If the last year has been any indicator, marathon specialist Camille Herron is just getting warmed up in the sport of ultrarunning. However, with this weekend’s Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, Camille will race an ultramarathon on the trails for the first time, and she hasn’t exactly picked an easy one. In this interview, hear how Camille is approaching her trail-ultra debut, how some of her training on the trails has gone, and if she’ll approach this new style of race with her same go-for-it style.
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Camille Herron Pre-2016 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar here, and I’m here in Healdsburg, California, a couple days before the 2016 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. I’m with Camille Herron. Hi.
Camille Herron: Hi.
iRunFar: I feel like I need to be on my tippy-toes.
Herron: I need to bend down.
iRunFar: We are two days before your trail-ultra debut.
Herron: That’s right.
iRunFar: You’ve run a lot of races in your running career. Being on the starting line of a running race is not new news for you, but what’s it like being a couple days out from your first trail ultra?
Herron: I’ve waited for this moment for quite awhile. I’ve been a fan, and watching the iRunFar coverage of all the ultras. Honestly, my brother lives here in Healdsburg, so I’ve been a big fan of this race and everyone’s been wanting me to do it. When the opportunity came up—“Hey, what do you want to do for your first trail race?”—this was my first response. I’m very, very excited to be here, and very… it’s a lot of energy building up inside of me that I’m just ready to release.
iRunFar: I’ve just met you. This is my first time meeting you, but I can feel the energy right now. So I want to backtrack for a minute and just sort of review your brief but very successful ultra career. It was just a year ago this weekend you ran your first ultra, is that right?
Herron: Yeah, so Mad City 100k last year. Going into that, it’s kind of a shot in the dark like how I’m going to do and everything. I didn’t even know I had run as well as I did until the race director called me while I was driving to work the following Monday. He was like, “So do you realize how fast you ran it?” I didn’t really have any perspective on it. Yeah, I’m very grateful to find out that, Hey, I’m pretty good at this ultra thing. It was a natural transition for me to go to road ultras first being a road marathoner. Everyone is like, “Hey, now you’ve got to take it to the trails and see what happens.” So, here I am. I’m going to just see what happens.
iRunFar: So after you ran Mad City a year ago this weekend, you went onto run the IAU 100k World Championships and the 50k World Championships in September and December respectively. You sandwiched in the [USATF] 50-Mile National Championships in the U.S. You won them all. You blew them all out of the water. People are talking about… you’ve had a deep amount of success already on the roads here, but people are talking about, “Is she going to be able to hang on the trails with the technicality that comes with it as well as the elevation change?” Give us your over/under. Do you think you’re going to be able to hang?
Herron: Yeah, I came out here back in December to try and get my feet wet with the trail running. I ran part of the Western States course. I did a full loop around Lake Sonoma. I’m running with other people, and I’m like, “What do you think? What’s your assessment?”
iRunFar: “Am I doing okay with trail running?”
Herron: “Am I doing okay?” I really don’t know. It’s the same with doing the road ultras last year. I had no idea. It was kind of a shot in the dark. Obviously, I have the leg speed, and I hope that can translate well to the trails. Obviously there are a lot more variables in play that…
iRunFar: Wait, I didn’t get the answer. The people that you ran with, what was their assessment?
Herron: They said I was probably going to be just fine. Yeah, I ran with my friend, Bob Shebest, at Lake Sonoma and he was like, “Yeah, for someone who doesn’t run on the trails, you did pretty good.” His judgement was the fact that I never tripped and fell. I’ve managed to stay on my own two feet. Knock on wood, I haven’t had a fall or an accident other than I pulled my hamstring a couple weeks ago. I feel like… I grew up as a dancer. Actually, it’s really strange to me because I grew up dancing. I grew up playing basketball and having a lot of footwork. So, getting on the trails, the more I do it, the more I feel like it’s just like dancing.
iRunFar: So it feels more like a call back to your childhood?
