Friday, November 17, 2017

A World Record Racer Story: Camille Herron's Journey to the 100 Mile World Record. In depth- the training, science, and drive to the record

Article by Sam Winebaum

Photo Credit: Conor Holt

Camille Herron recently shattered the world 100 mile record by over and hour, running 12:42:39 at the Tunnel Hill 100 (Illinois), winning the race outright by 20 minutes and 10 minutes faster than anyone ever on the course. It was her first hundred mile finish. The Tunnel Hill 100 mile race on a rail trail corresponds to approximately 4 marathons run back to back to back at 7:38 pace. Put another way each of these 3:19 marathons, one after the other, is a Boston Marathon qualifier for her age group, by about 10 minutes each!

Not a week removed from her race, Camille sat down with RoadTrailRun where she graciously, at length and in depth discussed her running career, training and recovery techniques, racing strategy, and of course shoes.

I first met Camille online at the Running Shoe Geeks on Facebook several years ago where she was, and still is, is an active participant, asking technical shoe questions and always also freely answering any and all questions. These days Camille is sponsored by Nike and raced the VaporFly 4% at Tunnel Hill. She runs Terra Kigers on the trails. Of course we discussed her shoe selection for Tunnel Hill, the Nike Vapor Fly 4%, and how they performed. We learned she ran almost all her prep miles in a pair, 450 miles in a month or so, then tuned up a fresh pair with a few runs running the new pair at Tunnel Hill.

Running Resume
Camille was a 3 time Oklahoma high school track champion and 3 time all state in cross country. She attempted a college running career but it was cut short by injuries. She resumed running after college. She loves to race and frequently and in addition to her presence on the world ultra stage is one of the fastest Marathon Maniacs and is pursuing marathons, and victories in all 50 states.  Her resume includes 7 Olympic Marathon Trials qualifying times in a single year with a PR 2:37 at the Trials. She more recently has transitioned to longer distances winning the world 50K and 100K road championships in 2015 as well as setting the US 50 mile record. Transitioning to trails in 2016 she won and set a 27 minute course record at the Ultra Race of Champions. 
Camille wins the 2017 Comrades Marathon in South Africa. Photo Credit Jackie Clausen via
In 2017 she won the Comrades Marathon in South Africa, the first American to win in over 20 years. Giving back to the sport she serves as Secretary of the USATF Women’s Long Distance Committee.

She trains up to 120-130 miles per week and has for many years. As they might say in her home state of Oklahoma where she still lives, her 100 mile record "wasn't her first rodeo".   

We discovered in our interview that it was what she learned in college classes and subsequently during her graduate studies in exercise and bone science and as a scientific researcher in the field where she still works part time has had a huge influence on how she trains and in her success. However this is not just a scientific story, although she happily admits to the application of heavy duty scientific research to her training in a detail which made my head spin, this is really a very human story of a runner with unusual discipline, optimism, persistence, competitive fire, and joy for running.
Photo Credit: Kurt Schilling

The Journey to A World Record: The Science
We learned in our interview is that in addition to perseverance, obvious talent and a positive always upbeat disposition, Camille's education, scientific research and career in Exercise Science and bone research has deeply informed her training and recovery methods. It was while injured with foot stress fractures in college as an Exercise Science major that she first began exploring the science of recovery and applying her own and peer research to her running. She learned about the role of whole body vibration and splitting training loads into multiple sessions on reducing bone resportion and increasing bone formation and mass while releasing growth hormones and micro nutrients, keys to recovery. She started to apply the research of AG Robling and DG Burr  here and here to her own training and recovery. She first applied this research in grad school with very moderate walking/running to recover from a fractured rib in less than 3 weeks and later to recover from Plantar Fascia in four weeks after a barefoot running heel bee sting had her off balance leading to the condition.

How does the role of low level bone vibration and splitting up training loads intra day to allow recovery translate into her training, and recall she trains up to 130 miles per week? She runs twice a day to allow recovery between runs and 90% of her miles are at 8:00-9:00 pace, far slower than her world record pace in the mid 7:30’s, her 50K PR and world championship race at 6:28 per mile pace or her 2:37 marathon PR pace of 5:59 per mile. Such split workouts, at slower paces, allows for intra day recovery through the release of growth hormones and micro-nutrients. 

