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Camille Herron — October, 2023
Camille Herron is the greatest female Ultrarunner in history. She is the only champion of both South Africa’s Comrades Marathon (2017) and Greece’s Spartathlon 153-Mile Ultramarathon (2023). She is the first woman to break 24 hours at the grueling 153 mile Spartathlon (22:35:31) and one of only two U.S. woman to win the Comrades Marathon. In 2023, she became the first woman ever to surpass a men's American Record, improving the women's 48Hr World Record by a whoppin 14 miles to 270.505 miles (435.336km)- which also ranks 3rd fastest ever in the world behind only two men. She is known for running with her hair down, a big smile on her face, and eating tacos during ultras. She is a 3-time Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier, competed on the 2011 Pan American Team in the marathon (finished 9th), is the only athlete ever to win all of the Ultra Road World titles for 50K/100K/24Hrs, has set numerous Ultra American/World Records between 50 miles and 48 hours, and is a 4-time International Ultrarunner of the Year. She has crossed over to trailrunning as well, with competitive wins at the JFK 50 miles, Bandera 100km, Black Canyon 100km, Tunnel Hill 100 (course record and the 100 mile Trail Best of 12:42:40), Tarawera 100km and 100 miles (course records for both), and the Javelina Jundred (course record in 14:03:23). She also set the Guinness World Record for the fastest marathon in a superhero costume (2:48:51 dressed as Spiderwoman). In April 2022, she became the youngest woman to reach 100,000 lifetime running miles. Beyond being an Ultrarunner, she is a coach, leader, public speaker, model, and scientist. She has served on the USATF Women’s Long Distance Running Committee as Secretary since 2012 and was voted the 2021 Contributor of the Year. She is a member of the Pro Trailrunners Association (Women's Equality and Anti-Doping Working Groups). She also served as Team USA Athlete Services Co-Coordinator for the 2015 Pan American Games. She is a champion for women and athletes to move with joy through their life. She is a vocal advocate and philanthropist for women's health, equality, diversity and inclusion, perimenopause, mental health, and increasing women's sports science studies. She is sponsored by lululemon, and back in May 2023 helped launch the lululemon FURTHER initiative, which includes a women's focused research study and 6 day event. She formerly worked as a research specialist in bone imaging and co-authored manuscripts. She is a native Oklahoman and is currently traveling the world with her husband and coach, Conor Holt.
GCR: We are privileged to speak with Camille Herron who is the greatest female ultra distance runner in history and the first male or female to win both the Comrades 56-miler in South Africa and Spartathlon 153-miler in Greece. Is that somewhat unbelievable, has this amazing accomplishment sunk in and what does it mean to you and to the ultra-racing community?
CH I didn’t even think about it when I was going into Spartathlon. To be able to win two historical and very meaningful ultras that are two completely different distances and experiences, journeys, emotions is hard to put into words. Most people that run Comrades usually stick to the shorter distances and don’t make that leap to beyond a hundred miles. I have so much joy with my running that it’s been a journey for me since we did that lengthy interview in 2017. Since I won Comrades that year, I’ve moved up in distance and tried to become an expert at every distance beyond what I did at Comrades. I’ve won races of 100 kilometers, 100 miles, 24 hours and 48 hours. How can I compare and contrast two amazing wins like Comrades and Spartathlon and what they mean? I can’t put one above the other. They are both moving experiences in their own way. I’ve done so many things now in my career that I can’t rank the races that I’ve done. I feel that everything has been a journey and experience that has moved me emotionally in its own way. I feel very honored. It was a journey for me to win Comrades because I had to overcome many challenges leading up to that win. It was the same way with Spartathlon. My first time racing Spartathlon last year, I almost was hit by a van. I was thrown sideways and got a head injury and a little bit of a concussion. It shook me up. So, sometimes we don’t get things right the first time, but we don’t give up on trying to get it right. Both Comrades and Spartathlon were their own journeys to winning those races and I can appreciate what it meant to win those races. I am emotionally moved, and it has brought tears to my eyes since I won Spartathlon almost five weeks ago. With the history I know about that race, I don’t know how to put my feelings into words. It is such a cool experience that I hope I can encourage more athletes who have done Comrades to move beyond and one day to take on a race like Spartathlon. I think they will get that same emotion and excitement I had when I reached Sparta, and they will be able to appreciate it. Comrades is like the sprint version of Spartathlon which is this extended journey. It is similar how both races moved me to get to the finish line. I am incredibly grateful that I was able to win both races. If I had to commit to two races to do for the rest of my life, I think the Comrades-Spartathlon double is what I would do every year. Comrades is in June and is almost like a speed session leading up to Spartathlon in September. They are two iconic races I encourage people to do. They can be raced year after year and competitors will appreciate those experiences.
GCR: Six years ago, when you won Comrades, you were the second American woman and third American to win. Over the past six years you moved up and broke World Records for 12 hours one hundred miles, 24 hours and 48 hours. You also won and set course records on iconic routes such as the Tarawera 100-mile in New Zealand and Javalina Jundred. Could you have imagined as you moved up to longer distances so much success and has it hit you how big this is as you are doing what nobody has done before?
CH A lot of athletes tend to specialize in one distance. Ann Trason’s specialty was fifty miles to a hundred miles. I have covered every distance up to 48 hours. I was reflecting yesterday about when you did that interview with me back in 2017 and Comrades was my number one goal at that point. After winning, I thought, ‘What do I do now?’ I almost felt like I could retire. What do you do when you reach your number one goal? For those who aim to win at the Olympics, and Comrades is like winning the Olympic Gold Medal in our sport, I went through a month where I wanted to retire. I almost didn’t have the motivation to get out the door. It was extremely hard for me to process because I hadn’t thought beyond winning Comrades. I had been doing quite a bit of trail running in 2016 and 2017 because I had a lot of injuries and setbacks, and it became apparent to me that what I needed to do next was my next journey and passion. It became the World Records. I ran a trail race in 2017 and had a bit of an accident and had to drop out due to a head injury. I almost took that as a sign from above that I was meant to pivot away from the trails and make the most of my leg speed through the pursuit of World Records. When I was coming back from that race, it dawned on me that the Tunnel Hill 100-miler was coming up in November. It was only a couple of weeks away. When I realized the Tunnel Hill race was so close, it was like my body instantly recovered. It was because I finally found my passion and what I wanted to do with the next part of my career. So, here we go and, in the last six years I have gone much further in pursuing these World Records. I was able to get the 12-hour and 100-mile World Records back in 2017. Then I was able to progress up in distance and set the 24-hour World Record twice in 2018 and 2019. I’m getting ready to go for another attempt to break the 24-hour World Record in December at the World Championships. It is very exciting. I’m forty-one years old now and I’m still getting faster. That is a cool and exciting experience. I keep figuring out ways to make myself better and to go up in distance. Earlier this year, I also set the 48-hour World Record. I have covered so many distances since that last in-depth interview we did.
GCR: We will delve further into details of many of these races but first, they were done at around age 35 to 41 when most athletes are struggling to maintain peak performance. What have you learned about staying at the top of your potential and how can you help others who struggle as they get to their late thirties and into their forties so that they won’t take for granted that their performances will decline, and they can keep racing strong?
CH It’s a great question because it has been a journey, and we don’t know what we will experience as we go up in age. When the pandemic hit in 2020, it was at the time that I was coming off my 24-hour World Record and I was in particularly good shape. I felt like I was in my prime and the pandemic hit. That impacted my mental health, and I thought I was going to lose this moment. I felt sad at that time. I had no idea of what the future held and how it would unfold. As I was going up in age, I had a period where I wasn’t feeling good about two-and-a-half years ago. I asked myself, ‘What can I do to change this and get myself going better?’ I think what I learned is that for women there is a lack of knowledge about perimenopause, which is this phase that we go through before we hit menopause. I don’t think that from the ages of thirty-five to forty that I was even thinking about menopause. I didn’t even know that there was this phase before menopause of perimenopause which is when a woman’s hormones start to change and decline. I started feeling weird around my period every month. It is important to point out that I have gone my whole life and through my running career getting regular periods. Many women who are long distance runners do not get regular periods and it has negative health consequences. That impacts hormones and bones. So, I was getting weird feelings like PMS. This happened during the pandemic when I wasn’t training hard and wasn’t racing. I took mental notes that something was going on with my body and I needed to figure out what it was and how to troubleshoot it. Because I am a scientist and that is my former profession, that truly helps. I tapped into what I was feeling in my body and treated it cerebrally because I am a scientist. I went through those changes between ages thirty-five and forty. Two-and-a-half years ago, I realized that I was very fatigued and didn’t feel like myself. I reached out to my doctor and asked if I should change my oral contraceptive or stop taking it. I did both and then went back to my old one. I was trying to figure out what my body needed. Around that time, I met with my dietician. She is my friend, Jackie, that I worked with when I focused on the marathon. She recommended I have blood work. I had been supplementing with iron throughout my running career and I found out that over time I was taking in too much iron. I hadn’t had a full iron panel done to review the parameters in my blood. We found out my iron was too high from my supplements, it had been acting as an oxidant and causing oxidative stress. It is almost like your body feels when it is depleted of iron as there are similar symptoms. I had to cut out my iron supplement. She also had me follow the root cause protocol which helped to rebalance my body’s minerals. It’s a kind of quirky diet to follow. I had to drastically change my diet to rebalance my minerals and reduce my iron level. With the dietary changes and monitoring my oral contraceptives, it relit my inferno. It almost felt like a small miracle within my body as we changed my body chemistry. I could feel that. It felt like I took a lighter and lit my inferno. I went into the fall of 2021 and broke the Javelina Jundred course record by forty-nine minutes. It was incredible. With those dietary changes and ultimately cutting out oral contraceptives, I’m feeling such huge, huge differences.
GCR: That is valuable information for all of us. As a man, it is very helpful to understand the unique challenges faced by women. Switching gears, what have you done similarly and differently in training as you stretched out to one hundred miles and 150 plus miles and to as much as 270 miles for the 48-hour race?
