An Interview With Running Phenom Camille Herron: I Was Born to Run
Updated: Nov 12, 2020
Setting a world record at the 2017 Tunnel Hill 100 mile ultra
Photo courtesy: Camille Herron and Conor Holt
After news of a world record at the Tunnel Hill 100 mile ultra popped up on my Twitter feed last November, Camille Herron was added to my to-interview list. She had just set an astonishing world record - running a 100 mile ultra in 12:42:40 at an average 7:38 mile. During a recent phone interview, as she and her husband Conor Holt, also her coach and manager, were leaving Yosemite and driving to San Francisco, we chatted about her amazing speed, training, bones, beer, DNFs, injuries, resiliency, purpose, and what inspires her.
AMAZING SPEED & TRAINING
After a couple of interruptions due to poor cell service while driving in Yosemite, I began the interview by asking Camille what her favorite ultra distance is - 50 miler, 100K, 24 hour, or 100 miler. She chuckled, "Oh, that's a tough question. I just did a 100 miler. My favorite race is Comrades. May be not my favorite distance. But it's the ultimate race to do as an ultrarunner. My favorite distance is probably the Run Winschoten 100K. This is probably one of the fastest courses in the world. It's so fast and so long and so crazy hard."
She won the RUN Winschoten 100K, the Comrades Marathon where she became the first American woman to win Comrades in 20 years, and the Tunnel Hill 100 mile ultra, where she set a world record for the fastest runner ever, female or male, on the USATF certified course. How she trains for ultras might surprise ultrarunners, or at least ordinary ultrarunners like myself. Camille does a lot of heart rate training and not a lot of hours running. "For the 50 mile and 100K distance I’m aiming for 80% max heart rate effort. It applies on the trail and road. I know what that effort feels like so I keep aiming for that effort. For the 100 mile, I’m aiming for about 75% heart rate max effort. I do a lot of heart rate training. That really helps me to push my own limits. That’s been really beneficial for me."
You won't see Camille doing training runs for hours. "I read about these ultrarunners going out for 4 – 6 hour training runs and I’m like, what are you doing? I never even do that. I learned that it's better to run more frequently, to move more frequently. So my long runs are not very long. I run 18 to 22 miles for a long run but I’m cutting back. On my long run days I run a second run of 35 to 50 minutes. I run twice a day every day. I don’t go for excessive training runs. I think breaking it up twice a day helps keep me fresher and recover quicker."
BONES AND BEER
Her research as a graduate student and her profession as a researcher today has contributed to her success as a world class elite runner. "I did my masters thesis at Oregon State on how bones recover. I got trained on bone imaging techniques. When I was in grad school at the start of my marathon career, I learned so much from the people around me and the application of what I was studying. My brain was always thinking – how can I apply this to my running? I learned a lot about things like recovery and how to apply stress vs. rest to help my body to stay in balance and enhance running performance."
When she's not running, Camille works in the field of osteoimmunolgy and bone imaging research at the University of Oklahoma Heath and Sciences Center. With the support of her boss, she is able to have a balanced career as a professional runner and a researcher. "I have pretty flexible hours because my boss understands what I do. I get to travel the world and do all these races."
Camille's fast food diet surprised me. She laughed, 'Yeah. People will be shocked. I don’t restrict my diet at all. I like to eat Taco Bell and Subway before my races. It works for me." What she ingests on race day and to recover also works for her. "On race day, usually, 90 minutes before a race, I have a Cliff bar and a cup of coffee with a bunch of sugar and a banana. I take a gel with water every 30 minutes and then I sip on sports drink as I need it. I might start drinking soda or other types of beverages. I like to have a little bit of beer."
Beer Break at the 2016 UROC 100K
Photo courtesy: Camille Herron & Helen Martin
DNFs, INJURIES, AND RESILIENCY
Heat, fatigue, and injuries during an ultra can lead to DNFs. Some setbacks you can work through and trouble shoot to get to the finish. Other more serious injuries on the course, like a broken wrist and a head injury, is cause enough to stop. "I actually had quite a few DNFs last year and I had two concussions on a trail. I’m a professional and my health is the pinnacle of what I do. If you get injured, especially if it happens early in the race, it’s not wise to keep going with a head injury for 85 miles. I torn my MCL last year. Got to the finish line with a torn MCL but I only had another 10 miles when my MCL tore. But if I tore my MCL in a 100 miler and I still have 75 miles or so to go, you gotta be smart with your health. I’m not going put a belt buckle above and beyond my health and livelihood."
Despite the hazards of the sport, Camille bounces right back. "I’m pretty resilient. Even though I eat at Subway, I generally eat pretty healthy. I sleep a lot. I did my masters thesis on how to enhance bone recovery. I understand my body needs to move frequently, and that helps to get the blood flow going and helps my tissue recover faster. People think I’m crazy that I can bounce back from a torn ACL and run the Comrades Marathon."
At 2017 Comrades Marathon - first American woman
to win Comrades in 20 years.
Photo courtesy: Camille Herron & Jetline Photo
PURPOSE AND INSPIRATION
"I think I was born to run. I remember running my first 100K three years ago and it felt like Billy Elliot doing ballet. It was this amazing feeling," shares Camille. "Ever since I did that I’ve kind of held on to this feeling like I was meant to be there. Even running my first 100 miler, I was running with a great smile on my face. Whoa! Seven minute miles with a big smile on my face!," she giggles. "I feel like I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing. That’s what motivates me everyday. I’m fulfilling my purpose in life."
Others also motivate and inspire her to keep running. She thought of Yiannis Kouros while running Tunnel Hill. He says, "The more you run, the more you have to find mental inspiration." What helped to keep Camille going at the Tunnel Hill 100 was thinking of the young daughter of a family friend who was enduring a health crisis. "I was thinking about her during the race. I was trying to find positive sources of inspiration. I was ready to do something special for her. I just felt like what I was doing was something historical, significant. That got me really excited the whole day."
Camille is training for Comrades again and Western States. Last year she DNF'd at WS after falling, hitting hear head, and suffering a concussion. And what does Camille do for fun when she's not training, running, or doing research? "We have two really crazy German Shepherds, Hawi and Winny. My husband and I brew beer. We have a piano. We’re both pianists," she shares in her joyful voice.