Cameron Clayton has made a name for himself in his first three ultramarathons, including his second place finish at the 2013 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. In the following interview, Clayton talks about his running background, how his run at Lake Sonoma went, why he’s excited to race Transvulcania and Western States, and whether we might see an influx of even more former DI runners into trail and ultrarunning.
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Cameron Clayon Post-2013 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Cameron Clayton after a second place finish at Lake Sonoma. Feels pretty good?
Cameron Clayton: Feels great. Yeah, it was fun. It was a good day out there.
iRF: I’ve been trying to catch you after your great third place at The North Face Endurance Challenge last year and wanted to talk to you before this race, but it didn’t work out timing wise.
Clayton: Yes, it was a busy schedule.
iRF: Busy schedule—so I’m glad to chat with you today. Before diving into today’s race, I want to hear some about your running background. Some of the iRunFar followers might not know that much about you.
Clayton: I ran for CU [University of Colorado-Boulder]. I’m 24 years old now, so I’m a year out of college. I ran cross country, track and field, steeplechase there—that kind of gig. Then also, in high school I ran the classic cross country and track and field. So it’s pretty streamlined from high school track and field, then I ran at CU and had a great time there. Then I decided to jump into trail and ultra racing.
iRF: What drew you to trail and ultra racing?
Clayton: My roommate, Ted Howard. Actually right out of college I had a huge quad contusion and I had to spend 6 weeks on the couch. He said, “Hey, I’m doing this race in September called Run Rabbit [Run 50]. You should totally come join me.” I was like, “Alright. Why not? I’m not doing anything else.” So he got me into it which I’m super grateful for because apparently I can run pretty well at the ultra distance and just getting to know everyone within the community… my team now… it’s just been a phenomenal experience. I really owe it to him. That’s how I got into it.
iRF: Sort of a chance invitation from somebody who was in college at the time.
Clayton: Yes. He was doing ultras, so he took fifth at Leadville Silver Rush up there. I think that was one of his better performances. He had a really fast 50k as well. He’s actually thinking about getting back into it this year at Pagosa in the fall.
iRF: That’s pretty cool. Going through high school and in your college career were you drawn to trails?
Clayton: I grew up in Boulder, Colorado. We have a phenomenal system of trails out there. I was growing up running on Mesa Trail. I’ve had really great coaches throughout my career—people from Kirk Pfeffer to Mark Wetmore [to Paul Lilly]. Just growing up, they had a great knowledge of the area. So I’ve always done cool trail stuff with some road work and track work.
iRF: That stuff too, but you had exposure to the trail stuff which a lot of high school and college runners don’t necessarily have.
Clayton: In that case, I had a lot of exposure to it. It was half of my training runs every day.
iRF: That’s a phenomenal background there. It probably made the transition to the trail aspect of ultrarunning easier. What have you found to be some of the harder or challenges in getting to transition to an 8k-10k background into the ultra distance.
Clayton: Right now I’ve been training alone, so that’s getting a little lonely. That’s getting a little challenging this winter. I’ve got to change that up because there are plenty of teams in Boulder.
iRF: You’re in Boulder.
Clayton: Exactly. It’s laziness on my part more than anything else. Eating a lot… I race and I eat a lot when I race. Your stomach totally gets way more upset. I’m coming from doing 3-4 years of 20 milers on every weekend without eating anything. It’s at a higher tempo, so it’s about 2 hours for a long run. Like today, the first 25 felt amazing. I didn’t feel like I was pushing or anything. The second 25 was way harder—just getting used to muscle fatigue, getting a good balance with staying at equilibrium. That’s definitely harder.
iRF: So when you’re training, you’re going longer on a routine basis?
Clayton: Routine basis if I have my ideal training is probably at 100-120 miles per week at anywhere between 20-27 mile long run. In college, I’d never go above 20. Out of college, I started going 27, which I think is a really good distance every week.
iRF: Are you mixing in roads, too, on that or just on the trails?
Clayton: I have a phenomenal loop and a couple other loops that are mainly all trails. During the summer, Rocky Mountain National Park, I drive up there for a 40-minute drive and take a 4 hour run up there. I go do some 14’ers and stuff like that.
iRF: Awesome. Are you still keeping in some of the traditional elements of your college training background?
Clayton: Absolutely. I still run probably a little bit faster than a lot of guys out there (sub-7:00/mile) for most of my training. I do strides. I think that’s really important. I think that a lot of people in the ultra community are starting to realize that doing strides is phenomenal and you should actually be doing that. I do an up-tempo run on Wednesdays or an up-tempo run on Sunday.
iRF: Hitting the track or just tempo effort stuff?
Clayton: Tempo effort stuff—a threshold run which is something close to 5:00/mile.
iRF: Do you stick to roads on that?
Clayton: Track, roads, or trail. We have stuff like Bobolink Trail which is just a flat gravel trail and you can get a 6-mile effort in there really easily.
iRF: Well all that put you on the stage to build a little foundation for now. You’re out there today running with Max King.
Clayton: Yeah! It was so cool to run with Max. He’s such a chill fellow. We’re out there just putting down some good pace and it was easy. It was great to run with someone. Even if I felt great or better than him, which I don’t think at any point until the end that I did, I wouldn’t have wanted to leave him.
iRF: That’s so different than running a 10k on the track where if you can drop anybody at any instant, you go.
Clayton: The intensity is so much higher for sure, which is kind of what I liked about the sport.
iRF: I only saw you at two places in that first half. Were you guys together that entire first 25 miles?
Clayton: Yes, we were within 30 meters of each other for the first 30 miles.
iRF: At mile 25 when I saw you, you were still… I mean, you weren’t chatting with each other, but when I was interacting with you, you were joking around having a good time.
