The fast Texan Clay Emge

Tyler, Texas resident Clay Emge won the M25-29 category at the 2013 GoPro World Championships in Kona with a 58:11 swim, 4:43:01 bike and 3:00:33 run and a total time of 8:47:36. We had a few words with him to learn more.

Slowtwitch: Thank for the chat.

Clay Emge: You’re welcome. I’m just glad to have a reason to be interviewed by Slowtwitch.

ST: When did you get back to Tyler, Texas?

Clay: Well, I made the most of my plane ticket to Hawaii, and stayed around the islands for a week after the race. I spent some time in Maui and Oahu with my girlfriend, Kimberly, and some family members. We just got back Sunday afternoon.

ST: So which island did you like the best?

Clay: Without a doubt, the Big Island. I’m probably a little biased because Kona now holds a special place in my heart, but the big island is less developed and seems like more of a frontier. Plus, Kona is the only place in the world where you can go night snorkeling with manta rays - which was incredible, and I would highly recommend to anyone traveling there.

ST: Did you get a nice reception?

Clay: I most certainly did! Had a nice Hawaiian-themed dinner with the family on Sunday night, and was greeted with a surprise breakfast reception at work on Monday morning.

ST: You won your age group in Kona with a very nice time of 8:47:36. Was that something you had envisioned?

Clay: I go into big races with a very reachable goal time, an optimistic goal time, and a super optimistic goal time. 8:47 was pretty much my super optimistic goal time. As a side-note, I lost my watch about 100m into the swim, so I had no idea what my time was going to be until I saw the clock at the finish line. Before that I figured I was somewhere in the low 9s.

ST: What kind of watch were you wearing? Because some watches come off faster than others.

Clay: I was wearing a Garmin 310XT. An older model, but I’ve never had problems finding satellites, and really like the watch.

ST: All your splits seemed nicely balanced but your 3-hour run allowed you to reel in Matt Trautman. Were you aware where he was or in general who was in front of you and close behind?

Clay: My supporters told me I was 4th in my AG going into the run, so I was watching for fellow athletes with bib numbers in the 1900s and 2000s (M25-29 AG). I knew when I passed Matt around mile 24 that I was either in first or second, but wasn’t exactly sure.

ST: Did he fight back?

Clay: We talked briefly, and established that we were in the same age group. After passing him I never saw him again. As a rule, I try not to look back, even on turns, but I know he was fighting and putting everything out there that he had, just like I was. At the awards ceremony I talked to him for a while, and he’s a very nice guy. He’s younger than me, and newer to triathlon, so we better watch out for this South African.

ST: You have run some very fast stand-alone marathons, but I believe this 3:00:33 effort was your fastest Ironman run.

Clay: Indeed, it was! We were blessed with some good cloud cover during the run, and I have been making steady improvements on the run - so I guess the monotonous treadmill workouts paid off.

ST: You are a treadmill man?

Clay: Somewhat. Once a week I run on the treadmill, usually on Wednesday mornings. It’s one of the most intense workouts I do all week, as I slowly ramp up my speed by 0.1 mph until I meet various thresholds. It has also taught me to be lighter on my feet or else the treadmill starts bouncing around, and to pick up my cadence.

ST: What about your swim and bike effort in Kona? Were you happy with how it went?

Clay: Yep, I was very happy with both. After losing my watch on the swim, I had no idea what my splits were during the race – but after-the-fact, I was thrilled! Both were slightly faster than my Ironman Texas splits, and on a harder course to boot.

ST: 2009 was your first long course tri in Oklahoma. What made you decide to try that? Prior to that race you had only done a hand full shorter tris and mostly running events.

Clay: 2009 was the year that I really got into triathlon. I realized how much I liked the sport, and raced a bunch while training very little but at the time, I thought I was training a lot. So, on a whim, less than 2 months before the race, I signed up for the Redman iron-distance race. Mostly just to challenge myself, and see if I could finish.

ST: How did it go?

Clay: Considering the amount of training I put into it, very well. I ended up clocking a 10:31, and was thrilled with that time. After that race I felt like it would be physically impossible for me to go any faster in an ironman, but I had also been naïve enough to actually stop to go to the bathroom (3 times!), and to take a break to eat a power bar during transition. Needless to say, I’ve learned quite a bit since then.

ST: Ironman Texas this year you went sub-9 for the first time and won your age group. Talk about that day.

Clay: It was a great day. I had raced IMTX the year before, and finished in 9:32 - missing a Kona slot by 10 seconds! So I was determined to qualify for Kona in 2013. My friend/training partner Seth Cooke and I trained very hard together and we both qualified. All I really wanted was to qualify for Kona, so going sub-9 and winning my AG were icing on the cake.

ST: Looking at your numbers of the last years it appears you steadily improved. Is it fair to say that 2013 has been your finest year?

Clay: Most definitely.

ST: What have you changed or what has changed?

Clay: Back in ’09 when I got into triathlon, I was a pretty decent runner and swimmer, having competed in cross-country and swim team in high school, but my cycling was lacking. So the vast majority of my improvement has been in cycling, thanks mostly to local group rides sponsored by the Tyler Bicycle Club and our cycling team, Fresh Racing Team. Hanging on to those guys’ wheels, and being pushed by fellow local triathlete Seth Cooke (who biked a 4:37 at Kona) has been the biggest reason for my improvement on the bike. I also made noticeable improvement on the bike after getting a bike fit from John Cobb of Cobb Cycling – a Tyler, TX based company that makes the fastest and most comfortable bike saddles in the biz.

ST: What is your day job?

Clay: I’m an engineer, and work for an oil & gas company in Tyler, TX.

ST: Do you have pretty normal 8-5 hours?

Clay: Yeah, it’s pretty close to that. The 5 is usually closer to 5:30 though, but I love my job, and my coworkers are very supportive of me. We have a pretty flexible lunch break, so usually 2-3 days/week I can get out of the office for a workout.

ST: So what is next?

Clay: Well I really don’t like biking in cold weather…but I love running in cold weather, so I’m going to focus mostly on running this winter. I’ll be participating in the Dallas Marathon in December, Houston Marathon in January and Boston Marathon in April. Hopefully I’ll be able to find my biking legs after all of that! I like to travel, and would love to do some other Ironman races in the States and internationally.

ST: What other hobbies or interests do you pursue?

Clay: Since triathlon has taken over my life, there seems to be less and less of anything else! But I love to spend time with my girlfriend and family, and have been pretty involved in my church at times. And I have a weird obsession with geography, and can spend hours at a time looking at maps.

ST: Is there anything else we should know?

Clay: Just that I’ve got the best supporters ever. Team Emge was out in full force at Kona, where I had my girlfriend, family and friends cheering me on. Additionally, countless people back home were live-streaming the race, and anxiously awaiting me to reach the checkpoints on athlete tracker. Also, Hebrews 12:1-3.