Camille Herron is one of the top American women runners in the marathon. Camille has won 10 marathons with a PR of 2:37. With the help of her husband as a coach and her willingness to use her own body to test training theories (mileage, workouts, etc.) and diets she went from running for “stress relief” to setting huge PR’s and numerous victories. In the interview below, Camille talks about her transformative and inspirational path in running.
Camille, thanks for taking the time to share your experiences with our readers at TeachtoRun.com. We could all improve our running from you sharing your knowledge and greatly appreciate it. I want to skip a bit ahead first and ask you about what some of your higher profile races and then go back. You have qualified for 2 different Olympics trials now and had a number of qualifying times for each one (Qualifying times mean Camille ran fast enough to compete in the Olympic trials). Can you compare and contrast the 2 different experiences?
They were two completely different experiences! For ’08, I was happy just to be there and to even start and finish the race! I slipped off an icy curb 5 weeks before it. I thought I’d torn my calf, but in hindsight I likely fractured my fibula and didn’t know it. I jogged easy (and painfully!) for 5 weeks, just so I could start and finish the race, which I did in 2:47:14.For the 2012 Trials, I got the A standard on the first try at the ’09 Twin Cities Marathon/US Championship. I quit my job, got an agent, and got my first major sponsorships with Marathonguide.com and Powerbar. I had hernia surgery in 2010, and then I decided to have some fun with the marathoning, achieving 7 total Olympic Trials qualifying times. I trained for a peak performance at the ’12 Olympic Trials– had a perfect buildup, mostly healthy, and ran a new PR of 2:37:14, for 26th place and exactly 10 minutes faster than the ’08 Trials!
Yes! It was a lightbulb moment for me when I was just “running for stress relief” for several months, jogging at a much slower pace than I did as a collegiate runner. With no serious training, beside months of this easy running, I went out and ran a 5K road race PR by 31 seconds!Soon thereafter (this was fall 2003), I started having pain in my IT band. I was taking Physics at the time, had read about the Africans growing up running barefoot/in worn out shoes, how they had less injuries, and thought from a body-balance standpoint it made sense. I ditched my trainers for racing flats, started from scratch with the mileage, and over the next 7 months built my body up to where I was running 70 miles per week– the most I’d ever run, and I was healthy and felt great! One day my husband inquired on how much I was running, just for fun, and he couldn’t believe I was at 70 mpw! He started coaching me and added in some speedwork. I went into the fall of 2004 and dropped my 5K time from 18:29 to 17:51, first 10K in 36:22, and first 15K in 55:46. I further dropped my 5K time to 17:20 the next spring. In a year and a half, I’d dropped from 19:00 to 17:20 for 5K, and it all started because of the running slow for “stress relief”!I could feel my body composition changing through this period, likely because of the consistent training and also because I started learning how to cook and eat better. I got more sleep. My husband taught me how to not only train like an elite athlete (since he was an elite athlete himself), but also how to LIVE like an elite athlete. It was a process of learning about things like fueling between runs, fueling during runs, hydration, iron supplementation, and what my body needs to fire on all cylinders.As you can see, it was sort of a snowball effect of “lets try this and see what happens”, and over time I learned what works… and what doesn’t work. Arthur Lydiard did the exact same thing 50-60 years ago. Each of us needs to be our own guinea pig! I started my blog to detail all these things that have worked for me. Because I have a Master’s in Exercise and Sport Science, I understand the science behind things, and I’m able to explain it to others. While it’s great that I’ve made remarkable improvements, it’s been even more satisfying that I’ve helped so many others.
I really had no problems gradually building my mileage up over a 2-3 year period to 100+ mpw. I was in grad school at the time, so I would often get in my mileage by running to and from the lab! I had a routine– I ran twice a day, every day. It definitely felt like I “flipped a switch”, the first time I got over 100 mpw. I felt like a million bucks– very fluid and like I never got tired! However, I eventually hit a point where I started feeling run down and got sick. It took me a good 1 1/2 years to realize I likely wasn’t getting enough iron to match all the footstrike hemolysis, and I probably was Vit. D deficient too (being up in Oregon). I was good though about eating enough calories to match energy expenditure– I got regular periods. I consulted with my Nutrition professors and classmates about fueling, and I learned about the importance of fueling between runs.For the most part, I simply ran mileage for 2 years, as I was under a lot of academic stress. My quality training was sporadic, but I ran over a lot of diverse terrain/trails/barefoot running, so I got a variety of stimuli. I learned the higher I went with the mileage, the slower I had to generally run in order to recover properly. If I did any quality work, with the higher mileage, I had to run slower on my easy runs to recover.Once I graduated and starting working part-time in the lab, I was able to finally put together the quality training, with the quantity, and qualified for the ’08 Olympic Trials. However, the magic didn’t start to happen until I took a break from my job, went to Colorado to train for a summer, was doing the low-stress eat/sleep/run regimen, AND figured out the part about the iron. Figuring out the Vit. D part didn’t happen until the following year.I’m very fortunate that I’m able to train full-time now and devote all my time/energy/rest to my running. I don’t recommend that others try to mimic exactly what I do, but the more miles you can run without breaking down, likely the better you’ll develop aerobically… and the faster you’ll run. There’s an art to higher mileage too, as I mentioned– the need to slow down the pace. Everyone can try to simplify their life– make it less stressful. With the higher mileage comes a greater need for nutrients, sleep, calories, and most importantly a focus on recovery time.
