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Jeff Browning is a veteran ultrarunner—he’s been racing for nearly 18 years, and has finished on the podiums of some of the country’s biggest ultras, including the Bighorn 100, Cascade Crest 100, San Diego 100, Run Rabbit Run 100, Western States 100 and HURT 100.
Now 46, Browning continues to compete at the highest level. In early September, he earned a top-20 finish at the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB)—an uber-competitive 106-mile race around the Mont-Blanc massif through Italy, France and Switzerland.
“My goal for UTMB was top 10,” he says. But amid “a men’s field that was arguably the best ever assembled in our sport,” he came away satisfied with 20th place.
Less than a month later, on September 29, Browning lined up on the start at Utah’s Bear 100. This wasn’t Browning’s first time tackling major 100-mile races back to back. Last year he ran Western States and Hardrock (setting a new record for the Western-Hardrock double), and in 2014 he ran the Zion, Grindstone Hardrock and Run Rabbit Run 100s.
Trail Runner caught up with Browning to learn about training for (and recovering from) back-to-back 100s, and maintaining consistency over many years of trail ultrarunning.
How did your approach to UTMB differ from your approach to Bear?
When I do back-to-back 100s, I typically peak for the first one and then put on the cruise control and coast into the next one. Since you’ve done all the work, the biggest challenge is managing the recovery by not doing too much in between.
What did you do for training, recovering and tapering in between?
I took a week off and walked, then I ran every other day while I packed and loaded up my family of five to move to Utah two weeks after UTMB and two weeks before the Bear. So, I basically did a lot of heavy lifting and walking as cross training.
Describe your finish-line moment at Bear.
I was excited to pull off another 100-mile win. I really concentrated on racing the course. Especially in 100-mile races, you have to run your own race and let the race come to you. I felt the early leaders were going too fast, so I decided to back off a bit and keep the pace rolling. When I started to reel the leader back in, I knew I had a good chance.
Why do you go after back-to-back 100s?
In 2014 I started doing more than two 100s per season. I’m not necessarily going after back-to back 100s. I’m just looking at a bucket-list race and squeezing it in. Maybe my biological clock is ticking, too.
Do you experience any post-race letdown in between big races?
I don’t have time to experience post-race letdown. I’m coaching a solid group of ultrarunners; I have a beautiful wife and three kids to spend time with; plus, I still do some freelance graphic design work for a few companies. I just shift focus. Also, throw in an interstate move from Oregon to Utah in between [UTMB and Bear 100] and there’s not a lot of time left in the day.
You’ve had great longevity and consistency in the sport. What do you credit that to?
There are a few factors at play. Training consistently for 17 years helps. I was also an avid mountain biker before I started running ultras, so add another 10 years of endurance training on the bike and that’s almost 30 years of consistent endurance training.
Having a solid strength routine helps, too. This keeps my body strong through a full range of motion. Also, the dietary shift I did two years ago was instrumental. Shifting to a low-carb, high-fat diet has helped me recover faster, given me a low inflammatory response and optimized my fat-burning potential.