Since turning pro last year, Ashley Clifford has had her sights set squarely on the biggest race in the sport. The 27-year-old from Carmel, Indiana hopes to come back here and win one day, but for now, she’s just enjoying the experience of racing against the world’s best. We caught up with Clifford just a few days before the big dance.

LAVA: You’ve made some big gains in the last year to the point that you qualified to compete here professionally. What’s been key to the recent success?

Ashley Clifford:
Last year my bike was really slow. I was like 30 or 40 minutes slower than I needed to be. My swimming and running were always right there, but I really needed to work on the bike. I increased the amount of hours on the bike and did a lot more focused training using power. Last year I was training by heart rate, this year it’s been all power-based.

LAVA: Do you do all your training around Indianapolis?

AC: I do for now. Sometimes I’ll do some training trips in the winter down to Florida and I think I’ll do more of that as I get further into my career. I have a great Master’s group I swim with at home and I do a lot of riding with a group from a local bike shop.

LAVA: You have one of your sponsors right in town with Zipp. Do you spend much time riding with those guys?

AC: I see a lot of them. It’s cool having a company like that in my hometown. They have some pretty serious riders working for them so there are always good people to ride with. They’ve been a huge help over the past couple of years.

LAVA: It’s your first time here as a pro but you’ve been here before as an age-grouper in 2011. What did you take away from that experience that you can use at Saturday’s race?

AC: Hydration. This place is like a toaster. It feels even more humid this year. This place heats you up unlike any other place.

LAVA: How do you get ready for those conditions in Indiana?

I don’t do anything specific in terms of heat acclamation. I just train hard through the summer. We had a really hot summer this year, so that was good for this race. I enjoy warm weather. I’d much rather race in hot conditions.

LAVA: Are there more or less nerves this time around now that you’re here as a pro?

AC: I think less. It helps that I know the course and know what to expect out there. The one thing I’m nervous about is just how fast the race will be. I’ve put in a lot of work on the bike but I know that the girls here are going to be riding hard the whole way. So I’m a little nervous about that, but I’m confident in my run and I’m just looking forward to racing against this level of competition.

You’ve already put together a pretty impressive group of sponsors for someone who’s only been racing professionally for two years. What’s been key to building those relationships?

AC: My coach, Adam Zucco, has been a huge help when it comes to that. I had a couple of sponsors on board last year and then finishing third at Ironman Florida really helped. Zipp is a local company so that’s been great in terms of building a relationship.

LAVA: You also scored a big running shoe sponsor in ECCO. What have you enjoyed most about working with them?

AC: ECCO has been awesome to work with. They’re huge on athlete feedback so I do a lot of shoe testing for them and it’s cool to work with a brand that really listens to the athletes. This is my first year running in them and I’ve have seen some big improvements in my run. The ECCO Bioms are all about natural motion—they help you run how you’re supposed to run without controlling the motion of your foot. I’m a natural toe-striker and the shoes I used to run it forced me onto my heels. Now I’m back running how I’m supposed to.

Follow Ashley on Twitter (@tAshleyClifford)