CH I think that a lot of marathon runners, especially women, are afraid to try ultra running. The mindset is that they have to train more, do longer long runs and do back-to-back long runs. I have found my greatest success by simply sticking to the same marathon training that I did when I focused on racing marathons. When I made the transition to racing 100-kilomtere races in 2015, leading up to it in the year or two beforehand, I tried to tweak my training by doing more long runs and to extend my long runs. It made me more tired, and I decided that it wasn’t working for me. When I did thirty-mile training runs, it felt like it took the snap out of my legs. When I went back to marathon training in 2015, I started having my greatest success. Since I am a scientist, in my mind I was trying to figure out why I should change what works. If I was aiming for a 24-hour race where I ran as much as a hundred and seventy miles, there is only so much training to do to prepare without burning the candle at both ends and breaking your body. I encourage those who want to move up from marathons to ultras to take what works for them for a marathon and to stick with it. Conor and I coach athletes and tell them that, if they can race a marathon, they can race a hundred miles or beyond. The only thing that we do differently with the athletes we coach for ultras is we usually have them do a long, hard effort three to six weeks before their peak ultra race. As an example, for me when I ran the 100k World Championship back in 2015, I ran a marathon four weeks before that race. That was a very hard effort that beat up my legs and gave me that eccentric loading on my legs. There is a repeated effect that makes one’s legs fatigue-resistant for the planned peak race. So, a marathon or 50k race three to six weeks out works. What I have been doing more recently is a hard hill session about two weeks before my peak ultra race. I do this hard hill session and beat up my legs a bit. This helps me with prevention of muscle fatigue and cramping in my ultra races. I believe there should be a look at cumulative volume over time. I like to look at the final eight weeks leading up to a peak ultra race and putting in consistent volume leading up to that race. With one or two hard sessions a couple of weeks out, that can be a race or hard hill session, you are ready to race your best.
GCR: When we speak about cumulative volume, that leads to my next question. On April 7, 2022, at age 40, you became the youngest woman on record to log 100,000 lifetime which is quite an accomplishment. I went over that threshold back in 2008 and am close to 130,000 miles. Your training has averaged over a hundred miles a week since November 2006. When I give advice, I rank consistency for a lengthy period of time as number one – is this where it stacks up on your list?
CH Absolutely. An article was published about me earlier this year and I think the headline was, ‘Skip the Long Run.’ For me to have been able to accumulate all this volume for a prolonged period of time is because I have been doing frequent running and twice a day training basically since 2006 which is when I was in graduate school. I did my master’s thesis on how to optimize mechanical stress for bone health. I was learning many things from a science perspective like how to optimize mechanical stress for bones and muscles to make them strong. As I learned these scientific concepts, I set out to apply them to my own running training. My husband, Conor, is a marathon runner and I knew he trained twice per day. It made sense to me from a scientific standpoint to train twice daily. I was able to start training twice a day and it was quite easy for me to get my volume over a hundred miles per week. I felt great when I was training that way. I seemed to recover faster. I did interval sessions and saw increases in my leg speed. When people want to know how I have been able to average high mileage for such a long time, it is because I have been doing these short, frequent runs for seventeen years. Athletes we coach ask us how to make the transition to running twice per day. I encourage them to go for a walk such as a couple of miles of walking in the evening with their kids or spouse or dog to get used to that routine of moving twice a day before adding a second run. From a scientific perspective, we know that humans like to move frequently. When there is that recovery period between exercise sessions, that is ultimately what makes our bodies stronger rather than doing long, single sessions. I have moved to cutting back on my long runs over many, many years. I moved more in that direction during the pandemic because events were cancelled, and I wasn’t running ultra races. I didn’t see a point in doing long runs so, three years ago, I started limiting my long runs to two hours. I started feeling better and recovering better. It seemed like my body wasn’t incurring so much stress every weekend. I started thinking that maybe I didn’t need as many long runs as I had supposed I needed. When the races came back, I was able to reach age forty and break my first World Records as a Masters runner. I had kind of this ‘lightbulb moment’ that I might need to change my training with age and that possibly my body didn’t need as many long runs. It’s almost like the races have become my long runs and I am recovering in between. That focus on only running two hours as my long runs has been that ‘lightbulb moment’ in my life and career.
GCR: Another area where I am sure you have done quite a bit of tweaking is with hydration and nutrition over the past six years as you transitioned to longer races. How are you incorporating plain water, electrolyte replacement drinks, natural foods, food created for endurance events and the optimum number of calories per hour when racing and did it take a while to zone in on the best methods?
CH I feel like there are a thousand diverse ways to approach hydration and nutrition as, when you talk to ultra-athletes, it seems like everyone is doing something differently. Each of us have to figure out what works best for us as we all have different digestive systems and unique needs and physiology. What taught me a lot recently was working with Lululemon and our researchers who conducted physiological testing with me. I have learned more about my own physiology and how to tweak my own nutrition. That is kind of a scary thought process. I have been in the sport of ultra racing for ten years and have found out what works for me, but I have tweaked my nutrition recently by what I have learned from collaborating with the researchers. I always knew that I was a naturally good fat metabolizer. What makes sense to me now is, when I go up in distance I am running at a slower pace, so my body isn’t burning as much glucose and glycogen when I am running these longer races. My nutrition strategy for fifty miles isn’t the same as for forty-eight hours because, obviously, those are two different distances and paces. For example, for Spartathlon, I decided to cut back my carbohydrate intake for that race because it is a longer, slower pace. From what we know in terms of the science, about sixty to ninety grams of carbohydrates per hour is what most athletes need. As I mentioned, with the longer distance and slower pace, our bodies don’t need that much. At Spartathlon, I ended up cutting back my carbohydrate intake to about fifty-two grams per hour starting out from the beginning of the race and my body actually felt better. There was this moment when tweaking my nutrition made sense compared to what I had done the past eight to ten years. I also collaborated with my dietician. At Spartathlon, every thirty minutes I had either a sandwich square that had honey and salt on it for a total of twenty-seven grams of carbohydrates or a gel with twenty-five grams of carbohydrates with water. So, every hour I was getting about fifty-two grams of carbs. I also drank a sport drink that has a high level of sodium. That was a new sport drink. I felt great with the lower carbohydrate intake in that race. It was the first time I tweaked my nutrition so much for a big race. I threw out what I had done for so many years, we tried something different, and it worked great. Now I have increased confidence for longer events such as forty-eight hours or six days. I can reinvent my nutrition for these longer races. I had a lot of gut problems on day one of my forty-eight-hour World Record race, and it hadn’t crossed my mind that I might need less carbohydrates. What I did learn by day two of that race was to switch to more natural foods. Every morning in training I usually eat Teff and add some other foods. So, on day two we started the day with a cup of coffee, Teff, and a banana. I felt so much better eating that, so I kept eating Teff. As I progress to longer races, I realized I have to eat more natural foods like I do on a typical day. On the forty-eight-hour run, between my main meals, I was sipping a high carbohydrate drink. I also drank coconut water during the race. What runners do during a marathon is not what we do for forty-eight hours and beyond as we shift into a more natural food diet.
GCR: You mentioned that Lululemon is your sponsor. I know you switched from Nike to Hoka a couple of years ago and now are with Lululemon. Can you comment on the shoe change and other sponsors and their importance financially in helping you to continue to train and race to your potential?
CH It’s been quite an evolution in sponsorships over the past six years. My current sponsor is Lululemon, and it is very cool to have this partnership with them. They are not only helping me reach my goals and my own human limits, but I’m helping them to push the limits with their gear and their shoes. It is a very cool collaboration as they are truly tapping into the running market. I’m able to be part of that process of making their gear better as I work to push my mortal boundaries. They are very focused on the science of body build, so I’ve been able to go through all their gear and figure out what works best for me. When I ran my 48-hour World Record back in the spring, I ended up putting together a pair of tights with a relaxed fit, plain shirt. I had tested and trained in all their different pieces of gear and went with what felt most comfortable to me. I think that was a huge epiphany for me because I felt great during the race. I had my main outfit, but we also went through some extreme heat and humidity and two rainstorms. I had foot issues and had to change my shoes and my socks. In the back of my mind, I was thinking all along, ‘How do I feel?’ I put on the gear that kept me feeling comfortable so I could keep pushing my human limits. There was this cool thought process that I hadn’t truly utilized before. I realized that there needed to be this symbiotic relationship between my gear and me in making sure that I was comfortable which allowed me to unlock my human potential. I am in a nice place now with my partnership with Lululemon. I am working with their gear but am also helping them develop new innovations for the future leading up to our six-day running event next March. Our team of ten women will be pushing our human limits and we are trying to develop new gear that we are going to use for this event. I have learned a lot over my whole career.
GCR: There has been an increased discussion and focus on using carbon-plated shoes for the marathon and shorter distances. Have you experimented with these shoes?
CH I went through a period of a couple of years where I was using carbon-plated shoes when they came out in 2017. I had injuries and body issues for a few years from wearing that type of shoe. I found out that, when I stopped using carbon-plated shoes, and went back to what I had traditionally worn for most of my running career that I felt a huge, huge difference in my body. The past couple of years, since I got away from carbon-plated shoes and went back to lightweight trainers, my body has been healthier, and I have been able to train faster and more consistently. That is another big piece of being able to tap into what feels right for me. I can say that I have confidence in myself, and my own abilities and I don’t necessarily need these super shoes. I have been able to focus on what feels right for me and I credit the Lululemon team for helping me to recognize that.
GCR: That is very interesting especially as we read and hear so much in the news about carbon-plated shoes as marathon times get faster and faster.
CH I would like to add one more interesting fact as we talk about shoes. I had my feet measured at the Lululemon shoes headquarters back in February. I found out I had been wearing the wrong shoe size and width. I needed to go down a half size and wear a women’s wide shoe. Holy cow! I hadn’t thought about that. Many women may not be in the right shoe size and width. We don’t think about how our feet change over our running career after running so many miles. Wearing women’s wide shoes haven’t been a big option for women. So that has been immensely helpful for me to be able to change my shoe to a women’s wide shoe. When I ran my 48-hour World Record, I wore women’s wide shoes. That made me feel so much better. I couldn’t believe I had been in the wrong shoe size and width. That is another benefit of working with Lululemon to develop shoes as they are trying to produce more women specific shoes that fit our feet. That isn’t a focus that has been out front as women’s shoes were mostly developed off of the men’s shoe last. There is a saying, ‘shrink it and pink it,’ about women’s shoes. They aren’t necessarily made for our feet. Women don’t generally think about the possibility of needing to be in a wide shoe. Working with Lululemon and realizing I needed to be in a different shoe size and width was another epiphany for me.
GCR: A lot of runners tend to segment races. A miler may look at each of four laps, a 5k racer each of three miles and a marathon runner two ten-milers followed by a 10k. As you moved up from the Comrades 56-miler and 100k races to longer races, do you segment 100-milers physically, mentally and emotionally into four 25-mile segments? When you run for 48 hours, do you focus on 12 hours at a time?