I started in Nov. 2006 and have averaged over 100 mpw since then! I’ve had a few high years with good health… and a few low mileage years where I had to take time off (like my hip surgery in 2010).
While minimalism is something that worked wonders for me, it didn’t come without an extensive period of time adapting to it. I started from scratch on the mileage, while training exclusively in racing flats, and I built up my mileage by +10 mpw each month, until I was up to 70 mpw. I added in the barefoot running in the spring, a few months after being in flats.I think that ultimately everyone can benefit from some degree of less shoe/barefoot activity, but just like starting a new running program or a new strength program, you have to let the body adapt properly… not do “too much/too soon”. Once I got over that 1 year “adaptation hump” with the racing flats, the longterm health and fitness benefits have paid off in a huge way. Now, whenever I feel any body aches coming on in the lower body, I’ll take off my shoes and go run barefoot on some soccer fields– it’s a wonderful cure-all for body aches and helps with recovery.
Ideally, we should be eating a well-rounded diet and not cutting out food groups, unless a health condition exists (~I’m lactose intolerant for example). As I’ve mentioned, I’ve figured out over the years that I have certain health/nutrient needs, where I can’t get enough of those nutrients through food, alone, to match the demands of what I do as a runner! Our ancestors likely didn’t RUN 120-130 mpw on concrete, year-round! I thought my exceptional intake of red meat was enough, but apparently it isn’t– nor was supplementing with iron pills a few times a week enough. So yes, iron is one of those things that runners need more of, along with B12, and possibly Vit. D (esp. during the winter).The problem with taking supplements is they’re not regulated by the FDA, so you have to be careful and responsible with anything you take. At my level, there’s the possibility of being drug tested, and there would be nothing worse than to take a tainted supplement/food/drink and have your career ended. I was on the USADA out-of-competition testing list for a while, and we went through a lot of educational training– I wouldn’t touch anything at GNC with a 10 foot pole! We also learned about how food in foreign countries can be tainted with steroids! In terms of supplements, I buy the single nutrients I know I need at Walmart off the shelf– Calcium, Vit. D, iron, Super B Complex, and Glucosamine Sulfate (for joints). I’m very fortunate to be sponsored by Powerbar, so their products help me get enough calories through snacking, staying hydrated, and making sure I have fuel while traveling.
I guess the biggest thing I’ve read about with women is how we possibly need more fat that men, to stay healthy and hormonally balanced. We may be preferentially metabolizing more fat than men, which may be why women do so well in endurance events. However, it may also come down to getting enough calories to match energy expenditure and stay in energy balance– all of this is important for sustaining regular periods and impacts hormonal balance.
Certainly, you have to train appropriately for an event, but more importantly it comes down to the individual and figuring out what works for YOU. It definitely helps to have a coach, but there needs to be mutual feedback from the athlete on what they’re mentally/physically feeling. If you can put in a solid block of training, hit upon all of the energy systems, be healthy, take care of yourself and all the little things– good performances are going to happen. Then, it all comes down to mental fortitude.
I echo what you said! I think the biggest thing I figured out with the mileage is that I have a sweet spot of 120-130 mpw– going above or below this, I generally don’t feel as good. There may be a “law of diminishing return” for everyone on mileage. I’ve stuck with the 120-130 mpw as my main volume towards a peak marathon, while seeing my speed improve over time. Simply the consistency in both quantity and quality leads to improvements.
