Less than a month after finishing fifth at the Western States 100, Jeff Browning will toe the line at the 2018 Hardrock 100. In the following interview, Jeff talks about his recovery from Western States, running the Western States/Hardrock double again, his altitude acclimation after having gotten into Hardrock less than two weeks before the race, and how his competition looks.
Jeff Browning Pre-2018 Hardrock 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Jeff Browning before the 2018 Hardrock 100. How are you doing, Jeff?
Jeff Browning: Good. How are you?
iRunFar: All right. Before we get into talking about Hardrock, let’s back up a couple weeks. You had a pretty good run at that “Western States” thing.
Browning: Yeah, I did. I had a pretty good day. And now I have an extra week [of recovery between then and Hardrock] for the double here, so I’ll take it.
iRunFar: I figured you would probably think a little bit about that double [doing both races in the same season].
Browning: I’m definitely already behind the eight ball compared to where I was in 2016 [finishing Western States in 16:30, compared to 16:45 in 2018], but you never know what can happen at Hardrock.
iRunFar: I’m sure you know all the numbers better than I do. I didn’t even bother looking them up. How far are you off the record for fastest combined times at the double?
Browning: I would have to run 25:25 to break the record.
iRunFar: Which is a pretty solid Hardrock.
Browning: Yeah, I ran 25:42 here before, and I was about 15 minutes slower at Western States than I was in 2016. So I’d have to run about 16-17 minutes faster.
iRunFar: Good thing you have that extra week of recovery time.
Browning: Yeah, good thing I have that one extra week.
iRunFar: Is it a mixed blessing? Is it hard because it’s almost long enough that you could try to train?
Browning: No, no. It’s good. An extra week is always good. My legs feel a lot better. I had to take it pretty easy in the first two weeks after Western States. I had a banged-up toenail that had to be pulled off… or rather, I had to pull it off. So I lost a toenail and in those two weeks when it was not ready to come off yet, there wasn’t much running. I was on my road bike and I hiked a little. I jogged a little…
iRunFar: But it’s not like you need to be training that much.
Browning: You don’t need to do too much. That’s the important thing, is not to do too much. So it actually forced me to be cross-training, and that felt good.
iRunFar: You just came off the wait list recently.
Browning: 11 days out. I was already planning to come out here. I wasn’t coming down here as early, I came down Friday. I probably would have come down Monday and skipped the weekend [if I was still on the waitlist] but, you know, I just moved my plans up a couple days.
iRunFar: Gotcha. You were out at Kroger’s Canteen, helping out there over the weekend?
Browning: Yeah, I took two loads up to the notch – one on Saturday afternoon and one last night in the evening. Then I did a little scouting on the course and went down towards Telluride a bit. So I’ve been playing around and sleeping at Kroger’s basecamp for two nights. It’s pretty high – 11,900′.
iRunFar: How did that sleep go?
Browning: The first night sucked. I woke up with the halo headache. But we went and hiked a little that morning and by midday, the headache was gone. I slept really good last night. I use an altitude mask, so I’m a little acclimated coming in. Not great, but good enough to go to 12,000′ and just have one night feel bad.
iRunFar: So, what do you mean by altitude mask? Can you explain that to people?
Browning: I use a manual system that’s got a scrubber. It’s a manual system that you breathe through that’s got a hepa filter on it. You do like six minutes on, four minutes off.
iRunFar: Is there actually a generator, or is it just a restriction?
Browning: No, it’s a restriction to simulate altitude, but then there’s a scrubber… when you breathe in and breathe out, it brings in some of the CO2.
iRunFar: So it’s not just a mask that’s hard to breathe through.
Browning: No, no, it’s not like breathing into a paper bag. It’s not like those MMA fighter masks. It’s a little more hi-tech.
iRunFar: It’s an actual hypoxic system.
Browning: Exactly. It’s got silos on it and you can simulate different altitude by different cups, so I just worked my way up. I did a little before Western States, just because I was on the Hardrock wait list. Then I did one session between Western States and Hardrock, then came to altitude. It actually feels good here [gesturing around] right now because I’ve been at 12,000′. [Inhales deeply] 9,400′ – there’s some oxygen.
iRunFar: That’s a good perspective to have.
Browning: Definitely. You don’t want to come to Silverton and be sucking wind. I’ve been in Silverton sucking wind before. It’s good not to be sucking wind.
iRunFar: You’ve run Hardrock in this direction – two years ago, right?
Browning: 2014 and 2016.
iRunFar: Have you run it in the other direction?
Browning: In 2007. Way back. So I’m destined… my card keeps getting pulled in the clockwise direction.
iRunFar: We just found out, since the last interview I did, that we’re actually running the real course.
