Trent Briney came into the 2012 JFK 50 Mile with a 2:12 marathon PR and having been an US Olympic Team Alternate for the marathon in 2004, but also having never run an ultramarathon. That didn’t stop him from chasing Max King to a second-place finish under the previous course-record time. The following interview is your chance to hear about his ultra debut and learn a bit more about him… you’ll be seeing more from him in the future.
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iRunFar: You took second at the JFK 50 Miler last weekend – second to Max King – but both of you guys run under the old course record there. Tell us briefly how that race went down for you.
Trent Briney: As far as how the race went down… I kind of figured it was going to be a long race. It was my first time running 50 miles. I didn’t want to go out crazy fast; however, I wanted to be able to see the front runners. So, I think Max went into the trails 30 seconds before me. There were a number of people ahead of me. Just running on the trail, you know, you want to kind of enjoy it. You still know you’ve got five hours to go. So I ended up getting through 15.5 miles (the cliffs at the end of the trail) and I don’t know, I heard I was anywhere from 7 to 10 minutes behind [Max]. I think I came out of there somewhere between 2:00-2:10 (elapsed time).
Going into the race I wanted to be competitive with the times they’d run in the previous year, or at least be in that range so I could be competitive in the top 5. I ran with Brian [Dumm] from Colorado Springs mostly because I wanted to attach myself to somebody running through [the AT]. I got out of the trails and out of the AT section, and it was time to kind of get back in the race. I ran pretty hard on the first half marathon on the AT, but I also knew I needed to conserve a bit otherwise I might pay for it. I probably went a little faster than what I thought I should have gone [because] I really wanted to get up and run with the guys in the top 5 and have some company to run with rather than run that whole canal section by myself.
So I pushed pretty hard and I think I started catching guys somewhere between five to eight miles into the canal [section]. I think they were sixth and seventh place. You ask people when you run by them, “Where’s the next guys?” Some of guys are like, “Hey good job. Hang in there.” “You should find fourth and fifth not too far up the trail.” I was really just in chase mode for the first 13, 15, 20 miles on the canal. I didn’t know really how far I had left in the race, but I had some sorts of ideas. I kept thinking, “Do I want to ask at the next aid station what mile we’re at? Or do I not want to?” At that point, I was just looking at what pace per mile am I running. How am I feeling? Is this too aggressive? Am I going to pay for this if I stay aggressive? Is this pace okay? Are all my gauges telling me I’m doing okay? I’m not in the red zone. So I just did that. It was nice to start catching people and not have to run the whole way completely away from everybody else.
I caught seventh/sixth and, then, fifth/fourth. I went past the guy who was in third. He’s like, “No, you’re in third.” I said, “Are you sure it’s not fourth?” “No, you’re in third.” That was pretty exciting. I came through the next aid station and they said [David] Riddle was just up the trail. After I caught him, I was running pretty good, so I just tried to keep my pace the same. I tried to see what my splits were to Max, because I knew I was gaining ground, but I didn’t know [by] how much and if it was going to be possible to catch Max.
So at the next two aid stations I went through, I think I gained 45 seconds on Max. But I figured I’m 30-something miles into this race and knowing that Max King is a great runner, I kind of said, “Okay, well, let’s protect this second place.” Also, I was scared – it was my first ultra and you don’t want to bonk. So I just kind of went into reserve mode and went from running 6:00-6:10 minutes per mile to running 6:15-6:25 minutes per mile, just trying to keep a solid effort so that if Max started struggling, I might catch him, and if he wasn’t, that I should be able to hold in case there was some marathon wall I was going to hit.
That’s pretty much how it played out. You come off the trail and at the aid station there at 41.5-ish miles, I came through and said, “We have two more miles on the trail, right?” I just figured we were about there. They said, “No, you’re turning right here.” I thought, “Heck yes,” because I thought we were at 40 miles and we were already at 42. So eight more miles to go, got up the hill, and just started running down the rolling roads coming into town. Really from 38 miles where I passed Riddle and kind of decided I wasn’t in full chase mode anymore, that was the hard part of the race for me – from 38 miles in. It was slightly running out of sugars in the body, but, more so, just the mental change from chasing to conserving and not losing my place. I went from being aggressive to being conservative. I wasn’t counting down the miles at all, and as soon as you hit the road, it gets you in this other mental rhythm.
iRF: So your strategy was to go out conservatively and kind of pick it up and reel in guys. In the end it paid off. You took second. Do you think you should have gone out with Max – you being a 2:12 marathoner?
Briney: I don’t think I should have gone out with Max. It would have been interesting just to have seen what would have differed, but I think I should have tried to have been a little bit closer to him, but part of it is how confident you should be in a new event.
iRF: Are you happy with your debut? Are you pleased with how it went down?
