August 10, 2015
Clay Emge: 2015 Ironman Boulder Champion
Orca ambassador and speedy Texan age-grouper Clay Emge cleaned up at Ironman Boulder last weekend taking home first place. We caught up with Clay to find out his views on how the race went and what is next for him.
How are you feeling after your win at Ironman Boulder last weekend?
Sore and stiff! But very happy to be healthy again and seeing good results after an injury that kept me from running for a while.
Were you feeling confident going into the race that this might be the result? Who were you seeing as your biggest competition?
Since there wasn’t a pro field at IM Boulder this year, I knew there was a chance I could place well. But I also knew there are crazy fast amateurs all over Colorado, and at least one pro racing as an amateur for this race. But training had been going well, so I did feel confident that if I raced smart and my body handled my nutrition well I should have a good result.
At what point in the race did you feel like you could be the winner?
I took the lead around 70 miles into the bike, so any time you’re in front that thought naturally creeps in! But after flatting at mile 90, and seeing there were several guys not far behind after the first few miles of the run, I knew I’d have to push hard for the entire marathon.
How did your time of 8.45.20 compare to other Ironman races you’ve been in? Were you happy with your splits for each discipline in this race?
It’s my second fastest IM race, about 17 minutes slower than what I did at IM Texas last year. But comparing IMs with very different courses is tough…this race had about 2000’ more climbing on the bike than Texas and 500’ more elevation on the run.
The swim was a non-wetsuit swim, so times were slower across the field. But I was very pleased with the way my Orca RS1 Swimskin performed, doing a 58 and change is good for a non-westuit swim for me!
The bike course in Boulder now ranks as my favorite triathlon bike course I’ve ever done. Roads were perfectly smooth and there was a good amount of climbing, but nothing over about an 8% grade and some very long, fast descents. I’ve been putting a lot of work on the bike and it showed, as I set a PR bike split of 4:29. And that’s including replacing the flat, which probably took around 5 minutes, so I could have done around a 4:24.
The run went pretty well, but it’s the area where I can see the most improvement. After not running for about 6 months (from 8/2014 to 2/2015) due to an injury, I’m still trying to build back to where I was in spring/summer of 2014. But I think I managed my pace well, running slightly positive splits while trying to hold my form as much as possible. Still, my run time was the slowest IM marathon I’ve had in recent years, 17 minutes slower than IM Texas last year…so there is room for improvement!
Do you get up to Colorado much? How do you prepare for the difference in altitude for racing there? Tyler, Texas where you’re from is a lot lower altitude than Boulder right?
Sadly, I don’t make it up to Colorado much. Tyler, where I live, is at 500’ of elevation, and Boulder is at 5400’, so it’s quite a big difference. I arrived in Boulder a week before the race, so I did have a decent amount of time to acclimate to the elevation…I think 2 weeks is recommended, but I don’t have the vacation days for that! During my first couple workouts I could definitely feel the lack of oxygen, but by the time the race rolled around I was completely fine. In some ways the thinner air helps, like on the bike, where you experience considerably less wind drag than in the thick humid air we have here in Texas.
You only did your first long course tri in 2009, what made you decide to step up to this distance after only a few shorter tris?
2009 was the year that I really found my love for triathlon, as I did my race longer than a sprint tri early in the year, and worked my way up to iron-distance race by the end of the year, doing each race more to see if I could finish than for time. Back then I also raced more and trained less…it wasn’t until the last few years that I’ve really pushed myself in training and seen my times drop considerably.
What would you class as your first big win in long distance tri?
I would say IM Texas in 2013. After missing qualifying for Kona at IMTX 2012 (by 10 seconds!), I was gunning for a spot in 2013. So I left little to chance in 2013, winning my age-group and finishing 2nd Overall amateur. I was able to achieve this breakthrough by training with my friend, Seth, a mega-biker that also raced IMTX 2013, and qualified for Kona that year. We’ve been great friends and training buddies ever since, pushing each other to levels we couldn’t have reached alone.
We know you won your age-group in 2013 at the Kona World Champs, and you then turned pro. But you’re now racing as an amateur again. Can you fill us in on the reason between those changes?
I was hesitant to take my pro card even though I earned it at both IMTX and Kona in 2013, since I work full-time as an engineer and know that I couldn’t truly compete with many other athletes that have more time to train. But I decided to take it, and use the word “pro” lightly, knowing that my true profession is engineering and triathlon is still more of a hobby to me.
After getting a sacral stress fracture in August of 2014 and missing several months of training, I had a decision to make in December of 2014. I still wasn’t able to run, although I could swim and bike with no problems. But the uncertainty of how I would be able to race in 2015 led me to give up my pro card, and just work on getting better and easing back into racing when my body let me. I think it was the right decision, as it allowed me to take a lot of pressure off myself and focus on rehabbing, strength-training and working on my form…things I had previously neglected and most likely led to my injury.
How do you manage a full time job as well as a training schedule that puts you in good enough shape to win a major Ironman race?
It’s a juggling act, but I’ve got to put my job first. From there, I’ve found that filling the gaps in my schedule (before work, during my lunch break, after work and the weekends) with training can work fairly well. Of course, I love spending time with family and friends too, so I have to be careful and prioritize my free time wisely.
Would you think about going pro again after a result like this as an amateur?
I’ll just have to race Kona and see how that goes. My wife and I are expecting a baby in November, so I’ll have to see if and how I’ll be able to fit training into my schedule once he arrives!
What do you think has fueled your interest and commitment to long distance triathlon? What keeps you going?
I’m a really competitive person, and enjoy pushing myself to reach new levels. Long distance triathlon is a great way to do that, as it’s tougher to get burned out of any one discipline, since you’re doing 3, and it rewards those that put in the best training. Natural abilities don’t take you very far in this sport.
How does a typical day in the life of Clay look?
Wake up at 5:45 AM. Usually I swim before work, but once or twice a week I may do strength training/stretching. Get to work at 8. If there are no lunch time work commitments, I work out during my lunch break (usually 2-3x/week). Back to work until 5:30ish. After work I either run or ride (or in the wintertime, ride the trainer or run on the treadmill). Usually 3-4x/week I workout after work. Then go spend time with my wife, family, and friends! Finally, I go to sleep around 11 PM.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
As you can see from my above response, there’s not much of it! Most of my spare time is spent working around the house or in the yard, sadly. But I do like to travel and am really into maps, geography and history.
What’s coming up next for you?