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Camille Herron — July, 2017
Camille Herron is champion of the 2017 Comrades Ultramarathon which is raced in South Africa. She is the third American and second U.S. woman to win Comrades. Herron is also 2017 champion of New Zealand’s Tarawera Ultramarathon, which she did in course record time. Camille broke Ann Trason's 26-year-old Record in winning the 2015 USATF 100K National Championship in 7:26:24 and won the 2015 IAU 100K World Championships with a personal best of 7:08:35 That same year she set a new ‘World Road Best’ for 50 Miles at the Fall 50/US 50 Mile Road Championship in 5:38:41 and won the inaugural IAU 50 km World Championships in Doha, Qatar by over seven minutes in 3:20:58. In 2016 Camille finished as first female and fourth overall at the White River 50 Miler and set a 27+ minute Course Record at the Ultra Race of Champions 100K . Previous to her ultra running focus, she concentrated on marathon racing and starting in 2007 won twenty marathons while also qualifying for three Olympic Trials. Herron ran her PR of 2:37:14 at the 2012 Olympic Trials. She competed for the 2011 US Pan American Team in Guadalajara, Mexico, finishing as the top American in 9th place and, two weeks later, was third American woman at the 2011 New York City Marathon. Injuries derailed her collegiate running at Tulsa. Camille was a 3-time Track State Champion at Duncan High School and 3-time All-Stater in Cross Country. Personal best times include: marathon - 2:37:14; 50k - 3:20:58; 50 miles - 5:38:41 and 100k - 7:08:35. She currently serves as Secretary for the USATF Women's Long Distance Running Executive Committee and is member #6488 of the Marathon Maniacs. Herron also served as a USOC Athlete Services Coordinator for the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto. Camille and her husband, Connor, reside in Warr Acres, Oklahoma. She was very gracious to spend two hours on the phone after Comrades and a short follow up after Western States.
GCR:PART ONE: Camille, it’s been two weeks since you won the Comrades 55 mile ultramarathon in South Africa and only two Americans, Alberto Salazar and Ann Trayson have done so previously. What are your thoughts and feelings about being in such a small group of Americans who have won this hugely popular event?
CHI didn’t really think too much about the historical significance before the race. I went to the expo and there was a list of the previous winners of the race. I saw Alberto’s name and Ann’s name. I didn’t think that I would potentially be only the third American who would have won it. But it dawned on me after the race just how significant and important that was.
GCR:What was your feeling at the finish and then how different and special is it now because of all of the attention subsequent to the race?
CHI have to laugh because when I watch the video I stop at the wrong place for the finish line. I didn’t realize that everybody at home watching on TV were yelling and screaming and crying. When I finally got to the real finish line I was pretty out of it and pretty nauseated. Then handed me this trophy that weighed twenty or thirty pounds and I’m trying to hold it up with my tired arms. Everything kind of happened all at once. Because I was nauseated they had to take me to medical. It wasn’t until I sprang back to life in medical that it dawned on me emotionally what I had just done. I was reflecting on all of the hard work I had put in for twenty-two years as a runner and it had finally culminated in that one incredible moment.
GCR:When you were in medical did they have to put IVs in each arm to get you hydrated and get your electrolytes in balance?
CHThey measured my blood sugar and that was okay. I had a doping control person with me. I didn’t feel like I needed an IV. I just drank a lot of water and that just helped me to come back to life. I was able to spring off of the table and I started crying and got pretty emotional. Then they took me to the media with the top finishers. I got pretty emotional there also. They were telling me how historically significant it was being the third American to win. It’s pretty cool to be alongside Alberto and Ann. We were able to come out on top at Comrades.
GCR:What was your strategy for the race in terms of your pacing and staying aware of the top competitors since the defending champion, South African Charne Bosman, was back along with Russian Alexandra Morozova?
CHI run a lot by effort and I train a lot by heart rate to figure out the right effort to go out at for me. I focus on about 75 to 80 percent of max heart rate and I practice that a lot. I do many progression runs that are actually 80 to 90 percent and then when I race I have to back off and get into that 75 to 80 percent effort zone. I went into the race and focused on my effort starting with the first mile.
GCR:How did you mentally and physically attack the first half of the race since it was primarily uphill?
CHThe nature of the course climbs for the first 40k and I didn’t know how that was going to feel. Looking at my splits now it is hard to believe how fast we were running while climbing such a significant grade. I had so many men running around me that I think we just had so much momentum and so much energy and were propelling each other up that climb. That was really, really helpful. I don’t usually have that many men around helping to carry me. That was very cool to have so many men around and to feel the energy from them and the spectators cheering us on.
GCR:What was your race plan for the second half of the race since the course flattened out and was easier?
CHMy plan was to try to reach the top at about 40k and when it kind of levelled out after that to drop the pace down closer to marathon effort. When I tried to do that my butt was starting to tighten up on me. I’ve had hamstring problems the past year or so. I couldn’t really crank the pace down like I wanted to so I just got into this steady running pace. I felt pretty comfortable except for my butt being tight. My husband had planned to hand me some beer at some point 20k or 30k from the finish. Finally when I got to the point where I saw him I was really craving a beer and so he handed me a beer. I drank some beer and some ginger beer and that kind of pepped me up and made me feel good. I didn’t really know where anyone was behind me until maybe about 20k or 30k to go. Since I was not in position to get the course record, but I had a large enough lead, I was able to spend more time at the aid stations picking up more fuel.
GCR:Since you did have a sizable lead as the finish line grew closer, when did you start feeling that you had a great chance to win?
CHIt probably wasn’t until about 10k to go when I crested the top of the Polly Shorts Hill that it dawned on me, ‘I’ve got this! I feel good! I’m going to win this!’ The last 10k I pretty much just stayed on cruise control and I knew I was going to win.
GCR:After you won in a time of 6:27:35, the Russian Alexandra Morozova was second in 6:31:45, and the defending champion South African Charne Bosman was third in 6:39:51. Did you see them finish and greet or congratulate them or were you in medical or with the media?
CHI think by that point I had been swept away to medical so I don’t recall seeing them finish. Another funny thing is that I crossed and was pretty nauseous and they had microphones in front of me. I was trying to compose myself and my thoughts. They had to give me a little bit more time to get myself refreshed and rehydrated. So I didn’t get to see the other top women until we met with the media.
GCR:Are you all pretty close competitors who give genuine congratulations to each other because you know how hard this is and it’s such a tough race?
CHDefinitely. We have a great respect for each other and what we had just done. My teammate, Charne, was the defending champion and I have to share this story from three years ago when I first ran Comrades. I had a fever and a stomach virus the day before. I tried to run it, having come all of that way and having trained for it. I held on for dear life to fourth pace and made it 83 kilometers (note – out of 89 total) and I collapsed. I knocked myself unconscious and found myself in the ER where I finally woke up and came back to life. I could see my teammate, Charne, across the room from me in the ER. She had a rough day as well. Charne and her family were my lifeline that day because I wouldn’t have known how to get out of the ER. We had this really awful day together, but flash forward a couple of years and she won Comrades last year and now I won it this year. It’s pretty cool that we can reflect on how we spent that moment together in the ER and we both picked ourselves up to try again and to try to win Comrades.
GCR:And maybe it will be just like in the NBA Basketball Championships, the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers each won one and this year the question was, ‘Who will win the best two out of three?’ Maybe Charne and you will be back next year to see who wins the best two out of three.
CH(Big laughter). Exactly. We’ll see what happens. I hope that next year Caroline Wostmann, who won it two years ago, will be back and we will have three Comrades champions racing each other. It’ll make for a really fun race.
GCR:From all accounts this is almost like the Boston Marathon, which I’ve run twelve times, in terms of fan support. How are the fans and are they along the course the entire 55 miles through all of the towns?
CHIt’s so incredible that it’s hard to say what it’s comparable to. I would say the Boston Marathon and New York City Marathon are the closest comparison. Winning Comrades was kind of like winning the World Cup. There is so much passion and history behind the race. Comrades has been going since 1921 and they televise it on national TV. They also telecast it worldwide on the computer so there are about six million people watching. There is so much history and, from what I heard, during the period of apartheid Comrades was viewed as their Olympics because they couldn’t compete in the Olympics. The entire country gets behind the race. Something like five hundred thousand people are along the course and it is so loud like during the Boston or New York City marathons. I felt like I was running 55 miles and the whole time I couldn’t hear myself breathing.
GCR:Is there anything else from your Comrades race that was important or exciting that we haven’t discussed?
CHEveryone wants to talk about my finish. Basically what happened was that there is a timing mat in the arch and I crossed it. They handed me a rose and a baton and I’m thinking, ‘This is the finish line. If they just handed me something, surely it means I’m finished.’ I started celebrating and slapping high fives. But I didn’t see anybody coming out to greet me. I got really confused and I found out later that everybody watching at home was yelling at their computer, ‘Go Camille! You’re not finished!’ I had no idea. I was stumbling around. Finally a male runner came up behind me and he pointed and I realized I hadn’t crossed the real finish line yet. Then I went into a mad sprint. After I crossed the real finish line, there was my husband and our team manager so it was a much better ending.
