Ben Hoffman has Ironman titles from Lake Placid (2010), Wisconsin (2012), St. George (2012) and Coeur d’Alene (2013) but a stellar race in Kona still eludes the 30-year-old Boulder-based pro. After taking a break from racing Kona in 2012, he’ll be back on the Big Island on Oct. 12 to battle it out as one of the U.S.’s top podium prospects. We hassled the Hoff to talk about his Kona build and the “honor” of racing as an American contender.
Triathlete.com: I know you recently bought a home in Boulder. Were you affected by the recent flooding?
Ben Hoffman: I was very lucky to not have damage to my house, but there was a raging creek out back that had me pretty restless. I was affected in the sense that my training grounds have been altered significantly, but obviously that is something I can adapt to, and pales in comparison to the struggles of those displaced or left without homes, including some close friends. I did make two trips to Tucson to finish my Ironman build for Kona.
Triathlete.com: If your win at Rev3 Branson a couple weeks ago is any indication, your Kona prep has been going exceptionally well! Can you give us an update on how the last few months of training have been going, and what some of the highlights and challenges have been?
Hoffman: I really feel like the training is on target for a good race this year. It has been my goal since the beginning of the season to show up in Kona with my best performance, and things are coming together. My mental energy is very high, and the body is showing good form at the moment. I’ve had a really smooth 10-week block of quality and volume that I don’t think I have ever matched in my career. The only real challenge was the flooding in Boulder, but I have been able to work around it well. I have to give a lot of credit to training partners Richie Cunningham and Chris Legh for helping in the big push.
Triathlete.com: It’s been a while since an American has captured the Ironman world title. Do you feel any pressure as a top American contender to produce a podium performance? How do you manage external pressures for such a big race?
Hoffman: I like the idea that I carry a country’s hopes for a top finish in Kona. It’s a real honor, and one I take seriously, so I try to channel that energy into something positive and motivating in my training, and during the race. Yes, it is pressure, but it is not the primary motivation for my race. As far as handling external pressure, I feel very fortunate to have a team of sponsors and supporters that just allows me to focus on myself, the necessary preparation, and nothing else, because they trust me. In addition to my own coping methods, these people shoulder some of that burden, and allow me to deal with the biggest pressure of all, which comes from my own personal expectations.
Triathlete.com: Last year you were a race spectator in Kona. Is there anything you picked up from watching the race unfold that you can put to use as a competitor this year?
Hoffman: I think every athlete that intends to race Kona should be there once just to spectate. There is something about being there in person and watching the athletes battle each other, the course and the elements—you just can’t see that on a computer. I took a year off Kona for the purpose of learning how to be a better Ironman athlete, and I was rewarded with two more Ironman titles in 2012, and a much more balanced effort across the three disciplines. The mental break from Kona was much needed, and left me hungry to get back. Watching the race last year, I could see other athletes making similar mistakes to my first attempts there, and it taught me to be more focused on myself and less on the race dynamic. It’s a long day, especially in Kona, and there is almost always time to make a strong comeback if you don’t give up or make dumb mistakes.
Triathlete.com: Can you share a key bike workout that you’re using for your Kona prep?
Hoffman: For the two visits to Tucson, I have done a long ride that begins with the famous Shootout, then continues down towards Mexico on the Arivaca loop. The road is desolate, hot, and has similar topography to the race course in Hawai’i. I think having the top end, full-throttle effort at the beginning, and then settling into steady tempo for a long ride of 135 miles, is almost perfect for what I expect to encounter in Kona.
Triathlete.com: What are some of your strategies for dealing with heat/humidity while racing?
Hoffman: In addition to training my last block in the heat of Tucson, I have done some sauna sessions, and purposely targeted the heat of the day for certain workouts. The rest is based on smart fueling on race day, and getting to Kona a little over a week early to get the final adaptation.
Triathlete.com: I heard that you are considering heading over to Maui after Kona and racing the Xterra World Championship a couple weeks later. Is that still a possibility?
Hoffman: I always tell people that I don’t like to make a lot of plans for racing after an Ironman, as I never know exactly how I will feel, but I am looking at some options. After a slow start to the year, I have a lot of energy for racing right now, so maybe Maui, maybe Austin 70.3, or maybe nothing.