A month after taking the runner-up spot at the Soma Half in Arizona, Durango resident Ben Hoffman battled a very tough field at the 2008 Ironman Arizona enroute to a 6th place finish there. Slowtwitch had a few words with him.
ST: Ben, congrats on a great season capped with a very nice Ironman Arizona result. Did IMAZ go as you expected?
Ben: To be honest, it was pretty close to what I had mapped out. I’m not saying everything went perfectly, but my training was aimed toward going 8:30 if everything went right. In the end, things didn’t go exactly according to plan, and I went 6 minutes faster than my best projection. Perhaps that’s a testament to the value of an Ironman plan… at least for a newcomer to the distance.
ST: Did you get a Hawaii slot for 09?
Ben: I did secure my spot. I know there are a lot of different attitudes about how to approach this race, but I know how I operate, and I need to get my feet wet and learn how to best tackle Hawaii. I anticipate this being my season goal for years to come, so I’m excited to get started.
ST: How well do you deal with heat and humidity?
Ben: I have always raced better in heat than cold. I’m not used to extremely humid conditions, growing up and living in arid climates for the majority of my life, but I have raced well in those conditions before. I’ve always been a fan of tough conditions, because they are tough for everyone, and it puts even more pressure on the mental aspect of racing.
ST: Your 2008 season really looked solid. Looking back, what do you consider the highlight and lowlight of your year?
Ben: Results wise it looks similar to my 2007 season, with many top 10’s, but not as many top 3’s. With regard to time, I’m getting a lot faster, but so is everyone else. The low point was dealing with a small knee injury mid season. I crashed my bike and had a case of patellar tracking disorder, which led to a disappointing race at Lake Stevens 70.3. Afterwards, I took some time off to get mentally ready for Ironman, which ended up being the highlight without question. I like to think of myself as a very steady performer, so my season doesn’t have the same peaks and valleys as some of the other athletes.
ST: What is your athletic background and who or what inspired you to race triathlons?
Ben: I did a little bit of everything in high school: Soccer, basketball, track, and golf. I started riding road bikes in high school, participating in some weeklong tours and a partial cross-country ride with my parents in 2002. My start in triathlon was in 2004 as a member of the university club team and Team Stampede in Missoula, Montana. I really only started swimming in 2004, and it’s my relative weakness. The inspiration to race came during a summer trip to Alaska where I found a book at a library in Prince Rupert, BC, outlining the basics of training and racing. After discovering the university club team and attending a meeting, I began training and was hooked. I also took a year off from racing in 2005 to travel and study in Argentina.
ST: Who do you train with in Durango?
Ben: I’m the only male pro in town, but there are some strong age-groupers that do Ironmans. The cycling community here is phenomenal, and I owe a lot of my bike strength to training with local pros. I swim with a Masters program, and I do a lot of training on my own, especially specific run workouts at the track.
ST: What kind of training volume do you have in mid season?
Ben: Even with Ironman training, my coach and I have never been obsessed with big volume. I do well with more specific, quality workouts. Looking back at my training logs for Ironman Arizona, I averaged around 20-21 hour weeks for about 4 months, and that includes race weeks. It’s really about nailing the key workouts he gives me each week.
ST: So who is your coach?
Ben: Elliot Bassett is my friend and coach. He was on the university team when I got my start in Montana, and we spent the summer of 2006 living out of a suburban, traveling and racing Olympic and Half Ironman distance events throughout the Pacific Northwest on every weekend for 2 months. He has a firm grasp on contemporary training philosophy, and he knows how to keep things interesting and enjoyable. His website is mountainendurance.com
ST: What do you do to overcome a disappointing race?
Ben: I allow myself necessary time to internalize a major letdown, but it’s more about picking apart the problems with a focus on getting better. I attribute a lot of my success to being able to focus on solutions instead of problems, and to avoid the tendency to meditate on negativity.
ST: How are things going for you in terms of sponsorship?
Ben: I don’t know the details for every pro out there, but it’s always a bit of a struggle unless you are the very best. That said, things are really moving in a good direction. The goal is to be able to quit my part-time job and go full-time in the near future, and I just signed with team Sport Beans/NTTC for 2009. Despite posting the fastest bike splits at Memphis in May, Longhorn 70.3, and Soma Half Ironman, I am searching for a new bike sponsor. My vision is to continue working with companies I believe in, and establish lasting relationships with new ones. I have tremendous support from my family, friends, training partners and coaches. Financially, I have had support from a few businesses earlier this season, but I work part-time to support my triathlon career. Sponsors from this season include Specialized, Blue Seventy, Hammer Nutrition, SLS3, and Pixie Mate. The 2009 season will see a number of changes, most notably with my switch to Sport Beans/NTTC, and likely a new bike sponsor, as yet undetermined.
ST: You should be in the off-season right now, so what are you up to?
Ben: I’m definitely taking a good break from structured workouts. It’s tough to stop everything, as I love training, but my body and mind need the rest. Fortunately Durango is loaded with outdoor opportunities, so I’ll be doing some backcountry skiing and hiking in southwestern Colorado and Utah. I’ve been catching up on some reading, working on sponsorship, and taking time to sample some quality wines. I’ll also make a trip home for Christmas to spend time with the family.
ST: Do you follow any other sports?
Ben: I like college hoops because it’s authentic, and I like hockey. Otherwise, I follow cycling pretty closely, with a number of friends riding for continental pro teams.
ST: Can you share with us some of your food likes and dislikes?
Ben: I eat a lot, so I’m not ultra picky. It’s more about large quantities of quality food than specifics. Tons of fruit, peanut butter, burritos, salmon, yogurt, eggs, and veggies. I’m a fan of good sushi and tamales, and there really aren’t any major food dislikes. I definitely have a sweet tooth at times, and I love good cookies (especially my Mom’s oatmeal chocolate chip), and Snickers. I don’t eat fast food, but I like a good burger, especially with green chiles and cheddar.
ST: What music do you like?
Ben: I’ll listen to just about anything but country… or at least popular country. Right now, favorites include Ratatat, Beck, The Decemberists, and Wilco. I do like older stuff too, like Leo Kottke and Bob Dylan. For a little extra motivation during hard intervals on the bike, it’s tough to beat Daft Punk’s Homework album.
ST: Can you tell us what the last book was you read?
Ben: I can tell you the last book that I read and enjoyed. I’m usually the kind of person who will finish a book I start just on principle, but I’ll typically forget about the book quickly thereafter. Phillip Roth’s The Human Stain is the last book I read and really couldn’t put down.
ST: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Ben: I’m excited about the growth of triathlon and the energy surrounding it. As a relatively young athlete in this sport, I see myself still racing triathlon and hopefully competing for the top spots in Kona. I’d like to branch out some, maybe getting into coaching, or taking some time to go back to school and study the sciences.
ST: Is there anything else we should know about you?
Ben: I think I still rank in the top 100 all-time official beer mile performances with a 6:26. Everything else of import can be found on my website/blog: benhoffmanracing.com