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Things are going well for Ben Hoffman. Coming off of a fourth-place showing in Kona last season, the 33-year-old American turned in perhaps the most impressive performance of the 2017 triathlon season to date with a 7:58:39 win at Ironman South Africa two weeks ago. It was his first time breaking the eight-hour mark and gave him the title of Ironman African champion for the second consecutive year. Even more exciting for the Hoffman is his upcoming wedding to longtime fiancée Kelsey Deery, which will take place in Utah the week after Hoffman competes against a world-class field at the Ironman 70.3 North American Championships in St. George. We caught up with “Hoff” after he returned from his South African race-cation to talk going sub-8, getting hitched and gaining the confidence to win in Hawaii.
Triathlete.com: Was going sub-8 on your mind before the race, or was there a certain part of the race where you all of a sudden realized it was possible?
Hoffman: I knew I was strong. I had been doing a lot of volume and I didn’t necessarily feel really sharp. I consider my peak fitness to be Kona last season. I went 8:13, which I felt was a huge step forward for me. I was razor sharp there and super lean. I knew I wasn’t quite at that level going in to [South Africa] because I wanted to keep some meat on the bone. Sub-8 was not something I was thinking about at all. I went 8:12 last year in South Africa on a great day. I thought maybe I could knock a few minutes off of that. When I think about that course relative to other courses out there, I think going sub-8 there was a pretty big statement.
Triathlete.com: I’d be terrified about swimming in South Africa. I watch “Shark Week” and know they have some pretty big ones. Does that ever cross your mind when you’re swimming down there?
Hoffman: It crosses your mind a little bit, because you’re like, “isn’t this where the sharks fly into the air and chomp seals?” I just assume that the people down there know what they’re talking about when they say the water is cooler in Cape Town and all the sharks are down there. But it still doesn’t seem that far—not for a shark.
Triathlete.com: Was there any point in the race when you felt the wheels coming off?
Hoffman: To be perfectly honest, I didn’t really. It was just one of those days where things were really going right. I felt on top of it all day. I nailed the nutrition and pacing. There was one moment, during the first 10K [of the bike], when Freddy [Van Lierde] went to the front and really started pushing things, then I put in a surge and moved to the front. When we got to the turnaround I expected to see only one or two guys still with us because we were going so hard, but there were still like 12 other dudes. I worried I’d burned to many matches and I hit a bit of a lull, but I came back around at about 50K in and broke away with Nils [Frommhold] and Josh [Amberger]. I felt in control the entire time on the run. I decided to back things off a little bit with about 10K to go, just in case things started to get tough or if Nils put up a fight, I just wanted to make sure I had something left in the tank.
Triathlete.com: How would you sell Ironman South Africa to a triathlete who might be considering making the trip?
Hoffman: It’s insanely beautiful. The community is 100 percent behind the event. I really felt embraced by the community coming back there after winning last year. The support along the run course is unreal. You just don’t see crowds like that at an Ironman. No one resents the fact that the main thoroughfare along the Ocean is shut down for a day. People get there two or three days early to mark out their tent sites with stakes and tape. It’s tough to get there from just about anywhere, but once you’re there, there’s so much to do post-race in South Africa. And you’re money goes pretty far.
Triathlete.com: So you’ve got St. George coming up, then a wedding. What are your and Kelsey’s plans for the summer?
Hoffman: We just bought an Airstream trailer, so we’re going to hit the road. As cool as Boulder is—and we’ll go back there in July and August to do some Kona training—it’s changed a lot and it’s a lot busier. So we’re going to hit the road and train in some new spots. We’ll go see some sponsors in California, then go up to Bend, Montana, Wyoming. We’re just going to live out of a trailer for a little while. It’ll be nice to have a bit of a breather and be inspired by the places I’ll be training. But we also want to do things like go to Yosemite and see some new places.
Triathlete.com: How stoked are you to go against the reigning Olympic champ at 70.3 St. George and how do you like your chances?
Hoffman: I’ve seen this evolution in my career where I look for those opportunities to test myself against the best guys in the sport. 70.3 might not be my specialty, but when I get it right I think I can compete with anyone. I’m at that point in my career when I want to race the best guys and I want to see how I stack up against them. To be able to race someone like Alistair on a course like that is a great opportunity. No matter if he kicks all of our asses or if he blows to smithereens, I think racing him on that course will add some validity to whatever happens.
Triathlete.com: How would you rate your confidence and just your overall feel of where you’re at right now compared to previous years?
Hoffman: The simple answer is I’m definitely ahead of where I’ve been at this point of any other year. I don’t think that means there’s no room for improvement. I’m approaching my mid-30s and I think that’s when you see people perform their best because you have that experience in racing and all those years of training in your legs. And I think that gives me a lot of confidence and self-belief. It’s not arrogance—it’s just that now I know what I have to do to perform well. I don’t get concerned with outside distractions or other athletes—I’m at the point that I’m only concerned about what I have to do to get better. It’s exciting. I really feel I have what it takes to win Kona. You’ll hear a lot of athletes say it, but I feel like this is my year.