This January I officially met Camille Herron at the marathon trials in Houston, and it’s no wonder I’m a fan. She’s a speedy marathoner who still manages to let loose and have fun! When I was thinking what I could write about to help you train for your fall marathons, interviewing her was the first thing to pop into my mind. She is what is known as a “prolific marathoner.” While most pro marathoners and even us amateurs only race 1-2 marathons a year, 30 year-old Camille’s already raced 4 marathons this year. Based on her love of science and experimentation with the distance and her vast experience, I’d say she’s an expert. And today, she’s going to share her expertise with you to help you run your best this fall!
Pepper: Why the marathon and why race so many of them?
Camille: Why not?! There’s so many great marathons out there! The marathon is sooooo much fun. You get to travel all over the country, meet amazing people. It’s hard core and there’s a party-rock-star atmosphere after the race. Everything about it suits what I like about the sport! I think it’s somewhat spiritual, too, because you’re pushing yourself to the max; it makes you appreciate life and one’s limits. While I enjoy racing in general, the marathon is definitely the most satisfying for me of all distances. The modern-day mentality seems to be that you should only run 1-3 per year to get a maximal performance. I think our team at Marathonguide.com [ed. Camille's main sponsor] is clearly showing this isn’t true. I’m continuing to improve at the same rate (maybe even better!) than I was when I was only running 1-2 per year.
What are the top three things you would recommend to anyone racing a marathon this fall to help guarantee they have a great race?
1. Prepare for the course and conditions and practice with race gear and shoes—I always prepare for a hot race, whether it’s hot or not, by heat training in the middle of the day wearing extra layers. If it’s cool, that’s a bonus! You’ll be prepared either way. I think you need to be comfortable with your race gear and shoes, too.
2. Train consistently— get out and bear weight every day of the week, and twice a day if you’re serious. The body likes to move and be in a routine. I think a lot of people forget about walking as cross training—I think the weight-bearing and putting in lots of time on your feet is more important than the cardio work. I see marathon schedules where you run only 3-4 times a week with a long run on the weekend. To me it looks like an injury waiting to happen. There’s some shocking statistics on how many people get hurt training for a marathon and never make it to the starting line. You’d be better off doing a little each day, rather than massively loading the body only a few times a week.
3. Practice your fueling and hydration strategy in training. This is really important! Practice with what the race offers. Probably most people think more is better, and this isn’t always the case.
What are the mistakes you think most people make in marathon training or racing?
I think to run well in the marathon, you need to put in a long period of high mileage. Do as much as you can for as long as you can without burning the candle at both ends. Additionally, with more mileage comes more calories, more fluids and more sleep. I remember having dinner with a good runner who under performs in the marathon. Her husband said, “80 miles per week is plenty for the marathon.” You know, if that’s what you can mentally and physically handle without breaking down, that might be ok, but the best marathoners in the world (who are devoting everything to their running) are putting in 120-160+ miles per week. If someone is serious I think they need to push their mileage limits and find out where they thrive the best. I’ve experimented with going high and going low and my “sweet spot” is 120-130 mpw. If I was still working or had other life commitments I probably wouldn’t be able to handle this kind of mileage consistently.
Secondly, probably most people are running too fast on their “easy” days, and they can’t go as fast or sustain the pace for as long on their hard days. This is also likely limiting them from handling higher mileage. They end up underperforming in the marathon. It takes a well-rested body to be able to sustain the proper marathon effort. You also need to teach the body to burn fat and spare glycogen. This requires a lot of long slow distance. I credit my husband/coach, Conor, for teaching me “the way”.
Lastly, I think people are getting obsessive with their splits and GPSs. They are setting a “marathon goal time”, and trying to pace accordingly in their training and races. If things don’t go as planned in the race or workout, it can mess with your head. Running a marathon is an EFFORT, not a pace. The focus should be on your effort and competing against yourself and the competition, not your watch. This is why I do effort-based progression runs. I know exactly how I should feel and what I’m capable of. I practice this over and over again, learning the feeling and metronomic rhythm. Regardless of the course, conditions or splits, I’m going to run the right effort and get the most out of myself every time. This is why I think I’m consistent.
What’s the biggest mistake you have ever made leading up to or in a marathon?