GCR:How far was the false finish line from the real one?
CHIt was about two hundred meters. From what I understand, they set that up so that when we ran over the mat they would have a running list of who was coming to the finish line. I didn’t know that part of what you are supposed to do is to grab the rose and baton and run them into the finish. No one ever told me about that. I’ve watched previous versions of the race on the computer, but I was really tired and it didn’t dawn on me since I crossed what I thought was the finish line and I thought I had finished.
GCR:Let’s go back through your athletic history and first to your childhood and before you started running. Were you an active child and did you participate in a variety of sports that gave you an overall good fitness?
CHDefinitely. My dad and my grandpa played basketball at Oklahoma State. My mom was a swimmer. I think I got my mom’s heart and lungs and my dad’s long legs and arms. I’m built with a perfect anatomy and physiology of both of my parents. My parents were my first athletic inspirations and I was a very hyperactive kid. I was very shy, but very athletic and hyperactive. My parents put me in dance and I played basketball and a lot of other sports. We lived out in the country amongst all of these wheat fields. I used to spend all of the day outside exploring the fields and looking for animals and insects and that sort of thing. My dad grew up in the Bear Bryant era when athletes pushed themselves to exhaustion and they weren’t allowed to drink any water. When I got my first basketball goal as a seven year old, I wanted to grow up and be a Globetrotter and to play basketball like my dad. He would tell me stories about how they would practice for six hours without any water and without eating anything. As a seven year old in the middle of July I’m out playing basketball to the point where I’m blacking out. How many other seven year old girls were out doing that? I just had this mentality that I had to push to the extreme. Then I would start blacking out and I would run inside and I would drink a coke and eat some apple slices with peanut butter. Then I would go back out and keep practicing all day. I was a really special kid. I felt like I had this will to push myself to the extreme. I was competitive, not only with the girls, but with the boys.
GCR:It sounds like you inherited quite a bit of competitiveness from your dad, but what about your mom’s athletic background?
CHI have to mention another story. My mom was a swimmer and when I was three years old we had gone to a public swimming pool. I was sitting on the edge and peering into the water. I was thinking in my head, ‘I wonder how deep that is?’ I couldn’t even swim at the time, but I fell into the water and sunk to the bottom of the pool. I remember waking up and seeing my mom dive in to get me. Then I was basically afraid of the water after that. I didn’t want to become a swimmer. I’m probably perfectly built for swimming since I have long arms and legs, but I did not want to become a swimmer. But then once I learned how to swim we would have contests to see who could hold their breath the longest underwater. My mom was the best at it, but I was probably second best.
GCR:Since you dad had a background in basketball and your mom in swimming, how did you get interested in running?
CHSo I was afraid of the water when I was young but I liked to play basketball and I liked to run. As far as how I got into running, we used to do the Presidential Fitness Mile when I was in elementary school and I was always the best girl at that. And I was pretty comparable to the boys. But I grew up playing basketball and that was my main sport. In junior high during seventh grade our basketball team had to go out for track for off-season conditioning. I was always a point guard so I was the one who ran around the court with the ball and tired out whoever was guarding me. And so I kind of had this idea that I was pretty good at running. It wasn’t until we went out for track that the first day I was running circles around everybody. I could just run and run and everybody else would start walking. I just thought they were being a bunch of wimps. I remember we had to run loops around the school. They told us to run three or four loops and everyone else started walking after one loop. I kept running and decided they were being wimps while I was the tough girl and, of course, I was going to keep running. We had to try out for the different events. I sucked at one hundred meters. I was okay at 200 meters. I was maybe second best at 400 meters. Then for 800 meters I was maybe 200 meters in front of everybody. It became apparent that I was going to be a long distance runner. So I ended up running in junior high in the mile and 800 meters and would come back and anchor the four by 400 meter relay. It was pretty obvious that I was born to be a runner.
GCR:Can you tell me about your early running and how you decided to make the switch from focusing on basketball to running?
CHIt’s hard for me to remember too much about junior high. I would say that I didn’t like track too much because I was still thinking that I was a basketball player and that track was just a side hobby. Then I had my choice in the fall in eighth grade to play softball or to run cross country because my basketball coach was also the softball coach. He wanted us to do another sport because we didn’t start the school year and go straight into basketball. I was the only one on the basketball team who chose cross country because it was viewed as being too hard. Obviously, being good at track I went out for cross country. That is when I really fell in love with running and realized that I really liked it. When I went to my first cross country meet all of the other girls looked like me. I’ve always been kind of tall and lanky and everybody made fun of me. On the basketball court all of the other girls were big and I was this kind of tall, lanky, throw my body all over the place player. So when I went out for cross country I thought that this was probably what I was meant to do. I don’t think I ever won a race in junior high. I had a lot of second, third and fourth places. It was kind of hard for me to judge that I might be really good at this. I still really liked basketball and wanted to go on to do that. In high school I liked cross country much more than track so I was very involved in cross country. I kept improving my first year on the cross country team and ended up making All-State as a freshman. After I did that my coach said I had to enroll in track too.
GCR:Who were your coaches when you were in high school and were there some key workouts or moments that helped you improve as a runner?
CHThey were Coach Lawrence and Coach Harper. I remember finishing eleventh in one cross country race, but I was really disappointed because only the top ten got their names in the Daily Oklahoman, our newspaper. I kept moving up through the field during the race and Coach Harper told me he thought I could run faster than I ran that day. After he told me that I started to believe in myself and kept improving. That was really the turning point for me. I had coaches that believed in me and saw something special in me so I kept getting better and better.
GCR:From what I’ve read, you had success as a freshman, state championships as a sophomore and then several stress fractures as a junior and senior. Could you discuss this?
CHI had a lot of success until my junior year of high school. I grew nine inches in high school, so I’m pretty tall. My height is five feet nine and a half inches and I’m really lanky with long arms and legs. I think I kind of outgrew my body too quickly. I was pushing my body through the training and had grown fast and my body was just unbalanced. So I had a lot of stress fractures.
GCR:Breaking state meet records is an accomplishment, but still holding a State Record after nearly two decades is very impressive. Along with Amanda Bailey, Genesis White, and Amonica Wiggins, your 4 x 800 meter relay team won State in 9:40.82 and holds the state record. How exciting was that and do you keep in touch with them?
CHIt was one of those days where everybody on my team had a perfect race. It was the first event at the State track meet and we won Gold and I got to share the moment with three other teammates. I haven’t seen them in years, but we stay in touch on Facebook. I like to share the pictures of our relay team. We had state championship rings made with our time engraved on them. It was one of those truly magical days. When you get to share a moment with teammates it is so cool.
GCR:How did you make the decision to go to the University of Tulsa and to run for their distance program?
CHI made a comeback my junior year of high school and did well enough that I got interest from the University of Tulsa. They saw me run at an All-Star meet where I came in second and they started recruiting me and I realized that was the right place for me to go. So I went to the University of Tulsa.
GCR:Running for Tulsa didn’t go as smoothly as planned. What played out when you went there?
CHThe coaches who recruited me left and went to the University of Kansas. I got a new coach and he wasn’t someone who had recruited me. I basically went from running thirty miles per week in high school to sixty miles a week in college. It was this huge jump in mileage and between the training stresses and pre-med academically I was under a lot of stress. I ended up having three stress fractures my freshman year. I redshirted my sophomore year because the doctor said I needed to take a break from running. Then between my freshman and sophomore year is when I met my husband, Connor. He was visiting his sister who was running for the University of Oklahoma and I met Connor at a jazz festival. It was almost exactly sixteen years ago. He came up to me and said, ‘You look like a runner.’ And I said, ‘Yep, I sure am.’ I wasn’t running at the time because I was on my sabbatical from running. He was a post-collegiate, professional runner. He is from Ireland and got his U.S. citizenship in 2002 and was trying to qualify for the Olympic Marathon Trials. I ended up getting a medical hardship release and didn’t run anymore in college for the team.
GCR:Were you training on your own and trying to round back into shape?
CHI thought that my body couldn’t handle the competitive training and racing. So I was just helping Connor with his own career. He ended up quitting his job in Florida, moved to Oklahoma and was living with my grandpa. I would drive down and help him with his long runs when he was training for the Olympic Marathon Trials. He ended up qualifying for the Trials in 2004 and then that summer we were in Boulder. One day I didn’t come back from a run until after him. He got really curious as to how much I was running. I was a recreational runner at the time and hadn’t been running seriously for a couple years, but I was running about 70 miles a week. I wasn’t even racing. I was running for fun and would get out maybe six days a week of ten to twelve miles a day.