CH That is something I have learned as I have increased to longer distances. My favorite quote is, ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’ We do have to set mini goals to reach that one big goal we have. We can’t think, ‘Oh, my gosh! I have to run for 48 hours.’ For example, when I ran my 24-hour World Record, they were taking splits at 50k, 50 miles, and 100k. There comes a point when we hit 18 hours in a 24-hour race and that tends to be a breaking point for a lot of ultra runners because that is when your body starts to get very tired. We have to break the races down mentally and physically as we work through the day or multiple days. That is very key for me to try to break down these exceptionally long races. I have read that, as you go up in race distance, you almost have to become more meditative. There comes a point when you are in your own head space and you tune out everything around you. When I did my 48-hour World Record, the timer was Martin Fryer. He had previously run an amazing 48-hour race. I read in an interview with him that we have to learn how to run from our heart and not our head. That is exactly what has happened to me when I run these very long races. There is a point where we have to tune out our head and run basically from our heart and our emotions and what inspires and motivates us to keep going these very long distances. I start thinking about how the world is cheering me on when I am going these long distances. I want to make the world proud and women to be inspired by what I am doing. That helps to elevate me and to bring that extra energy to keep pushing as I go these very long distances. I think about how important it is that I continue to push and that I am creating history for the sport. I stop thinking about numbers, tune out my head and go from my heart. There is inspiration and emotion that I feel. It makes me smile. I am in extreme fatigue and pain when I run these World Records, but people wouldn’t know the pain I am in because I am smiling pretty much the whole time. I have so much joy and am incredibly grateful I am able to do what I do. I have so much gratitude and that is what helps me to keep pushing through all the pain and fatigue. Having that sense of gratitude as I am running is amazing. It is so much more about running from my heart and not from my head.
GCR: Most competitive runners have raced cross country, track and road races. Can you compare and contrast the challenges of running lengthy endurance events on the track with endless hours around the same oval, versus the roads where you encounter a hard surface, and trails where there are uneven and changing surfaces and you have to focus on the path as you are increasingly fatigued?
CH I love to run and have so much joy in the challenges I encounter whether I am on roads, trails, or the track. I couldn’t just be a trail runner. I couldn’t just be a road runner. I couldn’t just be a track runner. I think it has helped me to have career longevity because I have raced so many different distances and surfaces. I totally encourage athletes to take on challenges that are different from what they are used to. I love doing trail races. I feel like they bring me back to being a kid again running around the wheat fields by our house, exploring the terrain, looking for wildlife and watching the sunrise and sunset. Trail racing takes me back to the kid I once was. The movement of going up and down hills, up rocky terrain and down a scree trail – I love that! It’s such a cool experience. But when I did Spartathlon, it was more of a road race. I hadn’t done a road race like that in a long time because I had been doing more of the small route, World Record attempts. I had to think about Spartathlon as being a journey to a destination. Trail running is also like that as we are on a journey. We have to mentally break it down. In a race like Spartathlon that is about 153 miles, we are running from one village to the next one. We work through the day and segment the race. I think about how I am running from sunrise to sunset and encounter cars and dogs as I go up and over a mountain. It was such a cool experience. I was working to run from Athens to Sparta. It was amazing to think that my legs carried me all that way. When I finally reached Sparta, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh! I can’t believe I went this far.’ I think of the Led Zeppelin song, ‘Ramble On,’ which is based on Lord of the Rings as Frodo is on this journey and all these things happen along the way as he heads to his destination. So, that is what I think about in these races. Comrades is similar as it is a journey to a destination. When I do track races, oh my gosh (laughing), I don’t even know how to explain what they feel like. The first time I did a track ultra was the 12-hour World Record attempt back in 2017. I almost had a moment of panic during the first hour of that race. It is a bit overwhelming. In my mind I was like a mouse on a wheel, and I was staring at the same scenery lap after lap after lap. I had a bit of a moment of panic. ‘How do I get into my own head space? How do I wrap my head around this?’ I realized as I kept going that I became very meditative and I kind of locked into my head space. The laps began to fly by. I usually set my watch to beep every thirty minutes to remind myself to take some nutrition. I started mentally breaking that race down and looking forward to taking my next gel and water or sports drink. I feel that track races are mentally very different because we aren’t on a journey to a destination. I enter a meditative state of mind like when I do daily training and my thoughts kind of wander a bit and, before I know it, I have gone for ninety minutes, or two hours and time has flown by. The track ultras are very different. I mentally break the races down and aim to hit 50k or 100k and, as I aim for record attempts, try to hit mini goals as my mind is in its meditative state. I enjoy all types of distances. I even like going down and running a 5k every once in a while. I come from a track background. I was the anchor on our four by 400-meter relay team in junior high and there’s nothing like ripping 400 meters on the track. Now I have personal best times from four hundred meters to 48 hours. I have crossed over and done trail races. I am a runner and want to do it all and can appreciate how exciting and how cool all the different distances and surfaces are.
GCR: We both have taken our knowledge and used it to coach others. How many athletes do you typically coach and how does it break down as to long-term commitments, for specific distances, specific events or specialized instruction on nutrition or mental approach? Also, how much do you learn from those you coach that helps you?
CH I had received so many requests over the years from people who wanted me to coach them before we started coaching in 2018. Athletes wanted to know what I was doing that helped me to set World Records. My husband, Conor, helps me to manage the coaching business. What makes us different from a lot of other ultra coaches is that I have, for the most part, used my marathon training approach and applied those concepts and ideas to ultra running. Conor and I have such a wide variety of experience on a range of distances and surfaces and our approach is all about being able to create a personalized plan for the athletes we coach to meet their goals. For example, we coached a woman to walk a hundred miles in under thirty hours. She was doing walking training of about thirty miles a week. For her to be able to go from walking thirty miles a week to walking a hundred miles in under thirty hours was so cool. We can take my training approach and meet an athlete where they are at the present and to help them to reach their main goals. What I have learned from the athletes is that some people may not necessarily like to run. They may like to walk and move in other ways. They help me think that maybe I need to think more differently about my training. As I have gone into my forties, I have added more walking to my training. Whenever there are times that I don’t want to go for my second run of the day, I will change to a walk and go for a walk with Conor. That ends up being super meditative and a stress relief. Humans do like to move in other ways and humans like to move frequently throughout the day. The biggest thing we can convey to athletes is to find that balance where they can thrive off their running. Not everyone can run like I do. Not everyone has the time and energy to run a hundred twenty or a hundred thirty miles a week. We work with athletes who are running and walking and moving much less than I do. We want our athletes to be healthy and happy. We are here as coaches to help find that balance. We have a lot of experience with both the mental and nutrition approach and we try to help our athletes as much as we can. I also have resources so, if there is an area where I am not the expert, I can direct them to my resources.
GCR: Some athletes shy away from using social media while others utilize it frequently. I see Facebook posts from you very often. How nice is it to have this connection with the regular running community, the ultra-racing community, friends and followers of distance running and how much joy does it bring to you to have this connectiveness?
CH I have had a lot of people tell me they are impressed by how much I engage with people on social media. I get so many messages and comments and I want to respond to and engage with everybody. As my social media has expanded over time, I have to realize that I don’t have the time and energy to engage with everybody. I try to engage as much as I can. I have had so many people write back to me and they appreciate my taking the time to engage and help them. I do so as much as I can. It feels good that I can do this, and that people appreciate that I am able to give back to the sport in this way. It is meaningful to me. It’s not just about me doing what I do as an athlete and reaching personal goals. I think about how I can leverage what I do to help the rest of the running world. Social media is an enormously powerful platform for athletes to engage with the public. I am active across all social media platforms. I use Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. That is my personality. I like to help people. I like to be resourceful. It is so nice that I can engage through social media.
GCR: 2023 RACING Let’s look back at three key races from this past year and start with the most recent. We touched on Spartathlon, which took place in October 2023. You won the women's division of the 246 kilometers, or 153 miles, Spartathlon race, placing third overall, with an all-time women's record performance of 22:35:31, the first woman to ever record a sub-24-hour time in the event. You also raced in an unusual style for you as you let a few other women take a big lead, were behind late in the race, but had a late push to win by 48 minutes. Can you tell us about how you were able to let your competitors go, come back to win so strongly and do so in such a fast time?
CH It was such a great race. In my opinion, this was the fastest and most competitive women’s race in the history of the sport for a hundred miles and beyond. I’ve never been pushed like that by other women who had the strength and the courage to go out and set a pace like that. I think those dynamics happened because we had all of these amazing women come together for this one race. In terms of the other women, we brought out the best in each other by having the courage and strength to let it all out. I was able to do what I did only because they were there, and they truly challenged me. They brought out the competitor in me. I had to pull back the reins early in the race. I’m a veteran now in the sport and have done quite a few races of a hundred miles and beyond. I was able to sense that the pace was a little too fast. In the moment I was thinking, ‘These women are just pushing it.’ At the same time, I knew it was too quick and I needed to pull back the reins because it was just too fast. It’s crazy to say that because everyone knows me as someone who goes out hard in my races. But these women were going even faster. I had to have that confidence and that trust. I credit Conor for helping me to have that confidence and trust and to hold back because the pace was so fast. At the same time, I knew the nature of that course because we had been training on the course for a week and a half. I was able to segment in my mind how I was going to approach the race. I was confident in my ability once we hit the mountain section because I am a particularly good trail runner and had more experience in trail running than other top women in the race. So, I used that to my advantage in the race. I felt that I could hit that mountain section, which is around a hundred miles into the race and would happen around the start of evening, and that would be to my benefit because I love the night. I consider myself a night owl as a runner and am not a morning person. I approached the race thinking that I love the mountains and I love running through the night and I took advantage of that. I ran a smart race by pulling back the reins early, letting the other women go, and having the confidence and trust in myself that I could approach the race strategically and hit that mountain section during the night and let it all out that final one-third of the race. Since the women all brought out the best in each other, it was so cool as we live for those races that end up being competitive and strategic. Not only was it a strategic race, but I was able to run such a strong performance. It is mind-boggling running the pace I ran knowing that we climbed a mountain, and I was able to do what I did. I’m still getting teary-eyed thinking about it and all the emotion from the experience.
GCR: You started the year with two strong performances in February and March. First, in February at the Raven 24-Hour race, you broke her Open and Masters Track American and World Records again for 12-Hours (150.430 kilometers) and one hundred miles with a 12:52:50 time and became the first and only woman to run under 13 hours on both road and track for 100 miles. What are some of the challenges and highlights from that effort and how strong were you at the finish?
CH Despite the records I set and the fast time, I feel like that wasn’t quite the race I was hoping it would be. It was very cold that day. When I look back, I feel I should have dressed a bit warmer. I wasn’t as comfortable and didn’t run as quickly as I may have been able to. It was also the day before I started my period and I have been struggling the past couple of years with PMS and not feeling great right before my period. So, with the weather and my cycle, there were things that weren’t quite aligned that day. I feel like I ran as well as I could and to be the first woman to break thirteen hours on the track is history. I already held the record from Tunnel Hill that was a certified road course. For me to break thirteen hours on both the track and a road course is history and I appreciate that I was able to do that and to break open the possibility for more women to be able to do that in the future. I would like to try that race again because I think I have more in me if things align better. It was an okay performance, but I feel I have unfinished business for the twelve hour and one-hundred-mile World Records. I want to try to go a whole lot faster.
