Camille Herron is the female Ultra Runner of the Year for 2017. Herron’s spectacular year included winning the prestigious Comrades Marathon in South Africa and setting a world record for 100 miles with a stunning 12:42:40 clocking at the Tunnel Hill 100. Four weeks after the 100 mile record, she doubled back to set another world record for 12 hours with a 92.665 total, breaking Ann Trason’s 1991 mark. She also showed her versatility in winning the Tarawera 100K in New Zealand and placing second at the Bandera 100K. She lives in Warr Acres, Oklahoma and currently works as a Research Assistant in Osteoimmunology at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
UR: Congratulations on an incredible year, you accomplished so much it is hard to know where to start.
Herron: Thanks, but to be honest last year was a real roller coaster for me, it had as many or more challenges and lows than it did highs, and I am just glad I have come out of it healthy, able to run and ready for another big year.
UR: What were some of those challenges?
Herron: Well there was a theme, I got pretty wrecked when I raced on wet and slippery trails. I had falls at Les Templiers and Western States that gave me concussions, and at Chuckanut I tore my MCL when I landed awkwardly in the mud.
UR: Those are serious injuries.
Herron: Yes, the knee happened 10 weeks before Comrades and I couldn’t run for three weeks and was rehabbing like crazy. My longest training run before Comrades was 20 miles, but my knee did come around finally. I have an unusual running gait and it makes me like Bambi on ice when I’m on soft wet courses. I am working to find a shoe that will maybe help, but I’m also considering a focus on somewhat smoother trail courses like AR50 and JFK for the future. Maybe 24- and 48-hour events.
UR: How bad were the concussions?
Herron: In both instances when I fell I pretty much flew off the courses and slammed into trees. I was dazed and the thing is I just kept falling afterward until I ultimately dropped from each race. After Western States I had nausea and head pain for over a month, I couldn’t train and it was hard to do my job. But I’m not complaining, and I got better!
UR: You sure did. Let’s talk about some of your incredible races last year, you were the first American to win Comrades in 20 years.
Herron: Yes, I can say that was the happiest moment of my life. Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved running and my favorite running book when I was younger was the Lore of Running, which is a tome that has a lot of coverage of ultras, especially Comrades. I dreamed about running it, and to have won it was incredible.
UR: How did you do it?
Herron: When I race I go with effort, not pace. I train to know exactly where my effort thresholds are and for Comrades I targeted an effort equivalent to about 75% to 80% of my max heart rate. On that day, that effort was fast and I won wire to wire. It was an uphill year and I learned that the commentators were shocked at my early splits and suggested that it was a mistake and I’d blow up. But I hung on. I did not have the training I wanted coming into the race, but because the race meant so much to me I feel like I won it with my heart. I want to go back this year and I’d like to try for the course record.
UR: That seems like a lofty goal.
Herron: I love running and through it I feel like I’m fulfilling my purpose in life, and just going after anything that’s possible is what really drives me. So I set my goals high and go after them with everything I’ve got.
UR: That’s clear – even with an unusual running gait.
Herron: Well, yes, I was born with my right femur twisted inward so I have to point my right foot out when I land to compensate, and I really use my long arms to keep it all together. It looks kind of whacky, like a mis-aligned car, but it seems to work for me.
UR: I’ll say – how much do you run?
Herron: I think I’ve averaged about 100 miles a week 11 years in a row now. Last year I did 5,100 miles and that was a low one. I run every day, usually twice, and regularly hit 120 or so a week, if it goes over 130 it is too much and I lose my spring. I also do lots of speedwork – short, long, uphill, tempos, progressions, I like running fast. The speedwork was key for my 100 miler.
UR: That makes sense considering it was the fastest one of all-time by over an hour. How did you do that, especially considering you had never completed a 100?
