Tags: Running

Camille Herron uses sports science to run farther and faster

March 21, 2017


Photo credit: Conor Holt

Tall, lithe, and long legged, 35-year-old Camille Herron’s unique short stride takes you by surprise, but it has allowed her to run farther and faster. Her scientific approach to running has taken her from road marathons to ultras to trail running, smashing records left and right. Her intellectual curiosity has allowed her to apply her passion for sports science research to her favorite guinea pig: herself. A longtime advocate and user of heart rate training, she uses Polar M200 and Polar V800 watches daily.

And she talks almost as fast as she runs, her voice bubbling over with enthusiasm.

GROWING UP FAST

Even in high school, Camille was an impressive runner, earning 3 state championships in track and 3 all-state titles in cross country. She also did ballet and played basketball.

“I was pretty naturally coordinated,” she says.

But then her collegiate running career was cut short by a string of injuries her first year. She got back into competitive running in 2004, armed with her newly acquired scientific knowledge to help her run stronger and faster while being better adept at dealing with injuries.

As an undergrad in Exercise and Sports Science, Camille was part of a pioneering research group at The University of Tulsa that did strength training studies using various lactate profiles. Applying what she learned, she began working her upper body after endurance efforts; it helped speed recovery because of the systemic hormone release from muscles working under a heavy load.

After earning her BS in 2005, Camille continued her academic work in Exercise and Sports Science at Oregon State University. With a focus on bone and exercise, her master’s thesis researched the effect of using whole body vibration training to enhance bone recovery. The thesis concluded that a certain low level of mechanical stress enhances recovery.

MARATHON MADNESSS

Shortly after completing grad school, Camille entered her first marathon in 2007 and was pleased with her results. So she kept at it, gaining impressive wins and her first major sponsor by 2010. She had also noticed that a lot of her running friends were doing back-to-back marathons. How did they do it?

She registered for 2 marathons that were 5 weeks apart. Employing a reverse taper, including a fast cross country competition 6 days after the first marathon, she finished with a faster time on the second marathon and felt good doing it.

Employing a reverse taper, including a fast cross country competition 6 days after the first marathon, she finished with a faster time on the second marathon and felt good doing it.

She started experimenting with heart rate level and recovery, keeping easy runs at <70%  of maximum heart rate and pushing up to 87–90% to prepare for marathons. She also discovered her recovery period after a marathon was about 8–10 days.

From 2010–2011, she did 7 marathons and qualified for the Olympic trials 7 times. At the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials, she set her personal best with a 2:37:14 finish.

With a career built on frequent marathon racing, the running community began pushing her to “go the distance” and take on some ultras. So she did.

ULTRA FAST ULTRAS

In 2015, Camille stepped it up for the Mad City 100K US Championship in Madison, Wisconsin. There, Camille was the first female over the finish line (4th place overall), running the fastest female 100K on American soil and the third fastest performance ever by an American, breaking Ann Trason’s 26-year-old 100K National Championship record with a 7:26:24. She came out of the race feeling it was something she was born to do.

Camille was the first female over the finish line (4th place overall), running the fastest female 100K on American soil and the third fastest performance ever by an American.

By September 2015, Camille qualified for Team USA and headed to the IAU 100K World Championships in Winschoten, Netherlands. To prepare, she did a lot of heart rate progression runs at 80–90% of max effort. She guessed 75–80% effort would be a good target for her second 100K. It was. She won by 12 minutes with a time of 7:08:35, the fourth fastest time ever recorded at that distance by a female.

Six weeks later, Camille would have the performance of her life at the Fall 50/US 50 Mile Road Championship. She was motivated to use it as an opportunity to dial in her nutrition and hydration. The day of the race brought a driving headwind and a heavy downpour.

“But everything felt right,” she says.  She collapsed across the finish line, setting a World Best of 5:38:41 and smashing Trason’s long-standing world record by 1.5 minutes.

