Kris Brown should contend at the 2018 Western States 100. In our first interview with Kris, which was part of the iRunFar Live at Western States show, he talks about his running history and how he’s wanted to be an ultrarunner since he was a kid, the highs and lows of his previous 100-mile racing efforts, and what it means to him to be racing the Western States 100.
Kris Brown Pre-2018 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar—Dylan Bowman: We’re back, this time with Kris Brown here with iRunFar Live before the 2018 Western States. Kris Brown… It’s good to meet you.
Kris Brown: Dylan Bowman, I feel like I should be interviewing you.
iRunFar—Bowman: It’s a glorious, glorious Wednesday morning in Olympic Valley. This is your first iRunFar interview. You sort of burst onto the scene in the sport at The North Face 50 miler in 2017 where you finished fourth place. Everybody was sort of like, “Who is this guy?” This being your first iRunFar interview, give us a little introduction to yourself, what your background is, where you live, how you ended up in the sport.
Brown: I’m from Santa Barbara, which is the new Flagstaff, you may have heard.
iRunFar—Bowman: Santa Barbara Cowboys?
Brown: Something like that but maybe more of a surfer reference. Basic background—I ran the expected routes—junior-high school, Junior Olympics, USATF very little, high school, college (D3).
iRunFar—Meghan Hicks: Where did you go to college?
Brown: Claremont-McKenna—D3 and not super competitive, but I was always running the farthest distance possible in whatever system I was a part of—5k, 10k in college. Since I was very little, I was always planning to switch to ultrarunning.
iRunFar—Hicks: Since you were very little—what age?
Brown: I was running competitive cross country at age 10.
iRunFar—Hicks: You already knew about ultrarunning?
Brown: Yeah, for some reason I already knew. It was probably because my dad was a runner, we were in Seattle, and chronologically, Scott Jurek was a super-big deal at that point. I always knew who he was and always emulated him.
iRunFar—Bowman: He’s won the race seven times. I’ve heard of him, too.
Brown: Yeah, he’s pretty good. I always knew about it. Since moving up in distance worked every time, I assumed after college I’d spend a couple more years racing and then switch. That’s what happened.
iRunFar—Hicks: When you look at your UltraSignup, most of your results came post-collegiately, but I did notice that there was a 50k when you were 20 years old. How did you slip that one in?
Brown: After the cross-country season, a friend of mine—I think you know Brian Gillis…
iRunFar—Bowman: Yeah, I know him. Awesome.
Brown: Brian is pacing me from the river to the finish to the finish. We are actually rivals because Pomona Pitzer and Claremont-McKenna are different teams. Funny story about how we met… probably too long for this.
iRunFar—Hicks: I can’t believe 10 years later still dropping the rivalry in.
Brown: Yes. Brian and I were friends despite the rivalry, and after this season, his senior year and my junior year, I was going abroad so I had nothing to lose, but I kind of talked him into doing an ultra. We hit up a couple different race directors trying to get into a 100k, a mountainous 100k, and we were turned down by everyone, but then we ended up hopping into a relatively easy 50k, and it was fun.
iRunFar—Hicks: Post-collegiately, did you pretty much straightaway start running trail ultras?
Brown: No, I stuck to road and track for a little while. Every season in college I came into fitter than I finished which I attributed to my coach’s inadequacy—he was amazing, that wasn’t really true—so I just figured I’d get out and coach myself and be better than ever. Sharp decline. Once I started not impressing myself with my results, I decided to switch to something that seemed a little less competitive. Maybe I’d look a little better by comparison—local 50k races, winning those, as opposed to hopping into a competitive track race and getting shot out the back.
iRunFar—Bowman: Before speaking with you, I initially thought this is your first 100 miler, and you got in via the lottery which is kind of a unique way to get in and a lucky way to get in, but you actually did run the San Diego 100 Mile in 2017, and you won the race in a really fast time. What did you learn from that race? It’s really rare to be able to win your first 100-mile race. Did everything go well, or were there mistakes made that you hope to remedy this weekend.
Brown: Technically that was my first 100-mile race, but functionally it was not. One year earlier I ran a race that was 95 miles out in Scotland on a famous trekking route called the West Highland Way.
iRunFar—Bowman: I’ve always wanted to do that.
Brown: I did that on a whim. My friend hiked it and said, “It was amazing. I hear there’s an ultra there. You should do it.” I signed up. There was a lottery, so I assumed I wouldn’t get in. I got in. I did it with very little training. I went out in a 3:30 marathon and just… can I swear on this?… it didn’t go well. That instilled a lot of fear of the distant in me. A year later in San Diego, part of that fear resulted in a lot more training. I went into it a lot more prepared, but I also went into it a lot more conservative strategically. Yeah, I just went out super easy, jogged a lot of it, planned on being out there all day, super worried the whole time, and it just never got bad. There was this moment 75 to 80 miles in where I thought, Oh, I can do that. I can do the rest Let’s go. Yeah, it was amazing. I didn’t really hit any lows all day.
iRunFar—Bowman: Does that give you confidence going into this one?