GCR: After that one hundred miler, you did the Sri Chinmoy 48 Hour Track Festival in March. Was the hundred miler like speedwork for 48 hours of running? And how about improving the 48-hour World Record by almost twenty-four kilometers to 435.336 kilometers, which is 270.505 miles, despite heat and humidity, vomiting, diarrhea, heavy rain, extreme fatigue and pain, and vision loss?
CH A lot of races like to say that they are the world’s toughest foot race, and they use superlatives about their event. Everybody thinks about Spartathlon being the hardest race. If you are going to hear it from me, I think the hardest race I have ever done is this 48-hour race. Yiannis Kouros, who holds the men’s World Record for 48 hours, would agree with me. A 24-hour race is hard. A 48-hour race is difficult to wrap your head around after already running for a full day. I thought it was overwhelming. I had two other attempts where I tried to go beyond 24 hours and it is overwhelming to do. For that 48-hour race, I was having so many challenges on day one that it was mentally challenging. I was having all these stomach and digestive problems and trying to figure out how to get my gut to calm down. I was taking naps and sleeping. So, there were many challenges on day one that I had to work through. I must credit my husband, Conor, because Conor knows how to mentally reframe things. He helped me to not think about the 48 hours and going that extra day and to get me to break it down and focus on day one and reaching my goal for that first 24 hours. There was a point about eighty miles into the race where I had to change my shoes and take a nap to help reset my body. Once Conor was able to help me reframe my thoughts and focus on smaller goals, hitting one hundred miles and qualifying for the 24-hour U.S. team, I was able to make that mental shift and break it down into ‘how do I eat the elephant?’ That changed the entire race and my entire perspective. I didn’t think about the elephant and broke it down into these mini-goals I had. And that was just working through day one of the 48-hour race. When I had reached 24 hours, we hit a rainstorm, and it was pouring. There are videos and pictures of me putting on my rain gear. My feet started getting macerated and they blistered. I had to change my shoes and my socks. It is crazy to think about all the challenges I had to go through, not only on day one, but on day two. There was a point I hit where I was sleep deprived. I think the difference for me compared to other athletes and previous 48-hour performances is that I was taking naps starting on day one fifty miles into the race. I had the confidence that sleep was going to help power me and propel me to push my human limits even more on day two. The paces of some of the great 48-hour performers are graphed and there are dips in my pace when I was taking these power naps. That is extremely hard to do because when your body is in so much pain it is hard to lay down on a table and get your body to relax and go into this meditative state. But I was able to do that. I took naps that ranged between five minutes and thirty minutes several times throughout the race whenever I felt that I needed a mental refresher. That was what helped me to push the limits on day two. I was able to run further on day two than Yiannis Kouros did when he set his 48-hour World Record, so that was very cool. There are stories over the years about women being able to beat the men and I have beaten all the men many times in races. There is this theory that, the further women go, there is a greater possibility of closing the gap on the men’s World Records. My 48-hour World Record closed the gap down to eight percent off Yiannis Kouros’ World Record. Most distances have a differential between the men and women of ten to twelve percent. For me to close the gap down to eight percent begs the question of how much further I need to go to close the gap down even more. Next year I am going to be running for six days at our ‘Lululemon Further’ event. We are conducting this event, and we will find out if it is possible for me to close the gap even more on the men’s records.
GCR: 2017-22 RACING – THE SIX YEARS IN REVIEW AFTER WINNING 2017 COMRADES You mentioned briefly your first one-hundred-mile World Record which was a time of 12:42:40 at the 2017 Tunnel Hill 100. So, people can understand, you were averaging 7:37 per mile, which is the pace of around a 3:20 marathon, which is a solid time, except you did almost four marathons back-to-back at that pace. You also repeated the 50-mile course twice. What did you do mentally and emotionally as you went further than the 56 miles at Comrades and further than 100 kilometers out to this new adventure as you broke previous record of 13:45:49 by over an hour?
CH That was such a cool race experience because it is in Illinois in November during the fall season, and it was beautiful. I was on this rails-to-trails course of fifty miles that we had to complete twice. The sun was coming through the trees on both sides, and it was lit up with fall colors. It was a very chilly morning when the race started with temperatures in the twenties. That is very, very cold for an ultra because we are burning through so much fuel. During my warmup on that day my hands were getting numb. I was in a bit of a state of panic wondering if I needed to get hand warmers. I was doing my warmup and couldn’t feel my hands. We were shivering at the start. So, the challenges started even before the race. I was thinking, ‘My gosh, this is so cold. I’m running a hundred miles, and my body is going to become depleted. How am I going to keep going?’ What truly helped me the most was that I appreciated the course. It was so beautiful. I felt a moving experience. I wasn’t even thinking about the race, going a hundred miles or what I was doing. There was a big smile on my face and all the pictures from that race show me smiling and happy just because the course was so beautiful. I was able to distract myself from the fact that I was running so fast and I was in a race because I was enjoying the scenery. We did several different out-and-back points, and we would hit turnarounds and come back. The other runners were all cheering for me. I did high fives; people were cheering and there was so much positive energy from the other competitors. I wasn’t thinking much during that race. I don’t think there were timed splits given on the course. I had it set up on my watch but wasn’t thinking about my pace or splits or anything. I was in the moment, enjoying the scenery and enjoying the energy from the other competitors. The race was segmented in such a way that we hit aid stations, hit the turnaround and came back to the start after about twenty-six miles and then went in the other direction. I wasn’t thinking about my race, wasn’t thinking about going for a World Record and was in the moment enjoying it. I didn’t realize how fast I was going until I hit the fifty-mile split in around six hours and seven minutes. Conor was telling me during the race that social media was erupting because everybody was freaking out about how fast my pace was. Much of the chatter on social media was that I was going out too fast and couldn’t keep it up. But I was feeling so good during the race that I just kept going. Since the course is done twice, when I hit fifty miles, I had to wrap my head about doing it again. There was a bit of a moment of panic as I tried to get on track for the second time around the course. I just told myself to keep pushing. In my mind I tried to think about it as being a steady long run pace. When I go out and do twenty miles, I run just beyond an easy pace where I am in a good, solid groove. I was thinking about that and aiming to maintain the steady twenty-mile pace that I might do for a long run on a Sunday. I tapped into that state of mind, how I feel, and my mindset on a typical long run. So, that is how I was thinking on that second part of the race. It started getting dark during the second fifty miles and I was cold and depleted. I dropped a pair of gloves and dropped a gel one time. I tried to stop to bend down, and it dawned on me how sore and stiff I was. I knew I had better not stop much because my body might go into this rigor mortis state. I also remember that I had a lot of bathroom breaks in the first thirty miles – maybe five times. That was challenging because there weren’t portable toilets and I had to dip off into the woods to use the rest room and then get back on the course. In the last twenty miles of that race, I had some beer. I’ve become known for having beer and tacos during ultra races, especially these longer distance races. That was a nice treat for me to be able to stop and have a beer a couple times. Not only did I run this exceptionally long race, but I enjoyed two or two-and-a-half beers. When I came into the finish line knowing that I was over an hour under the World Record was one of the moments in the sport where I truly leveled up the World Record. This was one of those moments for the sport. I was able to take an exceptionally large chunk of time off a World Record. I’m very grateful for my ability and that I was able to do that. It helped break it open for women and now we are leveling up and breaking many World Records.
GCR: When you set 100-mile and 24-hour World Records, you won the races outright beating all the men and you were the top ranked American 24-hour runner, including both men and women, going into the 2019 IAU 24 Hour World Championship. How cognizant were you at that World Championship where you set the 24-hour World Record by running 270.116 kilometers, or 167.842 miles, of your lead over Nele Alder-Baerens of Germany, which was 16k after 12 hours, 10.5k after 20 hours and 16k at the finish?
CH This is where Conor comes into play. He gives me feedback of where the other women are during the race. It does come down though to running your own race and tapping into what you are feeling. I try not to let myself become too consumed by where my other competitors are. There definitely comes a point in the race where the competitor in me does come out. At Spartathlon, for example, I knew I was behind and needed to close the gap. It depends on the race, being able to tap into your own effort, and being cognizant of where the other competitors are. I have so much experience of running distances from 5k to the marathon that I know how to compete and push myself. I can tap into my own effort and use race tactics. Even in the 24-hour races and beyond that comes out and I end up being competitive with the other runners. I laugh about that sometimes because in a one hundred mile race the competitor in me may come to the forefront and I still have another fifty miles to go. I want to try to apply pressure and to have confidence when I decide to start being strategic and putting in race tactics. I felt that during that 24-hour World Championship that I was hammering it starting out during that race. There were many mistakes I made in terms of pacing and nutrition. But, because I was so far in front of the other women, it brought out competitiveness from the men. They started trying to hammer it because I was beating them, and they didn’t want to get beat by me. Olivier Lebland was our top man on the U.S. team and he started pushing on the second half because I don’t think he wanted to get beat by me. It was cool to see the men leveling up on the second part of the race so they could stay in front of me. There is this respect we have for each other as we honor the race and try to get the most out of each other. We are competitors because it is a race, it is a competition. We do bring out the best in each other. On small loop courses like this one, I often find myself cheering on the other runners and even cheering on my competition during the race. There is this mutual respect as we go through these low moments and high moments and urge each other onward. It is such a cool experience as we reach the end of a timed event such as twenty-four hours. We push each other to the maximum and then, suddenly, the race just stops. I am looking forward to it as we are about to have the 24-hour World Championship in December. I’ve waited four years to have this moment again and I’m looking forward to the race.
GCR: We have discussed you and your individual accomplishments, but there is also a team aspect at the 24-hour World Championship which Team USA won by twenty-five kilometers over Poland 746.132k to 721.124k with Germany fifty kilometers behind in third place at 696.846k. How exciting was it for your teammates and you to win and be on the podium together?
CH Our women’s team is made up of so many women rock stars in the ultrarunning world. I laugh as I think it is like The Beatles’ ‘Come Together.’ We were all so accomplished and such an amazing women’s team. Both the men and women on our team faced so many challenges during the race. I remember seeing one of my teammates crying at one point during the race because she had an injury and was in so much pain. I tried to cheer on each of my teammates during the race because I realized how important it is that each of us continue to push and be the best that we can be on that day. I feel that being on the team and the many opportunities I have had to be on Team USA has always brought out a bit more in me due to the camaraderie. I have been on two teams that have won the world title and I genuinely enjoy and appreciate those moments.
GCR: We talked about that fast Tunnel Hill 100-miler, but some courses are much more challenging. In February 2019 you went to Rotorua, New Zealand for the Tarawera 100-Miler which you won in a new course record of 17:20:52. To emphasize the course difficulty, you ran close to four hours slower than at Tunnel Hill and this is a highly technical 100-mile trail race, which includes single track and wide trails through forests with short and steep hills that also takes athletes around lakes and waterfalls. Can you describe the challenge of this iconic race and racing so well just two weeks after surviving a bad rollover car accident?