GCR:So did Connor feel that with his coaching and some focused training there was a good chance you would blossom as a runner?
CHExactly. Exactly. So the tables kind of turned from that point and he started giving me workouts and structuring my training a bit. Within a couple months I dropped two minutes off of my 5k time and I ran my first 10k in just over 36 minutes. Then I did my first 15k in just over 55 minutes. It seemed like the longer I went the better I did and the better I performed. So we ended up setting the goal of me trying to make the Olympic Marathon Trials in 2008. Flash forward to now and I’ve made three Olympic Trials and got my marathon time down to 2:37 and won a lot of marathons and got a bit crazy with that.
GCR:Let’s look back at some of your marathon highlights. You debuted at the Eugene Marathon in 2007 with a time of 2:48:36, so you were under six and a half minute pace per mile right off the bat. How was your training leading up to the race and how did your first marathon go as you pushed and raced for that longer distance?
CHWe have talked about the stress fractures I had when I was younger and I don’t think I have the pain tolerance of a normal person. That was part of the reason that I had those fractures because I don’t feel pain like a normal person. It runs in the family as my mom tore muscle from the bone in her shoulder and didn’t know she had an injury for two years. Going into my first marathon I fractured a rib. I had a really bad cold and had been coughing and I felt pain in my back. I thought I just had a rib out of place. I went to a chiropractor and he told me I needed to go to the Emergency Room. So eight weeks before the race I fractured a rib. I was totally devastated because I was really excited to make my debut. We basically were taping my ribcage and we were training. I was running a hundred to 120 miles per week with my ribcage taped. It was amazing too because within about three and a half weeks the pain had subsided enough that I was able to keep training. Then two weeks before my debut I ran a rainy ten miler and I slipped badly at the turnaround. I landed on my hip and I was bleeding and had gashed open my hip. I was losing so much blood that I was getting faint toward the finish line though I ran it in just over sixty minutes. Now I was hobbling two weeks before the race and saying, ‘I don’t know if I can do a marathon!’ I somehow made it to the starting line in Eugene and we had a pack of women who were trying to go for the ‘B qualifying standard’ for the Olympic Trials which was 2:47. It was incredible because all I had to do was to just run with these women. I wasn’t even thinking about my own pace or effort or anything. I just tried to keep up with them. I came up just short of the qualifying time, but it was incredible to think of what I had to overcome to even get there and run 2:48.
GCR:How exciting was it when you did finally qualify for the Trials and then to run it and feel that you were part of this Olympic Trials club?
CHOh man, I tell you it was an incredible feeling to qualify which I did in Memphis in December. I had actually left my phone at home so I was unable to call anybody to share in the excitement. I had to borrow somebody’s phone to call my parents. When I finally got home I had all of these messages on my phone. The Olympic Trials were in Boston and it was the most magical day I had ever experienced as a runner. It was just insane to think about because here I didn’t think I could run competitively and train competitively and, here I am, I had made the Olympic Marathon Trials. It was a huge turning point for me to realize that I was 25 years old and what was next for me?
GCR:What were the key points that helped you to improve as in the next two years you dropped your marathon time ten minutes to 2:38:23 at the 2009 Twin Cities Marathon? Was there anything besides more experience at the distance and possibly Connor adding some additional training elements?
CHI ended up taking some time off from my job at that time and went up to Colorado to start training more seriously to try and improve my marathon time. That was in the summer of 2008 and I learned so much from that experience. I got to train with Zoila Gomez and another Polish runner. I was surrounded by all of these amazing runners and I actually found out about that time that my iron status wasn’t as good as it should be. So I started taking iron supplements as I realized that I had probably been iron depleted for quite some time. Once I got my iron status back up the magic started happening and I was thriving off of my training. I slipped off of an icy curve before the 2008 Trials with an injury to my leg so I had to get my body healthy. On top of that the training at altitude, improving my iron status, adding more speed work and heart rate training all helped. I had started using my heart rate monitor seriously around 2009. I realized that I could push harder than I thought I could, so I started learning that I could push harder and that my lungs and heart could handle going at a harder pace. That was when I really improved at every distance from 5k up to the marathon. I did a lot of progression runs with my heart rate monitor leading up to Twin Cities in 2009 and that helped me to improve a lot. Going into Twin Cities I knew I was ready to rock and roll and go for that ‘A qualifying standard.’
GCR:It is exciting to race fast, but how was the feeling when you won you first marathon at the 2010 Dallas White Rock Marathon? How thrilling was it to break the tape?
CHIt was life changing. It was a very emotional moment for me because I had run under 2:40 for the first time at Twin Cities in 2009 and within a couple months I had done something to my hip and I had a bad hip injury. With every step I took I was in a lot of pain. I ended up finding out that I had torn cartilage in my right hip and I also had hernias on both sides. I thought my running career was over. When you hear that you have these tears and torn cartilage in your hip, it does not sound good – especially as a marathoner. This was all within eight months of having my breakthrough marathon at Twin Cities. I had just signed on with as my first major sponsor so as my running career was taking off I was down in a hole thinking it was all over. I had to get hernia surgery and I was fortunate that I didn’t have to get labral tear surgery. The pain subsided enough that it never came back. I had to start back with walking after my surgery in 2010. I was going through physical therapy and I was walking and I was still in quite a bit of pain in my abdomen. My first 10k back was at the same pace as my marathon pace and I was balling my head off afterward because I didn’t think I would be able to come back. I thought my body was not the same as it was and I was going to have to become a recreational runner. This is about six weeks before the Dallas Marathon. One of my friends was trying to recruit me to run in Dallas, but I didn’t think my body could handle that. But within three weeks after that I went and ran another 10k and I dropped my time by two minutes. I was running about 35:45 or a 10k and I realized that was a huge improvement in a short amount of time.
GCR:So did your mind and body both start coming around enough that you decided that maybe you could race fairly strong in Dallas?
CHA week after that I ran a long run and felt really good. Then I took this leap of faith and I thought, ‘You know what? Why don’t you just go run a marathon and see what happens?’ I contacted the Dallas Marathon organizers and signed up. A couple of good African runners had signed up at the last minute and I thought I was going to get creamed because I wasn’t in shape. I had all of these doubts going into the race. We took off and the pace was slow. The two Africans were sitting on me for the first eight to ten miles and it kind of infuriated me. I was pushing the pace and they were sitting on me and we hit the White Rocks Lake and I don’t know what got into me, but I just took off running. The competitor in me came out and I took off running really hard. I hit the Dolly Parton Hills at about twenty-one miles and felt very good. I realized, ’I think I’m going to win this.’ I just clicked off the last couple miles and they had a motorcade with me coming into the finish. I broke the tape and it literally felt like winning the Super Bowl. I couldn’t believe it! It was so incredible! It made me appreciate the journey that we go through as runners and how we overcome adversity. I got so emotional. They put me on TV and I was getting messages from so many people. Everyone was emotional and it wasn’t just about me. People heard my story and it wasn’t just me as an elite runner, but what my running could do for others. I love telling the story about that race as it was so great.
GCR:The following year you were selected to compete for the 2011 US Pan American Team in Guadalajara, Mexico, and finished as the top American in 9th place. How was it representing the USA and pulling on that singlet?
CHI seriously can’t imagine how my running career evolved in such a short time. Here I am talking about my hip injury and my surgery and what happened was after I won in Dallas I was going to run a half marathon in Naples, Florida. I don’t remember what happened, but it didn’t work out for me to run there. I was being recruited to run a marathon instead, the Mississippi Blues Marathon. Since the half marathon didn’t work out, I signed up for the marathon which was five weeks after Dallas. Some of my crazy Marathon Guide teammates had been running back-to-back marathons and I was curious what would happen. At the Mississippi Blues Marathon I ran faster than at Dallas and it was on a very hilly course. That performance is what qualified me for the Pan American team. If I hadn’t run that race by accident, I wouldn’t have qualified because you had to run one of this short list of sanctioned qualifying races and the Mississippi Blues Marathon happened to be one of them. It wasn’t something I was aiming for, but given the fact that it was in the fall, in Mexico at altitude and there would be heat, a lot of elite runners turned down the opportunity to race there. It was kind of a long shot that I would be on the team, but I did submit my name as someone who could potentially make the team. I had run a 10k in September, had been training in Flagstaff for the New York City Marathon as I had been recruited by them and was getting ready to drive home. That was when they must have gone far enough down the list and I got the phone call that I had qualified for the Pan American team. It was the best thing that had ever happened to me.
GCR:How was it competing on a tough course, wearing the USA singlet and seeing every runner wearing a singlet of different countries?
