How to Stay Healthy While Running Monster Mileage
Camille Herron and Nate Jenkins dish on how to avoid injury and stay energized while maxing out your miles.
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There’s high mileage — and then there’s super-high mileage. Whether genetically gifted, supremely dedicated, or mentally tougher than most, a tiny subset of runners can handle weekly miles that could easily pass as road trip stats. These aren’t just one-off weeks either; this is season after season, year after year, of volume that even the most serious marathoners will likely never touch.
Camille Herron and Nate Jenkins — the former still competing, the latter now running more casually — are two of high mileage’s biggest advocates and exemplars. Below, they share details on their approaches, tactics for staying as healthy as possible, and reasons more runners might consider upping their volume.
A Huge Foundation
Camille Herron seems made for ultrarunning. Based in Alamosa, Colo., she’s the 2017 Comrades Marathon champion, the holder of multiple world records, and the sole athlete to win the International Association of Ultrarunners’ 50K, 100K, and 24-Hour World Championship trifecta. But the 39-year-old didn’t earn those accolades by accident or by luck; she started running 100-mile weeks 15 years ago, expects to hit 100,000 lifetime miles in 2022, and has now racked up 10 years of 5,000-6,000 logged miles (96-115 miles per week, on average). If anyone has put in the work to excel at ultras, it’s Herron.
Nate Jenkins — a North Andover, Mass., dad and teacher best known for finishing 7th in the 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials — also logged massive miles during the bulk of his career. But it took him a while to reach the 140-165-mile weeks that eventually became his norm. The 100-mile-weeks he ran during his career at UMass Lowell set him up for hefty volumes later on. Including injuries, tapers, and breaks between seasons, Jenkins averaged over 100 miles per week for a full decade, and over 130 miles per week for 5 years. “Mileage was important in building the aerobic house that enabled me to run well,” he says.
Calories, as Herron and Jenkins know well, are what allow for year after year of triple-digit weeks. Seeing many of his male running peers slide towards disordered eating, Jenkins says he “was sort of the opposite.” While he generally ate well, he would always choose a lower-quality meal or snack over nothing at all. “My belief was that you were better off eating junk food than no food,” he says — and he wasn’t above a middle-of-the-night mayonnaise snack when he woke up craving it. Jenkins was also religious about fueling immediately after working out, usually with chocolate milk, kefir, or another protein-carbohydrate combo.
Herron attributes her consistency and avoidance of overuse injuries to eating frequently: 5-7 times per day, including 1-2 breakfasts, and always before and after runs. In addition to using her menstrual cycle as a marker of energy balance and health, Herron takes an intuitive and varied approach to fueling. “I would say 80-90% of my diet is healthy,” she says, “and then I don’t mind greasing my engine a few times a week with tacos, bacon, burgers, daily sweets, and a nightly beer.” Similar to Jenkins, Herron consumes a mix of protein and carbohydrates post-run, and supplements with The Runner’s Multivitamin (daily), iron with orange juice (5 times per week), and vitamin D (daily).
Herron’s background in science gives her a unique perspective on training. One lasting takeaway from her years in academia is the benefit of two-a-day runs. She learned while writing her Master’s thesis (on enhancing bone recovery with whole body vibration training) that “bone and muscle cells respond to dynamic stress” and that “most of running/movement should be light mechanical stress combined with infrequent bouts of higher intensity stress.” With the flexibility of a full-time runner, Herron now does her main run (90 minutes to 2 hours) around 10 a.m. and a 50-60-minute shakeout in the evening.
Like Herron, Jenkins subscribed to double training days throughout his career. A typical recovery day included: a 10-mile run in the morning, starting around 8:00 pace and progressing down to 5:40-6:00 after a couple of miles; and a very easy double in the evening, often hovering around 8:00 pace or slower. Those second runs were often so slow that he had no problem gobbling down dinner and then heading right out the door.
Variety of Stimuli
Monster mileage doesn’t have to be monotonous. In fact, Herron and Jenkins emphasize the value in changing things up — whether terrain, shoes, elevation, or pace. Herron makes a point to train on a variety of surfaces and in a rotating cast of shoes so that her body constantly has to adapt to different stimuli.
Jenkins’ variety came mostly in the form of pace. While training in the style of Renato Canova — the Italian coaching legend famous for his success with Kenyan runners — Jenkins touched on several different paces in a given week. Once he adapted to that system, his ability to shift from marathon-paced runs to slow shuffles to easy tempos to progression runs quickly resulted in personal bests in the 5K, half marathon (by a full 5 minutes), and marathon.
Serious Recovery, Tons of Sleep
Herron and Jenkins agree on the importance of sleep — especially in the context of their heavy training loads. Jenkins slept 10-12 hours a night, made time for naps when he wanted them, and rarely traveled for weddings or other non-race events in order to stick to his schedule. He also got massages when he could and was consistent with the prehab that he’d picked up through past injuries.
Herron’s recovery is built on sleep, too. Beyond that, she divides her approach into three categories: daily, seasonally, and post-race. At the granular level, she asks herself, How do I feel today?; keeps a training log; relaxes with massages, naps, hot baths, and meditation; and eats and drinks throughout the day. Seasonally, Herron runs barefoot on grass a few times a week during the warmer months, and does upper-body strength training twice a week. And after races, she uses her pneumatic compression boots or gets a massage as soon as possible, “pounds the calories and fluids,” and continues moving frequently. For more on the science behind recovery practices, Herron recommends Good to Go by Christie Aschwanden.