In 2017 Camille won the 89km Comrades Marathon
© RAJESH JANTILAL /AFP /Getty Images
Ultrarunning

Meet the record-breaking ultrarunner who doesn’t do extreme long runs

Camille Herron is the fastest woman on the planet across 50 miles and 100 miles and holds the world records for 12-hour and 24-hour running. But she never runs further than 22 miles in training.
Written by Katie Campbell Spyrka
6 min readPublished on
When American ultrarunner Camille Herron set a new 24-hour running world record in the 2018 Desert Solstice invitational, she clocked up an incredible 162.9 miles and outlasted every runner on the track. It was her first 24-hour event, yet she smashed the world 24-hour track record and the American 100-mile record in one hit, running a dizzying 655 loops of the track.
This incredible feat of endurance was made all the more remarkable by the fact the 37-year-old’s longest training run in the lead up to the event was a comparatively paltry 22 miles – going against the grain of many an ultrarunner’s standard 30-40-mile training runs.
"Everyone seems to think you have to do these crazy, long distances and back-to-back long runs, but here I am not doing them and breaking records,” Camille laughs. So, just how does she do it? Here, the record-breaking ultrarunner reveals her training secrets...

I train like a marathon runner

In 2011, Camille competed in the finals of the XVI Pan American Games
In 2011, Camille competed in the finals of the XVI Pan American Games
A successful marathoner with a PB of 2hrs 37mins and three US Olympic Trials qualifications to her name, Camille had years of marathon wins under her belt when she eyed up her first ultramarathon in 2013. "I knew nothing about ultrarunning training, but in my mind I thought I had to increase the length of my workouts and total volume,” she explains.
However, training longer distances didn’t suit her and her performance suffered. "I started doing 30-mile runs, but I was losing the snap in my legs. In my first ultra, Two Oceans, I remember thinking my legs weren’t turning over; I felt flat and tired. That was the moment I felt I needed to go back to what works for me.”
Herron returned to her usual marathon-style training plan, developed alongside her husband and coach, Conor, which included twice-daily runs, short intervals, long intervals, hill sessions, a progressive long run and easy jogging, with a maximum single run distance of 18-22 miles. It worked and she smashed her first 100km in 2015, breaking legendary ultrarunner Ann Trason’s 26-year-old 100km National Championship record. “It was an epiphany of ‘just stick with what works’,” she says.

I use double run days to clock 100-130 miles a week

Following the success of her 100km record, Herron knew she had found her ultra training formula. Together with 12 plus years of running 100-130 mile weeks, she felt confident and strong. "I’ve put in years and years of high mileage and that’s what’s been able to carry me,” she says. To maintain a high weekly mileage and feel fresh, Camille splits her training into twice daily bouts, one of 10-14 miles and then an evening 'shake out’ of five to six miles.
"I studied bone and exercise in grad school and remember in a symposium these bone experts expressing that it was better to split the stress stimulus for bone into two bouts, separated by four to eight hours of recovery. It made sense to me because, when I started running twice a day, I was actually feeling better.”

Short speed intervals are a game changer

Speed intervals played a big part in Camille's 100-mile and 24-hour records
Speed intervals played a big part in Camille's 100-mile and 24-hour records
Ahead of Camille’s second major record – the women's 100-mile world record and a new trail FKT for men and women – at Tunnel Hill in 2017, speed work formed a big part of her training. During the race, Camille maintained a blistering average pace of 7:37/mile to beat the existing world record by over an hour. "I did a lot of interval work and that’s also what I did ahead of my 24-hour world record,” she says. “There was a huge, huge jump in my fitness when I started doing short intervals again. If I get my feet moving that quickly, it makes everything else feel easier.”
A typical short interval session for Camille includes 10-16 sessions of 90-second repeats with equal recovery. "I could definitely shorten the recovery, but for me it’s [about] the turnover and the neuromuscular benefit of turning [my legs] over really fast.”

Easy jogging is important

In February, Camille won the Tarawera 100-mile endurance run
In February, Camille won the Tarawera 100-mile endurance run
A typical two-week training period for Herron features four hard workouts and the rest is easy jogging. "To develop your aerobic fitness, you’ve got to learn to run slow and be working in that aerobic zone to reap the benefits aerobically,” she says. “It equates to about two or more minutes per mile slower than your marathon pace or less than 70 percent of your max heart rate. If I need to develop my aerobic fitness, I look at my heart rate monitor to check I’m going slow enough,” she says.

I strength train for about six to eight weeks leading up to a peak marathon

As an ultrarunner you might expect Herron to focus on a lower body strength programme, but thanks to the research in strength training she did as an undergraduate, Camille focuses on her upper body to maximise running performance gains.
"I found that if you work out your upper body to fatigue, it stimulates a release of growth hormone that ends up being systemic to your whole body and benefits the whole body,” she says. “When I push my upper body to fatigue twice a week, after six weeks I get this boost in my running fitness, so I strength train for about six to eight weeks leading up to a peak marathon or race. It works every time.”

I do one long progression run, based on HR, every two weeks

Camille uses her heart rate vs. pace to gauge training intensity
Camille uses her heart rate vs. pace to gauge training intensity
Herron uses heart rate rather than pace to gauge her training, which includes a long progression run, where she works up to running at 80 to 90 percent of her HR max. "I’ll do a long run and I’ll push the pace up to 75 percent of [my] HR max, which is equivalent to my 100-mile race pace and my steady, long run type of pace. And then I’ll progressively go up to 80 percent [of my] HR max, which is equivalent to my 100km race pace effort, and then I’ll start getting into 85 to 90 percent which is approaching marathon pace or effort,” she says.

All-round fitness and a singular race focus is key

She aims to become the first woman to win a marathon in all 50 US States
She aims to become the first woman to win a marathon in all 50 US States
Going into her world record-breaking 24-hour race last year, Camille had been off the racing scene for nine months due to a femur injury, so her goal was to ‘feel good’ and not be in any leg pain. "Training was about having a consistent aerobic base behind me, making sure I was feeling good and my fitness was well-rounded. So I did short intervals, long intervals, a bit of hill workouts. I went into that race having not raced for many, many months and it was my singular focus,” she says.
"I feel like going forwards for any world records right now, you have to have a singular focus; you can’t be racing here, racing there. I’m going to have a long-term approach to it, making sure my body feels good, my fitness is complete. And yeah, I’m going to keep raising the bar on my records!”
Inspired by this story? Take part in the Wings for Life World Run on May 9, 2021 and run for those who can't. To register for the 2021 event, click here and follow the prompts. The first 10,000 registered participants will receive an official Wings for Life World Run shirt.
For more information about Camille Herron visit her website here