Camille Herron laced up her shoes and embarked on a 100-mile jaunt to the Nationals in Las Vegas in February.
Herron is no stranger to the challenges of the ultramarathon.
She has set several world records in races on the open road and on the track, over distances ranging from 50 miles to races that last 24 hours. In 2017, she broke the world record for the 100 miles by over an hour, finishing in 12 hours 42 minutes and 40 seconds.
On February 19, she did it again, breaking her own world record, clocking 12:41:11, a pace of 7:37 per mile. She also beat all the men in the race, with the first male runner, Arlen Glick, coming about 30 minutes behind her with a time of 13:10:25.
She spoke with The Times about the formation, “Forrest Gump” and “Ted Lasso”, and why she switched to non-alcoholic beer.
The interview has been edited and condensed.
How did you start? Did you run in high school?
I made my debut as a basketball player. I had a relentless drive; I just practiced over and over again. I was 7 and pushed myself to the point where I started to pass out. I guess I was training for ultramarathons even at that young age.
I started track in college for off-season conditioning. From day one, I was able to run and run and run. I just had natural stamina. I remember going to my first cross country race, and all the other girls looked like me. I’m really skinny with long arms and legs. I remember thinking, “Oh, I guess that’s my sport.” I was also inspired by “Forrest Gump”, which came out at the time.
Being from Oklahoman, I grew up in the countryside. I would hunt wildlife in the wheat fields near our home. For me, cross-country was like that.
Tell me about the 100 mile race where you set the record.
It was a road race on a loop course just over a mile long. We had to do 85 laps. It was a bit rolling so there was some rock climbing. He was exposed. There were no trees, the weather was nice in Las Vegas, and it was very hot in the afternoon. The heat was one of the biggest challenges. And also the grind of the little hills you had to do every turn. It adds up.
The race started at eight o’clock in the morning. Sunset was at 5:30 or 6pm so by the end part of the trail was quite dark.
The course was also not closed to non-runners. I had to sneak around people in the park all day. People go out with their dogs and children. Beside the challenge of running, I try not to trip or anything.
Not only did you set the record, but you won the race.
Being an ultra, there is always a possibility that a woman can beat the men. Looking at the men’s field, I thought deep down, “You know I might be able to beat those guys.” At some 80 miles I caught the best man. It was really exciting; it really motivated me.
What is your preparation for a 100 miles?
I was a marathon runner for 10 years and participated three times in the Olympic selections. I just turned my marathon training into ultra training. I stuck with what worked and started breaking records in my freshman year in 2015.
I don’t do a lot of long runs, maybe 18-22 miles is my long run. I only do one long run every two weeks. In the eight weeks leading up to a peak run, I do 900 to 1,050 miles, or about 120 miles a week.
There are a lot of ultrarunners who train with extremely long runs, and I’ve never done that. I think some ultrarunners might need to rethink their approach and take a more sprint and marathon specific approach which could bring them more success.
Speed training for a 100 mile race?!
I do a lot of speed work. For the world record, I averaged 7:37 per mile. It’s quite a fast pace! Most people try to run at this pace, probably for a 5k run. For me to be able to keep up with such a rhythm, I have to develop my physical condition. I do short intervals, long intervals, 30-45 minute tempo runs. And I also do hill workouts to build strength in my legs and core.
I’m not really into cross training. Maybe strength training once or twice a week, squats, deadlifts, push-ups. But it takes too much energy. I prefer to devote this energy to running.
It’s not like I can run 100 miles training for a 100 mile race.
How is the mental side? You are out for 12 hours. Are you bored or frustrated?
I am one of those people who find joy in the moment. I’m just a happy person. People tell me I’m like Ted Lasso.
Do you eat a lot while running?
They say ultrarunning is an eating contest with a bit of running on the side. I really need to pound the calories. That’s one of my biggest challenges, the ability to eat and run.
I need to take in 60-90 grams of carbs per hour. I take a gel with water every 30 minutes. I sip a sports drink in between. I wear a hydration belt that carries two bottles.
You broke a world record at 40. Are you really better?
Women’s ultrarunners age like fine wine. It is a sport that emphasizes physical and mental strength. Mental capacity becomes a bigger part of the ability to push human limits for 100 miles and beyond. I may be wiser. Sleep better, eat better, all the little things add up.
Within the last year I started working with a dietitian and discovered that I had iron overload, the opposite problem of many endurance athletes, which is anemia. I changed my diet. I feel like it gave me a boost at 40.
And alcohol enhances iron absorption. So I drink non-alcoholic beer now.
I can’t wait to be in my forties. I feel really good.
Have you had any luck with injuries?
My husband, Conor, trains me. I am someone who needs my reins to be pulled so as not to injure myself through overwork. I want to go there all the time.
But I had a lot of weird accidents. Because I run so much, there’s always that risk of me slipping off a curb or falling backwards on ice or tripping over a rock on the trails.
You have traveled even greater distances.
I also hold the 24 hour world record. I ran 167 miles in one day. It was really crazy.