CH I had won the Tarawera 100k, which is 62 miles, back in 2017, and thought it was such a cool course. They added the 100-miler in 2018 and I was looking forward to coming back to run the hundred miler in 2019. But I had this car accident near the end of January, and it was only two weeks until the race. It was crazy. It was also just under two months since I had set the 24-hour World Record in early December of 2018. So, I went from having this extreme high in December to this extreme low with my car accident. As I tried to prepare for the Tarawera 100-miler, I felt like I had been through so many physical, mental and emotional highs and lows in a short period of time. That took a toll on me. I was a bit on autopilot for Tarawera because I hadn’t totally processed what my body had been through with my car accident. I had this goal to do the race and wanted to race but I didn’t fully process what had happened in the accident until after the race. I was able to win the race, it was a very nice course and a very cool experience. After the race, it hit me what I had been through with my car accident. I was physically, mentally and emotionally broken by the combination of the accident and the race and I had several setbacks afterward. My car accident had injured my back and, combined with the emotions I felt, I had some very challenging months afterward. That entire year I went through so many highs and lows that took a toll on me, so it took me a long time to recover. But I have so much gratitude that I was able to survive my car accident because I was in a rollover and was trapped in my car. I couldn’t breathe when I was upside down in my car and I thought I was going to die. I am so thankful that there were people who were able to come to my car, open my passenger door and help me to get out of my car. There was so much to process physically, mentally and emotionally that I am grateful I was able to go to Tarawera and win the 100-miler, but there was so much more that happened during that year that caused me to take time to process what had occurred.
GCR: In 2020 we had the challenge of the covid-19 pandemic which cancelled races and reduced travel. You ran and won three big races shorter than one hundred miles at the Black Canyon 100k, USATF 50K Road National Championship and JFK 50-miler. First, at the Black Canyon 100k, it was very competitive as you won in 9:21:27 with Cecilia Flori six minutes behind in 9:27:22 and Stephanie Auston another four minutes behind her in 9:31:09. How much fun was it to not only push yourself but, with updates from Conor, to know that two women were close behind? And how bad was the fall you took around mile fifty?
CH At the start of 2020, I had a hamstring injury. I had tried to run the 48-hour Across the Years race and the injury forced me to drop out of that race. I had only been back running for five weeks when I ran the Black Canyon 100k. I had taken off two weeks with my hamstring injury. Also, we were in Ireland because I was at an event in the United Kingdom. That was when the pandemic started to unfold. We were looking at travelling and racing more internationally, but we cut our trip short and came home because of the pandemic. We didn’t want to potentially be trapped overseas somewhere. We got home and the Black Canyon 100k was scheduled. I was running fairly good at that time even though I was barely over a month back into my training. I hadn’t done much trail running in those few weeks but took a leap of faith and signed up for that race. I wasn’t super fit and had only done two trail runs in the recent weeks. I wouldn’t say that I was at my prime in terms of being ready to give a top-notch performance. I was able to win the race and there was particularly good competition. I had an unbelievably bad fall as you mentioned around forty-six miles. I felt like it wasn’t one of the greatest races of my career, I wasn’t super-fast and, on that day, super fit, but it was a cool race experience where I was able to bounce back from my injury and have a very solid performance. I had already earned a Golden Ticket for the Western States 100-miler, so the two available Golden Tickets were awarded to the second and third place women. I was able to win the race without being in top form, but my friends, Cecilia and Stephanie, and I have to laugh when we look back because it was right before the pandemic cancelled races and we are grateful we were able to race that day.
GCR: Later in 2020, you dropped down further in distance at the USATF 50k Road National Championship and won by sixteen minutes in 3:25:17 over Trisha Steidl who ran 3:41:29 and Laura Kline who was two more minutes back in 3:43:35. How was it racing that day doing ten laps on the certified 5k course on paths of Heckscher State Park in East Islip, New York on a super cold day with temperatures well below freezing and the wind blowing off of Great South Bay? And are you glad it was ‘only’ a 50k race as you ran along at a very solid low 2:50s marathon pace?
CH I don’t remember what my mindset was for that race. I went from the Black Canyon 100k on trails two weeks earlier to the USATF 50k on roads. My outlook back then was that I was trying to race myself into shape after taking time off from the hamstring injury. This race was a week or two before covid-19 shut the world down. I was able to fly to New York and run the race and it was a good performance considering the conditions. It was very cold and about twenty degrees. When we started out in the race there were very strong winds. We did run that 5k loop ten times and considering the time that I ran, I was happy on that day. I am also grateful that we were able to travel to New York and race before the pandemic was full blown.
GCR: In the fall of 2020 you ran the JFK 50-Mile which I recall hearing about when I was in college way back in the late 1970s. I know you didn’t break Ellie Greenwood 2012 course record of 6:11:59 as you won in 6:31:14. But how much joy was there in winning this iconic and historic race which has been around for decades?
CH The JFK 50-miler was in the fall of 2020 and the racing situation was very unusual as so many races had been cancelled. I was super excited that I was able to race the JFK 50-miler and that there was even a race that was happening at that time. I was starting to feel fatigue issues that I didn’t understand then, but I know now was because of the high iron levels I had developed because of my changing hormones due to perimenopause. During that race, Conor said that I didn’t look like myself and I looked tired. I was hoping to be at my best and to have a shot at the course record. At that same time, I am grateful that I was able to race and to finally win this race and put myself on the list of the all-time great runners like Ellie Greenwood who held the course record. I am thankful I was able to run and win, but I feel that I have more in me and would love to go back to that race and give the course record a shot. In terms of the course, it is such an awesome course. I have recommended that race to so many people because of its variety. It starts out for a couple of miles on the road before hitting the Appalachian Trail section which is very rocky. Since it is in November, it is beautiful with the fall weather and colors of the leaves. I almost wish the whole race was on the Appalachian Train because it would be so cool to run fifty miles on that trail. Then it transitions from the Appalachian Trail to a towpath for about a marathon on that section. Then it transitions back to the roads. It is a very cool course for someone who might be more of a road runner who is stepping up in distance and wants to get trail experience. There is also more of a fast section to tap more into road speed. Another thing that happened in that race was right after we came off the Appalachian Trail there was a section before the towpath, and I was hoping to come off the trail to give the course record a shot when I hit the towpath. There was a train track that crossed the racecourse, and I was stopped by a train for four or five minutes. Someone took a video of the train and a few of us waiting there. That threw me off and I realized I didn’t have a shot at the course record after that delay. So, I hit cruise control when I started on the towpath. But those sorts of things happen, and what can you do? I try to not let them get me down and try to stay in the right frame of mind the rest of the race. Everyone asks me if I am going to go back to run that race and it is challenging because I have so many race opportunities every year and I have to figure out what I want to accomplish each year.
GCR: In 2021, you won the Javelina Jundred in 14:03:23 and finished fourth overall, breaking the previous course record by 49 minutes. The 100-mile course has five loops run on the Shallmo, Pemberton and Cinch trails and features rolling single track through the Sonoran Desert. What can you say about this big win and to be man hour and 44 minutes ahead of Brittany Peterson who finished fourth at 2021 Western States?
CH I love that race. In terms of my favorite races, the Javelina Jundred is special. I’m the type of person who tries to race like an animal and party like a rock star. That is what the Javalina Jundred represents to me. It’s an odd race because it’s in the desert and is usually hot. The race organizers make the race lots of fun like it is a party in the desert. At that time, I was trying to work through body challenges with my high iron issue and my perimenopause problems. During the summer before that race, I was able to relight my inferno going into the fall. Conor and I had gone to Germany in September of that year, and I was originally going to aim for the 100-mile World Record in Germany on a very fast course. But we ended up getting food poisoning. I almost feel like it was a blessing in disguise that I wasn’t able to race the hundred miler in Germany. I was planning to do back-to-back hundred milers with the race in Germany and the Javelina Jundred. So, I ended up putting everything I had into the Javelina Jundred. I ended up breaking the course record and was able to meet one of my goals at the finish. I have always wanted to finish a race with a light saber. When I was a marathon runner, I had set the Guinness Book of Records fastest marathon in a superhero costume. Back then, I always had it in my mind that I was going to dress up as different characters and finish marathons in costumes. One thought was that I always had wanted to finish with a light saber and maybe dress up as a Star Wars character. Finally, I was able to realize my dream at the Javelina Jundred. I grabbed the light saber from Conor as I was looping around the race headquarters toward the finish. It was nighttime and everybody was partying. Here I come with my light saber and the crowd is erupting. It was such a cool, cool experience, not just to accomplish my life goal of finishing with a light saber, but for the excitement that I brought to everyone as they were saying things like, ‘Wow! I’ve never seen anybody do that before.’ My goal going into the race was that I was hoping to break fourteen hours and I just missed it by a few minutes. It was a strong course record that I set, and I’m asked if I will come back and try to break fourteen hours. I would love to go for sub-fourteen hours. We will see what the future holds.
GCR: I do quite a bit of trail running and have had my share of falls, cuts and scrapes, and other challenges. Didn’t you have a ‘skirmish’ with a cactus during the Javelina Jundred?
CH On the fourth lap at the Javelina Jundred, I was going around a corner and my foot kicked part of a cactus. I ended up with a cactus thorn stuck in my little toe. This was about seventy-two miles into the race when this happened. It was like I had been stabbed with a knife in my little toe. It was going to be challenging for me to stop, take off my shoe and sock and try to pull out the thorn. I ran for the next couple of miles feeling like I was being stabbed with every footstep. I laugh because there was a drone overhead and there was video of me where I look like I’m flying through the desert but what I was experiencing was extreme pain. I laugh because, at some point, I told myself, ‘The pain is a ten on a scale of one to ten, it can’t get any worse than this, so try and tune it out.’ I tuned out the pain the rest of the race, but going into the fifth lap, I started getting pain in knee of that same leg. About ten miles from the finish, my knee was in a lot of pain. I was also running with a bit of a limp. I told myself, ‘The faster you go, the faster you will get to the finish and be done and not be in so much pain with your foot and knee.’ I ended up in so much pain after that race and my knee swelled up. I had to get an MRI on my knee, and I found out I had a tear in the hamstring that wraps around the medial side of my knee. The doctors said it was a grade two tear. Most people would have stopped running, but I had Desert Solstice coming up. I worked with a physical therapist who had a device that used magnetic frequencies and it helped the swelling to go down. I was able to get myself back functionally and my knee was feeling good.
GCR: I hadn’t heard the full story about the cactus – that is crazy! Earlier we chatted about how you often use one race to keep you strong for the next race. You came back six weeks later to break your American and World Records for 100 miles on the track in 13:21:51 at the 2021 Desert Solstice Track Invitational. Was there positive residual from your effort at Javelina or were you still recovering from the incident with the cactus and your knee injury?