Browning: Yeah, yeah. They weren’t sure about Bear Creek. We almost had a different course. We would’ve had to go above. That would’ve been a lot more climbing. I’m glad we’re doing the regular course. It’ll be a little slower through there. We don’t have the snow fields this year, but there’s no glissading this year, which really helps coming off of Kroeger’s. It’s faster.
iRunFar: I assume they’re putting a rope up.
Browning: Yeah, there’s a rope. You’ll want gloves – full fingers, so you can go fast. There’s a little bit of a line. It’s not scree on the rope line, but once you get to the bottom, it’s tallused out. I’ve never seen it dry before. I know it’s been dry before, but not during the race when I’ve been here. I’ve always seen snowfield.
iRunFar: How do you feel going into the race? You didn’t run quite as fast as Western States, but there are so many variables in a race. Do you feel as fit as two years ago?
Browning: Yeah, I feel equally fit. I’m going to go out and get over all these mountains.
iRunFar: The entrants’ field has changed up a lot in the last couple weeks.
Browning: Yeah, we had some drops, and we got shaken up with people not getting their trail work forms in. Man, getting into Hardrock, that’s the first thing you do. You get some trail work done or volunteer at a race. I don’t know. It definitely is shaken up. With Mike Foote out and no Kilian Jornet, it’s different this year.
iRunFar: Totally. I mean, there’s Xavier Thévenard up there. Are you going to try to put the pressure on him?
Browning: [Laughs] Oh, he’s young enough to be my son. I’ll do my best, I’ll run my race. If I’m anywhere near him, you know, hopefully it’s a race. If not… it’s his to lose, I think. Realistically. So he’s got to do something pretty stupid. There’s 33,000′ of climbing to do something stupid. We’ll see.
iRunFar: You’re probably not going to run a stupid race.
Browning: I’ll try not to. It’s not as fun to run stupid races.
iRunFar: Oh, have you? When’s the last time you ran a stupid race? Because you probably have at some point, right?
Browning: Well, Hardrock in 2007 I ran a stupid race.
iRunFar: How was that?
Browning: Well, I tried to go out with the leaders. You know, I won Bighorn twice. I came in here a little cocky, being younger. I was thinking I was way better than I actually was. I’d never been on the course before, so I just showed up and ran. I showed up like two days before and went and ran and… knowing what I know now, I was very hypoxic in the second half. I had to take a nap at Chapman for 45 minutes. I ran like 33:18. It was like a learning experience. I kind of got slapped down, and then kicked while I was down. And punched. And choked a little. Then it was like, “no air? Okay, now you can get up.” So that’s kind of how it was in ’07.
iRunFar: It was a good learning experience?
Browning: It was a good learning experience. Then ’14 was a lesson, too, because of the rain. We had that lightning on Handies Peak and the storm blew in and we were pinned down for 70 minutes. I learned a lot that year: you need to be prepared with gear on this course.
iRunFar: It’s so different from most races.
Browning: You can kind of watch the weather patterns and be like, “I’ll be okay as long as I have something in the afternoon, maybe a jacket or rain shell.” But here, it can get cold fast. You can get hypothermic if you’re above tree line.
iRunFar: The crazy thing is that you can get hypothermic even if you’re doing okay. Even if you’re moving. So if anything goes wrong…
Browning: Yeah, it can get really hairy on this course. It’s a little ways before you can get out. If you get pinned down, where you can’t move.
iRunFar: Yeah, because of lightning or in the case of Bear Creek Trail – they just let us go back on it. If that was happening during the race, the kind of event that washed that out, you wouldn’t be able to move.
Browning: That happened in ’14 because we had rain on and off all day. Tsuyoshi Kaburaki was right around me and he had rockfall on Bear Creek come down and bounce up and hit him in the cheek. He had to get stitches. It can get interesting on this course for sure.
iRunFar: That’s probably why you love it. What are you looking forward to most about this one?
Browning: I don’t know. I just love this course. It’s hard and you have to respect it. You’ve got to settle in for all those hard climbs and those big descents. I don’t know. It’s a pretty special place, for sure. I don’t really have one section that I love more than another.
iRunFar: Are there any where you’re like, “oh man, that’s going to be tough”?
Browning: Handies is always tough because it’s at 100k. I feel like after Handies is when you kind of get hammered. I find the hardest part is from Cataract Lakes to Pole Creek, up through Maggie-Pole Pass. To Maggie’s. To me that’s a really hard section because you get to Handies and you go through Handies and then you go really high again. You’re high for a very long time and it’s a long, slow climb up and over to go down to Maggie’s. You just think, “I’ve got to be up and over this thing soon,” but it just never comes, never comes, never comes. I always feel like that’s a hard mental section.
iRunFar: Cool. I wish you the best of luck out there. Enjoy the course, Jeff.
Browning: Thanks, Bryon.