Jeff Browning returns to the 2021 Hardrock 100 as the defending Hardrock champion and in search of his fifth finish at the event. In the following interview, Jeff talks about moving to Flagstaff, Arizona, his recent DNF at the Western States 100, what’s changed with his training and recovery now that he’s 49 years old, and what he hopes to get out of this year’s Hardrock.
Jeff Browning Pre-2021 Hardrock 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Jeff Browning before the 2021 Hardrock 100. How are you, Jeff?
Jeff Browning: I’m good, man. How are you?
iRunFar: Alright. It’s been three years since you’ve been here. It’s been a while. You return as the defending champ. In the last three years, you moved around a little bit. Where have you settled in now in 2021?
Browning: Flagstaff, Arizona. Yeah. We’ve been to Bozeman, Montana, and now Flagstaff. And it’s a good place for training, and a good place for the family.
iRunFar: What do you like? What drew you to the town?
Browning: Climate, altitude, training ground, options in the winter to get out of the snow, if you’re training for something hard.
iRunFar: And before that, you were in Bend, Oregon so you’ve been in a lot of premiere outdoor-recreation towns.
Browning: We’ve kind of been touring there, the outdoor scene, for sure. And it was, I don’t know. My wife and I have a little bit of wanderlust sometimes.
iRunFar: Nice! So it’s sort of not by design, but you’re not opposed to bouncing around and seeing the world.
Browning: No, we’ll just pick up and move. We’ll make a change if we have to.
iRunFar: Right on. Well, how has your training gone this year? I mean, we had a crazy 2020. How have you gotten rolling with 2021?
Browning: Well, it’s been good. I ran Zion 100 Mile early in the spring. Then we moved the week after, bought a house, started renovating, found water damage, so I did a lot of work myself. And so, four weeks after Zion, that was my recovery. So I think that was probably a little bit of a factor going into the Western States 100, being a little, maybe, cooked outside of running, lifestyle-wise. But I’m ready to bounce back and get a little redemption here. I love this place. And Western States is water under the bridge.
iRunFar: Just jump right into it. So, yeah. You ran Western States a couple of weeks ago. You’ve been running 100 milers for 21 years, right? And you had one DNF before that. At UTMB, when you rolled your ankle. You had an injury.
Browning: It was an injury, yeah.
iRunFar: This is the first time you dropped by choice.
Browning: Yep. And I mean, I’ve never experienced blown quads like that. I’ve heard about it. I’ve read about it. But I’ve never experienced it to that extreme. And when I went back and crunched the data when I got back, my heart rate was high. I definitely went way too hard the first hour, for me, racing guys half my age. In my brain, I am still 30 years old, 33, you know? I just don’t think about that kind of stuff, and sometimes I probably should.
But the point is, I went out too hard for me in that race, and I had blown quads. But I recovered from that. I was really smart the week after and flushed my legs out and got a massage and biked and hiked. And my legs feel really good. And I’ve been here a few days now, and we’re going up over 13,000 feet a day.
iRunFar: And no DOMS [delayed-onset muscled soreness]?
Browning: None. Yeah, I just had it after the race. You know, that typical hard downhill session? That kind of pain soreness. I had a deep soreness that way for four days.
iRunFar: Did you feel that during the race, I assume?
Browning: Yeah, yeah. I mean, by 45 miles in, I had full-on DOMS.
iRunFar: Which is crazy because, how many 100s have you run?
iRunFar: Forty. There you go. So, you’ve run 40. I think you know what you’re doing. You’ve finished this four times.
Browning: But I haven’t blown up since the 2007 Hardrock. So, thirty-five 100s ago.
Browning: So, my fifth 100 miler was the 2007 Hardrock, and I came in here and did not know what I was getting into. I mean, it’s big. I hadn’t been on the course. I slept in an altitude tent, but that’s it. And I cratered. I went out way too hard, and just paid the piper, got hypoxic. I finished, but I struggled. And from that point forward, I never went out hard in a 100 again. I respected the distance in the first third, laid back a little bit. And I broke all my rules in this Western States.
iRunFar: Did you do anything different in training? Because I mean, a lot of DOMS prevention is preparing with downhill sessions beforehand.
Browning: Yes. And that’s a good point. I was in Flagstaff, and I was exploring new trails, and there’s a lot of technical downhills where you’re dancing a lot? And I probably should have strategically added in just some downhill mountain road stuff, just for that pounding Western States. Because you get that. I mean, there are so many sections in Western States where you’re just rolling like a road runner. And if you’ve been dancing on technical, it’s great for this [pointing the Hardrock course around him].
iRunFar: You read my mind.
Browning: I have to say, I always am thinking Hardrock. It’s my favorite race.
iRunFar: Yeah. Well, that brings me to, I mean, you’ve set the double in the Western States-Hardrock double [record]. You’re the defending champion here. What brings you back in 2021?
Browning: These mountains! I mean, they’re so big and so amazing. I just get here and I’m like in stoke factor the entire time.
iRunFar: I can’t tell.
Browning: I love the San Juans. They’re just so big. In the summer here, in July, is just like it’s a homecoming for me too. This is my fifth time here, and I just feel like at home when I’m here. I’ve volunteered here. I’ve worked Kroger’s Canteen in 2017. And I’ve helped shlep stuff up and down to Kroger’s over and over. I don’t know how many loads I’ve done. A little over 10. I’ve done over 10 loads up to Kroger’s.
iRunFar: You’re a Kroger’s veteran.
