An established competitor - and champion! - on the roads, ultra-marathoner Camille Herron has a running resume so impressive that it borders on ridiculous. Highlights include earning her place as a 3-time Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier, winning the 2015 IAU 50K World Championship in Doha, Quatar, and a first place finish at the 2015 100K World Championships. Whew! And now she's turning her attention to the trails, where she boldly toed the line at the Lake Sonoma 50 a few weeks ago seeking to earn a Western States Golden Ticket in her very first trail ultra race. Read below as she recaps her race experience out in Northern California, and prepares to take on the trail ultra world, one muddy step at a time.
"I came into the finish looking like something from Braveheart!"
Photo: Chris Jones
What compelled you to make the leap to trail running?
Being a marathoner, it made the most sense to transition to road ultras last year. I thought I could be a road/track ultra specialist! However, since trail ultras are more popular in the US, after all my success on the roads, everyone wanted me to try the trails. I really had no idea what to do, where to start, and how to prepare for the trail ultras - it's a whole different world from the roads! Cross country was always my favorite sport growing up, so I felt I could fall in love with it. Fortunately, I connected with Ethan Veneklasen, who is a longtime ultrarunner and now represents me. I really appreciate his guidance and insight into trail running and all the advice I've gotten from others as well.
Why did you choose Lake Sonoma?
Lake Sonoma was the first trail race I mentioned to Ethan! My brother Jack and his wife Katie live in Healdsburg, so I've always followed the race with great interest and wanted to run it some day. I knew it was fairly challenging, both the course and competition, but I'm always up for a good challenge! It was a Western States qualifier and offered a spot on the US Trail Team, so it made the most sense to try and knock off a few goals.
With all of your success and experience in racing, do you still get nervous before the start?
I actually don't get nervous! I grew up as a stage performer (dance, piano, band), so performing under pressure is second nature to me. I love to race and compete, and I live for these moments to give it my all!
Photo: Lynn Kitazumi Adami
What was your nutrition like during the race?
My nutrition and hydration was spot on and one of the few things I did right - no GI problems whatsoever! I set my watch to remind me to take a gel every 30 minutes. I had them stuffed in my sports bra and grabbed another bag full of gels around 19 miles. I tucked two 10 ounce Nathan bottles in my tight boy shorts - one in the front and another in the back. One bottle had water, while the other had sports drink. I got new bottles from my crew, who I saw on the course 6 times. Being a new ultrarunner, carrying my fluids has made a world of a difference in how I feel compared to my first 100K's last year, where I didn't carry any fluids.
How did your training for Sonoma differ from a road race, if at all?
I've always tried to get on the trails at least once a week to add variety to my training, and I do a road-based hill workout every ~2 weeks that's always prepared my legs well for hilly road courses. I did some extended long runs on trails in California back around Christmas, including a loop around Lake Sonoma to know how to best prepare. Ideally, I had planned to do more specific, extended hill work in the 6 weeks leading up to Lake Sonoma. However, I hurt my hammy at the beginning of March (and twice thereafter- including severely 3 wks out). I had to focus more on getting healthy and missed some key workouts, including a 50K run down at the Wichita Mountains. I did leg strength exercises, hoping that would make up for the lack of specific hill training. I definitely believe there's a specificity component to prepare for a course like Lake Sonoma, particularly doing some extensive downhill running to beat up the quads and make them fatigue-resistant.
Did anything extremely humorous happen during the race?
I slipped on a muddy downhill somewhere between 30-45 miles, and there happened to be a tree going across the path. I dipped my head to go under the tree, but it wasn't enough! My head/Nathan hat smacked right into the tree, and I flew backwards, knocking my hat and sunglasses off. All hell broke loose after that! I think I had a mild concussion, was dizzy, and kept slipping and falling! I slipped and pulled my hammy with a mile to go, making it painful to bear weight on that leg. I limped the last mile (mostly uphill!) to the finish. I came into the finish looking like something from Braveheart! I seriously think my Nathan hat saved me from gashing and bruising my head!
What did you find most challenging about this race?
The hills were hard enough not being prepared, but having a hammy that wasn't 100% made it even more challenging. I progressively developed worse and worse butt-lock and couldn't power up and down the hills properly. I need to be healthy, first and foremost, and then prepare better for the next trail race!
Do you have mantra? Or one for this race?
What part of your race plan worked well for you?
My fueling and hydration plan was spot on, and thanks to my crew (brother Jack, friends, Ethan) we were able to execute everything perfectly! Thanks to Nathan for keeping me hydrated throughout the race!
Photo: Bob Shebest
Is there anything you would have done differently?
I think I prepared as best as I could, given the circumstances.
What did you learn?
Ultra road and ultra trail races are both very different and require different skill sets! For the roads, it's primarily mental, followed by raw speed and endurance. You have to have the talent to do it! You also have to prepare the legs for concrete. With trails, it becomes 25% specific preparation to the terrain and another 10-15% the unknown variables that could go wrong and how you overcome them.
Who do you look up to in the running game, either past or present?
My husband/coach, Conor, was my first real inspiration-- I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him! He was the elite runner 12+ yrs ago, and I saw firsthand what it took to become an elite athlete. Besides him, as a longtime marathoner I grew up idolizing Bill Rodgers, Frank Shorter, Patti Dillon and the great marathoners from the 70's and 80s. Getting into ultras, I really like reading about the lives and careers of Bruce Fordyce and Yiannis Kouros. I want to become a female version of Yiannis!
Are you hooked on trail running now?
Most definitely! Makes you feel alive and smile!
Photo: Susie Dalton
What do you have your sights set on next?
I'm trying to get healthy at this point so I can get back training properly for Comrades. We'll see how things unfold the next 6 weeks. Beyond that, I'll have to see if I get a Golden Ticket for Western States. If not, I'm thinking about the Broken Arrow Skyrace. Otherwise, long term my #1 goal for the fall is to go after the 100K Road American Record.
"The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare."-- Juma Ikangaa