CHIt was amazing. Not only did I qualify for the Pan American team, but because it was an event sanctioned by the USOC and the IOC they gave me the opportunity to go live and train at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. Within two weeks I packed my bags up to go to Colorado Springs. I got to live there and was surrounded by all of these incredible athletes. It really felt like the most magical moment of my life. Everything just happened so quickly. I had set the goal to try to make a U.S. team and here it had happened and I was at the U.S. Olympic Training Center training with all of these amazing people. I’m such a happy person and it was like being surrounded by five hundred happy people who all love what we do and are all excited to wake up every day, go train and be the best athletes we could be. There was so much positive energy being around those people and it got me fired up to go to the Pan American Games and to represent our country. I ended up finishing as the top American.
GCR:You mentioned the New York City Marathon and you did come back just two weeks later to not just race there, but to finish as the 3rd American at the 2011 New York City Marathon in 2:40:06. How was it running two marathons really close together – not five weeks apart, but two weeks apart and doing so well?
CHMy plan was to train for the New York City Marathon, so when I made the Pan American team the coordinators for New York City were reluctant to let me even come to race. They didn’t think I would be able to recover in time. I had run marathons maybe three weeks apart, but not two weeks apart yet. I basically talked them into letting me in. I told them that I could do it. I went into the race with a goal of running under 2:40 and I was on pace until the last aid station. They had moved the fluid bottles for the top women to the last elite runner table because the men were coming up behind us and they had to get their bottles at their designated spot. I thought my bottle was misplaced as I didn’t see my bottle and then it dawned on me that they had put it on the last table. I ran back to get my bottle and when I was coming into the finish I saw 2:40 click across and thought, ‘Oh man!’
GCR:You were close, but it must have helped you to get in PR shape. Let’s talk about your dropping your personal best down to 2:37:14 at the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials. Isn’t it great to PR at the Olympic Trials?
CHYou can’t complain about that. It was the best race I had run. There was so much positive energy going into that day. We had all worked so hard the past four years for that moment. It was really a perfect day with the right competition and the right course. I was actually hoping to run about 2:35 or faster and a lot of the women around me were aiming for the same goal. I think the nature of the course with all of these hairpin turns slowed us. It was also breezy and that affected us. But you can’t complain when you get a PR. It was an amazing moment and it still gives me goosebumps to think how easy it felt. We just had positive energy and it was really cool.
GCR:We talked about your first marathon victory in Dallas in 2010 which is one of your twenty marathon victories. Which other wins stand out for breaking through a physical or mental threshold, or the weather conditions were challenging, or you had to beat a tough competitor in the final couple of miles?
CHIf I look at a list of all of the marathons I have run, every race is a new experience. I went somewhere different and I met new people and so every race was its own journey. My best lifetime performance was probably at the Woodlands Marathon a couple of months after the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials. I was pacing myself and didn’t have anyone around me. I felt the best I ever felt and ended up coming up four seconds short of my PR. It was the ultimate performance for me. I had to weave around a lot of half marathon participants the last 10k or so and that may have had me running 26.5 miles. I remember feeling good that day and that was my lifetime best performance as far as marathons. I ran one marathon as Spider-Woman in costume and that was a really fun experience. I ran that one in 2:48 in a full head-to-toe costume.
GCR:We’ve discussed your marathon racing, but you made a change in training focus from marathons to ultramarathons. What was your thought process and why did you decide to do this after the 2012 season as you went into the next few years?
CHI was having problems with plantar fasciitis and with my hamstrings in 2012 and 2013 and I felt like I couldn’t push myself as far as the speed work and intensity I’d been doing in training. So I started concentrating and focusing on more mileage. I extended my long runs and did more volume. I had heard about the Two Oceans Ultramarathon in Cape Town, South Africa from David Monti at the New York City Marathon. I was putting in a lot of mileage at the time to overcome my injuries and it kind of seemed like the right time in 2013 to step it up and try an ultra. Given my back-to-back marathon experiences it was kind of indicating that I might have some potential in the ultras. I made my debut at Two Oceans and it didn’t go quite as I had hoped. I think I was a little too timid in the beginning and ran too conservatively and I was further back than I expected. I tried to move up through the field and I ended up finishing tenth. I felt like I could do better than that and I trained for Comrades in 2014. Obviously, that didn’t go like I had hoped because my health was compromised. The next year of 2015 was the turning point where I decided, ‘I’m going to give this another shot and try it.’ I wanted to see if I could do it.
GCR:You won your first 100k race, the 2015 USATF 100K National Championship at Mad City in 7:26:24, and your debut at the distance broke Ann Trason's 26-year-old 100K National Championship Record. Ann is a back-to-back Comrades champ and ten-time Western States 100-mile champ so that was a strong record. Could you talk a bit about that event?
CHIt was like Billy Elliot doing ballet for the first time. It felt really good and I basically ran the fastest time in the world in eight years. I had no perspective as I didn’t know about Ann Trason. I had no perspective of what I had done until the race director called my on Monday as I was going back to work and he told me I had broken Ann Trason’s National Championship Record. I was just blown away. I didn’t realize I had done anything that significant. It was like I went out for a long run and I had mixed feelings about it. The race was very hard and I did so many things wrong as far as fueling and hydration. It had dawned on me that I may actually be good at this. I think that I found out that Ann’s record was her debut for 100k and it was also my debut. I had run seven minutes faster than her debut, so I had to do research to find out what are good 100k times to aim for.
GCR:Later that year you won the 2015 IAU 100K World Championships with a personal best time of 7:08:35. How did it go getting ready for your second 100k and then executing that race?
CHI was able to get more serious in my training and to try to give Ann’s American Record a shot. There is a learning curve in running ultras as far as the fueling and hydration. I still didn’t have my fueling and hydration mastered at that race and I ended up puking during the final 35k. I was on pace to get her American Record and then I fell off pace because I was tanking as far as my energy. It was really incredible to win the world title and to help our American women win the team title. I was more ecstatic about our team title than my individual title as we all had kind of this amazing day and I was able to share in the moment with others. That was really cool. I knew I had to get my fueling and hydration right for my upcoming 50-miler which was six weeks later.
GCR:How special was it to be on the podium as an individual and then with your teammates?
CHIt’s like when I won the team title with my high school four by 800 meter relay team. I was more over the moon about our team winning because we got to stand on the podium together and to hear the national anthem. I got to hear the national anthem twice, but to be on the podium with others and to hear the national anthem is the greatest feeling in the world. It was so good.
GCR:Speaking of that 50-mile race, in October 2015 you set a new ‘World Road Best’ for 50 Miles at the Fall 50 U.S. 50 Mile Road Championship, running a time of 5:38:41 to narrowly beat the 50 Mile World Record held by Ann Trason of 5:40:18. What stands out from that effort and did you know you were on pace to break the record?
CHI had talked to a lot of other ultra runners on how to fuel and hydrate so I was able to go into that race with a strategy of carrying my own bottle and getting aid every five miles and to take a gel every thirty minutes. So I had a more strategic plan of how I would do things. And finally I was able to surpass Ann Trason’s 50-mile record. There was a complete downpour of rain and we ran into a headwind so it was against all odds to break the record. About three miles into the race the rain was so torrential that I stopped looking at my splits. I knew it was going to be a really rough day so I just focused on competing with the other men who were around me. I was just focused on competing and I didn’t even know I was on pace until I hit 50k and I think I was a minute or two quicker than my time at the 100k World Championships. So that was when it dawned on me that I might have a shot to run quicker than 5:40. And so I think I took some caffeine about that point. Then I hit a point where I had to run up a hill and there was no sign. Maybe the wind had blown the sign down telling us to turn. So I didn’t turn and went up the hill. Then it dawned on me that maybe I was supposed to turn so I ran back down the hill. I was looking around to see if there was anybody to tell me where to go. I saw some lady coming on the road and I asked her, ‘Do we turn? And she yelled, ‘Yes.’ So I probably lost a minute or so.
GCR:That must have been a point where you had to mentally focus to stay on track.
CHI was in a state of panic because I knew I was really close. I just put my head down and there was a feeling that came over me. I suddenly had this adrenaline rush and I just started running like a mad woman that last thirteen miles. I felt so good and I was just clicking off the miles. Then I had that rigor mortis feeling in my legs with about a mile to go. Two guys passed me and it felt like I was running through mud. I got my head down. I was hypothermic too because it was cold rain and I felt like ice. I came across the finish line and my time was 5:38 and I collapsed. It was the best performance of my life at any distance. It took everything I had to run that time in those conditions. I remember lying on the ground and feeling the rain pelting me. They didn’t know where I’d gone. I heard, ‘Where’s Camille?’ That was my most perfect race – other than that wrong turn in the middle – that was the most perfect race I’ve run.
GCR:In 2016 you switched it up a bit and started doing some trail ultra races. What was your thought process behind embarking on racing on the trails where you finished 4th at the Lake Sonoma 50 Miler?
