The Tip Club recently interviewed Camille Herron, the queen of ultra running, whose next aim is to become the first woman to reach 600 miles in six days. Get to know her better and find out why you’ll be joining us in rooting for her in the EMU 6 Day race in Hungary in late-September. Having set four world records and won the most prestigious long distance races in the world, her chill, positive, and down-to-earth attitude is one we can all appreciate.
The Tip Club: Out of all the races and records you’ve set, is there an accomplishment you are most proud of? Or one that you remember with particular fondness?
Camille Herron: Oh yes, definitely. I’d say my win at the Comrades Marathon in South Africa. It is the most competitive and prestigious ultra to win in the world. Winning it was my number one achievement up to that point. With the prize money, I was able to buy a house in Colorado!
Before I won Comrades, I was in a really, really bad place in my life. I had such success when I first got into ultra running in 2015. I won two world titles and two national titles. I broke the world record for 50 miles. Then, in 2016 it became a real struggle. I was working full time and I had gotten an agent. I was trying to get sponsorship and kept getting turned down. It was really frustrating. I was told that no one cared about what I had done as a road ultra runner [as opposed to a trail runner]. I was made to feel that what I had done was worthless. I had this amazing talent and no one cared.
You hear stories about how difficult it is for women to get sponsorship, even for the best ones in the sport, and it was certainly my experience. I had a lot of stress with my job, but then finally, the turning point came. Nike had turned me down several times, but the new agent I had hired made the connection. I wrote this impassioned email to my agent, telling him that I was going to elevate the sport and take it to whole other levels – that I knew I was born for this. In the end, Nike gave me a chance.
So, I eventually got the Nike sponsorship in late 2016. 2017 was a breakout year. However, as I was running a trail race in mid-March, ten weeks before Comrades, I tore my MCL (medial collateral ligament). I thought my career was over. I could barely stand or walk. I had only ten weeks to see if I could come back for Comrades. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, and before you know it, I was back running for an hour. I eventually worked my way up to two hours, then twenty miles, which was my longest training run leading up to Comrades.
In the meantime, my husband, Conor, dreamed that I won Comrades. At that point, my health and my fitness were not great. But, I decided to keep taking it one day at a time. Finally, about two weeks before the race, I did a work out that went really well, and Conor bought the plane tickets to go to South Africa.
We went with this vision from his dream: I am supposed to win this. It was just the weirdest thing. The gun went off and I led the race from start to finish, looking like I was on a mission to win, and I did! The cool thing about my win is that they shot confetti at the finish line, which is what had happened in Conor’s dream. It was the most surreal thing.
But one month later, I thought “Ok what do I do now?” I had not really planned beyond winning my number one life goal! We started thinking about the world records. Go for the world records, you know?
I’ve fulfilled one dream of winning Comrades, which, in turn, enabled me to fulfill my future dreams of trying to dominate ultra running.
The Tip Club: So, what’s coming up next?
Camille Herron: For the past couple of years I have been going for all these world records and American records. I’ve set four world records and 11 American records. Nobody has won Comrades, Western States, and Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB), which are the standards of excellence in ultra running. I am only the second American woman to win Comrades. It is the hardest one just because of the level of competition.
This year, I was planning on getting into more trail running and going for wins at Western States and UTMB. But now that everything has been canceled, I don’t know. It is weird right now. I want to race, but I don’t want to put myself, or my crew, at risk. We’ve been such homebodies since March.
Still, I am looking at a combination of trail races and multi-day world records. Before the pandemic, I was winning a lot of races and beating the men. Even going for 24 hours, at the world championship last year, at one point I was leading at 12 hours, which is really crazy. It’s a world championship and a woman is leading it! I did not even realize it at the time. I only found out after the race. I thought: “OMG, I was leading at 12 hours!” It’s really cool for me that it seems like the longer I go, the closer I get to the men’s world records.
[Addition since the interview: Camille has committed to the EMU 6 Day race in Hungary in late-September. She will be aiming for several multiday World Records, including becoming the first woman to reach 600 miles in 6 days!]
The Tip Club: I asked our readers what they would love to ask you. One recurring question has to do with the idea of hitting the wall in a marathon. Mile 21, 23, etc. What is the wall in a 100 mile race?
Camille Herron: When you run a marathon there is maybe one wall. When you run 100 miles or 24 hours, you are hitting 20 walls. I set four world records and I seriously think it is not possible to have a perfect race in an ultra, especially if you are trying to set new world records. I am pushing human limits. I am doing something that no one has ever done before. The possibility that my body will break down is always there. When I went for my 24 hour world record last fall, I had diarrhea, I was puking, and the officials made me step off the course to shower because I was in such a dire state.
You hear stories about sleep deprivation and hallucinations and that sort of thing. I took two power naps for my 24 hour world record, which recharged my batteries so I could keep on hammering after 150 miles. It comes down to just keeping a light on in my head. I am such a positive and happy person. In dire moments, I feel there is this cheerleader in my head the entire time screaming her head off at me.
I also have Conor. He knows me really well and he knows how to push my body. It’s simply a matter of staying motivated and remembering the goal. That’s what ultra running is all about. Perseverance and pushing through challenges, and the power of your brain to lure your body into moving forward.
The Tip Club: You just answered the most popular question from readers which is: “Why?” However, our readers may still be curious about making the leap from marathons to ultras. Could you say more about that?
