Having placed third in 2016, Jeff Browning is the top returning runner from last year’s Western States 100. In the following interview, Jeff talks about whether he has any residual fatigue from his great 2016 season, whether he can improve upon his third place from last year, where he feels his fitness is, and what he thinks about the front of the men’s field this weekend.
Jeff Browning Pre-2017 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Jeff Browning before the 2017 Western States 100. How are you, Jeff?
Jeff Browning: I’m great. How are you?
iRunFar: Alright. I feel like I’m having deja-vu.
iRunFar: Last year you were third here and fourth at Hardrock and fourth at Run Rabbit Run. Did you get tired at all?
Browning: No, I took a good rest in the winter with some down time. Then I did a build up and raced early in 2017 pretty hard. Then I kind of shut it down and did some shorter stuff and stayed closer to home this year for the spring, so not a lot of travel even. I’m feeling good, man. I feel normal.
iRunFar: You’re feeling normal now. Let’s say end of September or beginning of October, do you still get tired out by everything?
Browning: More mentally tired than I am physically tired by the time I get down with that. Hundred after 100, they take a lot of mental. That’s when you have to take a little down time especially because I have family. I have three kids and a wife. I’ve got to take that time with them. They sacrifice a lot during the hard-core race season when I’m running 100s because I’m ebbing and flowing with training.
iRunFar: Last year, externally looking at your race here, you ran pretty much a perfectly executed race. Did it feel that way?
Browning: It did feel that way. When I hit Michigan Bluff and Bath Road, I was feeling on, and I felt really good. It helps when you pace well early in this race. I didn’t get passed after mile 25. I was in 17th at mile 25, and I never got passed and ended up in third. To be able to just pick guys off, it’s so good for your confidence in the race. It also helps emotionally, physically, everything because it feeds you every time you catch somebody. You come around a corner, and you’re like, Oh, I’m going to get another one. So when that happens, it’s really good for your race mentality. Your mental state is really good in those situations. I’d like to do that in this race again.
iRunFar: Do you think you can catch lightning twice?
Browning: I don’t know. Right? We will see. The snow is going to be a factor. I went and scouted today. We have a lot of snow. There’s probably going to be snow for the first 16 miles or the majority of the first 16 miles or really challenging conditions. That’s going to slow us down. Overall splits are going to be slower to Robinson Flat or at least until Red Star Ridge. We’re going to be slower. We’ll see where we are at the point. We don’t know. That’s what I was telling my crew. We’ll see where we are at Robinson Flat. If we’re even close to the splits. I always have goal splits. We’ll see if we can hit those. I doubt it.
iRunFar: At least early on?
Browning: Early on—I’d like to hit them later, but we will see how much that snow affects splits.
iRunFar: You were third last year and you set down a good time. Do you think you can match that time-wise again?
Browning: I’d love to run the same time I did last year with the snow conditions. You can do the math on what I want to run if it was dry. I’d definitely like to go faster than 16:30 in a dry year. I think I can. I think there’s plenty of room for some improvement last year on my performance—just a couple of the aid stations and a couple of other things. I went in with a little bit of a calf strain last year after the Memorial Day training runs, so I didn’t get really good training at the end.
iRunFar: So the race was pretty close to perfectly executed, but there’s a couple tweaks and a little training…?
Browning: Yeah, you always can find… when you’ve been doing it as long as I have, there’s always something in your mind going, I could have made up a little there. I could have done something different there.
iRunFar: You’re also always probably going to have a little of that.
Browning: Yeah, always… and maybe you wouldn’t. Then in a race like this, we always have heat. Heat is always a factor, so there’s sometimes some aid stations are going to take you longer than you anticipate because you’ve got to take care of yourself.
iRunFar: You’ve got to deal with it, and if you don’t, you don’t finish third.
iRunFar: There’s snow early. You went up on there.
Browning: Yeah, we went up today. Jesse and I went up there today.
iRunFar: It’s a little slushy.
Browning: Yeah, it’s slushy. There’s a lot. It’s not going to be icy. That’s a good thing, but it’s definitely like running in soft sand.
iRunFar: You can’t do screw shoes. No additions to your shoes.
Browning: You can’t do anything here.
iRunFar: What are you going to use for shoes this weekend?
Browning: I’m going to run I the Altra Timp, the new one that’s coming out. I have the production model. This will be the third race in that shoe. I ran in it at Hardrock last year and the Coyote Backbone 68 Mile in March this year in a second-round prototype. I have the production model now. It’s like a touring model trail shoe.
iRunFar: Where does that fit in the Altra Trail lineup?
Browning: It fits in between the Lone Peak and the Olympus. It’s just a little more stack height than the Lone Peak, but it’s a wider platform with a little more mesh upper. It dries well and drains well. This race, it’s important to have a dry shoe because you’re wet the whole time, and you’re trying to stay wet. You don’t want sloshy shoes. That will be the shoe. It has great tread. It’s kind of a hybrid between the Superior and the Olympus tread—good lugs. I was on the snow today; it will be fine.
iRunFar: You ran a bunch of races this winter and spring and won a lot of them but sort of closer to home.