This is a tough question! I’ve made so many mistakes, it’s hard to pinpoint the worst. Last year, my dietician friend recommended I drink to match my sweat rate. This is A LOT of fluids. I thought I could train my gut to handle it, which meant grabbing two cups at every fluid station instead of one. This is totally bogus because your gastric emptying rate lags behind your sweat rate. You will end up feeling very uncomfortable if you even attempt to match your sweat rate! I tried all of this for a few marathons last year and it was a complete disaster. They’re now finding that it’s perfectly ok to lose a lot of fluid weight (up to a point), and that you should drink according to thirst, rather than trying to match your sweat rate. This goes to show that one’s personal experience can trump what the science says.
You’ve raced some great marathons in less than ideal conditions. Any tips for coping with adversity on race day?
- Pre-race: Don’t freak out about anything! I’ve gotten on the wrong bus a few times, not been picked up (had to run to the starting line), and at Twin Cities in ’09 we were stuck in traffic. I’ve forgotten my race chip and even forgot to take the gels out of my bag before throwing it on a truck filled with 100 other bags! I’ve had so many things go wrong before the race even began that I laugh about it! It’s very rare I’ve had everything go perfectly.
- Fluids and Gel: I always carry my gels with me in my gloves or taped to my hands. I’ve had lots and lots of fluid bottle debacles—sometimes they get misplaced (like Twin Cities ’09), knocked over, or someone else grabs your bottle.
- Heat and Humidity: White hat, socks, race outfit, sunglasses, Vaseline on feet and other critical body parts, take in extra sodium and fluids leading up to the race, heat train and use your thirst mechanism to dictate fluid intake in the race. Don’t over drink!
- Cold rain: Break in race shoes so they grip the road, lube up to prevent chafing, don’t race in a cotton t-shirt (!), spray shoes with water-repellent, put loose laces under the top laces to keep them from coming untied
- Cold and windy: I like to overdress rather than to under dress so I stay relaxed and conserve energy (can always shed layers too as you warm up), lather the bare body parts with Vaseline, put hand warmers in your gloves.
- Hilly courses: it’s better to be prepared for the damaging downhills than the uphills. Roll with the hills and use them to keep your momentum going.
- Camber: I’ve developed hip and back problems during and after races from courses with significant camber. Be mindful of the road’s camber and move to the middle of the road if you can.
- Tangents and Courses with Lots of Turns: [ed. running the tangents means running the shortest route possible along the course] This can be tricky because you’re trying to run a “straight line” as best as you can, but you can’t always tell which way a course is going to turn and if you’re running the tangent correctly. I like to see a course beforehand and see things like tangent, turns and camber.
What is your ultimate goal and what do you think you need to do to achieve it?
I want to push the limits on both quantity and quality. I want to win a marathon in every state under 2:50 and also set the all-time record for women of most wins under 2:50 (currently record is 24). I’ve only got 6 wins so far, so I’ve still got a way to go. Chuck Engle has won a marathon in every state under 3:00, so I want to aim higher than that.
In terms of time goals, which might conflict with achieving the above, I have two signs on our refrigerator: the first is 2:27 (my long-term goal) and the second is 2:35 (my short-term goal). I know 2:27 is a bit “out there”, and even breaking 2:30 would be a huge achievement. The thing is, most people don’t stick with the sport long enough, get hurt or get sidetracked for whatever reason and don’t reach their full potential. However, when I see people like my friend Janet Cherobon-Bawcom and Desiree Davila, who have committed themselves to the sport for a long time and continued to improve, it gives hope to those of us who want to work hard, make incremental improvements and of importance … do it clean! The reason I’m throwing 2:27 out there is because my VO2 max in grad school was found to be 67.5, which says I at least have the heart strength to run 2:27. Now I just need to get my legs and running economy to match my heart!
In terms of how I’m going to get there, I definitely need to work on my speed, mechanics, lower body strength and flexibility. Because I didn’t have a collegiate running career, I never learned how to run fast, move fast or sustain the speed. We’ve started the process this year and I’ve already dropped a lot of time off things like mile repeats. It blows my mind the sort of splits I’ve been hitting and with ease. I haven’t felt this fast and powerful since high school!
Lastly, having lived and trained for a bit with my friend Janet, I’ve learned to be ok with resting more. She taught me that it’s ok to take days off, only run once a day and not get too caught up in being a workhorse all the time. I’ve honestly become “lazier” this year and it’s remarkable how much better I feel. And my speed is improving too.
How do you cope when people don’t believe your personal goals are realistic or possible?
I’ve had people my whole life who have doubted me, rejected me, told me I suck, etc. Before I got serious about training people told me I sucked and they didn’t want to listen to me because I was “slow.” Now that I’m a 2:37 marathoner I still have people who tell me I suck. All these doubts are just fuel for the fire!
