve just got to run within yourself. I end up kind of being in no man’s land starting easy like that, so I’m usually by myself which I like. I train by myself. It’s my quiet time. I have a wife and three kids that I love very much, but I work at a job that’s got a lot of social interaction, too, as a graphic designer. So, it’s nice. Running is my time where it’s my quiet time. 100s are just a big day of quiet time. I really like that. That’s why I don’t like having a pacer. I don’t like having that external stimulus. I’d just rather cruise and enjoy myself.
iRunFar: It’s not like having crews and pacers bothers you? Do you get any energy from that?
Browning: No, no, no, no, no. Oh, totally… especially in this race. The volunteers are off the hook here. There are so many. You don’t have to fill bottles. “What do you want?” Everyone is super helpful. It’s above and beyond here for sure. It really helps. It helps you go fast. If you didn’t have that, it would be hard to go fast.
iRunFar: You’ve won a lot of 100’s, but nothing that has competition like this. Do you think this was your best ultra performance or up there?
Browning: No, no, I wasn’t fully ready. I had a little calf issue after the Memorial Day training runs. I definitely didn’t train for Western States—leg speed, downhill running—as much as I would normally or if I was just focused on Western States. But definitely there are 14 years of pent up…haven’t got in… got something to prove type of thing. Definitely comes into play in my mind just because I’ve been talking about it so long and trying to get in for so long, I finally have a chance and I didn’t want to blow it. I really wanted to execute.
iRunFar: You did.
Browning: Yeah, I felt good about the day.
iRunFar: Obviously you ran an ultra yesterday, but it’s kind of a choice between road shoes and trail shoes and beefier shoes and faster shoes. I know back in Patagonia Forerunner days you wore a pretty minimal shoe. What were you wearing out there yesterday?
Browning: Altra Lone Peak 2.5s.
iRunFar: Kind of in the middle of the range.
Browning: That’s kind of been my new most favorite shoe now after three or four 100’s in it. It’s just the right balance of just enough especially late in the course, then they have good traction and they drain really well. It’s a very good shoe. I love it.
iRunFar: So you’ll probably use that shoe in a couple weeks as well?
Browning: Yeah, I’ll probably use it at Hardrock. I have another pair. I’ll throw those on. I always find the shoe a little packed out after a 100.
iRunFar: There’s a lot of pounding at the end.
Browning: There’s a lot of dirt and wet and they’re constantly wet.
iRunFar: They break down.
Browning: Yeah, I don’t know what it is about the 100’s that does it to shoes.
iRunFar: I find they kind of pack out, like if you have any inconsistency in your stride, that gets magnified.
Browning: Totally. It gets magnified late in the race. I definitely heel strike more on the right in the second half.
iRunFar: Medially on my right shoe is just popped out. At the front of a 100 like this, you don’t often see a lot of dudes wear gaiters. When did you make the conversion?
Browning: Jesse Haynes and I did the trip through the Owyhee in May. I’d been running with the gaiters in winter, but I tried them out for desert running, and I realized I didn’t ever have to do a shoe dump. Ever. For the whole race. Normally you have to do a few especially where there’s loose stuff. This course usually has loose stuff especially in the high country. So I decided at the last minute to wear them and I’m stoked I did. I didn’t do one shoe adjustment the whole race. My feet got wet. I got a little bit of maceration or whatever you call it. I got a little fold in my…
iRunFar: Do you think it’s because there’s a little less breathability in your shoes?
Browning: No, it’s because your feet are saturated and wet and sweaty and hot. It made me realize it’s probably smart to do a sock change maybe once or twice during this race quickly. It makes up for it. My pace was suffering on the downhills at the end because of that.
iRunFar: On this course you can actually make a couple of strategic sock changes because you have long stretches where you’re not getting wet.
Browning: Exactly. Right after the river and maybe after the canyons—two spots that would be great for that.
iRunFar: Michigan Bluff. It really refreshes mentally.
Browning: I never change. I never ever change. I never have foot problems except after Ultra Fiord. I had trench foot after that race. Ah, it might be smart to change socks and shoes. Of course I didn’t do it in this race.