Sometime in the next few days, 40-year-old ultrarunner Camille Herron will become the youngest woman to cover 100,000 miles in her running career. While there are no official records of such achievements, there are several websites including 100,000 lifetime miles, keeping honor system accounts. And it’s hard to doubt their accuracy.
Herron, who lives in Oklahoma, began counting her miles on note cards and wall calendars as a teenager in 1995, but switched to more precise methods in 2002, often recording small fractions of a mile. Since 2007, she has averaged 5,114.97 miles per year, or about 98 miles per week. In her greatest year, 2011, she clocked 5,848.48 miles.
It’s easy to mistake Herron for a fun runner rather than one of the world’s best ultramarathoners. After all, she’s known for consuming Tacos and beer at races and stops official Guinness World Record for the fastest women’s marathon in a superhero costume (Spiderwoman). But she’s also qualified for three US Olympic Marathon Trials and holds multiple ultra world records, including longest distance covered in 24 hours, on both the road (167.842 miles) and track (162.919 miles).
And Herron has bigger plans. There’s almost no distance that doesn’t fascinate her, and she’s hoping to break a few men’s records along the way. “I just use what women are naturally good at,” she says, citing a growing body of evidence that women may have metabolic and psychological advantages over men at ultra distances.
To celebrate her 100,000th mile, she is planning one together with her shoe sponsor Hoka Instagram live broadcast. We recently spoke to Herron about her injury prevention routine, training for miles, her refueling strategies and future goals.
Outdoors: How do you avoid injury when you walk so much?
Herron: I learned it the hard way. I grew 9 inches in high school and had seven stress fractures between the ages of 16 and 19. The problem was that I had the mentality that I had to make an effort every day. No one spoke of easy runs or recovery. Everything changed in 2001 when I met Conor Holt, my future husband. I saw how committed he was, but also that he took his easy days with ease. He taught me how to live and train better.
After 2003 I ditched my orthotics and started training in racing shoes or sometimes barefoot on grass. This helped me develop the foot and leg strength I lacked. I still prefer lighter shoes and usually train in mine Hoka EVO Rehis. I also became a master at reading my body. I’ll take care of all the little things as soon as possible. I use massagers and get massages from Conor. I quit static stretching 20 years ago, but I’m gaining mobility by doing exercises and steps twice a week.
Long-distance runners sometimes develop health issues like overtraining syndrome. How did you avoid that?
I think nutrition is important. I grew up eating healthy southern comfort food: we ate seared catfish and seafood, fried chicken, and homemade fries. We had fresh bread with butter and desserts like tarts, cakes and homemade vanilla ice cream. I drank a glass of milk with every meal and had donuts on Sunday mornings.
These days I eat all food groups 6 or 7 times a day and always have breakfast before a run – sometimes breakfast twice! I have never done a quick run. I do not take any prescription drugs or NSAIDs [nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs]. I haven’t had a bone density test recently, but I was above average in and out of college.
I focus on all the little things: sleep, diet, hydration and stress management. Last year, I found out from an InsideTracker test that I was high in iron, low in magnesium and B12. I worked with a nutritionist to address these issues. I used to drink microbrew beer with dinner but had to give up alcohol because it improves iron absorption.
The longer the race distance, the more important a runner’s refueling strategy becomes. Which one is yours?
I follow what science supports, which is to eat 60 to 90 grams of carbohydrates – glucose and fructose – per hour. I take a gel with water every 30 minutes and sip on a sports drink in between. I use my Coros watch’s nutrition timer as a reminder to fill up on fuel. If I feel like I need more calories, I switch my sports drink to Maurten 320. I’ve recently started using mineral drops in my water and various supplemental electrolytes. As the distance gets longer I might want solid food – fruit and potatoes have worked well. For multi-day races, I consume more whole foods.
You’ve run three Olympic marathons, set world records and won races straight away. What was your biggest thrill?
win the Comrades Marathon in South Africa in 2017 was the biggest thrill of my life! I feel like there could be a movie all year before that. The year before I was completely broken. Then, ten weeks before race day, I had a partial tear of the medial collateral ligament in my knee. In eight weeks of training, I was only able to complete two sessions on hard hills and a 20-mile cross-country run – that’s it. But I never had any doubt that winning was my destiny and I ran with my heart [finishing with a time of 6:27:35]. The victory of the comrades means the world to me. It shows that anything is possible.
What do you think about during the ultra?
I think about how I’m feeling – my energy, how my muscles feel, how my feet feel and how I sustain an effort that feels sustainable to the end. I throw in short pickups during races to change muscle use and turn legs. I’ll also monitor my heart rate and aim for maybe 80 percent max heart rate for 50 miles or 100 km, 75 percent for 100 miles and 65 to 70 percent for 24 hours.
I’m naturally the type of person who can tune out pain and exhaustion and force myself to have a near-death experience. Sometimes I have imagined that I am an animal chasing prey or that the prey is being hunted by other animals.
I have some favorite keywords, like spring, stay light, Be patient, raise your kneesand drive your arms. And also favorite phrases: “Let the magic come”, “Be a murmel in a groove”, “Suck it up, buttercup”, “Pack the bull by the horns”, “Time to go beast mode”.
I also like to cheer on other runners and give high fives. It boosts your spirits when you cheer for others. I try to use the positive energy around me to push myself.
Some people think women in ultras have more natural stamina than men. What is your opinion?
I think it. In my first 100k, I caught a few guys—guys who were way faster marathoners than me. When I catch men, they usually look exhausted while I’m just driving there.
Lately I’ve been paying less attention to the men and just going at my own pace. It worked really well. I believe that women run better and more consistently than men and there is scientific evidence to back this up. It may be that we are better able to burn fat or that estrogen spares our muscles.
You are now 40 years old and on the verge of running 100,000 miles. What’s next?
I dedicated the first part of my career to winning the most competitive and prestigious road ultras and setting world records. I have other road ultras on my bucket list: these Spartathlonthat bath waterand the Lake Saroma 100K. Then I want to master the trails. I want to be the first to win the Ultra Triple Crown: Comrades, Western States and UTMB. Over time, I’ll take on the extreme challenges – Big’s Backyard Ultra, the Barkley Marathons, the Sri Chinmoy 3100 mile race – and FKTs, like maybe a transcontinental run. I believe I can achieve anything I set my mind to.