Another 6 weeks later (Dec. 2015), she was headed to the IAU 50K World Championship in Doha, Qatar. To prepare for the heat, Camille trained in layers. She did her second daily run at night to prepare for racing in the dark. By doing progression runs (increasing her heart rate from 80–90% of max), she got comfortable running in the 85–87% range. She focused on this effort during the race, winning by 7+ minutes for a 3:20:58 finish to claim her second World title.

“It was one of the easiest races I’ve done because I prepared so well for it,” she says.

TRANSITIONING TO TRAIL

Camille decided to push the envelope once again, adding trail racing to her schedule in 2016 while recovering from hamstring injuries.

In September 2016 at her third trail race, the Ultra Race of Champions 100K in Auburn, California, she garnered the second best trail running performance rating in the world. Even though she lives in the flatlands of Oklahoma City and trails are hard to come by, Camille said the transition was pretty easy for her after her first couple of races.

“The ground is more forgiving,” she says. “My legs are used to quite a bit of stress from the roads, so they feel amazing on trail runs.” She’s found that it only takes her about 2 weeks to fully recover from a trail race whereas it takes 3–5 weeks to bounce back from a road ultra.

It only takes her about 2 weeks to fully recover from a trail race whereas it takes 3–5 weeks to bounce back from a road ultra.

Once or twice a week, Camille runs on trails. Then every couple of weeks, she’ll do repeats on a bridge or drive 1.5 hours to Mt. Scott for a “hill” workout. She says she’ll tempo run hill repeats to the point of cramping to train her legs to better bear the eccentric load of downhill running.

Camille Herron and her Polar Flow training session
Camille’s training session on Polar Flow

UP NEXT

The new year is off to a spectacular start for Camille with another record-breaking win on February 11 in New Zealand’s Tarawera Ultramarathon (102K) trail race. She beat Olympian Magdalena Boulet across the finish line with an 8:56:02 to break the course record by 6+ minutes.

Then in June, it’s on to the Comrades Marathon (89K) in South Africa, one of the world’s largest and oldest ultras in the world. ­She said it is the uphill course this year, which she’s happy about. “It’s a lot less damaging to the legs,”­­­ she explains.

Three weeks after that, she’ll tackle California’s Western States, which lays claim to being the world’s oldest 100 mile trail race – and it will be her first trail race at that distance.

Camille’s goal? Win both Comrades and Western States in the same year. A feat accomplished by Trason in both 1996 and 1997. We’ll be watching!

WHAT WOULD CAMILLE DO

Strengthen the feet: Camille started incorporating short segments of barefoot running in 2004 to address some foot and leg issues by strengthening her feet. She also started running in racing flats, letting her feet absorb her weight instead of a shoe. Over time, this helped her adjust her stride to land lighter on her feet and make her running more efficient.

Train using effort: Camille started training with a heart rate monitor in high school. It taught her she could push harder for the marathon and now ultras. It also enables her to quickly transition from different length races and different terrains. She says, “It’s not ever about the pace. It’s always about the effort.”

Split up workouts: Camille says that frequency in training provides a better anabolic (i.e., growth and mineralization) effect on musculoskeletal health. So rather than going for 1 long run, she’ll split it into 2 sessions, maybe running 10–14 miles in the morning and then another 5–7 miles in the evening.

Engage in active recovery: After a race, Camille engages in low stress activities such as walking, jogging, and strength training for 8–10 days before she’ll migrate back to sprint workouts and longer distances. Recovery is important, she says. Camille says her metabolism is cranked after a race so she also needs to consume a lot of calories and sleep.



Information in this article is not intended as medical advice and is the opinion of the featured athlete. Before pursuing any physical activity or program, you should consult with a medical professional.

In the spotlight

Camille Herron

Camille Herron

Camille Herron (born in 1981) is a 3-time Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier, 20-time marathon winner, and 2015 World 50K and 100K Champion, and she holds the World Best for 50 miles. She works as a research assistant in osteoimmunology at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. Camille resides in Warr Acres, Oklahoma, with her husband and coach, Conor Holt, and their German Shepherds, Hawi and Winny.