CH A week before the race, I went from limping and thinking that I couldn’t race Desert Solstice to swelling going away in my knee. I thought that I would take a chance and do the race anyways. I was originally signed up to run 24 hours and go for my 24-hour record. But, after about seventy miles, I realized my knee was in too much pain and I decided to call it at a hundred miles. When I hit ninety miles, I knew I had a shot at my 100-mile American Record on the track. I ended up cranking the pace down and broke my record by just over three minutes. After that race, I had to take a couple of weeks off because of my knee injury so it could heal.
GCR: In 2022, the calendar turned its page, and you became a 40-year-old Master's runner. You won the Jackpot 100-Mile U.S. Championship outright in 12:41:10 beating all the men by almost 30 minutes and broke both your 12-hour American and World Records and your 100 Mile American and World Records. What was it like mentally and physically as you ran 85 laps on the 1.17-mile winding loop of asphalt and gravel with 45 feet of elevation gain and descent per lap, and did the slight elevation changes and varied surfaces help by changing the demands on your legs?
CH I ran as fast as I could, but it was not a fast course. Since it was a U.S. Championship, it brought out many good men and women on that day. I could feel that competitive vibe during the race. Even though it wasn’t the ideal course and conditions, the competition brought out the best in all of us. I had to let the men go when we started because they took off very fast. I knew I had to run my own race. I got into my own head space that day and ran at my own effort. The course does roll and isn’t flat, so I kept rolling with the course and didn’t pay too much attention to my pace and my split times. I don’t think it truly dawned on me how fast I was going until I started approaching fifty miles and I realized I had a shot to get the World Record 50-mile time for master’s women. I didn’t even know what pace I was going for that first half of the race until Conor told me I had a chance at those fifty-mile records. A couple laps before I reached fifty miles, I started cranking my pace down to ensure I got the records, which I did by only about forty seconds. That was the first moment in the race where I realized, ‘I got my first record - what is the next record I can get?’ Then I was able to reach 100 kilometers and qualify for the U.S. 100k team. So, I was clicking off these goals en route to a hundred miles. Then I reached a point where Conor told me I was starting to gain on the first-place man in the race. That totally lit an inferno in me. Whenever there is the possibility of trying to beat other women or to beat the men, that is when I start to put on the cape and realize I have a shot to do something amazing. The competitor in me came out during the final twenty miles of that race when I realized I had the chance to beat the top man. I had a very small margin on my own World Record during the race of only about twenty seconds under record pace. It was nail-biting running that long with so many challenges we go through and knowing that I might have to stop to go to the bathroom. It was also extremely hot on that day and a lot of people were applying ice, and stopping for nutrition or bathroom breaks. I couldn’t stop during that race. I told myself, ‘Suck it up, buttercup!’ I think that my longest stop during the race was fifteen seconds, and I had no bathroom breaks. The fifteen second stop was to shotgun a non-alcoholic beer. My mental approach to that race so that I could try to break records was what I told myself - ‘Suck it up, buttercup!’
GCR: You have mentioned races that you would like to go back to again. In 2022, you went back to the Desert Solstice Track Invitational, broke your Open and Masters Track American Records for fifty miles, 100k, and 100 miles, Open Track World Record for 100 miles, and the women’s 40-44 Track World Records for 100k, 12 hours, and 100 miles. Your time of 13:02:16 broke your 2020 effort 13:21:50 by nearly twenty minutes. Do you like the familiarity of this race and was there any disappointment in not breaking 13 hours since you had an 11-minute break midrace due to gastrointestinal distress?
CH I have had so many moments where I have been so close to breaking a time barrier. I do appreciate the times when I have a good day and break a time barrier. I just try to do the best I can on the given race day and let the chips fall where they fall. Going into that race, Conor and I had a lot of congestion and coughing. We took antibiotics because we thought we might have bronchitis; I was very congested for that race, and it had lingered for a couple months. I didn’t know what was going on. After that race, I went to my doctor and found out I had allergies. So, I was not at my best physical state for the race with all the congestion. But I was able to find out why afterwards. Then I took a generic equivalent of Zyrtec and my allergies cleared. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have done that race. I was so congested that it made it difficult to breathe. For me to be able to run 13:02:16 all congested made me feel grateful that I could do that. At the same time, I learned afterwards that I needed to work through the allergies. Now I know I am susceptible to allergies, but all I have to do is take some Zyrtec and they clear up.
GCR: One final racing question deals with the Western States 100-miler. When we did that great interview in 2017, you were coming off your win at Comrades and going into Western States. It’s been a tough race for you with a DNF in 2017 and 2019, only a 26th place finish in 2021, an eighth-place finish in 2022 as you had the challenge of female cycle issues and another DNF in 2023. What are the challenges of the terrain and cold and snow? Also, what you learned about overcoming female cycle issues that can help other women? Additionally, is this race sort of your kryptonite?
CH It seems like everything hasn’t aligned for me at Western States. I don’t necessarily need everything to align for me to have a great day. But, for some reason, Western States has been particularly challenging for me. I think I’ve learned over time, because I have raced there so many times, when that course has snow it is bad for me. It’s a completely different experience and I am not made for racing in snow. I think that is the biggest lesson I have learned. I have had three DNFs there and, whenever that course has snow in the high country, it does not work for my gait. I’m at a disadvantage in the first thirty miles of that race. With snow on the ground, it just isn’t made for me. I have decided that, in the future, if the course has snow, I am not going to race. I’m at a disadvantage and it impacts my physical health because I fall repeatedly. I’m a pure ultra runner and what I do best is run and push my human limits on a course that doesn’t have snow. I have realized that I prefer Western States when that course is hot and dry. Then I don’t have to deal with the snow. I’m not able to prepare to run well in those snowy conditions. I have had some very challenging years in the snow, and this is not what I am made for. I am very proud of my two finishes, and they were completely different experiences. In 2021 I was just trying to gut it out and get to the finish in under thirty hours. I am grateful that I was able to pick myself up and finish it the way I did. I have had my female issues dealing with perimenopause the past two years. It has given me a platform since I finished in eighth place in 2022 while running with my period starting during the race. Now I can talk about two things that are impacting my life, perimenopause and period health, and those are issues that are usually private for women, and we don’t talk about. After I finished that race, I asked Conor if I should talk about what I went through out there. He was kind of hesitant and told me that he didn’t know if I should talk about it since it is private and personal. I decided to go for it and share what I went through when I had my period during the race. When I did share with the public what I went through, that ended up being what resonated with women and people were so grateful with what I shared. Women could totally relate to what I went through and experienced. The fact that I was able to work through that and to get to the finish instills confidence in other women to be able to push through similar adversity. It gives me a platform to discuss and care about issues beyond being an athlete and our performance and shows that I care about period health and perimenopause. Now I feel more comfortable talking publicly about these issues and what I’m experiencing as a master’s runner. I have been able to share in interviews and on social media how I have evolved my diet and worked through these challenges and been able to continue to excel in my forties.
GCR: TRAINING In 2017 we talked about your mileage sweet spot being around 120 to 130 miles per week – has this changed?
CH I had mentioned how I have been cutting back on my long runs over time and limiting my runs to about two hours. This year I cut back on my weekly volume and have been running 100 to 115 weekly miles. I only have a couple of weeks in a training block where I get up above 120 miles. That has been a process over time, especially with the perimenopause symptoms I have had. I’m trying to be kinder to my body with the way it is feeling now and to be okay with less miles. Maybe my body is saying to me that it doesn’t need to be running those 120 plus mile weeks and I need to pull back the reins a little bit. I’m working with how my body is right now as I go through these hormonal changes. I have had to tap into what my body is doing. I have also added strength training because I have had hamstring issues for many, many years. When I had a large flare up in my hamstring two-and-a-half years ago while we were living up in Colorado, I ended up working with a massage therapist who is also a strength and conditioning professional. He started quizzing me and asking about my strength protocol. After speaking with him, he advised that I needed to go heavier with my strength training. So, Conor and I ended up buying a squat rack with a bar and weights and I have gone stronger with my strength training. I feel that has helped me unravel all these kinks in my body that developed over time, between my back injuries and my hamstrings and my hips. That has added a different way of stressing my body and I call it bullet proofing my body. This heavier strength training with the squat rack has been a positive in my training. I do this strength training once or twice a week.
GCR: Runners tend to break their training into a cycle that can be a week or ten days or two weeks or a month. You have been an advocate of a two-week cycle. Can you describe the speedwork, hill workouts and other hard sessions you do and does the cycle vary?
CH I do operate on a two-week training cycle and have four main workouts I do in that two-week period. They are usually short intervals, long intervals, a progression run and a hill session. As far as how this has evolved over time, I’m not being as strict with myself that I have to do a certain workout or I have to do a hard session. I’ve had weeks where I may only do one hard session and a two-hour run on trails. I’ve become more flexible with where my body is in the present. I don’t have to do my two hard sessions each week and it is really dependent on how I am feeling in the present. In terms of the specificity of my training, because I do train for so many different surfaces and distances, I add specificity for my upcoming race. For example, when I am training for a flat, 48-hour race, I do more road running. I do like to get on the trails once or twice a week but, with a road race coming up, I’m not pushing myself as much on the trails. I focus more on my road training, doing my speed sessions and being consistent. When I’m training for a trail race like Western States, I try to run on more technical trails and do some longer sessions on the trails to get myself comfortable with the technical terrain. I’m trying to have my body meet where I am in the present, to not be as strict with my training cycle, and to have the appropriate specificity in my training.
GCR: What is the frequency of your recovery days, how easy do you run and what do you do between harder efforts?
CH What has helped me the most to have career longevity is that, when I run an easy day, it is easy. My easy day pace is usually around eight-and-a-half to nine-minute miles. That keeps my heart rate around 120 to 125 beats per minute which is around sixty to seventy percent of my maximum heart rate effort. I like to take my easy days easy and there are days where I am running slower than a nine-minute mile pace. When I am on the trails, pace goes out the window. It’s more like ten-to-twelve-minute miles. I’m very, very good at slowing down the pace and truly valuing my recovery runs between my hard days. The biggest point we can instill in athletes we coach is for them to take it extremely easy on their easy runs. When I started doing that as a marathon runner, I found I was able to go faster on my hard days because I maximized my recovery on my easy days. That is ultimately what I needed to do to be faster in the marathon. Beyond that is also how we tap into aerobic metabolism when we run more slowly. We develop our aerobic system and more mitochondria and blood capillaries to help us maintain a lower blood lactate level. Being a scientist, I understand what is happening physiologically and I strive to develop my aerobic system and fat metabolism, which is especially important in ultra running, just by slowing down the pace and valuing what my body is doing so I can maximize my ultra running performance.