CHIt was a natural transition for me as a marathoner to start with road ultras. I didn’t know that trail racing was more popular at ultra distances in the United States. Road ultras are popular internationally. Everybody was encouraging me to get into trail running and, as I mentioned, cross country was always my first love to begin with. Also, I always thought I was a better cross country runner than a track runner. It just made sense for me to give the trail running a shot and to see what happened. I had a severe hamstring injury about six weeks before my first trail race. I had to take a couple days off and I tried to run again. Then I reinjured it about three weeks before the race. And so it was up in the air as to whether I was going to run my first trail race and I feel like I was kind of pushed into it. I felt like I hadn’t been able to prepare properly but that I was still very fit to begin with. I felt that my fitness could overcome my hamstring injury even though I was underprepared for the hills. So it ended up being a pretty painful, miserable experience and I finished fourth.
GCR:So you weren’t able to race your best and didn’t your injury get even worse?
CHThings got really hard after that because my hamstring tendon was about ninety percent torn and I thought I was going to have to have surgery. It hurt so badly and was so painful. At that time I was offered a new job in Michigan. I kind of thought that I would focus on my profession for the time being. So that summer in 2016 we went to Michigan and I was trying to get healthy and get fit again.
GCR:Wasn’t that about the time that you ran another trail race and had success at the White River 50 Miler, finishing as the 1st female and 4th overall, while running the 2nd fastest time ever in 7:36:42?
CHYes, I ended up running my second trail race at White River and there were so many emotions coming out of me in that race because I had just overcome my injury and it was such a beautiful course and I ended up winning in such a fast time. Within a couple days after that I decided to quit my job in Michigan and I also fired my agent at the time because I just felt like he wasn’t the right person to be representing me. I had been living apart from my husband as well because I had accepted the job and started in Michigan. He had accepted a job but wasn’t there yet. I had so many emotions running through me at that time and I realized that I had to follow my heart. I felt that I was meant to race ultras and I was meant to do this and to be the best I could be. So last summer was this amazing rollercoaster of realizing I was meant to race ultras. We moved back to Oklahoma and I got a new agent. I got my old job back and my boss loves me. I was able to get back in my happy place and to focus on my health and my fitness. Unfortunately, I tore my other hamstring and took another break last winter. So last year was this transitional year for me and I was able to get myself healthy. Also, I was able to find a sponsorship deal with Nike so I had support from them and with my new agent things got calm.
GCR:With everything settled down, did you have an action plan and racing plan for 2017?
CHMy goal was to win Comrades and Western States. Given my crazy back-to-back marathoning experience, when I heard that Ann Trason had done this achievement of winning Comrades and Western States twenty years ago it kind of became the pinnacle of excellence for me to strive toward as an ultra runner. But my first goal was to get healthy and fit.
GCR:You made your international trail debut at the Tarawera Ultramarathon in New Zealand earlier this year and won in a Course Record time of 8:56:00. What were some highlights of your effort in this prestigious race?
CHI had qualified for Western States at the Bandera 100k in January, but I finished second in that race and I really was just not in shape yet. I had only been running for about five weeks and I just did it to try and get my ‘Golden Ticket’ for Western States. I kept training after that for Tarawera and I knew it was going to be more competitive because I was going to be racing Magdalena Boulet. I probably got myself back to 75 percent fitness by that race. I thought that I was in good enough shape that I could contend for the win. As I did on the roads, I just took off and ran at my own effort. I guess my lead just got bigger and bigger throughout the race and I ended up negative splitting the race. Given the nature of the course, parts of it were like running in the movie, ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ We were running under these amazing trees and along the water and it was very technical with the roots and the rocks. We emerged onto these fire roads and that was when I was finally able to drop the pace down to a really, really fast pace. I was able to run negative splits and I beat Magdalena by 24 minutes. It broke the course record and I thought I was setting myself up to have a good year.
GCR:You dropped to a shorter trail race in March, but didn’t that have some adverse conditions and another injury?
CHThe Chuckanut 50k ended up being muddy and rainy and my right leg kind of shut down from the first couple of miles. I started feeling a sharp pain in my groin. I don’t know what happened but between the pain in my groin and a slip in the mud that ended up partially tearing my MCL, I was limping badly. It took everything I had to get to the finish line and I probably should have dropped out. I ended up finishing fourth there in a pretty competitive field. I knew I had two and a half months before Comrades, but I was in such pain and my knee was swollen like a small football. It was hard to know if I could come back or not and I ended up taking two weeks off. I didn’t start running until the beginning of April and now I had two months to go to Comrades. On my first run I couldn’t run more than fifty meters until I had to stop and take a walk. I basically put one foot in front of the other and before you know it I had gotten myself back over a hundred miles per week. It was almost like that rest boosted me. I felt good and my energy was good. I felt rested and I was able from the middle of April to the end of April to go down to Mount Scott, which is a ninety minute drive for us, and I was able to get in a couple of really good hill sessions down there to condition my legs for Comrades. The hill sessions were far and away the best hill sessions I have done since we started going down there in December. Going into Comrades I felt like I was about 80 percent fit and my knee was about 98 percent. I barely felt it. I thought that I had enough fitness to compete for the Comrades win and to hope for the best.
GCR:So far you’ve touched a little bit on your training, but let’s discuss in more detail some elements of your training. First, have you found that your average weekly mileage is similar or has increased as you moved from racing marathons to ultramarathons?
CHMy training has averaged over a hundred miles a week since November, 2006. I started running a lot when I was in grad school and, the more I ran, the better I felt. I think I am just naturally inclined to go the distance and to run farther and run longer and feel good. Getting into the ultras I haven’t really changed my training compared to when I was racing marathons. My sweet spot is about 120 to 130 miles per week. It’s important for me to have a variety of paces that I train at, different surfaces, and hills and flat terrain. I’ve gone through periods in the last ten years where I’ve done some long training runs and I’ve pushed my mileage up above 140 miles per week, but I realized that I felt tired and I lost the spring in my legs if I tried to do too much volume or too long of long runs. Maybe about nine years ago I used to do very long training runs, but I changed my focus to shortening my long runs and doubling. Now I do my long runs at 18 to 22 miles and then came back in the evening and do a 45 to 50 minute run. That training plan was when I started feeling really good and I felt like I could recover from my long runs and bounce back for a middle of the week speed session. We kind of learned over time what works for me and what doesn’t work. When I started ultra running, I just stuck with what worked for me as a marathoner. I kept working on my leg turnover.
GCR:Do you include back to back long runs on consecutive days in your training regimen?
CHI hear about people who do back to back long runs, but I’ve never done that before. What I do is pretty much every weekend I get in 40 to 50 miles. But I do it in doubles so I’m running twice on Saturday and twice on Sunday. I’ll do a long run, like I said of 18 to 22 miles and then come back in the evening with another run of 45 to 50 minutes. I hear of some ultra runners going out for these long four to six hour training runs, but I’ve never done that before. If I’m going to go out for a four or six hour training run, I’d rather just go and race. I hear people go out for thirty mile training runs and I think, ‘Why do that when you can go run a marathon?’ That’s kind of been my philosophy. I train like Yiannis Kouros who is an ultra king. I’ve heard that he would do short training sessions and that his races were his long runs. I feel the same way. Instead of going for an extremely long training run, I’d rather just go and run a race.
GCR:Endurance runners usually incorporate stamina sessions like repeat two-miles or repeat miles or tempo runs for five or ten miles into their training. What do you do for stamina training and other intense sessions?
CHI pretty much operate on a two-week cycle of doing short intervals, long intervals, a progression run and a hill running session. Between those hard sessions all I’m doing is just jogging easy. I take my easy days easy and my hard days hard. I feel like the recovery is just as important as the hard sessions. If you’re going to reap the benefits from the workouts you’ve got to really go easy on your easy days. We just focus on total fitness.
GCR:Some runners have certain workouts in their training regimen on a regular basis that are their ‘go to’ workouts. What are some of your ‘bread and butter’ workouts or workouts that test your limits?
CHThe workout that I feel was my ‘bread and butter’ workout for Comrades was every two weeks when we would drive down to Mount Scott. There is a road that goes to the top of the mountain and it’s about a seven to ten percent grade. I’ve been basically just running up to the top of the mountain just under three miles and running down. Then I'd do five minute repeats up and down at the bottom. I’ve been doing that workout to the point of fatigue in my legs. I’ve gotten to where I can push and push and push for a longer amount of time until my legs start to cramp. When I reach that point when my legs start to cramp, the workout is over. I worked up to about twenty miles of doing that. It’s a steep grade and is very, very hard. I’m trying to push up and down. The last workout I did I averaged 6:58 per mile. I knew after that workout that I was definitely in pretty good shape for Comrades. Judging by my heart rate I wasn’t quite as fit as when I ran the 100k World Championship, but I knew I was in good enough shape where I could contend for the win. That workout is really key. The other workout is one I did two weeks before Comrades where I was basically alternating 15 minutes at half marathon pace with 30 minutes at 100k race pace using my heart rate and then 15 minutes at half marathon pace. The key part of this workout is the middle part at the 100k pace and trying to be really, really comfortable. I was able to judge my pace by using my heart rate. I knew after I did this workout that I was ready for Comrades and to go for the win.