Camille Herron: In 2015, during my very first 100K run, I felt like Billy Elliott doing ballet for the first time. It was this feeling of: I was born for this. I ended up breaking a number of records, including one set by Ann Trason, who is considered one of the greatest ultra runners of all time. I feel empowered every time I toe the line. I feel blessed. I want to know what’s possible for women and for myself, and that’s exciting. The half marathon and marathon have become a life achievement for a lot of people. Then they wonder ‘what’s next’. Ultras are becoming more popular, and there’s so many possibilities in distance and surfaces. We coach and we’re glad to help people make that leap.
The Tip Club: I know that you played basketball with your father and that you were greatly influenced and inspired by your grandfather. You ran as a kid, notably during basketball practice. Was there a moment when it clicked?
Camille Herron: I grew up playing a lot of sports. We lived out in the country when I was a kid and we had all these wheat fields around the house that I liked running around. One evening my dad came home, saw me running and asked me what I was doing. I told him I was chasing a rabbit! I just naturally like to run. I was always running through the wheat, chasing wildlife, looking for rabbits and grasshoppers.
I loved to be outside, loved that feeling. So, in junior high when our basketball team ran on the track for extra conditioning, I would just run and run and run. It felt so easy and natural to me, but I think the turning point was when I went out for cross-country in the 8th grade. I loved cross-country because we had to run in parks, over hills, and on natural terrain. It just made me feel like a kid.
In the end, I ended up quitting basketball, even though I was a really good player (I definitely got my dad and my grandfather’s knack for being a point guard). Switching to cross-country felt natural. That’s what got me hooked on running.
The Tip Club: If there was one tip you could give all beginner runners out there, what would it be?
Camille Herron: I think the most important thing is just to run and walk if you have to. It’s OK to run slow, walk, and go at your own pace. I can appreciate that for a beginner runner just putting one foot in front of another is enough. When I coach, the biggest thing I suggest at first is simply: go slow.
This is something I had to learn when my husband started coaching me. I used to be the type that wanted to get out and hammer it every day. In order to develop better aerobically, and in order to handle more mileage, I had to learn how to slow down.
The Tip Club: That’s really great advice. Camille, do you get anxious before races?
Camille Herron: I’m such a chill person. Even for Comrades. There is a video panning across the starting line, and you can see me dancing and just being in my own headspace. That’s something I do really well: being able to up my game on race day and handle the pressure of a race (laughs).
I laugh because I’m not a morning person. The only time I get up early is on race day. I tend to be a jumping bean on race day. I get excited in a good way. I envision myself as Rocky Balboa in the corner of a boxing ring. This is a routine that I’ve done since I was a freshman in high school: strides and drills and hopping around like Rocky Balboa.
The Tip Club: Is there a question that you’re not asked in interviews?
Camille Herron: One of my friend’s daughters was flipping through an ultra running magazine last fall, and she noticed a lack of pictures of women. Strong women. Women being competitive. The pictures in the magazine show women in a social setting, running with their friends, not women running strong.
I feel like the media can do a better job of grabbing onto women like myself who are really pushing the human limits. Cover us! Whether that’s through creating movies or through pictures of us in our dire states. It’s really cool that more people are taking an interest in what we’re doing – this is really a sport where we excel! There needs to be more coverage of all the amazing women in this sport.
I’ve got friends, like Sabrina Stanley, who just broke Nolan’s fourteeners record, which is absolutely amazing! Things like this say: Hey! Women can do these things. This isn’t just a man’s sport.
I’ve definitely seen more interest in people wanting to know more about what we’re doing. But hearing that story about my friend’s daughter reminds me that there is still progress to be made.
The Tip Club: What an astute observation by your friend’s daughter! I would also love to see more women athletes model brand’s workout apparel.
Camille Herron: There are so many different body builds. I’m tall and lean, but there are women runners who are short and strong. There’s such a wide representation of strong runners, which is cool because we’re all really, really fast.
The Tip Club: Alrighty, I have a super important question that our readers are really curious about: Do you eat lots of ice cream?
Camille Herron: Everybody would just assume that I’m eating healthy all the time, and the truth is that I eat 80-90% healthy. But, I’m burning a lot of calories and I just need to go with what my body intuitively wants. So, I definitely eat a lot of sweets – we’ve been hooked on Mochi ice cream recently. I discovered it when I was out in California and that’s been our thing lately. I also eat a lot of chocolate, stroopwafels, toast and Nutella.
The Tip Club: Is there something else you’d like to mention before we finish up?
Camille Herron: I want to give a shoutout to my husband, Conor. I feel like I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him. I met him at a jazz festival after my freshman year of college and we’ve been together for 19 years. It’s incredible how much we’ve been through.
At first, he was an elite runner. Then our roles switched and he wound up coaching me into becoming the athlete that I am. He’s a huge part of what I do. I need him on the side to read my body when my brain starts to go. He knows how to push my buttons when the going gets tough.
The Tip Club: That’s really awesome to hear. Supportive partners are so vital.
Camille Herron: Definitely. I’ve got such a positive support system around me. I feel like the higher I go, the larger the circle around me becomes: sponsors, people wanting to cheer me on, crew, etc. That’s been one of the coolest things about the sport. When I’m out there doing something amazing, I feel like I have this wind beneath my wings from all the support.