Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ironman AG World Champion Clay Emge

Clay Emge spends his days as an engineer at an oil & gas company based in Texas. Last month he took a well-deserved few days off work for a lovely trip to Hawaii… however, instead of sipping pina coladas, looking for cool shells, and working on his tan like you and I would do, Clay went out and became the reigning Ironman World Champion in the men’s 25-29 age group. He swam the 2.4 miles (3.9 km) in 58 min, biked 112 miles (180 km) in 4:43 and ran a 3:00 marathon to finish in 8:47:36. That was good enough for 27th overall, including pros, and made him an AG World Champion by 1:36. Clay was cool enough to give us a recap of this epic achievement.

First of all, incredible performance at Kona! I want to get your name right... is it "emgee" or more like "m.g."?

Thanks! It's pronounced "m.g." - the letter m followed by the letter g.

What’s your background and how/when did you get into triathlon?

Growing up, I was involved in cross country, track and swim team, so I've been running and swimming for a while. But it wasn't until after college (2006) that I got into cycling, and a few years after that I really started racing tris (2009).

Where did you qualify and what other races did you do in 2013? 

I qualified at Ironman Texas in May. This year I also raced Ironman Texas 70.3 in Galveston and several other regional Texas triathlons including the TriWaco oly tri and my hometown race, the Rose City Tri in Tyler, TX.

I looked at Kona results from previous years and didn't see your name... was this your first trip? What were your expectations going in, and were you intimidated at all?

Yep, this was my first time to Hawaii. I missed qualifying at Ironman Texas in 2012 by 10 seconds, so I was thrilled to punch my ticket this year. My friend/training partner Seth Cooke qualified with me, and we told ourselves that just getting into Kona was enough, and we would just be happy to be there. But inevitably, we trained harder than ever in the months leading up to the race, dreamed big and had high expectations. Nevertheless, I was still pretty intimidated, especially upon my arrival in Kona a week before the race.

Do you feel like living/training in Texas helped acclimate you to conditions at Kona or is it totally different?

Yeah, training here in Texas definitely prepared me for Kona. Training for a race in mid-October, you do most of your long brick workouts in August and September... and those are some hot and humid months in East Texas. I think I did some 20 mile runs where the temp never got below 100 F. After that, the energy lab really didn't feel too bad (granted, it was cloudy this year during the run).

Can you share what you did on race day in terms of nutrition?

Certainly. On the bike I do mostly gels - 9 PowerGels to be exact. My most solid sources of food were a couple Bonk Breakers that I ate during the first half of the bike. I am also heavily dependent on the fluids they provide on the course, and took a bottle of Ironman Perform at most hand-ups (every 10 miles). On the run, I also just take what I can get on the course, and try to get most of my calories from Perform... if my stomach's up for it, I'll take gels, but I can usually only do 2 or 3 total during the marathon. Something that I've implemented into training and racing this year is BeetElite - a powder that is more potent than drinking beetroot juice in terms of N02 (Nitric Oxide), and I believe it has helped me tremendously. I always encourage people to check it out!

Looking at the results, you were 19th in your AG after the swim, then moved through the field to 4th starting the run (~5-7 min down from all three). Were you aware of your position throughout the day, including the final pass for the lead? 

Well, my GPS watch fell off in the first 100m of the swim, so I was totally going off of feel all day. But my supporters did tell me I was 4th in my AG starting the run. After that I was counting guys with bib #s close to mine. When I caught the last guy (around mile 25), I thought I had moved into first, but I wasn't all the way sure.

How deep did you have to dig to reel those guys in, and what kept you going from a mental toughness perspective?

The run is my best of the 3, so I really just had to run my race and would've done that regardless of whether I was reeling in fellow age-groupers. But with the out-and-backs on the run at Kona, it's easy to see where your competition is, and having carrots out on the course definitely helps.

What’s a typical training week for you? What swim/bike/run volumes do you usually get in?

I typically swim about 4 mornings/week, usually in the 2000-2500 yd range, but I need to wake up earlier and swim longer. In the summertime, I'll bike ~200 miles/week, but I hate biking in cold weather, so my biking will take a hit in the wintertime. Running is kind of the opposite, as I will typically race some marathons in the winter... so I'll run ~30 miles/week in the summer and ~40 miles/week in the winter. These volumes will typically go up for the 6-8 weeks leading up to an ironman, mainly due to some long weekend brick workouts with Seth Cooke.   

What do you do for your day job, and do you have any aspirations of a career change to professional triathlete?
Clay with Iron friend Seth Cooke

I am an engineer with an oil and gas company in Tyler, TX. No, I don't really have any aspirations of a career change.... I'm very happy with my current job. I may consider racing as a pro, but nothing would change as far as my work goes.

Following this huge win, what’s next for you? Will you be back to defend your title?

Going to Kona was a huge trip, but I'm not sure if I'll be back next year. I'd like to travel to other places around the U.S. and maybe even internationally to race.

Lastly, Clay asked me to thank Cobb Cycling for their support!

Related posts:  
Ironman 70.3 AG World Champ Emily Sherrard
Ironman AG World Champion Amos Gollach

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