GCR:We talked a bit earlier about how Connor Holt sort of accidentally took an interest in you and now he is both your husband and coach and has coached you for over a dozen years. What are the highlights of what he does to set your workouts and race strategy, to motivate you, to hold you back at times, to review your training and racing and all of those things a coach does? And are you able to separate the coach-athlete association from the husband-wife relationship?
CHWhen Connor first started coaching me he was telling me what to do and I just did it. There wasn’t too much thought process by me. In 2009 there was a turning point for us when I started thinking about what I felt like doing. I started giving more feedback to him on workouts. Once I became more in tune with my body and knew what my body needed for that day, that is when the magic started to happen. I was improving so quickly. I realized that my being in tune with my body and being able to offer that feedback was really important. For all of these years he has been able to listen to me and what I’m feeling. For the most part I am able to do my own thing every day, but we always talk about my workouts. He will ask me what I want to do and I kind of tell him. He might tweak it. I went from working fulltime to reduced hours with my day job, but sometimes I am still stressed out and we may have to do some work downs or move it around. Other times the weather is bad or there is another variable so we have to have flexibility to move my training around. By living together, Connor will know my energy level. If I’m dragging one day and have a long run planned and I’m lying on the couch and not wanting to get up, we really have to be in tune with my body and what I am feeling like day to day. I had that happen leading up to Comrades. I was coming back from injury so there were times where I missed workouts or had to move workouts. That was really critical for having this perfect build up that made sure I was healthy and felt good when I got to the starting line.
GCR:You mentioned briefly about drinking some beer during your races which sounds amazingly different but awesome. I’ve done that before on training runs where I had a beer because I had one at a planned stop or someone offered one to me and it never seemed to affect me. Could you tell me about this aspect of your racing where you have a beer within your race?
CHWe kind of figured this out by accident. I’ve done so many long runs where I’m thinking about a beer during the last couple of miles. It’s the best thing to have after a long run or a race. I’ve been in so many races where they have beer after the finish line and it tastes good. I was running a trail race last fall and I hit a point where I was pretty nauseated. I stopped and was slumped over in a chair. I was not doing well and they were trying to give me food and water. We had bought a six-pack of beer to enjoy after the race and Connor sort of had this light bulb moment and said, ‘Hey, do you want a beer.’ Nothing else had worked. I said, ‘that sounds really good.’ He popped open a beer and gave it to me and I really sprung back to life. Nothing else was working and suddenly I was awake. I got off of the chair and started running. I ended up catching a guy who had passed me and was 400 meters ahead of me. Then I hit an aid station about four or five miles later and I felt like another beer. I think Connor only gave me half a beer at that point. It was this most amazing, magical elixir. I think once before I had had a beer during the race, but this was the first time I used it to get me back to life. It was pretty amazing. We’ve gone on and now I have a beer sponsorship with Rogue Ale. Now we’ve kind of incorporated it as part of my race journey. I have a nice thing to look forward to during the race, to grab some beer and it just makes me feel good.
GCR:We talked about you competing in high school, in marathons and now in ultramarathons. A lot of times what helps us are tough competitors who help us to push through to another level. Who are some of your favorite competitors from high school, as a marathon racer and now as an ultra marathoner for their toughness or ability and that you enjoy competing against?
CHI do like competing against myself (big laughter). When I was in high school one of my favorite friends was Amanda Jordan and she ran at Bishop McGuinness high school. She ended up running at Florida State. I was one of the few people who actually beat her. I happened to one year at the Footlocker Region Meet. She was always someone who was a little bit better than me and had more speed than me. We became teammates for an All-Star meet and we ended up becoming friends and pen pals and we are still friends. I’ve gotten to know so many women marathoners over the years that I have had them visit me here and I’ve gone to stay with them or we’ve met at races and had a good time together. It’s been a really fun running career to develop those friendships and to have a good time together. We respect each other for what we are doing as competitors. Charne Bosman is my teammate with the Nedbank Running Club, and it was so great to see her at Comrades this year. Whoever was going to win we were going to be happy. I thought it was between Charne and me and we didn’t know the Russian was going to end up being sandwiched between us. It was really cool to see Charne and her family and her husband and to remember what we had gone through together.
GCR:What advice do you have for younger runners in middle school and high school to improve consistency, minimize injuries, learn to love running and reach their potential?
CHI think it is really important to have heroes and people that you look up to. Kids should have people they aspire to be like and now maybe some would aspire to be like me. They may see that I am having fun with running. I’m such a happy-go-lucky person. I’ve learned to enjoy the journey as a runner and not to be so serious and caught up at times. I relished a lot of fun at Comrades. Compared to three years ago I had a lot more fun. I was healthier, but I really enjoyed the whole experience. As far as kids getting into running, I feel is was very beneficial that I grew up playing a lot of sports. I developed a lot of coordination through basketball and a lot of other sports that I played. Even when Connor is coaching me now and having me do drills he can see that I’m coordinated and that I have a lot of good footwork and technical skills. I think that has been beneficial too for trail running and being able to handle the technical terrain. So, it’s good for kids to play a lot of sports. It’s also important to be surrounded by people who believe in them and tell them that they believe in them. I had some amazing coaches growing up. I can recall specific moments when they told me they believed in me and they believed I could do something that was beyond what I thought I could do. It is important to have a good support system around you. I didn’t run much volume in high school – just twenty to thirty miles a week but it was all high intensity running like sprinting. I think it kind of went against my natural physiology to be an endurance athlete. It wasn’t until later when I started running more volume at an easier pace that my body started to feel good and I wasn’t having all of the injuries. I think a lot of high school coaches are afraid of volume, but it is important for them to teach kids to take easy days easy to recover and to push the hard days. If I was a high school coach I would be trying to educate the kids on how to train properly and to be in tune with their bodies and what their bodies were feeling. When I reflect back on my training and the mistakes I have made, I was someone who wanted to go out and run a six minute mile every day. I wasn’t training for my natural physiology and it wasn’t until I was on my own and Connor was coaching me that I started to learn and to understand the science and the physiology behind what I was doing. Maybe someday I will be coaching others and then I can educate them on how to train properly.
GCR:Is there anything else when you talk to groups and think of the lessons you have learned during your life from working to achieve academically and athletically, the patience of training many years with a goal and the Camille Herron ‘Philosophy of Life’ that you would like to share that can help others to be successful in their own lives?
CHWhen the going gets tough in a race I am thinking about all of those deep and dark moments that I had to go through when I was injured or I was down or I had done some workout that had left me totally exhausted. I definitely channel those moments in races – the people that doubted me, the people that believe in me. I’m thinking about all of this in a race and it makes me want to just drop the hammer. I want to dig deep to be able to overcome those moments when I race and I’m so tired and fatigued and doubting myself. That is when you have to keep going and you have to make it happen. I’ve had so many moments of adversity in my life. My family lost our home to the May 3, 1999 tornado and I’ve been homeless and I’ve only had one pair of shoes and the clothes I was wearing. I had to appreciate life and what I was born to do. I had to make it happen. If you have a vision and a dream and a goal it’s up to you to make it happen. You have to overcome those moments in your life and still have a glimmer of hope to see the light. You can pick yourself up and keep going and moving forward to do amazing things with your life.
GCR:Finally, what are your thoughts and what is your game plan as you use your Comrades performance as a springboard to your upcoming Western States 100 mile race?
CHI can reflect back on my life and it is almost like a movie. It culminated with winning Comrades. It’s funny to think of how people saw me take off from the start and they didn’t think I would hold on and they thought I was going to die. If you know me, I’m not someone who’s going to die. I will dig deep. It is ingrained in me from being an athlete and pushing myself to the extreme from a young, young age. Even now going into Western States they have me seeded fourth or fifth and these people don’t know me. This is ridiculous! I just won the biggest ultra in the world. What the heck! I’m pretty motivated by it. Unless something happens, like I break my leg, I’m pretty confident I’m going to win and really crush it. I think if I go out aggressively and bonk, I’m one of the few people who can push through a bonk. Connor said I have the X-factor that if I did bonk I’m someone who can get back up on the horse and keep fighting which isn’t something a lot of people can do. That’s the advantage I have. When I go through low points I keep a level head and don’t get overwhelmed. It will be fun to see what happens. If I do pull this off it will be really crazy.
GCR:PART TWO (three days after Western States): First, how did you feel going into Western States? Were you fully recovered from Comrades, did you have any lingering soreness or were you ready to roll on that day?
