Camille Herron Will Run Her 100,000th Mile This Week
The ultrarunning multi-world-record holder talks about sustaining longevity and the biggest thrill of her illustrious career
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Sometime in the next few days, 40-year-old ultrarunner Camille Herron will become the youngest woman on record to log 100,000 miles in her running career. While there are no official records for such achievements, several sites, including 100K Lifetime Miles, keep honor-system accounts. And it’s hard to doubt her accuracy.
Herron, who lives in Oklahoma, began tallying her miles on note cards and wall calendars as a teenager in 1995, then 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 biggest year, 2011, she hit 5,848.48 miles.
You could easily mistake Herron for a fun runner rather than one of the planet’s best ultramarathoners. After all, she’s been known to consume tacos and beer in races and holds an official Guinness World Record for the fastest women’s marathon run in a superhero costume (Spiderwoman). But she’s also qualified for three U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials and holds several ultra world records, including the longest distance covered in 24 hours, both on the road (167.842 miles) and on the track (162.919 miles).
And Herron has even bigger plans. There’s almost no distance that doesn’t intrigue her, and she hopes to beat a few men’s records along the way. “I’m just tapping into what naturally suits women,” 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 and her shoe sponsor, Hoka, are planning an Instagram Live broadcast. We recently spoke with Herron about her injury-prevention routine, high-mileage training, fueling strategies, and future goals.
Outside: How do you stave off injury when you run so much?
Herron: I learned the hard way. I grew nine inches in high school and had seven stress fractures from ages 16 to 19. The problem was, I had the mentality that I had to push every day. No one talked about easy runs or recovery. Everything changed in 2001 when I met Conor Holt, my husband-to-be. I saw how dedicated he was, but also that he took his easy days easy. He taught me how to live and train better.
After 2003, I ditched my orthotics and began training in racing flats, or sometimes barefoot on grass. This helped me develop the foot and leg strength I was lacking. I still prefer lighter shoes and usually train in my Hoka EVO Rehis. I also became a master at reading my body. I take care of any niggles ASAP. I use massage tools and get massages from Conor. I stopped static stretching 20 years ago, but I get mobility from doing drills and strides twice a week.
High-mileage runners sometimes develop health issues like overtraining syndrome. How have you avoided this?
I think diet is important. I grew up on a wholesome southern comfort-food diet: We’d eat fried catfish and seafood, fried chicken, and homemade French fries. We had fresh bread with butter, and desserts like pies, cakes, and homemade vanilla ice cream. I drank a glass of milk at every meal, and we had doughnuts on Sunday mornings.
These days, I eat all the food groups six or seven times a day and always eat breakfast before runs—sometimes two breakfasts! I’ve never done a fasted run. I don’t take any prescription drugs or NSAIDs [nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs]. I haven’t had a recent bone-density test, but my values were above average in college and after.
I focus on taking care of all the little things: sleep, nutrition, hydration, and managing stress. In the past year, I learned from an InsideTracker test that I had high iron, with low magnesium and B12. I’ve been working with a dietitian to correct those issues. I used to drink microbrew beer with dinner but had to give up alcohol because it enhances iron absorption.
The longer the race distance, the more important a runner’s fueling strategy. What’s yours?
I follow what the science supports, which is taking in 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 the nutrition timer on my Coros watch as a reminder to take fuel. If I feel I need more calories, I switch up my sports drink to Maurten 320. More recently I’ve been using mineral drops in my water and various additional electrolytes. As the distance gets longer, I may want solid foods—fruit and potatoes have worked well. For multiday races, I consume more whole foods.
You’ve run in three Olympic Marathon Trials, set world records, and won races outright. What has been your biggest thrill?
Winning the Comrades Marathon in South Africa in 2017 was the biggest thrill of my life! I feel like the whole year leading up to it could be a movie. I was completely broken the year before. Then I had a partial tear of the medial collateral ligament in my knee ten weeks before race day. In eight weeks of training, I could only do two hard hill sessions and one 20-mile long run—that’s it. Yet there was never a doubt in my mind that it was my destiny to win, and I ran with my heart [finishing with a time of 6:27:35]. The Comrades win means the world to me. It shows that anything is possible.
What do you think about during ultras?
I think about how I feel—my energy, how my muscles feel, how my feet feel, and maintaining an effort that feels sustainable to the finish. I throw in brief pickups during races to change the muscle usage and keep the legs turning over. I’ll also monitor my heart rate and aim for maybe 80 percent of heart-rate max in a 50 mile or 100K, 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 fatigue and push myself to a near-death experience. Sometimes I’ve imagined myself as an animal chasing prey or as the prey being chased by other animals.
I have some favorite cue words, like spring, stay light, be patient, lift your knees, and drive your arms. And favorite phrases, too: “Let the magic come,” “Be a marble in a groove,” “Suck it up, buttercup,” “Take the bull by the horns,” “Time to go beast mode.”
I also like to cheer on other runners and slap high fives. It boosts your spirits when you cheer for others. I try to use the positive energy around me to help propel me forward.
Some people think women have more natural endurance than men in ultras. What’s your opinion?
I believe it. In my first 100K, I caught a few men—guys who were much faster marathoners than me. When I catch men, they usually look exhausted, while I’m just cruising along.
Lately, I’ve been paying less attention to the men and just running my own pace. It’s been working really well. I believe women pace better and more evenly than men, and there’s science to support this. It might be that we can burn fat better or that estrogen preserves our muscles.
You’re now 40 years old and on the cusp of 100,000 miles of running. What’s next?
I devoted the first part of my career to winning the most competitive and prestigious road ultras and to setting world records. I still have other road ultras on my bucket list: the Spartathlon, the Badwater, and the Lake Saroma 100K. Then I’d like to master the trails. I want to be the first to win the ultra triple crown: Comrades, Western States, and UTMB. In time I’ll take on the extreme challenges—Big’s Backyard Ultra, the Barkley Marathons, the Sri Chinmoy 3,100-mile race—and FKTs, like maybe a transcontinental run. I believe I can achieve everything I set my mind to.