Herron: Well it goes back to the training and preparation. Basically I did a ton of training miles at an effort that was a bit higher than I raced at from the start at Tunnel Hill – a lot of 80%-plus long runs in training and then 75% at the race. So even though the pace was pretty fast, about 7:10s, the effort was very manageable for me. But at mile 20 I did wonder how I would do four more of those! Keeping a positive attitude, smiling and having fun was key for me to keep pushing.
UR: The longer the race the more variables that can go wrong, especially at a 100, and especially with fueling and hydration. How did you handle it?
Herron: I’ve always had a strong gut so that was not much of a problem. I took a gel every 30 minutes and was also doing sportsdrink, so I was getting about 60 to 90 calories an hour. But the formula for my sportsdrink had been changed and by mile 50 the sugar was getting to my stomach so I switched to a different new drink, Maurtens. It is a special gel-like drink that was developed for the marathon 2-hour project, and I have to say it was great, like rocket fuel. And of course I drank some beer too.
UR: Beer, how does that work during an ultra race?
Herron: I figured it out by accident at the UROC 100K. I was at mile 50 and my stomach was really hurting from all the sugar and I needed a break. We had a six-pack in the cooler for post-race and I just grabbed one. It settled my stomach and next thing I know I’m out of the chair and running great again.
You know sometimes during an ultra the sugar – gels and coke – stops working. Beer is tasty and it’s good for my stomach. Also it is a vaso-dilator so it pushes blood out of the gut and back into the muscles. It also helps give me more mental clarity. At this point I really don’t race without Rogue’s Dead-guy Ale as part of my fueling strategy. It is also a treat I really look forward to in the later miles as well.
UR: So you had some beer at Desert Solstice too?
Herron: Yes, I sure did, it was hot and so I pushed the envelope and had a beer and a half at mile 30. I had signed up for the 24-hour and wanted that record, plus maybe breaking that Tunnel Hill record too. I thought I might get some shorter records along the way, but with the heat I realized that I needed to alter my plans on that one and just go for the shorter ones, and I stopped at 12 hours.
UR: Maybe you just needed more beer. And on that note, what about solid food?
Herron: I love Taco Bell and Subway. My pre- and post-race meals are often Taco Bell – I go for the double decker tacos and root beer. I like Subway because they are pretty much everywhere, and my go to is a Tuna Sub, two chocolate chip cookies and root beer. I love root beer.
UR: What do you eat other than fast food?
Herron: My husband and I are pretty serious meat and potatoes people. We eat tons of red meat, steak all the time. Burgers and fries are a staple too. And ice cream. Lots of butter. It’s hard for me to fit fruits and veggies in. Before Tunnel Hill we gorged on fried catfish, okra and mashed potatoes.
UR: With all of these records you are setting, what do you think about doping and drug testing?
Herron: Doping is awful. I love testing and more is better. I’ve been tested several times this year, but I wish I could do more. It is needed more for ultra/trail, especially out of competition.
UR: You are pretty clear on this issue.
Herron: At Two Oceans in 2013 I raced my heart out and finished 11th, one spot away from receiving a medal. I was pretty devastated. It turned out that at least one of the finishers ahead of me was a doper, but I didn’t ever get a medal and it still burns. The pain of being cheated by a doper is still sharp.
UR: When you look back on 2017 what did you learn?
Herron: I’m a road racer who is doing more on trails now and there are differences, but it’s fun to try new things and take on new challenges. The trails taught me a lot about my limitations, and I am very thankful for the people who have supported me and had some compassion and understanding. At this point I am just happy to be healthy again. I want to keep pushing my limits, I want to keep running. Fast.
UR: What are your goals for 2018?
Herron: My big goal in life is to win Comrades and Western States in the same year. Ann did it, it is doable. I am striving to do it too. So that means I need a Golden Ticket and I got one at Bandera. I’m not sure about other races leading up to Comrades and Western. But in the fall I am hoping to race at the 100k World Championships where I want to break seven hours. And I’m interested in the 24-hour and even 48-hour events, and maybe I can do one of those toward the end of the year again.
UR: That will be quite a year!