CHI felt really good. I think I always bounce back and feel better in the second race when I run two races close together like that. When I was a week out from the race I started to feel very good and energized. My rest was good and my legs felt springy. My husband said that when I did strides it looked like I had a lot of spring in my step. So I felt that my recovery was good and it wasn’t an issue going into Western States.
GCR:There are a lot of terrain changes at Western States and in the beginning there are severe ups and downs and usually snow and ice at the higher elevations. There also were some great competitors including the champions from the previous two years. So did your strategy deal more with the terrain and competitors versus your normal strategy of being at the right heart rate?
CHI was so tuned into my effort that when we started climbing in the first three or four miles where the trails were dry I felt great, like a million bucks. I could just feel a sense of energy and excitement about what was going to unfold. Then we hit the snow! (big laughter)
GCR:You aren’t allowed to wear any crampons, but are you allowed to wear cross country spikes in that race?
CHThat is a great question because I felt like there is a great safety risk in not allowing crampons. I did see another female elite runner who was wearing cross country spikes when she passed me. We didn’t get to see the snow before the race and everybody we talked to said it wasn’t that bad. I think what happened overnight before the race is that it warmed up and then refroze into frozen snow. Without any traction devices on my shoes, trail running shoes weren’t the greatest for good footing. I felt like Bambi on ice. I also have a very unique gait where I actually lift off of the ground rather than push and so it was like I was never gripping the ground. I was slipping. That was a real issue for me. If I do the race again I will definitely wear cross country spikes on that part of the course. We aren’t allowed to modify our shoes, so cross country spikes is what I need to do on that section and then change my shoes when I get to a dry section.
GCR:In terms of what happened to you, I’ve run on ice before and it is challenging when slipping and sliding to avoid staining muscles and falling. How did the strains come about, how badly did they feel and were you thinking of how you could make ninety more miles in that condition?
CHI started slipping the moment we hit the snow. I kept falling. I couldn’t even stand and move forward. We had twelve plus miles of snow, ice and mud. I felt my hamstrings pull right from the first slip. I had felt them at Comrades, but this was so much worse. I felt them pulling from my hip but I kept going because the ultra-running mentality is to keep persevering and to keep pushing. The snow was basically frozen and I was going downhill over ice and falling into trees. Trying to get traction was so hard. I hit my head, I hit my ribs, I hit my knee, and my hamstring was pulling. One time I hit my head, fell into some trees and I couldn’t see straight and stand. I was trying to keep going as hard as I could, but also to be safe. I wanted to drop out at an earlier aid station, but went five miles beyond. It was not good for me. I went that additional five miles and fell into another tree. It was really, really hard and my body was so banged up that I couldn’t even fathom going another 85 miles like that.
GCR:Before the race if someone had said you would drop out after only fifteen miles, it would have sounded absurd. But when you got there it sounds like the decision to drop out at that point wasn’t even a decision. Was it more like you couldn’t even go further and had to drop out?
CHYes, I felt no sense of sadness at all. I had fallen so many times and hit my head more than once. I couldn’t even feel my hands to squeeze my water bottle. I had lost the feeling in my hands. I’ve never run a race before where I felt that my head, my hands and my legs were totally incapacitated.
GCR:There is a point that competitors reach in some marathons, ironman triathlons and in ultramarathons where there is a decision to be made as it becomes unhealthy to continue and one’s health is more important than trying to finish. It sounds like you had reached that point.
CHAbsolutely. It was a question of my safety. I have pushed myself before in races to the point of unconsciousness. I’ve pushed through puke. I’ve pushed through diarrhea. I’ve pushed through so many things. But this was to the point where I was losing consciousness and couldn’t feel my hands and was trying to will my way forward. I can’t imagine trying to go another 85 miles like that. It was for my own safety and health that I just couldn’t continue in the race.
GCR:Now we are three days after the race so how are you feeling, how is your head and your strained muscles and is beer helping to numb the pain?
CHWe’re definitely enjoying ourselves out here in California. My lower body has plenty of pain. Yesterday I was still feeling pain in my head and my neck and the numbness in my hands. I think I have some type of residual neuromuscular trauma in my upper body. I really have no desire to run right now. My body is saying, ‘No, you shouldn’t be running.’ And I’m totally cool with that because I’ve really had a crazy past month.
GCR:Usually when someone wins a big race – the Olympic Marathon, an Ironman triathlon or the Boston Marathon – like when you won Comrades, it is relished for the next month or two. But you had to get ready for Western States. Are you going to step back and focus on enjoying the fact that you won Comrades?
CHTotally. I feel like I could retire if I wanted to. My husband says that I can start writing my book now. Comrades was the pinnacle of my running career to this point. I’ve dreamed about it for 22 years and I ran it and am very grateful to have won. That was such a huge achievement in and of itself. I felt the magic of Western States and I really want to go back and get my redemption the same way I had to at Comrades. I learned a lot from the experience with the snow and the mud, but I still feel like I’m going to have an amazing career and that my time at Western States will come.
GCR:There were extreme challenges with the snow and mud at Western States, but I know you have had issues in past races with hamstrings and other injuries. Do you work on single leg exercises and balance exercises that help minimize injuries from recurring?
CHI have a really good physical therapist who works with me so we work on functional movement. He was extremely helpful with me back in 2015 when I had another hamstring issue. We really worked with him leading up to the World Championships and that was when I was able to have my breakout performances. I’ve been working with him since I hurt my hamstring last fall. This hamstring issue had been tricky because it is both the muscle and the tendon that attaches to the bone. It’s been really tough to get the kinks from scar tissue worked out. I felt it re-pull in the race and couldn’t risk running that way and possibly tearing the tendon. I also have a chiropractor that does Active Release Therapy. We are talking about seeing another physical therapist I know who utilizes electric stimulation and dry needling. Right now I just want to rest and let the pain go away and heal on its own. Then the next stage of recovery is to get those kinks out of my right leg.
GCR:Let’s talk a bit about your future plans. First, what is on tap for the rest of 2017 after you recover? Are there ultras on your schedule or do you think you might want to step down and race a fast marathon?
CHWe are going to have to see how my body recovers. I am planning to run the Leadville 100-miler and the CCC 100k that is at UTMB. After that I want to try to go after some of the American and World ultra records starting with the 100k American record at a race in October. Then I want to go for the 12-hour and 100 mile track records in December.
GCR:I know you mentioned that you thought it would be neat to have the last three champions of Comrades all coming back to race and the Comrades-Western States double is on your mind, so what does 2018 look like for you?
CHI think I am going to prioritize Comrades as my ‘A’ race. It’s just the most competitive ultra in the world. That’s the one that matters the most to be. But Western States has its own aura and magic. Since Ann Trason was able to run both of them and win them two weeks apart, I know it is possible to win both races. I just have to give it another shot. I tried this year and it wasn’t meant to be, but since it is possible I want to try and give it a shot. I’m really grateful to have won one Comrades, but if I win again I will be in the same position with the excitement of trying to pull off the Comrades-Western States double. So, we’ll see what happens. But for now I’m going to bask in the glory of what I have done, let my body heal and have a moment to reflect and appreciate what I did.
GCR:Is there anything else you wish to add?
CHI really appreciate my husband. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him. We celebrated our 16th anniversary a couple of days ago. We met at that jazz festival when I was nineteen and his guidance has brought me here. I also appreciate my parents and my sponsors – Nike and Nathan and I’ve had a pretty amazing evolution of my career and I think the next ten years are going to be maybe even more exciting.
