On November 11, a world record was broke in Nike’s Vaporfly 4% shoes, and no, it wasn’t the 2-hour marathon barrier – it was Camille Herron at the Tunnel Hill 100 in Vienna, Illinois.
Herron, in her first full 100-mile race, broke the world best time for 100 miles, and not just by a few minutes, but shattered it by an hour.
“Nike actually got me a new pair on the Thursday before the race as I had trained my others into the ground. I love them,” says the new world record holder, referring to the shoe worn by Shalane Flanagan en route to her New York City Marathon victory.
Crossing the line in 12:42:39 and averaging a pace of 7:38 per mile, the 35-year-old made light work of Gina Slaby’s 13:45:49 track record set in 2016.
Everyone who talks about the 100-mile distance does so with trepidation and a touch of fear. It’s going to hurt, at some point and the dreaded bonk of a marathon will feel like a sneeze in comparison to a 100-mile bonk.
“I kept expecting a bear to jump on my back and reduce me to a crawl in the second half” jokes Herron. You might assume it was the expectation of a real-life bear, an unwanted companion known to join US trail races. However, the metaphorical bear Herron was waiting for thankfully never came.
Fuelled by sports drinks, gels and an odd rewarding beer in the second half of the race, Herron kept everything in motion on her way to clocking the world-leading time.
“I had 24, maybe 23 gels throughout as I think I lost one. I had to stop and pick up a gel a couple of times and it wasn’t the easiest to bend over mid-race, explains Herron. “In the second half of the race, the Maurten drinks saved me, they kept the carbs coming.”
For those unfamiliar, the Maurten drinks, along with the VaporFly shoes were used in Nike’s Breaking2 project – but should they have been aimed at the Breaking13 project instead?
As with a lot of American ultra runners, the Oklahoma native has a solid background in track and marathoning. She has a personal best of 2:37 over the 26.2 miles and athletes of that calibre stepping up to ultra distance is not something you often see in UK ultra running.
On why she attempted the 100-mile distance, Herron says: “I love to run and part of this is just discovering what I’m capable of. Not knowing what my body would feel like was intriguing and I had been inspired recently by the likes of Patrycja Bereznowska setting the world record at the 24hr Champs in July.”
— Camille Herron (@runcamille) November 12, 2017
Does that mean the 24hr set up is on her radar too? “Well Harvey Lewis [US 24hr Team member] did talk to me about it whilst we were doing this race and I want to try and qualify for the US team in 2019 but I have some other goals first,” she says.
Ann Trason, the former 100-mile record holder on the road is a role model to many in the ultra running community, and some of her records and achievements mean a lot to Herron, who says: “I want to break the US 100k record next year, at the World 100k Championships, but before that the Comrades and the Western States double, just like Ann did, that’s my goal.
“The last time I ran 100k I was sick for the last 35km and still managed 7:08 [and won the World 100km Champs in the process] so I think I can break that US record.”
A busy 2017 beckons for Herron and it looks like more records in the future. She could have broken the 12 hour World Record en route to the 100-mile record, much as Don Ricthie set the 6-hour record en route to his 100k one. However, the nature of the course didn’t allow for 12-hour record ratifying and measurement, so that’s also another target for the future.
Before any of that Camille will need to recover from this weekend, so how has that been going? “The last couple of days my metabolism has been going into overdrive, so I’ve mostly been eating and relaxing with my Rapid Reboot recovery set up, which has been really helpful. I’m actually going to try an easy run today (Wednesday) and maybe, just maybe, I’ll be okay to do my local Turkey Trot for Thanksgiving this weekend,” she says eager to get back running.
It’s possible that one of the reasons Herron had such a great race was her inexperience at 100 miles. She didn’t have any preconceived ideas of what should hurt or if something was too fast or not – “the way it’s supposed to be done”.
However she is a realist too, expecting that “everything is not going to be perfect, something will go wrong” and this is the attitude she takes into every ultra. Ready to troubleshoot any issues that arise, expecting them, rather than being surprised. This is what makes a good 24hr runner, so the future could be exciting there.
“When it got tough I just thought for inspiration. I’m a real fan of the sport so performances like Patrycja’s helped me dig deep and I looked back to the training I had done, how that felt and how hard I had worked for this race.
“A lot of my training was done to HR, including tough HR progression efforts, so knowing I just wanted to keep at 75% Max HR for this effort was something I’d trained for. Then the last 10 miles came and I just saw it as the last 10 miles of a training run,” she explains almost making her achievement seem routine.
Keeping effort steady and efficient, rather than going fast, is key to a good 100 mile to 24hr race and Herron perfected that on Sunday. Breaking it down into smaller sections, such as that last 10 miles on the run home is another common coping mechanism. Her mind was not only strong but well trained to cope with these situations.
Another big help on the day was her husband Conor, who due to the nature of the course, was able to crew his wife every 3-7 miles and provide her with fuel and of course those rewards, such as a taste of her sponsor’s Rogue Beer. Much like a pacer in a track race, in record situations like this, a crew can be a vital part.
So in this exciting record-breaking time for Women’s ultra running what will happen next? I know one thing for sure, we’re excited to find out.