(Comrades Marathon finish line / Jetline Action photos)
When Camille Herron first hit the track as a middle-schooler, it was love at first warmup. While she had wanted to follow in the footsteps of her father, who played Division I basketball, there was something about running track and cross-country.
“The biggest thing I’ve gotten from it all is that I love to run,” Herron says. “I knew that from the first time I went out for track in seventh grade. Once I went out for cross-country as an eighth-grader and realized all the other girls looked like me — I was always a string bean with long arms and legs. From my first cross-country race, I knew this was my sport and this is what I am supposed to do. I fell in love with running at an early age. I love to run and I’ve been able to carry that attitude as an adult.”
And in the past year, she has excelled in both trail and track races.
In November, Herron debuted at the 100-mile distance, shattering the world record by over an hour with a 12:42:40 at Tunnel Hill in Illinois. The next month at the Desert Solstice Track Meet in Phoenix, she broke three long-standing American records, running 5:59:10 over 50 miles; 7:36:39 to take 13 minutes off Ann Trason's 100K record from 1991 and eventually passed Trason’s world record for 12-hour distance.
On Jan. 6, Herron continued her streak by winning the women’s race at the Bandera 100K, claiming a golden ticket to next year’s Western States.
(Tunnel Hill finish line / Photo by Conor Holt)
Record-setting performances aside, Herron still transcends the same joy she felt as a middle-schooler.
“For me it was just fun — I was smiling the whole way,” Herron recalls of the Tunnel Hill race. “I was able to go further than I had and I was able to keep going and push that envelope. I want to be a lifelong runner as long as I have the knees and my hips. I am just going to go with it and push my limits. It goes back to being a kid and loving it.”
While she has dealt with injuries, right now Herron is healthy and in the zone.
“I loved how my body moved with the terrain and it felt so liberating and free to be out there outside,” she reflects. “I grew up in the country chasing animals like rabbits and running around the fields. When I started running cross-country, it felt like freedom. I like how it made me feel.”
Early successes and injuries
Herron found success and disappointment from injuries as a young runner.
“I don’t think I could have imagined what I ended up doing,” says Herron, who won three Oklahoma state titles in track and was all-state in cross country three years during high school. “There have been several evolutions in my running career, even my injuries in high school and college. And even thinking that my body couldn’t handle this training and be competitive. It’s been amazing.”
At Tulsa University, Herron was dogged by injuries and ended up only running one year. While she was not able to compete as she had envisioned, her experience was educational.
“I learned that running was a stress reliever, it’s not all this grind and competitive nature,” she says. “I think you have to respect running for how it makes you feel and how it relieves stress. When I got back to running on my own and not for a college team, I learned that I really like how it makes me feel. When I made that connection was when my running took off again.”
‘I just went and did it’
After college and before Herron sprung onto the ultra scene, she was a competitive marathon runner for a decade. Her debut was in 2007 at the Eugene (Oregon) Marathon, where she ran 2:48:36. In 2011, she was the third American across the line at the New York City Marathon with a time of 2:40:06. She set her PR at the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials with a time of 2:37:14.
Herron’s first marathon victory came at the Dallas Marathon in 2010. A prolific marathon runner, she collected many other wins across the U.S.
Having met her marathon goals, she eyed new challenges. “I reinvented myself as an athlete and set new goals for myself,” Herron recalls. “That’s something anyone can do. Running is a lifetime sport so why limit yourself to the marathon and below? Mix it up on different surfaces and distances and make it an all-day adventure.”
As she transitioned to ultras, Herron brought valuable lessons learned from her marathon races.
“I made my career as a marathoner running back-to-back marathons so I have an idea of how long it takes me to recover and how to judge when I have another race in me,” she says, noting that she had not committed to Desert Solstice until three weeks after Tunnel Hill. “I took it a day at a time and did a reverse taper to build myself back up.”
(Desert Solstice / Photo by Derrick Lytle)
While she didn’t have to pursue another record as the year wore down, she wanted too. Her body was ready. Her mind was ready.
“I didn’t want to do it unless I felt energy-wise and muscularly that I could handle it,” Herron recalls. “That’s about how long it has taken me in the past — three to four weeks — until I get that spring back in my legs. So I took a chance and signed up for Desert Solstice. I still had some goals I wanted to get before the year was out so I just went and did it.”