Further, in lessons learned from peer reviewed research she was involved in as a co-author surrounding the effects of ergometer use during future long duration space travel on lactate levels here and here she has incorporated heavy upper body only strength training in the lead up to major races, an unusual technique for distance runners. She learned from her research that concentric plus eccentric loading, or muscle lengthening creates greater blood lactate production and thus greater growth hormone release than concentric-only exercise. Eccentric loading equates to downhill running. Usually heavy strength training is done early in runners’ race training cycles but Camille does it for two months right up to the race with the purpose to speed recovery between workouts and to build strength. Note that she primarily focuses on upper body lifting. She first did such weight training in 2008. She subsequently had a breakthrough year, improving her race times from 5K to the marathon. 

Training Methods 
Camille runs 120 to 130 miles per week with great consistency. Following a plan developed by her husband Conor, also an elite runner and her coach, she runs a 2 week cycle which with classic marathon training fare including one each short and long intervals sessions, long HR progression run, a hill intervals workout and a 20-22 mile long run. She only cuts back on this workload if she is tired, recovering from a race, or feels an injury lurking. 

As stated above, she most often trains twice a day to allow for recovery between runs. While she experimented with longer long runs as she went into ultra distances she came back to a maximum of 20-22 mile for long runs and will usually do a second run of 35-50 min in the evening of her long run days. She found her recovery and ability to maintain mileage was impeded by longer long runs. She alternates every other Sunday doing her long runs as a progression run, approaching 6-7 minute/mile pace and 75-90% of her maximum heart rate, or as an easy long run with pickups at the end, 8 minute/mile pace or 60-70% of her maximum heart rate. 

Many ultra runners embark on multi hour runs with much vertical gain (recall the role of eccentric movements on tearing muscles..) more than once a week. Camille focuses on consistent high mileage, alternates easy days with hard days, and given she lives in mostly flat Oklahoma not much vertical. Recall her 100 Mile World Record was 5x her longest run at a pace which she only runs once every 2 weeks during runs no longer than 22 miles! She credits the cumulative, consistently high mileage on mostly concrete for preparing her legs for the demands of 100 miles. 

Additionally, she does a hard hill session every 2 wks for the eccentric loading of downhill running, which helps protect the legs from muscle cramping. As she learned in grad school from her muscle physiology professor who did downhill running studies with mice, the legs do not need much hill training to have this protective effect, which will last for an extended period of time. Camille has applied this wisdom throughout her career by not doing excessive amounts of vertical training, which she feels needlessly beats up the legs and takes out the zip. Mind you, she won the Comrades Marathon “uphill” course this yr, only training for climbing every 2 wks. She has excelled in mountainous trail races too with this approach and training in mostly flat Oklahoma.

Running Shoes
There is no question Camille is and remains one of the original Running Shoe Geeks and  describes herself as a “total dork” when it comes to running shoes. In high school and college Camille trained in shoes such as the Nike Air Max or Pegasus with orthotics but ended up injured.  In 2004 while recovering from foot stress fractures, and while in grad school, she became fascinated by barefoot or near barefoot running for its potential to stimulate those bone vibrations she was studying. She told me literally went out the door in bedroom slippers to first give minimal running a try!  She says that at the time she was a big presence on the famous Let’s Run message boards as the “original minimalist”.  

As she started running again, and being a huge fan of the prolific racing schedule and also very times of runners of the 1970’s such as Bill Rodgers and Dick Beardsley, she had to run in their shoes! So she started training in retro Asics Ultimate 81 racing flats and became as she described herself, "a 70 mile per week hobby jogger”, all in a series of minimal retro run shoes.  

As she stepped up to ultra road running she moved to the Nike Lunar Racer which for the last few years has been her go to shoe for much of her training and racing. She jokes she liked them so much she wanted to be buried in them.  With the Lunar Racer now being eliminated she moved to the Nike Zoom Fly and Vapor Fly with the Nike Terra Kiger for her trail running.