GCR: Many runners have our key ‘bread and butter’ workouts, and for Comrades in 2017 you mentioned every two weeks running at Mount Scott on the road that goes to the top of the mountain at about a seven to ten percent grade, racing five minutes up and then running down for up to twenty miles. What are your ‘bread and butter’ workouts the past few years?
CH My training is fairly basic. Yesterday, for example, I did fifteen by ninety-second repeats with an equal recovery. When I was a marathoner, I tried to have a short recovery because I was trying to improve my lactate threshold. For me, to do any speed as an ultra-runner and to get my legs turning over helps me to tap into that neuromuscular stimulation I need. After doing a long, hard effort like Spartathlon, I almost need to do the opposite. To get my legs turning over again, those ninety second repeats are a standard workout in my two-week cycle that I like to do every two weeks. I have brought my marathon training with me into ultra running. I love doing ninety-second repeats. I love doing five-minute or six-minute repeats at 10k effort. I love doing progression runs for thirty minutes to an hour and progressing my pace down to marathon effort pace. So, my training is quite basic. People must think that I am doing these superhero race efforts so I must be doing superhero training. But it isn’t superhero training. It’s standard marathon training. I run eleven to thirteen times a week and do these standard workouts. In between I’m jogging easily at eight or nine-minute pace and recovering. Every running session builds like bricks. Using all these bricks builds me up like when we use bricks to build a house. My training is based on consistency and cumulative volume and raising my ceiling. I do like to have a very hard session like the one you mentioned at Mt. Scott. But we don’t need that many of those types of sessions to develop our ability. Even when I won Comrades, I only did two hard hill sessions in an eight-week period where I went down to Mt. Scott and did those hills. We don’t need many of those hard sessions. I found out over time that I have a few key workouts that beat up my legs, but I don’t need to do many of them to gain the benefits of preventing muscle fatigue and cramping.
GCR: Another part of recovery is sleep. People have asked me over the years how much sleep they need. I developed a rule of thumb over the years, so let’s see what you think. I started with my normal sleep which is about seven hours on average. For each thirty miles of running a week, I aim to add an hour of sleep on its own or in combination with a nap. So, if I’m running ninety miles a week, I needed ten hours of sleep. At 120 weekly miles, I needed eleven hours. How does that relate to how much you normally sleep at night and in combination with naps?
CH That is a great question and one thing I noticed when I reached my mid-thirties is that I started seeing my sleep decrease. I used to sleep a standard eight hours at night and take a two to three-hour nap during the day. When I reflect, that decreasing sleep was one of the first signs I had of perimenopause. I don’t sleep quite as much at night as I usually sleep six to seven hours now. Like you mentioned, when I hit higher consistent volume, I do find that I’m sleeping seven to eight hours at night. I still do take these long naps during the day of two or three hours. I have had to learn to adapt to the less sleep over time. My dietician has also helped me to increase my magnesium intake because it is like a battery charger. After doing long ultra races and high-volume training, I found that my magnesium levels were becoming depleted. Since I started adding magnesium, it has helped my sleep both in terms of quality and quantity and I feel better. I totally recommend adding magnesium to the diet if there are sleep issues, especially with women in their thirties and forties going through perimenopause and menopause. I encourage working with a dietician, getting blood checked and determining if magnesium needs to be added to your diet.
GCR: You mentioned adding strength training with the squat rack. Are you doing any core exercises and other resistance training or aerobic cross training on the bike or in the pool?
CH I’m mainly running and walking for aerobic conditioning. I can’t swim worth a flip. I have a bike that sits in the garage. I can’t remember the last time I rode a bike. Conor has been talking about selling my bike and I said, ‘No, I want to have it in case I want to ride it.’ I attribute zero percent of my running career to biking and swimming and that type of cross training. I definitely do not ski. I do not like the snow. I laugh because I get these questions so much – ‘Do you bike? Do you swim? Do you want to do Ironman?’ I have no desire to do any of that. Strength training is one of my passions. Since, as I mentioned, I had developed all these body kinks over time in my back and hamstrings and hips, I started getting into the gym. I added squats and dead lifts with heavier weights and that has completely transformed me. Since I travel so much, I often am not able to strength train for a couple of weeks, and I start to feel those kinks developing again in my body. It’s a sign that I need to get in the gym and do my strength training, which I recommend for women to try to maintain our muscle and bone mass as we age. We alter with our hormonal changes. I have not done any core training at all except what may be helped by my squatting and my dead lifts. I don’t remember the last time I did a crunch. Everybody notes that I have a six pack in my abdominals, but it’s just from running and my gym work. I don’t do any core training at all.
GCR: Behind every great athlete is a great coach and yours is your husband, Conor, who ran a 2:18 marathon during his competitive days and who coached collegiately at several universities including Oregon State and Purdue. The two of you have been together for many years, but what are the highlights of what Connor 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 those things a coach does? And do you need to separate the coach-athlete association from the husband-wife relationship or are you in a great zone?
CH This is such a loaded question – I don’t know where to start. We have been together for so long that he knows me so well. He’s with me on a day-to-day basis, so he knows that when I am grumpy, agitated or questioning whether I need to do a run for the day that I probably need to not run because I am tired or fatigued. I think it really helps that we are together every day. Conor knows my energy and my mood, when to cut back certain workouts or when to kick me in the butt to get out the door. I am motivated and usually don’t have a difficult time going running but I do tend to procrastinate my runs. Last night it was after ten o’clock in the evening when I went out for my second run and people would not believe that I’m still out running at midnight. But these are my own personal quirks. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t set a limit on the day and when I run or eat. If I feel like having whiskey in my Coke for a day, I’m going for it. I don’t think I could have a different coach. I don’t think anybody else would understand me like Conor does. Since we have been together for so long, he understands my quirks. I am grateful to have a coach because I need someone to pull back the reins on me sometimes. If I didn’t have him, I would probably be running two hundred and fifty miles a week.
GCR: You stated earlier that you sometimes may not do one of your hard workouts a week and it reminded me of when I worked with high school runners during their cross-country season. At the beginning of the season, I would tell them that they were going to run about ten races and have two hard workouts each week and one would be tempo or race pace while the other would be hills or a speed session. I wanted them to understand that there would be about thirty hard days in the next one hundred days. I let them know that if they were sick or had a big test coming up or were a girl on her female cycle or felt an injury that if was okay to take an easy day or day off. The point was that, if they only had twenty-five hard days rather than thirty hard days over the next one hundred days, that they would be okay. Isn’t this what you and Conor stand for, missing a couple hard days won’t hurt you, but doing them when you shouldn’t will hurt you?
CH Absolutely. I love how you think and that is a terrific way of looking at it. The focus should be more on consistency and the cumulative volume over time and there shouldn’t be stress over missing a workout or long run. As long as you are working with your body in the present and it is telling you it doesn’t feel like doing a particular workout, due to fatigue or a snowstorm or a rainstorm, you may not want to do interval training if that is scheduled. If you go with the flow of the day and your body, if you are being generally consistent, you shouldn’t stress about those days when you don’t get in a long run or workout. I have learned that over time.
GCR: WRAP UP We talked briefly about you drinking two beers during the Tunnel Hill 100-miler and I know you have been an advocate of Rogue Dead Guy Ale. Are you continuing this aspect of your racing where you have a beer within your race?
CH Conor and I are beer connoisseurs. We used to brew beer for eight years. Conor is from Ireland, and we love our beer and Irish whiskey. There was something I didn’t mention earlier about my nutrition and dietary changes. When I started working with a dietician two-and-a-half years ago, when I was trying to reduce my iron, I found out that alcohol enhances iron absorption. So, we were able to replace are normal beer we have with dinner every night with non-alcohol beer. It’s so great that there are so many non-alcohol beer options now and it is exciting when we travel the world that I am able to look into the non-alcohol beer choices. We still like and enjoy regular beers, but we have expanded our horizons to enjoy non-alcohol beer as well. I have also got into drinking mineral water and I enjoy drinking sparkling flavored mineral water. If you cut out or reduce alcohol, there are many great options including non-alcohol beers, mineral water and flavored waters. Even though we have cut back on beers with alcohol, there are moments when I am training or racing when I might want some. When I ran Spartathlon, the main alcohol beverage in Greece was Ouzo. I mixed some Ouzo with Coke and liked it. We had a bottle of Ouzo for after the race, but I was thinking about it during the race. Conor ended up giving some to me and it hit the spot. I was drinking Ouzo with Coke during the night portion of the race. The Ouzo kept me going and the caffeine kept me awake.
GCR: As you run all these races and pile up so many victories and records, it is amazing the accolades that have come your way. They include four-time IAU International Ultra Runner of the Year, five-time honoree of the USATF Ruth Anderson Ultrarunner of the Year award, eight-time USATF Athlete of the Week honoree, the 2017 Ultrarunning Magazine Female Ultrarunner of the Year, and four-time Ultra Performance of the Year. In 2022, you were voted USATF Master's MUT Runner of the Year and the RRCA Master's Runner of the Year. Are these both exciting and humbling?
CH I don’t think about these awards and honors. I can’t even believe I’m here doing what I do. I thought I was going to retire from competitive running nine years ago. So, it isn’t so much the honors, but the career longevity. I’m in my forties now and am as excited as I ever was about running and all the goals I have. The fact that I can keep going and be a competitive athlete results in all these honors that keep coming every year. I’m grateful that I am able to still do what I do in my forties and now as a master’s runner. It’s got to the point where I want to continue to run with joy through my life and to try to continue to be competitive. I would love to be that ninety-year-old that is still cranking out a marathon or whatever I can do. As to how my body feels now, I feel the best I have in my entire running career right now. I believe much of this comes from the wisdom I have gained to make dietary changes, do strength training, and change my shoe size when I realized I needed to be in a different width. All these lessons I have learned over time allowed me to tweak what I do and to feel good and to continue what I am doing. The honors are going to come and I’m not thinking too much about them. I’m thinking about being happy and healthy and continuing to compete as long as I can.
GCR: In 2017 you told me your ultimate lifetime goal was to win the double of Comrades and Western States and, since Ann Trason was able to run both and win them two weeks apart, it is possible. Is this still on your bucket list or has that faded as you have moved up mainly to longer races?
CH Things have changed since I won Comrades back in 2017. I must give credit to Gerda Steyn because she has leveled up the course records at Comrades. I beat her back in 2017, but she was just getting into ultra running. She is now the Queen of Comrades and has taken it to another level. I have a lot of respect for her and how she may usher in more women runners to take on Comrades and more marathon runners to try it. I believe the sport has evolved as far as competition and what women are doing. It’s amazing what Ann Trason was able to do in the 1990s, but the sport is now at a higher level with increased competition. I don’t want to say that it is impossible to do. I want to believe I can win Comrades again and that I can do the Comrades and Western States double. But the sport is at a higher level which has come about with many women in our sport along with Gerda and me and many amazing women trail runners. Those types of feats are becoming harder to do. When Ann Trason did the double, the competition wasn’t quite what it is now but, at the same time, that is a cool achievement she attained, and it leaves a lasting impact for women that we can undertake doubles or triples. Western States has gotten away from me so far, but that is a goal I have, to win Western States. I’m thinking about so many amazing races and there are still some bucket list races for me to chase in my forties and beyond.