And did she ever, crushing multiple records.
“I knew I had run a pretty quick 50-miler en route to the 100-miler. For me it was just recovering my body systematically more than my mind. My mind recovered quicker than the rest of me. I had it fixated in my mind that I had these fast times at Tunnel Hill so I would be able to do these on a track.”
‘I just like to eat food’
Even before Tunnel Hill, Herron was generating attention. Last June, she won Comrades Marathon in South Africa, the first American woman to win the well-known ultra since 1997. Herron, who is active on social media, says many women have sought her advice about nutrition, training, goals and more.
“A lot of women have reached out to me (since breaking the records),” she says. “A lot of women are starting to think about going beyond the marathon. I have a lot of friends who are good marathoners and they are getting piqued to run 50Ks and such.
“I’ve been really honored and humbled by what I’ve been able to do this year. And I hope to be able to bring more women along with me.”
She likes to eat meat and potatoes, and drink a beer a day. “I just like to eat food.”
Herron supports intuitive eating. “I learned in grad school that my diet is naturally higher in fat, says Herron, who famously drank a beer and a half toward the end of Tunnel Hill. “I’m not very restrictive at all in my diet. If I want to eat ice cream, I eat it. If I want to eat a cheeseburger, I eat it. Everybody does their own thing based on what their body is craving. I think that is the healthiest mindset to have. Whatever your body wants, give it to it.”
Her advice to women — and men — who are contemplating an ultra is simple. Just do it.
“I tell people that running an ultra will change your life,” Herron says. “I think about my first 100K I did two and a half years ago. It felt like almost a celebration or running and all the work I out into it. It was really, really fun for me. I joked that it was like Billy Elliot doing ballet for the first time.”
Big goals for 2018 and beyond
The 36-year-old Herron stills lives and trains in Oklahoma, but running takes her around the world.
“It was so fun to connect with people,” she says. “People see it as a social activity. The purity of running and what it can do for you beyond the competitive aspect. I think you just have to learn to love to run.”
Her love — make it her passion — for running will no doubt continue through 2018 and beyond. As much success as Herron experienced in 2017, she is eyeing bigger goals this year.
“My goals are evolving though I have a similar mindset to this year (2017),” she says. “My biggest goal is to win Comrades and Western States in the same year. That’s the pinnacle for an ultra runner, trying to win both of those in the same year. I know it’s possible because Ann Trason did it twice. That’s what I am going to be building toward.”
And that’s Herron’s goal — for the first part of 2018.
“I also want to go for speed records,” she says. “I want to go for the 24-hour record. I want to beat Ann Trason’s 100K American record. I think I can do what I did this year – mix it up on different surfaces and distances. I also want to go further: 24 hours and beyond.”
(Tunnel Hill / Photo by Conor Holt)
Of course, when a runner of Herron’s caliber mentions “beyond,” thoughts naturally turn toward the “new 100-miler.”
“200 miles — I didn’t even know those races existed until recently,” she laughs. “I don’t think they are quite as competitive now. The 100-mile distance is kind of the gold standard for ultra races. I think my future lies in 24 hours and beyond. I am trying to wrap my head around 200 miles, maybe I could break 30 hours. The seeds have been planted in my head that I can go for 24 hours, 48 hours, six days …”
And Herron won’t stop there.
“Then run across America and try to break the men’s record,” she continues. “I’ve got big goals for myself and I need to be patient with that. I’ve got that seed in my head but I know I can’t do it all at once.”
Name: Camille Herron
Hometown: Norman, Okla.
Number of years running: Approaching 23 years!
Weekly mileage: I've averaged over 100 miles per week for 11 years
Point of pride: Proud to be a born and bred Oklahoman!
Favorite race distance: Road 100K
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: I like to eat at Taco Bell (3 Double Decker Tacos) and Subway (Tuna sub and chocolate chip cookies) before races. For training I love medium rare steak and potatoes w/butter, bacon, peanut butter, ice cream, and homebrewed beer or Rogue Dead Guy Ale.
Favorite piece of gear: Nike Vaporflys
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: Led Zeppelin’s Ramble On
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: Let the magic come out
Where can other runners contact/follow you: I'm on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram @runcamille