Brown: I think they work together—those two experiences. I’ve seen the worst. I’ve walked in 40 miles of that Scottish race. I thought both of my feet were broken. I’ve seen the worst. Then I’ve seen something that is unrealistically good also. San Diego is probably not repeatable, not to hit any lows all day, so I think I’ll use both of those. I’ll still go into it with a fear of the distance but also having confidence that if I do it right, it shouldn’t kill me.
iRunFar—Hicks: When I look at the men’s Western States race, one of the describing phrases I think of is “competitive pressure.” I feel like there’s a lot of competitive pressure in the men’s race particularly this year or the last couple years. Have you been thinking of what it’s going to be like to have all these guys with all these different motives and racing strategies?
Brown: I find it crazy that everyone has different racing strategies considering how unanimous the advice is. How do people still go out hard after 40 years of implosion? So, I’m not going to really look to the other guys. Maybe I’ll look to the other guys if I’m in first 10 miles in or if I’m in 100th. One benefit of having run competitive track and cross country is knowing what I’m doing relative to other people, you can’t really look at them. I’ve run my best track races getting shot out the back and running my splits until they fall apart and come back. So it’s cool that it’s competitive and I’m excited about that, but I’m going to try as hard as I can not to let other people’s strategies play into what I do.
iRunFar—Hicks: Are you willing to put out there publicly A, B, C goals? Where do you think the chips for you will actually fall here?
Brown: I mostly just want to beat Eric Senseman. I was hoping to be able to say that. It’s not nearly as public as I wanted to. Eric and I both run for Rabbit. As soon as Eric signed to the team, I wrote to him to say, “Welcome,” and shortly thereafter I went out to meet him in Flagstaff. He was an amazing host and took me out to the Grand Canyon, got beers in the afterward, had a great time, and I’ve hated him ever since.
iRunFar—Hicks: I noticed there was a very ‘violent’ social media exchange where you were threatening to trip each other off of No Hands Bridge.
iRunFar—Bowman: Pucker Point would be the better place to do that.
Brown: Yeah, can you write that down?
iRunFar—Hicks: Your only competitive goal is to beat Eric Senseman?
Brown: Yeah, that’s dodging is what that is. Yeah, goals… I don’t really have A, B, C, but I have goals. It would be cool to be top 10. It would be cooler to be higher than that. It would also be amazing to be 30th place and feel like I had a great day.
iRunFar—Bowman: So far this year, you’ve only done four 50ks and you’ve won all of them. To me, I sort of look at you in the same way looking back that I sort of see Seth Swanson when he came into the race in 2014… you both came in via the lottery. You both had somewhat of a profile in the sport—clearly talented but not necessarily thought of as a favorite in the race. Because you got in via the lottery, it didn’t seem to give you much racing pressure earlier in the year. You didn’t have to race your way in. Instead you’ve just done four 50ks. Can you tell us how the training has gone and how you used those races to get ready?
Brown: First of all, it’s definitely overhyping me to compare me to Seth Swanson.
iRunFar—Bowman: Who knows, man?
Brown: Getting in through the lottery was huge because, you’re right, I did get to just focus on training. That’s what those 50ks were. It takes me a long time to recover from anything longer than that. I can do a 50k and hop back into good training almost immediately, but after 50 miles, there goes a couple weeks or even a month, a 100k—there goes even longer. I didn’t want to do that. That doesn’t go for every body. There are people who can run those longer races and bounce back quickly I know I can’t.
iRunFar—Bowman: Like Courtney Dauwalter, for instance.
Brown: Yeah, I think she does pretty good at that. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to focus on consistent mileage, a few big efforts here and there, and also getting to know the course. I did Sean O’Brien because I was already signed up for that, the 100k, because I wanted to do that for the Golden Ticket in case I didn’t get in, so I dropped down to the 50km just because that’s more comfortable. Then I did two 50ks on the States course for recon. Then if you know anything about Luis Escobar, Born to Run, then you understand why I did that race, too.
iRunFar—Hicks: The Western States 100, this is a race of history. You’ve been doing ultras for a couple years now. What is being at this race which is sort of the grandfather of American ultra-trail running, what does it mean to you?
Brown: I really started doing ultras in 2015 or so, but I’ve really kind of deep down been doing them a lot longer than that. It honestly feels like I’ve been in that lottery for 15 years. I knew I wanted to do this race when I was a little kid. It’s really special to be here. I’m really excited about it and in awe about the whole thing. I guess I’m trying to go out there and race with that in mind, with that kind of thankfulness for the opportunity to be here.
iRunFar—Bowman: I think that’s a great attitude to have. Obviously you’re relatively new but clearly talented, and the only time you’ve raced a field like this you’ve been very, very successful. We’re sorry to blow your cover this morning and talk you up a little bit, but good luck this weekend. Enjoy your time out there. It is a privilege to be in the race.
Brown: Thank you. I’m coming for that Lost Coast FKT.
iRunFar—Bowman: It’s already broken. Go get it.
Bowman: It’s in my girlfriend’s backyard.
iRunFar—Hicks: ”Yeah, really go get the person who broke my FKT.”
Bowman: Cool. A round of applause…