Ep21: Ultra Marathon Training Tips from Comrades Marathon Winner Camille Herron

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Camille Herron winning the Comrades Marathon in 2017

Camille Herron: Elite Ultramarathon Runner & Biohacker

In today’s interview I get to speak with comrades marathon winner, Camille Herron, about biohacking ultra running using novel nutrition and training tips.

Camille is very passionate about long distance running & excels in the ultra marathon distances.

She is an elite athlete from Oklahoma City, OK in the USA.

In the interview you’ll hear the back story how Camille progressed from a recreational runner to a professional runner. She explains her journey of suffering running injuries like stress fractures and how she fixed her pain by biohacking the way she runs and what shoes she wears.

Camille shares some great information about how often she runs , but how that helps to prevent overtraining injuries. This includes the same plan she did in her ultra running training for the Comrades marathon.

We not only talk about running shoes and technique, but nutrition too. I was surprised to hear about how Camille discovered drinking beer helped to boost her performance during an ultra race.

If you know someone who is interested in running and wanting to know how to complete long distance races then this episode is for them!

I enjoyed this interview as I grew up in South Africa and understand how difficult winning that ±90km race must be to do. Elite athletes are always on the cutting edge of performance and especially biohackers like Camille.

Special thanks to Camille for joining me on the show. Enjoy the episode!

Go to Camille’s official website here to find out what she is up to or follow her on Twitter, Instagram.

Show Notes with Timestamp Links

Highlights of what we talk about during the interview:

Click on one of the timestamp links in the brackets to jump to that point in the interview audio.

[0:20] – Introducing Camille, an endurance athlete who won numerous awards for marathon running. She is the ladies’ winner of 2017 Comrades Marathon, three-time qualifier of the Olympic Marathon Trials, 20 times marathon winner, a world 50k and 100k champion and she holds a world record for 50 miles. She is also a Research Assistant in Osteoimmunology at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Centre.

[0:55] – Camille is a biohacker without even knowing it! She has done numerous experiments on herself to optimise her body.

[1:40] – Camille explains why she does what she does and how she became a biohacker. She suffered from stress fractures after her growth spurt (she is 5’9″ in height) and after receiving medical hardship decided to focus more on academics. She explains how she applied her research in the lab and her interests in bone and muscle health to her own health and helping her husband train for the Olympic Marathon Trials.

[4:49] – There is a school of thought stating that if you put your body under stress it will adapt and get stronger. Thinking about this and reading about how the Kenyans run barefoot led to Camille trying to apply it to make her own feet stronger. She explains how she started running in her house slippers back in December 2003 way before minimalist footwear was cool!

[6:11] – Bill Rodgers and other old school marathoners also ran in basic shoes. Inspired, Camille bought retro tennis shoes online and started training in those. Moving to these less cushioned shoes Camille was sore for the first three months but afterwards she adapted and her body composition changed; she was running 70 miles per week, she ate better, slept better and felt good.

[7:29] – Camille explains how she could never run consistently before due to injuries but once she could she ran more miles and felt good changing her body composition. She went from 20% body fat to 12.5% body fat over a two years period after she figured out how to make her body more balanced – and it all started with her feet.

[8:38] – In the summer of 2004 when her husband made Olympic Marathon Trials she tagged along as a recreational runner. Her husband soon realised how much she was running and started giving her work outs after which her running career took off.

[10:09] – Explaining stress fractures. Camille explains how our bones are always in the process of breaking down and being built back up. She now knows to recognise when she gets that sharp pain she needs to slow down, take some time off or change what she is doing; her shoes, the running surface etc. She is against taking anti-inflammatory drugs because she wants to know how the body is feeling it is extremely important to listen to your body and adjust to what it’s telling you. These drugs also cause additional stress to your kidneys during endurance running.

[13:10] – Typically people get stress fractures in their feet and shin bones but Camille explains how she had four stress fractures in her femur bones, in her thighs. She had her bone density checked and it was very good, she never missed her period or had any eating disorders so she didn’t fit the typical mode for this i.e. the female triad. For her, the rapid growth caused an imbalance and the muscles were pulling on her bones in an unusual way.

[15:14] – More about the female triad. Females at this level of training commonly stop having periods. Camille grew up on a wholesome diet of steak, potatoes and ice cream and could not understand how her teammates could sustain the intense training eating salads! Her diet is higher in fat than the average, which is probably why she could run longer and handle the millage.