GCR: Since there are so many races for you to consider, are you possibly looking at the next three years from 2024 to 2026 and figuring out when to slot in races like Western States, Comrades, Spartathlon, Leadville, Mont Blanc, Badwater, Marathon des Sables, the Lululemon Six-Day race, the Self-transcendence 3,100 miles and others?
CH When we talked in 2017 about races that I wanted to go after to try to win, I wasn’t necessarily thinking about World Records at that time. During the past six years, I have devoted most of my focus to the World Records because I have tried to make the most of my life and my body and leg speed while I can. My passion shifted away from iconic races and wins and course records as my goals shifted to World Records. I see in the future more of a focus on trying to win these historic races and to try to break course records if I can. It’s going to be a matter of how I piece together my race schedule each year based on how I’m feeling. Today the ultra-racing women are more specialized. There are ultra road runners that are focusing more on roads while ultra trail runners are focusing more on trails. Back in 2017 there was much more crossover between distances and surfaces. That is where my mindset was at that time – that I was going to cross between different races. I’ve had to become more specialized and devote most of my time to my ultra road goals rather than specializing on the trails. That has evolved over time because of the competitiveness that has increased on both trails and roads. I’m going to have to devote a certain period of time to my ultra road goals before I shift to my ultra trail goals.
GCR: A long time ago you received great advice from Frank Shorter to ‘Run for stress release’ and from Patti Dillon to ‘Run as many hundred-mile weeks as possible.’ Are these still part of your mantra and is there any other advice that has truly helped you to be your best as an athlete and person?
CH I always remind myself on my easy runs and my recovery runs to run for stress release. That tells me to slow down the pace, to run for relaxation and to not have any intention in my body beyond enjoying the scenery and enjoying the moment. I think about that all the time on my easy runs, and I remember what Frank Shorter told me. That was twenty years ago when he signed my poster at the Oklahoma City marathon Expo. He signed my poster, ‘Run for stress release.’ That has resonated with me for my adult running career. I still keep in touch with Patti. As far as running a hundred miles a week, that has been the threshold I have tried to reach week after week as I aimed to be consistent with my training. I credit Patti Dillon for giving me this feeling and wisdom. I’m approaching seventeen years of running hundred-mile weeks and I appreciate how this has helped develop me to achieve some amazing things in my life. In terms of other mantras and advice, we had Jack Daniels as a guest speaker at one of our events back in 2012. When talking about approaching the marathon, he said to run the first two-thirds with your head and the last one-third with your heart. I still think about that quite a bit. In my long ultras, I have to tap quite a bit into my heart and tune out my head. There is strategy in ultras, and we do need to use our head to be strategic. But, when it really comes down to it, we must be able to run with our hearts and what is inside us. We have to tune out our heads and not have too many thoughts. That was very key. I have talked about the saying, ‘How do you eat the elephant?’ And the answer is, ‘One bite at a time.’ When I’m doing these extreme events and I have to break them down mentally, it’s the same way as when I’m training. There are only so many long runs and there is only so much volume you can put in week after week. I’m hoping that I can shift the general mindset of ultra runners so they can pull back the reins on their training. I’ve never done back-to-back long runs and I haven’t done a thirty-mile long run since 2016. There are ultra runners that think they must do this arduous, heavy training but, the title I mentioned for my article on ultra-advice is, ‘Skip the Long Run.’ That is my mantra for ultra-athletes to change their training.
  Inside Stuff
One junk food you can’t resist I go through phases, but I joke that there is a positive correlation between the number of miles I run and the number of cookies I eat. I like my cookies. I love ice cream also if I don’t have to limit myself to one food. I love both cookies and ice cream and don’t limit myself on either
Most annoying habit I procrastinate my running in the evenings and end up running after ten o’clock or after midnight
Oddest thing a coach ever said to you I have a funky running gait, and everyone was always trying to change my arm swing or to change the way I ran. The funniest thing, even when I’m breaking World Records is hearing people say, ‘You need to change your arm swing.’ At this point in my career, I don’t need to be changing my arm swing
Pre-race music I have a pump-up playlist that evolves over time. I start a new playlist every year that becomes my songs that I listen to that year. It grows over time based on how I’m feeling at the moment. I come from a music background. I played in the band. I was a pianist. Being a child of the 1980s and 1990s, I tend to like whatever was popular including rap, Madonna and Prince. More recently, I like chill music and Afro beats. Every time we go to South Africa for Comrades, my musical tastes evolve because I like the Afro beats. When we went to Greece, I got into the Greek music. It is kind of cool to listen to music in other languages. I had no idea what they were singing, but it was cool to get into that Mediterranean paradise music. I don’t listen to music when I race. I tried that a few years ago and it took away from the focus that I like to have during races. I prefer to imagine songs in my head during races that are my inspiration in that moment
Favorite ice cream flavor My all-time favorite is Rum with Granola, but I haven’t had that in years. I used to get that at the Marble Slab when I was a kid. In terms of what I eat daily, I usually eat Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream. I’m open to all kinds of flavors. When we were in Greece, we even ate a Nutella flavor ice cream. It was so good that we kept going back every day to get it
Last book you read We have been travelling a lot lately and the book I need to finish that I started many months ago is one called ‘Up To Speed’ by Christine Yu. It deals with the science related to women athletes and how there isn’t much research on women athletes. It does deep dives into issues in women’s sports, the lack of research and how there needs to be expanded sports science research with women’s athletes. That is a focus for us with our ‘Lululemon Further’ six-day event next year. We have our women’s running team that will have a research team behind the event conducting research and testing during the race. They have already been doing testing and research with us to figure out benchmarks for our physiology outside of and in advance of the race. So, I do like that book because it will help open more women’s sport science research and our Lululemon event will add to it for women athletes and women ultra runners
Embarrassing TV show I don’t watch much TV. Conor and I tend to watch series. We watched ‘Mad Men’ for a period, and it is so backwards and crazy to think of what women endured in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. It blows my mind. I wasn’t alive during that time period, but I think it would have driven my nuts to live in a world like that. We are in such a different society now and I believe the climate will continue to improve for women to feel supported and appreciated and to move toward more equality in pay. It is a lot better now than back in those days
Last music concert you attended Conor and I met at a jazz festival, but that was twenty-two years ago in 2001 in my hometown. I don’t remember the last one we went to because we haven’t since the pandemic happened. I would rather enjoy a music concert on my computer or television
Favorite Saturday Night Live Character Mary Catherine Gallagher and her ‘Superstar’ routine. I also liked the skit with Christopher Walken when they did ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ and needed ‘More Cowbell’
Favorite Halloween costume It wasn’t a Halloween costume at first but, when I dressed up as Spider Woman and ran a marathon in costume for the Guinness Book of World Records was very cool. I still have my costume and wear it to parties because people keep asking me to do that. And many people don’t know it’s me because it covers me from head to toe. It has become so iconic that some people will know, ‘Oh, that’s Camille.’ So, I have become known for my pink Spider Woman suit
Favorite birthday memory The coolest present I ever received was when Conor proposed to me on my twenty-first birthday. That was back in 2002. It’s amazing to think that he proposed on my twenty-first birthday – that was so young
First thing you do in the morning Go to the restroom. Then I have a typical morning and eat before my morning run
Worst cooking experience Conor does most of the cooking, so it’s been a while since I’ve had to cook. There have been experiences when I forgot I was cooking something and forgot to put grease in the pan. I can cook if I have to but usually Conor does the cooking because he is a better cook
TV reality show dream I think my life could be a reality show. I am currently working with Lululemon and they are going to spend a couple days in my life. I don’t watch much TV but, if I could be on TV, it would probably be on a game show where I could win a million dollars. Years ago, around 2014 for ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire,’ somehow, I was contacted to be a contestant on the show. They wanted to have contestants who held various Guinness World Records. They asked me all these quiz questions about current events, and I was totally out of touch with what was happening in the world. I only got at most two out of ten questions right. I was bad and that was the end of my ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ experience
Favorite cartoon I laugh because we are in Arizona now, and I saw a roadrunner going around a house and they are much smaller in person than in the cartoon. The Roadrunner is my favorite character. It was a shock to see how small the roadrunners are in person because I envisioned them being super-sized
Favorite movie line From ‘Dirty Dancing,’ it would be ‘Nobody puts baby in a corner.’ It makes me think, ‘Nobody puts Camille in a corner’
Worst date ever When Conor and I first started dating we went to ‘Six Flags Over Texas’ and rode all the roller coasters and water rides. We have not been back since because it did such a number on our bodies. I had a headache for weeks and my body felt terrible. So, we are no longer into going to amusement parks and doing joy rides
Something you learned this week In Arizona, where we are now, I go for these late-night runs and the moon is lighting up the path. It is very tranquil, and I see the light of the moon lighting up the outline of the mountains. It has made me think about where my dream place would be. I have lived in cities and rural places, and it makes me think about my dream place. I have realized that I like the tranquility and silence of being somewhere that is very quiet as I run at nighttime. At the same time, I like being able to have the city amenities and being close to a major city. This has truly made me think. We are enjoying living in Oro Valley, and we lived here before in 2021 and 2022. We moved away and moved back and there is a magical vibe I feel when running at night with the moon lighting my way which is from Led Zeppelin in ‘Ramble On.’ I always go back to ‘Ramble On’ because that song speaks to me. My favorite time of day to run is at night. Ultra runners run in beautiful places with mountains and wonderful scenery, and I like the silence and quietness. I’ve always known that I liked running at night, appreciating the stars and shooting stars and the moon. So that is something I have been thinking about this week
Naming your autobiography This evolves over time. I’ve written down some titles. I’ll be out for a run and think of a title. It could be ‘Enjoy the Silence,’ but I would have to think about it and use a title that hasn’t been used before. There is from the 1950s ‘The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner’ while I think of ‘The Silence of the Long-Distance Runner.’ That speaks to me. Maybe something like, ‘The Lion in Me.’ I’m always smiling, even during my tough races, so, ‘Miles of Smiles’ or ‘Thousands of Miles and Smiles.’ My mom kept some of my old schoolwork and I had to write an autobiography when I was in the fifth grade. I think it was something like, ‘It’s Me, Smiley.’ It’s cool that I had that for my title as a child. It could be something related to ‘Eating the Elephant One Bite at a Time.’ If I give it away, then somebody might steal my title, so I don’t know if I should give it away