COOS BAY — Camille Herron doesn’t always enjoy running for long periods of time.
“I don’t really like to run long. I know that sounds really strange, but I don’t like to go for more than a three-hour training run,” said Herron on Wednesday evening. “I’m like screw it, I would rather go have beer and tacos or something.”
While Herron’s sentiment could come from seemingly any runner, the difference is that she has used this fuel to set world records and earn the title of “World’s Greatest Ultra Runner.” She holds the world record in the 50-mile and 100-mile distances and for distance covered in both 12 and 24 hours.
The elite runner is in Coos Bay this week and talked with students at Marshfield High School during the day and to community members in the evening on Wednesday. She went over the ins and outs of her races and how she prepares for these grueling races.
There was never one answer to what has made Herron into the elite runner that she is, but rather a whole host of factors based on how she trains, moves, thinks and breathes.
“I really feel like I was born to do this,” she said.
Herron, to no one’s surprise, has always been good at running. After growing up in Oklahoma and winning state titles in both track and cross country in high school, she went on to run collegiately at the University of Tulsa.
After recovering from various injuries, and while earning her bachelor's degree in exercise and sports science from the University of Tulsa and her masters in exercise and sport science at Oregon State University, her focus turned to longer distances. She qualified for the Olympic Trials in 2008, 2012 and 2016 in the marathon and has a marathon personal best of 2 hours 37 minutes and 14 seconds.
But she still wanted to run farther.
“The marathon was too short for me and I had to go farther to find out this is what I’m supposed to do,” said Herron. After running a 100-kilometer race, she instantly knew that ultrarunning was where she was meant to be. “It’s like a sprinter being born for sprinting, a marathoner is born for the marathon, I’m born for ultrarunning.”
“I have all these weird, quirky skills and I tried ultrarunning and I seem to be freakishly built for that.”
For Herron it starts with the fact that at birth her right femur and arm were twisted inward. This led to a unique running gait that she describes as an efficient shuffle. This running style holds her back from being an especially fast sprinter but helps her experience low impact as she puts in the miles.
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During the actual races, one of Herron’s biggest strengths is being able to stay fueled during an event that can see her burn over 12,000 calories.
“When I ran this 24-hour world record, I was so in tune with my body and my needs and fueling it properly I did not lose a single pound,” she said. “That’s amazing when you hear about marathoners losing 10 percent of their body weight and that’s one of my superhuman powers, that I have an incredible innate ability to sense my body and what it needs even for a 24-hour world record.”
With her running form and physical needs taken care of, there is still the aspect of putting in the miles. Now living in Colorado and training twice a day at elevation, Herron has been focused on maximizing her training.
For Herron this has meant continuing to train like she did when she was training for marathons. She still does speed work and caps her long runs at 22 miles.
“The way I view ultrarunning is that the cumulative miles that you put in is what carries you. People do these back to back long runs like 30 miles, 40 mile training runs — I don’t do that,” she said. “I think that’s what makes me unique as an ultrarunner.”
With all the tools in place to be a successful elite runner, the final piece has been her positive mindset. Nicknamed Smiley by her great-grandma because of her penchant for smiling and being upbeat, she has carried this same attitude into even the most difficult of races.
As she toes the line for one of her races, it is with a smile and knowing that what is about to happen will by no means be easy.
“When I run for 24 hours I know it’s not going to be a perfect race. I know I’m going to have challenges the entire time and so I accept that before the race that I’m going to be challenged and I’m going to have to work through those roadblocks,” said Herron. “I will push through anything to succeed and to show that women are strong and capable and that we can go farther and do these amazing things.”
And with each passing mile, she always comes back to the same idea.
“I’m born to be here,” said Herron. “I’m supposed to do something amazing and that’s what helps me continue and push through those challenges. It’s a really cool feeling.”
It was a day of talking about all things running for elite ultra runner Camille Herron. While visiting Coos Bay to talk to students at Marshfield High School during the day and a group of running enthusiasts in the evening, the world record holder talked about everything from how many pairs of shoes she wears during a 24-hour race, how many gels she consumes during that same race to how she is inspired by running legend Steve Prefontaine.