Photo Credit: Conor Holt
Ah yes the Vapor Fly… She trained over 450 miles in her first pair in preparation for Tunnel Hill alternating with the Zoom Fly  and tells us that she prefered them when they packed down somewhat and got a touch firmer. She does have some lateral heel wear in that first pair, as she sees in all her shoes being a heel striker. Unlike her other Nikes where she typically sizes up half a size, she sized down a half a size in the Vapor Fly as she found them wide and long.  Her two months of training in the Vapor and Zoom Fly were she said a “pure joy” with high volume and even her 20 milers were among the easiest ever. Her first pair is still run worthy although she did start to get some arch pain so for Tunnel Hill she used a fresh pair with 2 runs on them.

2017 and the Road to the Tunnel Hill 100
Camille’s 2017 started very well with a big trail victory and course record at the Tarawera Ultra 102K in New Zealand. She came back strong on the roads with the magnificent victory at Comrades, the first by an American in 20 years  Her debut at Western States 100 did not go so well as she struggled on the early snow covered sections, falling and getting a concussion which led her to drop out and  then had hip issues at the Leadville 100 and dropped out. Next on a wet October day in France at the Templiers ultra in France she slipped and crashed into trees multiple time leading to an early exit. Her rapid cadence and low knee lift is a struggle on wet slippery terrain and she continues to look for the right shoe for that kind of terrain condition. Of course as shoe geeks we discussed the options extensively trying to see if there was a retro Nike waffled shoe with more flex and more widely spaced lugs.

She decided after Templiers to make an attempt at the 100 mile world record as her training had been fabulous, the course was flat and smooth, and the weather should be ideal. Various arrangements had to be made including having a special anti-doping control person from USADA on site for on the spot testing, extra timing mats and a backup hand timer, all so that any potential world record could be validated..

The Race
Ready to Roll! Wait is this a 100 meter dash? 
Photo Credit: Conor Holt

The race itself went mostly smoothly for Camille.  Every picture I have seen of her during the race had her smiling broadly.The course was mostly flat with crushed limestone, dirt and gravel and many fallen leaves.
Photo Credit: Kurt Schilling

She tells us that, unusually for her, she had GI issues in the first 30 miles. She thinks it may have been due to a recent change in formula to a fructose glucose mix in her usual drink mix in combination with the cold temperatures. She started to get hungry by around 50-60 miles . Her husband switched drinks to Maurten 320, the mix used during the Nike Breaking 2 project attempt. “Rocket fuel” Camille called it and she immediately regained energy from its high caloric content for the second half of the race.
Camille comes rolling through 50 miles in 6:07 
Video Credit: Steve Durbin, Durbin Race Management

Sustaining such an incredible sub 7:40 pace for hour after hour is to say the least very, very tough and as night started to fall she wondered when the “bear would jump on my back”. It didn’t, but she did feel that in the dark her perceived pace was faster than actual. She sensed quad cramps coming on towards the end of the race and knocked them down with HotShot, taking two or three during the race.  While she trains with heart rate she did not wear a monitor for Tunnel Hill, running by effort and feel on the flat rail trail course.  Her GPS watch battery ran out at about 90 miles further complicating her sense of pace. In those long final miles she tried to disassociate from what she was doing and the effort, thinking of her training in preparation and staying positive and did so magnificently as the result shows!

She reports zero issues racing the Vapor Fly and was tickled to remind us that the first actual world record set in them during her 100 mile record race, and a world record by an hour and 3 minutes no less!
Photo Credit Kurt Schilling

Congratulations on your amazing achievement Camille! 
Thanks so much for so freely sharing your Racer Story and your training and racing methods with our readers and runners everywhere.
Read our Vapor Fly 4% detailed review here. It has been frequently updated as I have run personal 8-9 year bests in the shoe and with the experiences of other runners.

Read other Racer Stories here

Read this article in the REI Co-op Journal about Camille's record and training and racing methods 

Photo & Video Credits: 

Steve Durbin, Durbin Race Management, the Tunnel Hill 100 race director who created the event, found the super fast 100 mile course, organized, and set the stage for a world record.
Kurt Schilling
Conor Holt
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Devastating Dave said...

She's amazing, really good podcast with her last week

Unknown said...

Incredible interview of an amazing runner!

Anonymous said...

The Tarawera race that she won was 102k.