Yes, my husband, Conor, has been coaching me since July 2004. He was an elite runner himself 10+ years ago, so he taught me how to live and train like an elite athlete. The “living like an elite athlete” part is sooo hard to get across to people! I didn’t understand at first, because I did 10 billion things in college. Once I started living more simply (we went to Colorado for the summer of 2004), it made a HUGE difference in how I felt and performed.At first, he told me what to do, and I did it without thinking about what I was doing. Then, in 2009, I started having more control over my training– thinking more about what I mentally and physically felt like doing. I became more in tune with my body. This made a huge difference because every workout felt like the right workout for that day. I’ve gotten better over time about resting and taking days off when I need to. Now, Conor mainly helps me figure out my hard workouts, and I have the freedom to do whatever I feel like doing on my easy days/doubles/mileage.
Yes, when I ran a 45 second PR for 10K in Colorado Springs at 6000ft.! It was a huge shock to PR that much, AND to have done it at high altitude. It was also a few weeks after I started supplementing with iron, doing drills, and doing regular speedwork (all at high altitude), so I could tell I was ready for a huge breakthrough. I carried this momentum into the fall, achieving a ~3 min. PR for 20K (PRed for 10K en route), 10K PR, tied my 5K PR in extreme heat, and a marathon PR.Another favorite PR was the first time I broke 35 min. for 10K, running 34:59 at the Sunburst 10K in Great Bend, IN, which finishes on the Notre Dame football field. I had been close many times– when I ran onto the football field and saw the clock ticking down, I was all out for the finish line, and I did it!Lastly, my high school track 2 mile PR when I instantly dropped 30 seconds was memorable. I had consulted with my high school principal the week before it on how to pace the race (he was a stellar 400m runner in his day). It was a huge mental and physical breakthrough because I paced it intelligently and strategically– going out slower the first lap, and surging with every lap to keep the pace going. I couldn’t believe how easy it felt! I learned a lot from this race on what I needed to do to continue to be successful.
In terms of running, we lived out in the country when I was a kid, so I ran around the wheat fields all the time, played lots sports, and did dance (tap, ballet, and jazz). I chased animals, birds, insects, and my three siblings! My Dad tells a story how one time he came home, saw me running out of the wheat field, and asked me what I was doing. I told him I was chasing a rabbit! My sister Jane and I ran beside Dad when he carried the Olympic torch for a stretch through Oklahoma, when they had the ’89 Olympic Festival in Oklahoma. I got my first pair of real running shoes for this– a pair of leather Nike Cortez’s.
I was a super star athlete in elementary school. I knew I could run long distance cause I’d wear out my competition running around the court as a point guard on the basketball team, and I could beat everyone in the Presidential Physical Fitness Mile in PE. I was naturally competitive, determined, and coordinated, thanks to good genes from my athletic parents and my desire to be like them.In terms of actual racing, my most favorite race moment was winning the 4x800m relay as a freshman in high school– it was my very first track State event, and not only did we win, but we set the State Meet Record, which still stands! I got to share it with my teammates, so that makes it extra special!
It’s a toss up between my 2hr. steady, rolling hill run I do every 2 weeks, or my 2:30 long runs with marathon pacing. I feel like those are the two that mentally and physically prepare me the best for the marathon.
It probably depends on the person and the event they’re training for. Obviously for the marathon, you need the endurance to sustain the speed.Even though my endurance is my strength, the single most beneficial workout we started incorporating 5 yrs ago was 90 second repeats on roads, which I do 1-2x/month. I’ll get up to 16 x 90 seconds with equal recovery, and a 30 min. warmup/cooldown– it ultimately ends up being an endurance workout because it’s so long. I’m mostly going at max speed for me, but I really focus on having good form and being relaxed/fluid. If I neglect this workout for a long period, I can tell my speed starts to decline, so I absolutely have to keep it in my training. Overall, I need a little bit of everything, year-round, to feel at my best and run well from 5K-marathon.
I’m at a rare point right now– on my second week of complete rest! I freakishly tore my plantar fascia last August from a bunch of bee stings on my foot, so it’s been a lengthy process trying to resolve the scar tissue in my foot. I finally needed to take complete rest, to go along with regular PT treatments, after running a lot of marathons and an ultra this spring. I’m not going to race a marathon until next fall (not sure yet what to race!)– I hope to be healthy and fit enough to chase the Olympic Trials A standard (2:37:00).
Right now it really depends on the health of my foot. I hope it feels a gazillion times better when I start running again next week! I’ll know if I’m ready to do a full marathon training block, which I haven’t done since before Grandma’s last year.
Well, this is probably one of the most thorough interviews I’ve ever done! People are welcome to check out my website– I race reports, along with informative blog posts on things that have helped me: http://www.camilleherron.com/
What advice did you find most useful from Camille? What breakthroughs have you made in running and what do you think led to those breakthroughs?