Browning: Yeah, I stayed close to this year. I’m going to UTMB this year, so I wanted to stay closer to home this spring and just race locally or regionally in the Northwest. I did go down to Coyote Backbone, but Patagonia is down there.
iRunFar: It kind of feels like a local race.
Browning: It’s a close-to-home race. It’s an easy flight out of Bend.
iRunFar: So how do you judge your fitness because it’s easier when you’re stacked up against some of the best in the world at Western States and you see how you perform? How do you know how fit you are?
Browning: For me after all these years, I kind of hit about the same almost identical mileage every year without even trying if I looked at my total volume for the year. I kind of know what I have to do. I know I need a peak and I need a taper, and I need to do some peaks and valleys here and there in training. I use strategic 50ks and bigger races. I raced a little harder in the spring early, and then I did shorter races earlier. I don’t like to take out the hard, long stuff too close to Western States. I don’t want to burn too many matches. I’d rather come in here more well-rested than a little overtrained.
iRunFar: Maybe like back in the day when whoever won Miwok 100k wasn’t winning Western States?
Browning: Exactly, not very often. I think [Scott] Jurek did it once or twice, but those times weren’t super fast. That wouldn’t have been winning it today. You’ve got to be ready. I think it’s better to be conservative coming into the race.
iRunFar: You can probably look over my shoulder and see Chris Mocko over there… not so conservative.
Browning: No, he ran the training runs fast because I ran with him one day, and we ran together for a while, but then he took off and he was hammering. Then he turned around a week later and went and ran a marathon a week later in Ireland. We’ll see how his legs do.
iRunFar: So, you’ve had a lot of experience and a lot of observation in the sport. How do you think the men’s podium might play out this weekend?
Browning: I don’t know if I can make that prediction. I think Jim [Walmsley] if he runs smart… I mean, I don’t think he’ll miss the turn this year. He won’t jump in the river and try to swim when we can’t this year. We’re on the raft. We’ll take that out. I think we’ll see him go faster at the beginning. Last year he was hiking really slow behind us on the first climb. He was way back behind us. We were all like… Ian Sharman and I were together going, “What’s he doing behind us? That’s really weird.” I think he’ll charge from the beginning. He’s got more confidence; he’s got another year of racing under his belt. Jim’s the one to beat. I think Jim said this at the Memorial Day training runs, that only Jim can beat Jim. We’ll see. The rest, I don’t know how it will play out. I’d love to be on the podium again, but it’s 100 miles, and you just don’t know. My ultimate goal is to be in the top 10, so I can bypass the lottery again.
iRunFar: If things are going a little rough mid-race, you might play it out a little more conservatively just to get top 10 rather than going for the gusto to get third place?
Browning: We’ll see. I’d love to still be up there in the top five. I’ll say that. I’d love to still be up there. I feel like I’m having a rough race if I can’t be in the contingent up there because I tend to not go too fast early, and I just don’t roll that way. I don’t like to run 100s that way. This will be my 27th 100, so I just use the way I run them and that’s to start out mellow and try to bring it at the end.
iRunFar: There’s a pretty talented men’s field here and a lot of really super-fast guys, but you mention guys like Jesse Haynes and Ian Sharman and yourself. You can count on a bunch of guys and yourself and those others to run smart races and end up in the top 10 even if they might be 25th at…
Browning: Yeah, those are the guys you have to worry about coming behind you. You don’t know in these things. There are a lot of fast guys and young guys that don’t have a lot of 100-mile experience. That’s why this race is so fun because there are 30 guys that could win it on paper, but 100s are so tricky. In the heat and the competition, unless you go to Europe, there’s never this deep of a field… rarely… not 30 guys, right? That’s what makes this such a special race and a hard race because it’s easy to run other people’s race around you and because you’re used to leading. Everyone is used to leading. There are 30 guys used to being in the top three of a race, and their in 12th? They’re like, What am I doing in 12th? It starts getting in their head and then they run too hard in that first 50 miles. When your legs come off in a 100, they kind of come off.
iRunFar: You could be 15 to 20 minutes back at Robinson Flat and be like, “Okay.”
Browning: You can be 15 minutes back at Foresthill and still bring it and catch a bunch of guys. Geoff Roes in 2010 proved that when Kilian [Jornet] and Tony [Krupicka] were way ahead and he was 15 or 20 minutes back at one point, and he won. You can still make up that time especially once you hit Foresthill. It’s so runnable. That’s such a sweet spot in the race. You need legs there. But it’s still hot. If you can get through the heat with legs and still have legs, that’s the way to run this race.
iRunFar: Show us how it’s done on Saturday.
Browning: Thanks buddy.