Browning: I am a Kroger’s veteran. I had the FKT from the notch back down to base camp. So you go take a load up, and you have an empty backpack, and then you haul back to base camp. It’s fun!
iRunFar: I’m glad you’re still in one piece.
Browning: I have to say, this is a great side story. You learn the snowfield, right? The exact lines to take, and it becomes like a playground. So, because you’re doing all these things, and you’re trying to like, well, you’re working, but it’s still fun. You just learn to glissade really fast on those perfect lines, because you’ve tried it three times and you made two mistakes, and you’re like, “The third time, I’m going to nail it on this next load.”
iRunFar: Nice. Well, I’d say you’re ready for that this year, but there’s no snow on the course.
Browning: Yeah, I know. It’s so dry. There’s a couple of little places I’ve seen snow.
iRunFar: I’m sure in Buffalo Boy, there’s got to be a cornice.
Browning: There’s a little snowfield. We’ll be going up this year.
iRunFar: No glissading for you.
Browning: There’s one at Oscar’s. There’s a little tiny short one at Oscar’s. Maybe 50 yards.
iRunFar: You are the defending champ. You were here in 2018. It’s 2021. I know you say you still think you’re 30 or 33 years old…
Browning: But I’m 49. I turn 50 this year in August.
iRunFar: So, even in those three years, has anything changed with your body, your training? Have you had to make any adjustments?
Browning: No! I mean, the thing I’ve done the most is really prioritize mobility, strength training, and nutrition, those three pieces of the puzzle outside of run training. My run training has been pretty similar. I mean, ebb and flow, and depending on how much vert and what race is coming up. But I’m pretty intuitive that way. And yeah, I don’t know. I think the strength stuff’s really helped with recovery and mobility.
iRunFar: When you say strength, what is that for you? I mean, because that could be just legs, be core. It could be upper body.
Browning: I do full body and core. Yeah, weighted stuff, at least once a week, where I’m doing heavier weight, more like powerlifting-type stuff. And then, I do a lot of body weight and mobility/strength. So air squats, side lunges, Bulgarian split squats, all that kind of stuff. And in my upper body, push-ups, pull-ups, tons of core work.
iRunFar: Am I correct in guessing that when you were 30 or 35, you weren’t doing as much of that?
Browning: No, not until I hit 40. When I hit 40, I kind of woke up. I’d always strength trained on and off, but never super consistently. And from that point forward, from 40, nine years ago, I really got strict about it every week. And try not to miss. You know, two to three days a week. You know, busy weeks once a week, but I hit three days a week a lot.
iRunFar: And how about recovery?
Browning: I try to sleep, go to bed at a decent hour, but I’ve always been kind of a night owl as a graphic designer for 20 years. So, that habit’s hard to change, but I do better with it now that I’m older.
iRunFar: Do you find recovery takes more time?
Browning: I find I need a little more sleep. You know, at this age, I value the sleep.
Browning: You just don’t bounce back as fast for workouts.
iRunFar: If I’m remembering correctly, over the last couple Hardrocks, maybe three, you’ve been right around 26 hours.
Browning: Yeah, 25, 26 hours.
iRunFar: Do you think you can hit that again on a good day this week?
Browning: Yeah. I think I got the potential to be 25-hour range again, even in the slower direction, if I have a good day. I’ll definitely respect the first third after Western States. That was a good reminder, you know? That’s a good, little butt-kicker.
iRunFar: I mean, you don’t want to be exhausted going up from Telluride…
Browning: No! You’ve run this race. It just keeps coming at you, coming at you, coming at you, and then kicking you when you’re down, and then punching you in the face.
iRunFar: You mean that last downhill? Like from Putnam to Mineral Creek, all the way down?
Browning: It never quits. So, it just keeps coming at you. This is the slower way because you’re definitely running down all the steep stuff, so you can’t go fast, and it’s technical. I’m looking forward to it though, just because I haven’t done it in this direction for so long. What’s it been? Thirteen years?
iRunFar: It’s been a while. So, I mean, you’re in the race. I mean, there’s also François D’haene and Dylan Bowman. Are you going to try to roll with them?
Browning: No. I’ll just sort of run my own race. I learned my lesson at Western States. I don’t run with my ego or my emotions. You run tactical, for your age, especially.
iRunFar: What are you looking forward to most this coming week?
Browning: I just like the whole scene for the whole week. Hardrock’s always just such a good… It becomes a little ultrarunning village in Silverton, Colorado, and I see friends that I haven’t seen, or people I just saw at a different place, and we meet up again. So it’s always like a really cool homecoming from a community perspective.
iRunFar: With all that going on, it also can be like FOMO. There’s people going out on 15-mile runs three days before the race. Like how do you enjoy that while still getting your rest and not being overwhelmed?
Browning: I mean, I camp out. I’m solo. I don’t have my family. For me, that’s so chill because I’m so used to dealing with family and kids and work. And I work ahead, and I get a bunch of stuff caught up for this week, so I can kind of take a quote unquote “vacation.” You know I’m self-employed, so you never really take a vacation. You know.
iRunFar: I understand.
Browning: But the point is I like to try to kind of chill, and I like to get on the course and acclimate and get up high every day for the last three days, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and week out. I hit it hard. Tomorrow I’ll take a rest day.
iRunFar: Right on.
Browning: I’ll just chill at camp, and probably hike, and maybe swim in the lake.
iRunFar: Awesome. Well, I’m glad to hear you’re recovered. And welcome back, and good luck this coming week.
Browning: Thanks, man.