Herron: Yeah, it’s really… it’s almost like riding a bike. You get back on and, Oh, this feels kind of familiar. It’s reawakening the skills that I had learned when I was younger. It’s really fun actually.
iRunFar: I want to ask you, you obviously have leg speed and the ability to endure that leg speed for a lengthy period of time. You’ve proven that with your ultra career so far. You came out here and ran around Lake Sonoma, so you saw part of the course or the majority of the course. Where did you think your strengths and weaknesses lied on the actual terrain of this particular race?
Herron: Bob’s assessment was he thought I was all-around good at everything.
iRunFar: Bob, we’re counting on you.
Herron: Bob thought I was pretty good at everything. I really wasn’t even… we were just jogging easy, and when I uploaded the data into Strava it was like I was placing pretty well amongst the people running the course, either setting course records or top five or six or whatever. So, I was like, Okay, it seems like I’m pretty even on both the ups and the downs and whatever was technical. I don’t know. I guess I’ll find out. I know running with Bob, I was pretty much… we were trying to run… well we were on singletrack, so it’s not like we could run side-by-side, but there were periods I was catching him on the climbs and periods where I was gapping him on the downhills, so we were pretty evenly matched. He’s run 7:02 here, so using him as a measuring stick, I felt like we were pretty comparable fitness-wise. I was like, “Bob, this felt really good. I can’t wait to come back and actually race it.”
iRunFar: What about doing all of that, what you did for going out and around the lake, and then coming back again? Do you feel like you’ve got it in your mechanics and got it in your musculature to pull it out for 10,000 feet of climbing and descending?
Herron: Obviously, I’ve never done that before. I’ve run a lot of miles. I’ve done these extended long runs back around Christmas time. I actually started to feel stronger beyond 20 miles. Even running with Bob, I was kind of experimenting with the energy stuff and trying something new, and I didn’t feel like I really started rolling until 20 miles into it. I think that’s just my natural endurance. That’s what I’m finding out with ultras is that I don’t really get going until 20 or 30 miles into the race. That’s something I’ve only figured out the past year. Yeah, as far as having the leg strength, I feel like my mileage has a lot of advantages. I do a lot of strength work with my legs, a lot of squatting and lunging and deadlifts and just a lot of drills. I feel really comfortable. I actually felt like, Wow, this is really just felt good. Actually, even the surface feels easier compared to the roads. It’s like bloody murder running a flat 100k.
iRunFar: Forever flat. “Oh, there’s a tiny incline! Yay!”
Herron: Even compared to the Fall 50 [Mile] which was giant, good-sized rolling hills comparable to Comrades—that’s a net uphill—so comparing that to the World 100k was like night and day because I felt a lot fresher. I felt like my muscles were being used differently versus the World 100k which was just so repetitive, that flat. Yeah, it just was really painful.
iRunFar: My last question for you is about strategy. You have been pretty public and open going into your road ultras so far about, “I’m just going to go for it. I think I can do it. My training pace is an indication I should be able to do it.” Are you going to go for it this weekend, or is there going to be any inkling of conservative-ness, or is that just not your style?
Herron: I run my own race. I know what 50-mile effort should feel like. I run by effort. I don’t run by pace. I’m out there, and I’m in the zone. I’m just totally zen. I’m in the moment. I’m really not thinking too much about what’s around me. I know that one thing I’m really excited about is the fact that it is an out-and-back course. I know that I’m going to be coming back. I’m going to feel the energy of all the other runners and be able to cheer them on and see the competition. I’ll be able to kind of gauge where I’m at relative to the other women in the field. You know, I’m just so… it’s an intense focus when I run. When people see me race—I’m just such a natural happy person outside of running, but when I’m in a race, it’s like, I…
iRunFar: No talking. No talking.
Herron: But at the same time, I do have moments where I do flash a smile and tell people thank you. I remember one time at the 100k World Championships, Susan, my crew person, told me, “You’re a rock star,” and I smiled at her. I was like, “Yes, that was the perfect thing to say!”
iRunFar: I got a smile out! Best of luck to you out there this weekend.
Herron: Thank you. I appreciate it.
iRunFar: The world is definitely watching to see how you do out there, so good luck.
Herron: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.