Jeff Browning started trail running competitively in 2001 and is one of the premier endurance trail runners in the country. With gold, pirate-style earrings dangling from both ears and a tattoo on his forearm, Browning doesn't fit the image you might have of the stereotypical "jogger," but then again, what Browning does bears little resemblance to the leisurely runs that most of us associate with the sport. He has finished 11 of the sport's ultimate tests - the 100-mile trail run - and won seven of those races. He sat with the Source recently to discuss his thoughts on the science and the spirituality of endurance running.
How did you get into running?
I played traditional sports growing up - football, baseball and track. I got into mountain biking in college and started running to cross train for mountain biking... When I moved west and started climbing in Colorado, I had some extra pounds and started running again to lose a little bit around my waist.
I was a big mountain biker the first year I was here and then started hanging out with a good friend of mine, Rod Bien, and he had just gotten into ultra marathons and had just run a 150k. He said, "Hey, there is this thing called a hundred miler." I was intrigued, coming from a mountain biking background and backpacking so I just started going on some trail runs with him. I was trying to get him into mountain biking and he was trying to get me into trail running and he won.
How is it that you came to focus on endurance running?
I got into it back in 2001 and was hooked. I ran a trial race in the mud and dirt and it was real simple. I just wanted to run a 100-miler. In the process of training and qualifying and then running the Western States 100, I was hooked for life. I've been doing it ever since competitively.
I've always been really competitive and started working on getting faster and geeking out about how I could improve my times and eventually won a few races.
What's the allure of trail running for you?
I'm a graphic designer. I work at a computer all the time and sitting inside at a computer is not exactly a natural environment. For me, it's like a release to get out away from the computer, away from technology. I grew up on a farm, so being outside is ingrained in my psyche. It's a great stress reliever for me... You're going so quietly; you run up on wildlife all the time. It's a great intimate way to experience nature under your own power. It's very primal.
What's the attraction to distance running?
I like the adventure of it. We as humans live in such comfort and convenience in our society. Unlike our ancestors, we don't have to search or hunt for food. I think there is something ingrained in us to do things challenging and our bodies and our minds will step up to that task and as a human race we don't do that anymore.
What sets running apart from the other things that you do?
It's so simple. I love that running, especially trail running, is so pure. It's such a stripped-down simple sport. You don' even really need gear. A simple pair of shoes, a water bottle, a little bit of food in your pocket and a pair of shorts on - you don't even need a shirt.
Do you prefer to run alone or with a partner?
Training as much as I do to race competitively, I train anywhere from 12 to 20 hours per week. I run with people when I can... once or twice a week in some kind of social setting with someone else, or in a group. Most of the time it's solo. And I like being solo.
Do you have a favorite local trail?
I'm pretty much confined to town Monday through Thursday because it's pretty much a lunch run. So I'm pretty much either doing the (Deschutes) River Trail south or the River Trail north over Awbrey Butte. I pretty much do Awbrey Butte a couple of days per week for the workout. So those are usually seven to 10 mile runs. I always go up into Tumalo Falls. That area opens up into Broken Top, if you're willing to run long enough, and there's plenty of water, which is great.
Occupation: Graphic Designer
Passion: Endurance trial running
Family: Married with two children and one due in May
Jeff Browning's Three Dos and Don'ts
Do beware of the chair
In 100-mile races, they always have camp chairs for you at the aid stations to sit down, fix gear or eat. Never sit down.
Don't forget about the bike
This tip was given to me by the late Steve Larsen back when I used to train with him. And I definitely train more on the bike than I used to. I almost forgot about my bike. And I have definitely gotten stronger and better since I incorporated the bike back into my training.
Go cool places
Find places to explore. So many people just run the same places everyday, down the road or from their house. And in Central Oregon we have so many trails. We have 700 miles of single-track within a 20-mile radius of this town.