 Inside Stuff
Hobbies/InterestsMy husband got his degree in music education and I happen to have grown up as a pianist and I also played the French horn in the band. I actually made the All-State band. I’m very musically inclined and we have a piano at home. After dinner I play the piano. Maybe if I practice a little we can make some videos of me playing. I also grew up collecting stamps. I had a lot of fun hobbies growing up as a kid. I was active in sports. As an adult I got into science and took a microbiology class as an undergrad and heard a lot about yeast. When we moved to Oregon when I was in grad school, people that were in my grad school class were brewing beer. And now I work in a lab. So there was this natural progression for me to learn how to brew beer. We’ve been brewing beer since 2008 or 2009. I’ve learned to be like the guys in ‘Breaking Bad’ with beer. I can make some good beers and we like our beer
NicknamesCamille is actually my middle name. My first name is Jacquelyn. As kids my other siblings couldn’t say ‘Jacquelyn.’ It was too difficult and too long. So I went by Camille. They actually called me ‘Milles.’ I remember when the group ‘Milli Vanilli’ was popular and they called me ‘Camilli Vanilli.’ When I was in high school they called me ‘Peanut.’ I had gotten an All-State jacket my freshman year and it had these peanut colored rings and they called me ‘Peanut.’ When I see my high school coaches I think they have forgotten my first name because they call me ‘Peanut.’ My other nickname is because I came into the world smiling. I was born on Christmas day and my great-grandmother called me ‘Smiley.’ So my nickname when I was younger was ‘Smiley’
Favorite moviesThere are so many good movies… I’m going to default to ‘Forrest Gump’
Favorite TV shows‘The West Wing’ (I mentioned at this point that when I interviewed Jenny Barringer in 2009 she noted that was her favorite show). Really… Oh, I love Jenny. I’m glad to know that
Favorite musicLed Zeppelin
Favorite booksMy first running book – ‘The Lore of Running’ by Timothy Noakes. That is how I heard about Comrades
Early carsI have a great story about this. My first car was my mom’s Cadillac when I was in high school. This car was awesome as it had really cushioned seats and you could fit a lot of people in it. So I had the cool car driving to school and everybody wanted to sit in my car to go to lunch. Well, that car got destroyed in the tornado. I was really devastated. My parents were able to get me a new car which was this red, sporty Ford Escort Sport. It was a cool car. Since this was my first new car, my parents put a license plate on the front which said, ‘Smiley,’ the nickname my great-grandmother had given me. It had a smiley face on it. That was the car I had through the rest of high school, my undergrad years and grad school. That was a cool car
Current carI have a Subaru Impreza hatchback. I love the car – it’s great
First JobMy first job was being a secretary at summer school. It was great because all of the teachers would bring me coloring books and they wanted me to color in the coloring books so that they could read the stories to the kids. So I spent a whole summer coloring. I got paid to color! (laughing)
FamilyMy husband is Connor and we have been together for 16 years. My parents are Susan and Jack and are so cool. My mom is super chill. She is chill under pressure. She is probably the better athlete of my parent which is pretty amazing because my dad is a really great athlete. When my parents met in high school my mom was a tomboy, but she was a pretty blonde. My dad was this superstar basketball player. My dad didn’t know that my mom was a superstar golfer. They went golfing and my mom just totally kicked my dad’s butt. He hadn’t been over to her house and the first time he did go over he saw that she had all of these golf trophies. He had no idea because she was kind of shy about the fact that she was this woman who was a good athlete. This was in the 1960s. She could kick my dad’s butt at everything because she was a god swimmer and good golfer and really chill under pressure. I think I get my coolness under pressure from my mom. But my dad is really intense. He just wants to beat you as he is very competitive. I feel like I got this cool combination from my parents because my dad is going to kick your butt and my mom has a smile on her face, is really chill, but she’s the one who’s really going to kick your butt. I have three siblings, including two older sisters, Julie and Jane, and a younger brother, Jack
PetsWhen I grew up we lived out in the country in small towns in Oklahoma so we had a zoo. We had so many animals. We had ducks and chickens. My dad’s career is a higher education and he was a superintendent when I was growing up. So my parents were into the educational aspects of everything. We raised rabbits and I used to show rabbits at the state fair. I grew up running around the fields and chasing animals. Conor and I have two hilarious Greman Shepherds, Hawi and Winny
Favorite breakfastWhat I usually eat is toast with peanut butter and jam, a banana and a cup of coffee with a lot of sugar
Favorite mealI am a meat and potatoes person, so I would say steak and potatoes
Favorite beveragesI think this is an obvious answer that beer is my favorite beverage. My favorite beer is one that we brew, a really awesome Belgian Trippel. It’s really good and high in alcohol too
First running memoryMy dad likes to tell the story that one day when he came home from work I came out of the field by our house. And he asked me what I was doing. And I told him I was chasing a rabbit. I don’t know how old I was. Maybe I was five years old or so. I used to go out as I had made my own bow and arrow set with sticks and rubber bands and string. I used to go out in the field like I was hunting for animals. In elementary school my first running memory was in P.E. around second grade. I remember we had to go and run around the field. Everyone else started walking and I keep running and running and running. I didn’t get tired. I didn’t think anything of it. I just thought everyone else was being a bunch of wimps and they just weren’t very tough. I didn’t realize there was anything special about me. I just blew it off as they weren’t tough
Running heroesBruce Fordyce was probably my ultra inspiration. I mentioned reading ‘The Lore of Running’ as my first running book and it talks all about Comrades in the book because it was written by Timothy Noakes, the famous South African physician. So I was thinking about Comrades since the beginning of my running career. Then as I was running Bill Rodgers and Paula Radcliffe and Deena Kastor and Paul Tergat became heroes. My background on my computer for the longest time was whoever was holding the World Record in the marathon at the time. In the early 2000s Paula Radcliffe and Khalid Khannouchi and Paul Tergat were on my computer background. Then I met and got to know Frank Shorter and Dick Beardsley and Patti Dillon. I met Patti online and we corresponded a lot. When I got into the marathon she was one of the first people that told me that I needed to string together as many hundred mile weeks and twenty mile long runs as I could until I ran my first marathon. So Patti was very significant. I didn’t learn about Ann Trason until just recently
Greatest running momentsMy first greatest moment was when my 4 x 800 meter relay team my freshman year in high school won at State and broke the State meet record which we still hold to this day. Until recently that was the greatest moment of my running career. Winning the Dallas White Rock Marathon was really significant. Winning my first 100k World title was very cool. Then winning Comrades was big
Worst running momentsFortunately, there aren’t too many of those, but they have happened. I got my first stress fracture in my foot during my junior year of high school cross country. I had run something like 36 races in a row in Oklahoma without losing a race. That was probably my longest winning streak. I was also on a team where it was almost impossible for us to be beaten. We were the best team ever in Oklahoma and I still believe that. But I got a stress fracture in my foot maybe two to three weeks before State. We were hoping that I could rest and it would be okay. I took about a week off and tried to start back running. At State I ended up running the race and it was the biggest struggle in the world for me to finish. I was almost crawling to the finish and I finished back somewhere around 76th place. Our team ended up losing State to another team and it was so devastating at the time. It was really heartbreaking because it seemed almost impossible for us to lose. That was really painful. Recently, finishing only fourth at Lake Sonoma last year was pretty devastating just because everybody expected me to run really well. I was trying to get a Golden Ticket for the Western States 100-mile race and I had to finish in the top three. I was in third with a mile to go and I was excited because I was going to get the Golden Ticket. But I was badly limping with this hamstring injury and with a mile to go I slipped on a muddy downhill and I felt my hamstring pull even more. I was worried that it was detached from my hip. Another woman was coming up fast behind me and she passed me with a half mile to go. She got the last Golden Ticket. I finished covered in mud. I had worked so hard to get that Golden Ticket and it was a very emotional moment. The months thereafter were emotional as I watched Western States and I wasn’t there. Some people think I still am not proven as a trail runner even though I’ve had some really great moments. I feel like I have to keep proving myself as a trail runner. Finally, what happened to me at Comrades in 2014 was also pretty devastating
Childhood dreamsI wanted to be a Globetrotter. I saw Lynette Woodard on TV and she was the first female Globetrotter. It was about 1984 or 1985. Seeing her on TV and what she was doing with a basketball was incredible. I ended up practicing being a trickster with the basketball. Maybe at one point I wanted to be an archaeologist because I like to be outside and I like to dig for rocks. I was very fascinated about rocks for a long time. I used to spend time out on the playground looking for rocks with fossils or worms or that type of thing. Then I wanted to be a children’s storybook writer. I had a pretty good sense of humor as a kid. We had to write stories that we would read out loud to the class and I would be laughing the entire time I told my stories
Funny memoryWhen I was in the fifth grade I sleep walked and I got in the shower, turned it on and I started running in place in the shower. My sister, Jane and I shared bunk beds together and she came into the bathroom and asked me what I was doing. I was sleep walking but was saying loudly, ‘I’m running, I’m running!’ I just vaguely remember all of this as she tells the story of what was happening. This was only fifth grade and I hadn’t thinned out where I could run and was going to be someone who would be a good runner. It makes sense now to reflect back as I must have felt I was going to be a runner and an athlete
Another funny memoryIt was fun for me growing up as I had three siblings and we were all playmates with each other and competitive with each other. I was really athletic and my brother was too. One time my dad took us to go for a run and my brother was cutting the corners around the field. I was not cutting the corners. I would run the entire distance. My dad told me that he knew I was going to be a runner because I was running the entire perimeter and my brother wasn’t
Warm memoriesWhen I started running in high school, in my English class we had to write and create a poetry book. I wrote a poem about running that I illustrated and it basically showed a road going to the mountains and a little stick figure person running toward the mountains. My mom found the poetry book last year and I had totally forgotten about it as it was from around twenty years ago. It was incredible to look at it. The illustration was really cool and here I had written this poem about running; it showed me running to the mountains and then it is amazing what has happened since then
Favorite places to travelWe love going to Oregon because that’s where we got married up in Corvallis. We try to get back there every year. We haven’t yet this year so maybe we will have to visit. My husband is from Dublin, Ireland and we love going to Ireland once or twice a year