Clayton: Yes, absolutely.
iRF: There was a little more intensity at mile 30. When did things start to drop off for you? Did you have a rough patch?
Clayton: Yes, totally, I had a rough patch from mile 28-38. I was just really dehydrated. I drank a lot more of salted water for this. I probably should have drunk a lot more of a diluted solution of it. It’s an experiment. It’s my third ultra. I’m learning a lot from it. I learned I should probably add more water into it. When Sage passed me (he passed me around 34, I’m guessing), it was just twice the stride length and there was… it was no, he was going, and I wasn’t going to be able to follow him at the time.
iRF: When did it come back?
Clayton: It started coming back right before the second to the last aid station around mile 39. I felt great from mile 40-45 and again from 47-50.
iRF: You ended up catching Max.
Clayton: I did catch Max. Max had a rougher patch than I did and his was a little later on. He recovered very well and actually finished very well in his last 5 miles. It was just his middle 7 miles before that that was roughest for him.
iRF: We were talking earlier and your next big race on the calendar is Transvulcania.
Clayton: That’s a big race.
iRF: That’s a big race. You thought this was big? It will feel bigger.
Clayton: It will feel bigger. There are a lot of people who show up to that race—not just racers but spectators.
iRF: Back here where you all can’t see, with spectators, there are maybe 300 people all having tamales in the middle of a field. It’s a totally chill and relaxed.
Clayton: It’s cool.
iRF: At the finish line in Transvulcania, there are going to be thousands of people.
Clayton: Really cool—I’m really excited.
iRF: There are going to be people there from other islands there during the race on the course chilling and having a BBQ and a beer and whatever. They’re not runners.
Clayton: They’re just having fun and enjoying the sport, which is pretty cool that Europe is… I hope North American continues in this general trend towards getting bigger and bigger, more accepting and more excited about the sport. The way that is in Europe just from talking to some of my fellow teammates over this past week, it’s a lot bigger and generates more fun probably.
iRF: I think the possibility exists in the US. Just in the last month, there’s the Kilian [Jornet] article in the New York Times magazine; New York Times had an article on Barkley; ESPN had an article on Ellie [Greenwood]; just yesterday, NPR had an article on the Marathon des Sables; Fox News had a piece on Marathon des Sables—20 seconds, but I mean…
Clayton: It’s showing up.
iRF: It’s showing up on the radar. It’s a blip now.
Clayton: Then you’ve got guys like Dakota [Jones] out there who are trying to do some cool things and bring SkyRunning over where which I think has HUGE possibility out here for… if it takes off right and you get the permits and you go through the bureaucracy of the US… but if you do it right—it’s a little more intense, a little more adrenaline-fueled.
iRF: It’s sellable to the American public.
Clayton: It’s a good idea. Mud races are already so huge. It’s actually similar in the mentality right there.
iRF: In 2 or 3 years, those people who started doing the mud runs first are like, “Whatever. Let’s get some rugged mountain runs in.”
Clayton: I hope it takes off.
iRF: Very cool. Congratulations on your three great races. I guess there’s one more question on the race side. You’ve got a spot in Western States if you want.
Clayton: I’m taking it.
iRF: You’re going to run Western States?
Clayton: I’ve got to be twice as tough as this race, but I’m going to be out there. I’m planning on it at least.
iRF: That’s awesome.
Clayton: Everything can change in the next two months, but it’s there.
iRF: When Craig Thornley sends you that invitation, you’re going to be like, “Yeah, I’m doing it.”
Clayton: Yes, because who knows where I am in two years. I want to be around this sport, but maybe I’ll be doing something shorter. I want to say, “Yes, I’ve done 100 miles.” In North America, that’s the 100 miler to do.
iRF: I look forward to seeing you on La Palma and in Squaw Valley in a couple of months.
Clayton: Thank you.
iRF: One quick bonus question: something we haven’t seen in the ultra scene here in the US is “pure runners” in the sense of coming from a high school and college track and cross country background especially at the D1 level. Just thinking about today’s race, the three guys battling it up front were two from Cornell and one from University of Colorado. Good programs at D1 schools—do you think that’s a trend that could continue?
Clayton: Yes. It could happen. With the popularity of the sport growing, you can draw some more of these talented runners.
iRF: I’ve never heard of the example you gave of your roommate, and he was a runner as well, was he on your team as well?
Clayton: He ran for University of Michigan—he was a good miler, a fast guy.
iRF: With one D1 runner telling another D1 runner who is just out of college—“Hey, I’m running this race.” That’s something that hasn’t been seen before—a light switch for some of these guys who in the past were drawn to move on from college to the Cherry Blossom or the Peachtree or all the big road races.
Clayton: Yes. Some guys will and some guys won’t, but maybe more in the future will.
iRF: Being in Boulder, do you see any more from that background eyeing the sport?
Clayton: I mean sure there are guys, but they still have dreams of making it still in their given profession where they are. I see guys that could be great in the sport, just phenomenal runners as well as great adventurers who love getting up in the mountains when they can. But they are guys who are 23, 24, 25, but at that age, if you have dreams of a 5k, too, that’s the age to do it. So it might be in a couple of years.
iRF: They have that draw to the mountains, but that draw can be answered at 28 or 33 or 43.
iRF: It’s great to see… there have been some more in the sport coming from that professional runner, even if it’s high school and college, that professional runner category and then moving into ultrarunning. But it’s reassuring to have people like you who love the mountains and love the trails and you’re all doing it seemingly for the right reasons.
Clayton: Oh yeah, it’s a blast out here.
iRF: Great hanging out and getting to chat.
Clayton: Thank you. Great, of course!