Camille Herron laced up her shoes and set out for a 100-mile jaunt at the national championships in Las Vegas in February.
Herron is no stranger to ultramarathon challenges.
She has set multiple world records in open-road races and on tracks, in distances from 50 miles to races that lasted 24 hours. In 2017, she shattered the 100-mile world record by over an hour, finishing in 12 hours 42 minutes 40 seconds.
On Feb. 19, she did it again, breaking her own world record, in 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 in about 30 minutes behind her with a time of 13:10:25.
She spoke with The New York Times about training, “Forrest Gump” and “Ted Lasso,” and why she has switched to nonalcoholic beer.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
How did you get started? Did you run in high school?
I got my start as a basketball player. I had a relentless drive; I just practiced over and over. I was a 7-year-old, and I pushed myself to the point where I started blacking out. I guess I was kind of practicing for ultramarathons even at that young age.
I started track in junior high for off-season conditioning. From the first day, I could run and run and run. I just had natural endurance. 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 this is my sport.” I was also inspired by “Forrest Gump,” which came out at the time.
Being a native Oklahoman, I grew up in the country. I’d chase the wildlife in the wheat fields by our house. For me, cross-country felt 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 climbing. It was exposed. There were no trees, it was sunny in Las Vegas, and it got really warm in the afternoon. The heat was one of the biggest challenges. And also the grind of the little hills you had to do every lap. That adds up.
The race started at eight in the morning. Sunset was at 5:30 or 6 p.m., so at the end, part of the course was pretty dark.
The course also wasn’t closed off to nonrunners. I had to weave around people in the park all day. People out with their dogs and their kids. Besides the challenge of running, I’m trying not to trip or anything.
You not only set the record, but you won the race outright.
Being an ultra, there’s always a possibility that a woman could beat the men. Looking at the men’s field, I was thinking in the back of my mind, “You know, I could maybe beat these guys.” At 80-something miles, I caught the top man. That was really exciting; that really motivated me.
What is your preparation for a 100-miler?
I was a marathoner for 10 years and I made the Olympic trials three times. I just brought my marathon training into ultra training. I stuck with what works and started breaking records my first year in 2015.
I don’t do very many long runs, maybe 18 to 22 miles is my long run. I only do a long run every couple of weeks. In the eight weeks before a peak race, I do 900 to 1,050 miles, so that’s about 120 miles a week.
There are a lot of ultrarunners who train with extreme long runs, and I’ve never done that. I think maybe some ultrarunners should rethink their approach and take a more speed-specific, marathon-specific approach that might 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. That’s a pretty quick pace! Most people are trying to run that pace probably for a five-kilometer race. For me to be able to sustain a pace like that, I have to develop my fitness. I do short intervals, long intervals, tempo runs of 30 to 45 minutes. And I also do hill training to develop strength in my legs and my body.
I’m not really into cross training. Maybe strength training once or twice a week, squats, dead lifts, push-ups. But it takes too much energy out of me. I’d rather devote that energy to running.
It’s not like I can do a 100-mile run in training for a 100-mile race.
What is the mental side like? You’re out there for 12 hours. Do you get bored or frustrated?
I’m 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 during the race?
They say that ultrarunning is an eating contest with a little bit of running on the side. I have to really pound the calories. It’s one of my greatest challenges, the ability to eat and run.
I have to take in 60 to 90 grams of carbohydrates per hour. I take a gel with water every 30 minutes. I sip a sports drink in between that. I wear a hydration belt that carries two bottles.
You broke a world record at 40 years old. Are you actually getting better?
Women ultrarunners age like fine wine. It’s a sport that favors having physical and mental strength. The mental capacity becomes a greater part of being able to push the human limits for 100 miles and beyond. Maybe I’m wiser. Sleeping better, eating better, all the little things add up.
In the past year I’ve started working with a dietitian, and I found out I have iron-overload, the opposite problem of many endurance athletes, which is anemia. I’ve transformed my diet. It feels like it’s given me a boost at 40.
And alcohol enhances iron absorption. So I’m drinking nonalcoholic beer now.
I’m excited going into my 40s. I’m feeling really good.
Have you been lucky with injuries?
My husband, Conor, coaches me. I’m somebody who needs to have the reins pulled back on me so I don’t get overuse injuries. I want to go all the time.
But I’ve had many freak accidents. Because I run so much, there’s always that risk that I might slip off a curb or fall backward on ice or trip on a rock on the trails.
You’ve raced even longer distances.
I also hold the world record for 24 hours. I ran 167 miles in a day. That was really crazy.