Following not one, but two competitor disqualifications and meandering almost an hour off course, 46-year-old Jeff Browning took home his first Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run victory.
2018 will go down as one of the most dramatic Hardrock races in the 100-miler’s history. Since its inception in 1992, no one has ever been disqualified. But this year saw two runners DQ’d, one of them race leader Xavier Thévenard, with just over nine miles to go and a lead of over one hour.
Judges posted to the Hardrock Facebook page confirming that, in violation of race rules, the 30-year-old French athlete received extra ice and water two miles beyond an aid station near Ouray.
When the dust settled, 114 of the 146 pairs of feet that took off on the clockwise route crossed the finish line. First among them was 46-year-old Jeff Browning. It was his first win of four attempts at completing the 26-year-old event. And despite losing his way in the last half of the race, Browning took home top honors to become the second-oldest person ever to win the Hardrock 100 (after 48-year-old Rick Trujillo in 1996).
We caught up with Browning, an Altra and Patagonia athlete, at this year’s Outdoor Retailer. After he finished describing some truly grotesque toe injuries, he told us about this year’s race and staying competitive as a 40-something family man.
Interview: Jeff Browning, 2018 Hardrock 100 Winner
As I was leaving Silverton after #HR100 on Sunday, a friend walked up and quoted Thomas Jefferson, “I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” Sometimes hard work and consistency reward you with way more than you expect, but you have to be prepared to grab that rare opportunity when it presents itself. Giddyup. #zerolimits Photo: @trailjunkiephotos
GearJunkie: First of all, congratulations on your first Hardrock 100 victory. How does it feel?
Browning: Just to be on the list of Hardrock winners is incredible. I was first introduced to the race in 2006 as my fifth-ever 100-miler, so it’s been more than a decade in the making. Hardrock is the heart of ultrarunning in the U.S. — and I’m just stoked to be in the tribe.
What makes Hardrock so uniquely difficult?
It’s everything. Hardrock is a post-graduate race. There are long times between aid stations despite relatively short distances. You’ve got to prepare for a variety of weather, have to be able to memorize routes, know how to navigate in the dark, acclimatize, and manage nutrition.
You had a pretty wild race and some setbacks. What happened?
Like I said, It is not a beginner’s race, and you’ve got to be dialed. Since 2016, the course has followed these beaver dams, and I remember it was dark when I came up to them. I wasn’t carrying my phone, I didn’t have GPS — it was about 1 or 2 a.m. I was looking for anything familiar and not seeing it. But I didn’t want to make the wrong move and go back.
I just remember before the race looking at my phone, thinking I should probably take it. But I decided not to. Ultimately, I had to backtrack about a mile and a half because I went off course. At that point, I knew I wasn’t getting the double record — the combined time record I set in 2016 between Western States and Hardrock. So at that point, I was just focusing on staying in second.
Jeff Browning: How He Did It
Tell us about your gear for the race.
I also used Black Diamond Z-Poles and wore Injinji Original Sport toe socks. And my shoes were kind of a mix. I wore the Altra Timp 1.5 for the first 44 miles, but I’d never really run in them — and I broke the rule “you never run in new gear.” They were great shoes, but I’d never used them before.
So in Ouray, I switched to what I knew would work for me. I ran in the Altra Lone Peak 4.0 for the last 56 miles. The last thing you want in an ultra is a foot problem.
When did you know you had the race won?
I knew [Xavier] had to do something stupid to lose — he’s so talented. But … I probably shouldn’t say anything more about that.
Out of the 17 100-mile races I’ve run, I can say I’ve never had anything shift that dramatically. When I got to the top of Little Giant, I felt pretty confident. I knew I was in the lead by that point, and my descents are solid — I knew I had that. But Hardrock, you never nail. You never nail it.
I just kept telling myself to race consistent. And sometimes, you just get a gift. It’s like that famous quote, I think it’s Thomas Jefferson: “The harder you work, the luckier you get.”
How to Race Ultras in Your 40s
How do you stay competitive in such a demanding sport in your 40s?
Number one, you gotta have motivation. You gotta want to get out the door and train hard. The beauty of ultras is that they’re the great equalizer. Whether you’re in your 20s or your 40s, you’ve got strengths. Ultras require you to have it all on race day.
Now that I’m in my 40s, I focus a lot more on stretching, core strength, and nutrition. Maybe the biggest thing now is rest. I remember Karl Meltzer told me to rest after a 100-miler: Move, but don’t run. So right after an ultra, I’ll hike, mountain bike, spin, whatever. But I won’t run right away.
What about as a dad and husband?
It’s all about being flexible. It’s challenging, for sure. But the key is not getting caught up on mileage when training — you’ve got to be able to adjust your schedule. I have a super supportive wife — she’s the rock at home. I couldn’t gallivant around the world without her as my rock.
She’s also my main motivator. One race I knew I just didn’t have it — I was not feeling it. And I rolled into an aid station and told her, “I’m just going to finish.” She looked at me and said, “We don’t ‘just finish.'” Ultimately, I have to answer to my wife.
What about next year?
That’s one of the best parts of winning: the automatic bid. I haven’t run the Hardrock fresh ever. I’m always coming off another race to qualify. Not having to qualify next year will be interesting. I want to see what I can do fresh.