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Alumni Profile

How to move a moose

browning

Jeff Browning of Bend, Ore., specializes in ultramarathon races of 100 miles. He has won four of seven such races since 2002.

Most people who utter the phrase, “I’ve been running all day,” are just bragging about how busy they are. The phrase plays on the outrageous idea that someone might actually strap on jogging shoes and hoof it for 24 hours straight. As it turns out, some people have the audacious spirit (and stout connective tissue) to pull this off. These ultra-marathon runners compete in races up to 100 miles long over mountain trails that few people would brave on horseback, much less on foot, much less in a race. 

Jeff Browning, BS Ed ’95, is one of the few who excel at this brand of extreme athletics, which he refers to as a cult sport. He has won four of the seven races he has run since he started competing at 100-mile distance in 2002. On June 21, 2008, he won the Bighorn Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run for the third time. 

In many ways, Browning is just a regular guy. He is a husband, father and graphic artist in Bend, Ore. Even as an ultramarathoner, some of his qualities — competitiveness and concentration — are predictable. But he has some specialized traits, too. For instance, during a 100-mile race, runners need to eat, and it’s a big plus that Browning has an iron stomach. 

“That means he doesn’t throw up,” says friend and fellow ultramarathoner Sean Meissner. “I’m a puker, and that can slow you down hours.” 

Browning is among the fastest at running downhill sections, a skill he honed during years of quickly picking advantageous paths while mountain biking, Meissner says. During ultramarathons that span mountain ranges, downhill stretches can last well over 10 miles. “The challenge is to have no fear,” Meissner says. “You’re always looking 20 feet up the trail, and you’ve already memorized the 20 feet just in front of you.” Browning’s flexible ankles are an advantage as he hustles down the rocky paths. 

And then there’s Browning’s ability to share the trail with wildlife. “When I won Bighorn Trail 100 in 2005, at mile 25 I had to hurdle a marmot that ran out in front of me,” Browning says. The next year at mile 89, he confronted a stubborn moose. “I was going along a ridge at 8,000 feet at dawn after running all night and saw a big female moose 50 yards away. They are more aggressive than bears, super fast and will charge you at the drop of a hat.” Browning stopped and hollered at her in hopes of scaring her off. No luck. Instead, the noise raised the hair on her back, and she snorted. “I looked around, and the nearest tree — my escape route if she charged — was 50 yards away.” Browning was losing time and his shot at the course record. He picked up a rock and heaved it toward her. The stone bounced in front of the moose, and she soon moved into trees so he could pass. 

“Why do I do it?” Browning muses about his obsession. “I love the pureness of running in the woods. It’s simple. It’s just you. It doesn’t take much money — just shoes and a water bottle.” That’s all he needs to run all day. — Dale Smith