Not every person finds something in their life that they feel they are meant to do. I’d go as far as to say that it’s actually quite rare. What’s even rarer, is to hold on to that something and make it your absolute duty to do that one thing.
I think runners are lucky. People either love running or they don’t, and those who love it, love it. Whether you quietly run 1-3 miles every morning before your family wakes up, or you race and travel the world for a living, running gives its runner a sense of purpose. Oftentimes, however, that purpose sits low on the totem pole of purposes, by (mostly monetary) necessity. For some runners however, the stars align, and running can be the purpose: what you were placed on this planet to do. Camille Herron, for example, was undoubtedly and unabashedly born to run.
Herron learned she could “run and run without getting tired” in high school, after going out for track as off-season conditioning for basketball. After an injury-ridden collegiate career, she was inspired by her husband Conor to start training again, but now for the marathon. She qualified for three consecutive Olympic Marathon Trials, starting in 2008. For the Trials in 2012, she qualified 7 times. “Everyone told me I should try ultra running. My first two ultras were mediocre, and I didn’t know if I really wanted to do it or stick with marathons. Then I recommitted in 2015 - I nailed my first 100K at Mad City, surpassing Ann Trason’s National Championship record. That’s when I knew I might be pretty good at it…”
Flash forward to Camille’s World Record. Records, rather - 4 of them. Most recently, however, was the 24 Hour Track Record she snagged at Desert Solstice in Phoenix, Arizona. That’s right, 24 hours, nonstop, on a track. Clocking 8:50 miles on average, she covered 162.919 miles. I asked Camille if this record was a clear goal, or just a happy coincidence to accompany placing first overall. It was definitely no coincidence, she explains. “When I started running really well in 2015 and surpassed Ann’s 50 Mile World Record, I set a goal to chase as many of the American and World Records as I could… After I ran the 12 Hour World Record a year ago at Desert Solstice, we started planning to go after the 24 Hour Record within this year. I know I have a gift - I’m born to run.”
Yiannis Kouros, an ultra running Greek God of sorts, is a clear hero of Camille’s. He’s said his secret is that “when other people get tired, they stop. I don’t. I take over my body with my mind. I tell it that it’s not tired and it listens.” Camille manifests Kouros’ philosophy in her own racing - “I had prepared my mind really well for this and studied Yiannis Kouros. Having a strong and positive mental state is what got me through the 5-6 hour bonk when my legs were stiff. This is probably the most full-body exhaustion I’ve ever had… for the 24 hour race, when your legs give out, your mind takes over.”
This was no simple feat for Camille, however. A lot of preparation goes into an effort of this magnitude, especially at the pinnacle of the sport. “I can appreciate the preparation and team support, along with the supreme physical, mental, and emotional effort that goes into a World Record. It’s not easy!” She and her team had a plan for everything from pacing and fueling to bathroom stops and wind sprints. Beyond all the logistics, she also had to keep an extremely close eye on her effort. “Focusing on maintaining structural integrity was very important. I really focused on trying to run at 65-70% of max heart rate effort. That was my singular focus and the ideal effort I want to master for the full 24 hours.”
Camille knew she had hit the 100 Mile and 200k American Records en route, giving her confidence, knowing how in control she felt. Once the sun went down, things got a bit more dicey, as this was her first time racing through the night. 2-3am brought with it a bout of dizziness and an emotional low point. A few laps of walking with a requested meal from Taco Bell and a beer, however, gave Camille enough of a mental break to get her legs moving again, which she said, understandably, felt like rocks. Able to muster enough mental energy to do some quick math in her head, she knew she had the record in the bag with 15-20 minutes to go. At this point, her legs only wanted to move at 10 minute miles. “However, it was the strength of my mind and maintaining a positive state that kept my legs moving.”
“I feel like my whole life and experiences prepared me for this - to push through any wall. I've been pushing myself to the extreme since I was a kid - it's naturally ingrained in me. I've had a tough few years with injuries and health issues and people doubting me. However, this builds mental strength and grit to prove myself. I was extremely determined to get the record. I thought about Yiannis Kouros and how he says you have to continue to be inspired the longer the distance. I thought of our friend David Manguno, who passed away unexpectedly in October. He was the real Forrest Gump. This race was dedicated to him.”
Now almost 4 years into ultra running, Camille says she is still learning and challenging herself in new ways. In her eyes, the longer the distance, the more mental, and less physical, running becomes. The roadblocks and troubleshooting beyond the physicality of the sport are what interests Camille, and what she believes makes the longer distances more of an equalizer between men and women. She hopes to inspire more women to take on these extremely long, albeit relatively fast, races.
“Yiannis Kouros is one of the few excellent 100K runners who went beyond, up to 1,000 miles. He had the full package of running talent, a strong mind, and a strong gut. There haven’t been many equally talented women who had ventured up to the really long ultras to match him. My interest is definitely piqued. I want to master 24 hours like he did and go beyond…”
Photos courtesy of Gretchen Connelie, Kevin McGinnis, Steve Acciarito, Conor Holt, Chris Word, Leslie Miyasato, and Camille Herron