I’m not delusional, and neither is anyone else at this level. I’m not going to say (yet) that I want to make the Olympic Team when I still need to drop 10-12+ minutes to become an Olympic contender. It’s very, very hard to make the Olympic team, and it’s very, very hard to run under 2:30 in the marathon. It’s realistic though to say I want to run under 2:35, which is just over 2 minutes faster than what I’ve run this year. Once I’ve broken that, I can continue to readjust my short-term goal and get closer to my long-term goal.
People need to set realistic, attainable goals for themselves, both short-term and long-term. They need to write down their goals and how they’re going to get there including all the little things they need to do. If you’re really committed, you’ll find a way and make the right choices to make your dreams a reality.
How much do you let training affect your diet? Do you eat to train or train to eat? Are you a proponent of the “You are what you eat” theory?
Honestly, I love to eat. I see food as fuel and power to make myself move, like a car! Even as a kid I loved to eat and I had so much energy. I played outside all the time and played lots of sports. I’ve been stick thin my whole life. I’m not sure whether that’s a product of good genes or because I like to be physically active. My Mom was a gourmet chef who stayed at home to raise 4 kids, so I grew up eating a lot of rich and eclectic food. We even had our own vegetable garden. We ate a lot of natural whole foods, but we still enjoyed things like Cokes, candy, ice cream, and cookies. We’d go to McDonalds, eat Chinese food, or go out for baby back ribs at Charlestons. I was never taught I couldn’t or shouldn’t eat something, and we didn’t have any low-fat/lean/skim foods or beverages in our household. I remember going to college and seeing my teammates eating soups and salads all the time and then thinking, “Man, I’d starve if that was all I ate!” Clearly, how you’re raised and the attitude of your parents and peers can shape how you eat and what you become.
I believe in eating intuitively and listening to what the body wants. I like more fat in my diet than probably most people. That makes sense considering I’m doing a lot of long slow distance and working aerobically. I think eating to train and training to eat go hand in hand– you need fuel to run 120 mpw, week after week and you can pretty much eat whatever you want to get the calories. While it may sound great being able to eat whatever you want, it’s also a chore and takes a lot of work and planning. It’s an every day job like training and recovering, so you can get the most out of your body and not break down. I’m grateful for my sponsorship with Powerbar because I always have snacks available and drink mix to stay hydrated. Your body needs fuel it knows how to break down, so it efficiently becomes energy for cells. If you’re putting a lot of processed crap into it the body doesn’t know what to do with it, so it becomes indigestible crap in your gut. In terms of “you are what you eat”, I believe this is pretty accurate.
If you weren’t a runner what do you think you’d be doing?
This is a good question that I ponder with my husband, Conor quite frequently! I’ve gotta give him credit for getting me into this whole running thing! If it wasn’t for him, I’d probably have gone to medical school or continued with a Ph.D.! Otherwise, beyond professional running, I could see myself either going back to school for something in healthcare, getting involved in the running-business world, or even doing motivational speaking. I think I’d like to get into leadership too.
Got anything on your running bucket list that might surprise us?
I don’t know if this is a surprise, but I definitely want to do the major, competitive ultras like Western States and the North Face Challenge. I’d also like to do the Pikes Peak Ascent and marathon. I want to go for the American and World Records for 50K and beyond.
Lately at SR we’ve talked a lot about body image and how to learn to love our bodies for what they do rather than fixating so much on how they look, which usually means focusing on flaws. Have you ever struggled with body image? Any advice for our readers on how to become prouder of their bodies?
I’ve always been long and lean, so if anything I’ve dealt with people telling me I’m too skinny. Despite eating like a horse I couldn’t do anything to change this. I accepted that I was skinny. Getting into cross-country was one of the best things I ever did because for the first time ever I was surrounded by other girls who looked like me! It was a light bulb moment – finally, I’d found my sport.
To be honest, I’ve always been confident and secure in my own skin. I have the ability to transcend. I didn’t care if people made fun of me for being “too skinny” cause I knew I would go on to be successful at everything. My parents are my role models and they’re strong people. I stood up to anyone who tried to bully me. One time I even stood up for my older sister. I think being a lifelong athlete is what gave me the confidence in myself, my body and the ability to achieve anything I set my mind to and worked hard at. There’s a great quote,
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to manifest the glory of God that is within us. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”– [Marianne Williamson]
Thanks so much for taking the time to “chat” with us Camille and good luck on those 50 sub-2:50 marathon wins! What a goal!
Be sure to check out Camille’s website/blog at www.camilleherron.com