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Camille Herron: The Fearless Champion

In the world of ultrarunning, Camille Herron is a star. The kind that is energized by the thrill of the world stage and ready to prove her abilities—no matter the risk.

This month, Herron set not one, but three new track records during the Desert Solstice Track Invitational. The first two, American track records, were for the women’s 100-mile (13:25) and the 200K (17:07:27). She also set the women’s 24-hour world track record in 162.9 miles (262.2K).

Years before she began setting world records, though, Herron started running as a young girl who loved to run without fear. She was constantly pushing herself to the extremes, even as a toddler. “When I was three, standing by a hot stove while Mom was cooking, I could feel the heat coming off of it,” she said. “I wanted to touch it to see how hot it was.” To this day, Herron has a scar on her finger as a reminder of that fearlessness.

“When I got a basketball [hoop] for my 7th birthday, I would practice in the heat in July, without water, until I’d black out,” she said. “Then, I’d run inside to eat a sandwich, soup, Coke or sweet tea, and pickles. I’d go back out and keep practicing. I was an ultrarunner in the making.”

Nowadays, when she races, she uses some of those early-year tactics when she needs extra motivation to push through the hard races. “I used to do stare downs with the bull behind our house. I’d tell him, ‘I’m not afraid of you,’” said Herron. “When I race, I envision myself staring the bull in his eyes.”

Discovering Her Natural Abilities

As she grew older, she began to notice her abilities as a runner, even comparing her times to the boys on her middle school track team (she was already outperforming the girls). “Cross country is what really made me fall in love with running,” Herron said. “It was so natural and easy to me. I quit playing basketball after the eighth grade. I went on to win state track titles for the 1,600m, 3,200m, the 4x800m relay and was All-State three times in cross country.”

In high school, Herron and her family lost their home due to tornadoes, leaving her with only a handful of clothes and her running shoes. Multiple hardships and injuries followed, including a stress fracture in her foot which kept her from racing.

Once her injury finally healed, Herron came back stronger to cross country and made All-State, which led to her recruitment by the University of Tulsa. Although she accepted athletic and academic scholarships, Herron found herself dealing with a stress fracture during that first year of collegiate running and ultimately received a medical hardship waiver. Her competitive running career had quickly turned into a recreational hobby.

Through it all, she kept picking herself up and held onto a feeling that there was still something special inside. “I wanted to prove myself as a runner,” she said. “These experiences at a young age taught me to keep pushing forward and keep picking myself up despite any adversity. I’m still cranking it.”

Becoming A Champion

Years later, in 2011, she ran the New York City Marathon, two weeks after competing for the U.S. team at the Pan American Games. She finished as the third American female in the women’s open division in 2:40.06. It was then that David Monti, elite athlete coordinator for the New York Road Runners, began speaking with her about the possibly of running ultras. Fast forward to 2013, and the distance runner competed in her first ultra: the Two Oceans 56K race in Cape Town, South Africa, where she finished in 3:53 (11th place).

The following year, she dropped out of her Comrades Marathon 89K race debut due to illness and ultimately took a break from running until 2015. Back and better than ever, Herron won the MadCity 100K (USATF 100K National Championship) without stopping for food or fluids for more than seven hours and broke the national championship record that was previously held by American Ann Trason. “I’m someone who brings my A-game when there’s competition and a lot on the line,” Herron said. “Competition helps to bring the most out of me. I think it’s a lifetime of experience and knowing how to mentally and physically elevate myself for great moments.”

Herron went on to win the 100K World Championship that same year, running the fourth-fastest time in the history of the event. She also surpassed Trason’s world record at the Door County Fall 50 in 5:38:41 and won the IAU 50K World Championships in Doha in 3:20:58. “I had broken two of Ann [Trason]’s records and won two world titles,” she said. “It felt like I’d found my calling in life. I’m born to run.”

Pushing The Limits

With a bevy of wins under her belt, her latest accomplishment in the sport comes thanks to Taco Bell—well, maybe not directly—but they did play a minor part in her 24-hour race. The day before the invitational, Herron headed to the Central High School track in the morning to get a quick run in before the next day’s race. Following her workout, Herron and her coach/husband finished off the afternoon with two double-decker Taco Bell tacos.

After the race she received an enormous amount of support from the running community as well as a few special gifts. “The gift box from Taco Bell is the coolest thing ever,” she said, whose surprise package included tube socks, clothes, beach towels and a gift card from the fast food chain.

Next year, Herron’s tentative plans include competing in the Tarawera 100-Mile Endurance run, Lake Sonoma 50, the Comrades Marathon, Western States, Leadville Trail 100 and the IAU 24-Hour World Championship. No big deal.

“I’ve always been a person who pushes to the extreme and has a no-fear attitude. It’s naturally ingrained in me,” said Herron. “In a battle of fight or flight, I’m a fighter. I imagine myself as the boxer who throws 12 rounds of punches and a final knockout. My dad always said my greatest personal attribute is my courage.”