College of Medicine Researcher Wins Comrades Ultramarathon

By April Wilkerson 
Writer, OU College of Medicine

Camille Herron crosses the finish line as the female winner of the Comrades Ultramarathon in South Africa. (Photo courtesy of jetline Action Photo)

Camille Herron, who works as a research assistant in the College of Medicine, also is an elite distance runner. Her most recent win was the Comrades Ultramarathon, a 56-mile race in South Africa. It is the world’s largest and oldest ultramarathon race. Her time was 6 hours, 27 minutes and 35 seconds. Camille answered a few questions about her careers in running and research.

Q: What did it mean to you to be the female winner of Comrades?

A: This is like the World Cup of ultras, so it means the world to me to win and now be a champion among my heroes! I've worked for 22 hard, hard years to have such a spectacular moment. It was humbling, thrilling and hard! I could feel the world behind me, and I fought with all my heart to win it.

Q: Describe the combination of athletic skill/training and mental toughness required to run an ultramarathon at such an elite level.

A: I've “averaged” over 100 miles per week since November 2006, or around 53,000 miles for 10-plus years. I train at all speeds, surfaces and terrain and in all kinds of weather. I train at midday, doing “lunch runs” to prepare for the heat. I'm not a morning person and prefer to do most of my training in the evening time after work. I definitely draw physical and mental strength from my training and even more from all the difficult things I've overcome in my life.

Camille Herron receives a trophy as the female winner of the 2017 Comrades Ultramarathon. (Photo courtesy of jetline Action Photo)

Q: How do you take care of your body after an ultramarathon?

A: I did my master's thesis on enhancing musculoskeletal recovery, so this is definitely my forte! I also learned a lot from years as a prolific marathoner. I think of recovery in terms of blood flow, growth factors and nutrients and doing the little things to enhance these parts. The body is really simple -- it likes to move frequently, eat, sleep and hydrate. The endocrine and immune systems take a bigger hit in ultras -- you have to eat A LOT for many days/weeks afterwards. I use my Rapid Reboot compression boots to help with any edema. I'll take a few days off and then do a reverse taper to build back my fitness.

Q: Describe your educational background and your work at the College of Medicine.

A: I earned my bachelor of science degree in exercise and sport science at the University of Tulsa and my master’s degree in exercise and sport science at Oregon State University. I completed my master's thesis on enhancing bone recovery with whole body vibration training. I was trained in bone histomorphometry and histology techniques in graduate school. I work as a research assistant in Dr. Mary Beth Humphrey’s osteoimmunology lab, handling bone imaging and histology.

Q: How does your work in a research lab inform your running career?

A: I have applied my science knowledge throughout my running career! I had stress fractures in high school and college, so I wanted to study and learn how to keep myself healthy and recover better. I can recover extremely fast in training/racing/injuries because of what I know! As I mentioned, it all comes down to understanding how to enhance blood flow, growth factors and micronutrients to where it needs to go. I’ve learned a whole lot more about the immune system and inflammation from Dr. Humphrey and how they interact with the musculoskeletal system.