Briney: I’m thrilled. It was the highest level of my expectation for what I thought I could do. To pretty much run 95-100% of your expectation going in – my goal was to be in the top 5 and to get close to the course record and to be competitive with the front runners. So to pretty much do that and not fall apart, not bonk, and to finish 50 miles of running is just really, really nice. To not be too beat up and not broken after the race – that’s good.
iRF: Did you have any gas in the tank left at the end? Did you feel like you could have kept going or were you done at the end?
Briney: I was happy to stop running for the day. My splits were still holding in there. I was still running in the 6:10-6:30 minutes per mile range. I probably could have fueled a little bit more and been even better off, but I wasn’t destroyed. I don’t feel like I hit a wall. That’s good feedback from my body and for the future in case I’d like to do longer distances. It’s kind of a nice test. “No, your body can do this and do it okay.”
iRF: Tell us briefly your transition as a runner. You were an Olympic Alternate for the team, multiple Olympic Trials. I think you ran for Hansons, right? Tell us about that transition – that’s a big leap from the competitive marathoning, which is an Olympic event, to the new realm, which is ultra. Tell us how that went down – your thought process, how you ended up where you are now, and your goals going forward.
Briney: Let’s see if I can get this on target. I graduated college and wasn’t ready to hang up the shoes, because I felt like I have this talent and I need to try to use it and see where I can take it. I might as well join a team and run with other people because that will make me a better athlete. That’s why I went to Hansons. I went to Hansons and had a great experience mixed in with some tough stuff because you’re getting very competitive in a close environment. I spent six years there and fought really hard to repeat my 2004 performance. I just needed a change.
From there I moved onto another post-collegiate group – the Adidas/McMillan Elite in Flagstaff, Arizona. Down there I started bumping into people like Ian Torrence. When I was with Brooks/Hansons’ I met Scott Jurek. These are just great people for the sport. It’s not really about what distance you run, it’s about being a runner and learning about your body. So you start to slowly get surrounded by people who just love being out there on the trails and the camaraderie of just running together. I think that’s what pushed me to look in that direction – the camaraderie of running that is out there. We all do long runs; some people just need to add on an extra five miles.
Growing up in Colorado, there are beautiful places to run. I’ve just really always loved the trails. That’s a lot of what ultrarunning is defined as. So it’s kind of led me that direction. Being a faster marathoner, it’s nice to see what you can do at a different distance or a different challenge. Sometimes you fight for the same goal year-after-year and you just need a change. You need something new to break up your routine. We all get stale if we just stick with the same routine. So that’s kind of how I’m looking at it. I’ve been given great advice by guys like Scott [Jurek] and Ian Torrence. I’ll bump into Anton [Krupicka] here in town or Joe Grant or random people and it’s just the spirit of camaraderie and everyone is cheering for each other to do their best. “Hey man, what do you have coming up? What run are you doing?” We just love getting out there.
iRF: Do you feel the spirit of camaraderie is better? Do you feel more relaxed as an ultramarathoner now than when you were competitively trying to make the Olympics?
Briney: I don’t know if I’m experienced enough yet in the ultra world to know. Certainly in training, I think it is. Certainly in training I think it is a lot more friendly, although at this point, I haven’t run with all the ultra guys. So there’s still more to be defined in that category. It is interesting being competitive – it’s something you don’t easily lose in your personality. You want to chase goals. You want to see what challenges are out there in life. Certainly, it’s hard to work at Boulder Running Company and see UltraRunning Magazine every week and the gaining popularity and go on Anton’s blog or Kilian [Jornet]’s blog, or talk to your buddies and hear about this beautiful run they’ve been on, or pictures of guys running in the Cascades. It makes me want to try it.
iRF: What’s next? You had a really good showing. If Max had not been at JFK, you would have won with a new course record which is awesome. Where do you want to go next distance and race wise?
Briney: I’d like to pick up a sponsor for ultramarathon running. I have www.marathonguide.com as my current sponsor. I’m going to keep running marathons and keep doing speed work and keep working on efficiency of running (fast stuff), but I want to try… I have a bid to the Western States 100. My thought today is that I’m going to probably take that. It’s a big honor to run at that race. It has a lot of history, and again, the challenge of it. It’s still hard to believe I ran 50 miles, but it worked. So the challenge of races is still out there. Some of the big, classic races would be really awesome to run at this point and to test myself against the distance and against what some of the best runners in ultrarunning have done.
After the race, the two things that were critical were getting a Western States spot, and I never knew about this, but it potentially qualifies you for a World 100k team. I don’t know that second qualifies me, but, hopefully, it puts me in the discussion. I’d love to represent the country in any event and, certainly, one that I could perform at a high level would be great. If I can get in that discussion of maybe representing the US next year in an ultra-distance event, that would be great. I’d like to travel a little bit. If I can get to Europe in a big race and represent one of the shoe companies or somebody else and just have fun with it that would be awesome.
iRF: Thank you for your time and good luck as you pursue your goals.
Briney: Thank you.