[17:21] – Talking about going low carb or ketogenic for long distance running. Camille tells us about how they performed a high-fat study with mice, who were fed 60% fat to try to induce osteoarthritis in the body. She explains that knowing what she knows as a researcher and how too much fat induces inflammation within the body, she is not sure that too much fat is good. However, she does think having more than what is considered heart healthy (in the US this is under 30% fat) can create changes in the body so it is better at metabolising fat; she is eating 35% fat.

[19:10] – Camille says how she would love to meet Professor Tim Noakes. Her first running book was his Lore of Running. She has been hearing about Comrades and about Bruce Fordyce since she was in the 7th grade and talks about how it was amazing to hang out with Bruce!

[20:25] – What are some tips for strengthening bones? Camille explains that we need to bear weight and talks about the importance of strength training, especially for women; this could be simply walking or standing. The heavier the load, the more blood lactate is produced and this correlates to growth hormone release. Camille did upper body strength training as an experiment to see how it impacted her running performance. She found there was a jump in performance with upper body strength training as it seems the increased growth hormone helped with recovery.

[25:18] – Camille explains how if elite athletes understand how our bodies work and how to up-regulate our own hormones they can use this as an endogenous stimulus and don’t need to use other drugs.

[26:08] – Camille’s Masters thesis involved experiments with rats, suspending them in air by their tail to try an induce osteoporosis in their hind limbs. We often see this in astronauts, or bed ridden individuals, or people who have hip fractures. The rats were then stimulated using a vibration platform for 10min a day and this helped with bone formation.

[29:02] – What are the types of vibrations that are most helpful if people are looking at commercial plates? Camille thinks 90 Hertz vibrations is what they used for 10min with rats and this had a positive impact.

[30:47] – Gary summarises some biohacking tips we can apply: walking, upper body workouts, and maybe a whole body vibration platform.

[30:57] – The calcium debate. Does taking Calcium make our bones stronger? Camille began having some G.I issues with dairy and had to cut way back on dairy consumption. During this period, she had been testing her bone density and what she found is that when she cut back on her dairy consumption her bone density went way up. She was taking calcium supplements and running a lot and had excellent results.

[33:22] – A top tip for women who notice they are missing periods is to take this as a warning sign that they are not maintaining a good energy balance. Camille explains that to be able to do what she does and not miss her periods it is important her energy intake matches the output. Women want to maximise bone mass up to ages 30-35 as after that it goes downhill. For athletes to be able to perform effectively it is important the body is healthy.

[36:29] – Gary recently spoke to Prof Bruce Bean, the co-inventor of HOTSHOT, and Camille is a HOTSHOT ambassador. She tells us her experience with taking HOTSHOT, she first tested it during training and said it felt like a hot Jägermeister shot giving her a sensation of a fire in her belly. Then after experiencing quad cramping early on in a race, she took HOTSHOT and felt her muscles relax within couple of minutes.

[40:00] – Talking about beer biohacking! Fascinating story behind Camille’s Rouge Ale sponsorship. During her Ultra race last fall, as she caught up with the top male, she started feeling nauseated. After hitting the next aid’s station and trying various other things to help her feel better, her husband suggested she have some Rouge Dead Guy Ale. Chugging back a beer she sprung back and took off running and by the end of the race she had two and a half beers and broke the record. She explains she found her cure for nauseas and that she tries to incorporate some beer in all her races now, ginger beer also works well to treat nausea.

[51:00] – Camille runs twice a day every day, how does she recover? She talks about the studies that showed it is better to have two bouts of stimulation of the bones with 4-6 hours breaks in between than a single bout. Camille applies this same thinking to running, she splits her running sessions to twice a day and felt better; the two shorter bouts keep her from over-training.

[54:55] – Recreational runners who run three days a week are better off shortening their runs and running more often. The body likes to move and breaking sessions up is more beneficial; training regularly but not too hard to prevent injuries.

[56:16] – Camille gets a lot of inquiries about her training routine. She operates on a two-week system where she does short and long intervals, a hill session and a heart rate progression run. In between she will do an easy run – under 70% of max heart rate effort using her Polar heart rate monitors – Polar M200 or Polar V800 (ref). She also mentions that her husband is her coach and gives her regular massages to help with her recovery in addition to the compression boots she wears after hard workouts.

[59:30] – Many endurance runners suffer injuries leading up to an event they train for. Camille talks about the importance of being in tune with your body, she has a whole medical team supporting her to make sure she is able to push herself the way she does. Comrades is around 87km (54/55miles) and she had a winning time of 6:27:35.

[1:01:26] – To follow Camille and find out more about her biohacks and advice you can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook as well as her website. She would love to hear from you!

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Last updated: August 23, 2017

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