By Katie DeSplinter
There are certain women in our sport who can go by their first names. Ann, Ellie, Kami, Darcy – these are just a few of our Madonnas of ultrarunning, if you will. Nikki, Rory, Liza – the list goes on – Pam, Anna and Camille.
Now, If you find yourself saying, Camille who?, you certainly won’t be for long.
Every once in awhile, someone wins their first attempt at racing a distance. Less often, that race happens to be a U.S. Championship. And even less often, maybe never, that person follows it up with a World Championship. Such is the legacy of Camille Herron, and it’s one she has crafted in less than six months.
It’s not like she came out of nowhere, though. Prior to this legendary 2015 season, Camille had already established herself as a prolific marathoner. And by prolific, meaning the woman has won twenty marathons. Yes, TWENTY. This includes qualifying for the Olympic Trials three times, a personal best of 2:37:14 and a Guinness World Record for racing in a superhero costume. She was Spiderwoman, for the record, and ran a 2:48:51.
Where she actually came from is Oklahoma. And no, she does not consider that a disadvantage to her training. In fact, she credits the gusting winds of the Great Plains to much of her success in training, calling them the “poor man’s altitude.” Perhaps it’s her relentlessly positive attitude speaking, or perhaps it’s just the fact that she has always possessed that special drive to make things harder and push herself further. Most likely, it’s both.
As a child, Camille was primarily interested in basketball, following the lead of her father and grandfather who both played for Oklahoma State. She recalls practicing in the sweltering heat of summer for hours on end, depriving herself of water, because this is what she thought she had to do to be better. She was seven. Her game day strategy was to always be moving, continually running up and down the court to tire out whomever happened to have the luck of trying to guard her. Basically, she was persistence hunting her competitors.
Her first go at running was forced. A mandate by her junior high basketball coach that she run track for off-season conditioning. It wasn’t until she went out for cross-country in 8th grade that she found her calling. She gave up basketball and went all in, winning state titles and a scholarship to the University of Tulsa. However, injuries derailed her collegiate career and she sidelined running to pursue a degree in Exercise and Sport Science, and then her Masters at Oregon State. It was at this point that she decided to pick up running again as she says, just a “hobby.”
Now, if you’ve learned anything about Camille up to this point, you know that a hobby likely involved a bit more than a trip to the craft store. For Camille, a “hobby” meant regularly running 70 miles per week. Fortunately, her husband happens to be Conor Holt – a successful distance runner and coach – who immediately recognized her potential. Though he groomed her to be an incredible marathoner, Holt admits that he always knew his wife would turn to ultras. As the distances get longer, she just seems to get faster.
Perhaps this is how she’s ended up here. Here being a place where she just bested the aforementioned Ann’s (that would be Trason, for all the under-rock dwellers) World Record for 50 miles run on the road – a record that has stood for 24 years. And much like Ann, she’s quickly gaining a reputation not just as one of the top women in ultrarunning, but one of the top competitors period. The 50-mile record run featured a sprint to the finish with the second and third place men, landing her in fourth place overall. In a USATF National Championship Race. Run directly into a headwind that would definitely qualify as her “poor man’s altitude.”
This is one of the primary reasons Camille will be racing her first trail ultra in 2016 at the Lake Sonoma 50-mile. She recognizes that in the U.S., there is greater competition in trail ultras versus road, and she’s ready to take on more of the Stephanies and Kacis of the world. It’s a dream of hers to complete the Comrades – Western States double, and she’s definitely already thinking about the 100-mile distance. This is all despite the fact that she’s never been to a trail race of any kind.
Combine this sort of talent with the additional fact that she’s also a successful research scientist specializing in osteoimmunology, and it kind of makes you want to hate her, doesn’t it? Well, good luck with that. Camille has one of those smiles that you can literally hear, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone more excited about anything than she is about everything. Meghan (as in Arboghast), another one of those needs-only-one name women, was her teammate on the World 100k Team this year and ensures us that no one was more enthusiastic to be in the Netherlands than Camille. She recalls her furiously waving her handful of American flags and cheering for every single country as they paraded by. Camille already makes a habit of hanging out at marathons to cheer in runners, so you can bet she’ll be around Tropical John’s party for a long while come April.
Speaking of that party, Lake Sonoma is known for assembling a star-studded cast and features rolling hills of California “carpet-trail” that greatly favor the wicked turnover of runners with a speedy road pedigree. In other words, it seems like Camille will be well suited for an amazing debut into trail running. One things for sure: her competition won’t be just the Adeles and the Oprahs, but the Princes and the Bonos too.