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Fresh off a win at Ironman South Africa, Hoffman jumps right into his favorite race.
Ben Hoffman knew about St. George, Utah before St. George, Utah was cool. During his college days with the University of Montana triathlon club, Hoffman would venture to southern Utah whenever possible to ride the scenic, challenging courses in and around Zion National Park.
It was no surprise, then, that Hoffman was the first one to sign up when the World Triathlon Corporation announced a new Ironman race in St. George in 2010. He has raced every incarnation since, even taking a win in 2012 (when the race was still a full Ironman). His streak in St. George will continue this weekend, despite some residual fatigue from a race—and win—just four weeks ago at Ironman South Africa.
Triathlete.com: You just won Ironman South Africa, and now you’re hopping right into 70.3 St. George. Don’t you ever rest, man?
Ben Hoffman: No. (laughs) I have taken it pretty easy since the race and subsequent travel home. I want to be respectful of the body and make sure I keep my eye on the prize for Kona in October. It’s a long year.
Triathlete.com: South Africa was the earliest you’ve ever raced in a year—normally, you do your first full later in the spring. What compelled you do change up your routine?
BH: It was a pretty simple decision for me this year. Following a disappointing Kona race, I was in need of points to qualify. Without Melbourne on the calendar, South Africa was the earliest option for a full-Ironman with championship points. I wanted to establish where I was by early May so I could target another Ironman for qualification if needed.
Triathlete.com: Are you a fan of early-season Ironman racing now?
BH: I think it does suit me well. I split my time between Boulder and Tucson so I am able to get good training in during the North American winter since the weather is consistently good in Arizona. I think it really sets the year up well to split the season in two halves, and leave the option open for a mid-season Ironman if it feels right before Kona.
Triathlete.com: With your South Africa win, you earned your Kona spot for this year. How does St. George fit into your plans for 2016?
BH: St. George fits in because I love this race! I wouldn’t normally race a half-Ironman so soon after a hard effort at Ironman, but I couldn’t miss this event, as I have been there for each edition, and I really love the race, the people, and the options for post-race activities. I have people coming from Colorado, Arizona, California, Florida and North Carolina to spectate and hang out.
Triathlete.com: As someone who has been at this race from the very first year, you have a unique perspective on the evolution of this event. What’s it like to see this place—and this race—go from barely a blip on the pro field’s radar to a must-do race?
BH: It’s really special, but it’s also mixed. On one hand it feels like it’s your baby that you want to keep to yourself, but ultimately, I am happy to share this incredible place with everyone and see the growth and energy it has now. To see how many people walk away amazed at the scenery, race production, and general atmosphere brings me a sense of contentment. It also makes the event the ultimate test with such a world-class field and exceptionally challenging circuit, so it helps elevate the professional game and get the best out of everyone.
Triathlete.com: What is it about this race that makes it so well suited for a championship event?
BH: The course is honest, and the race organization and community backing are second to none. The locals come out in force to cheer and volunteer, and there is no place to hide on the hills of the bike and run. Finally, activities around the area are plentiful and access to the area is relatively easy with Las Vegas close by.
Triathlete.com: The difficulty of this course requires athletes to be very judicious about where they expend their energy. What’s a solid race strategy for Ironman 70.3 St. George?
BH: It’s funny, because last year I had a problem in the swim and came out pretty far back, but worked my way back in the event with a solid bike and run. I really think that keeping things in check for the first half of the bike can pay dividends for most athletes. You want to have the energy to climb well when you hit Snow Canyon, and then you can fuel up on the descent into town when the heart rate comes down before the run. Same goes for the run… Don’t overdo it on the first gradual climb out of town, because running across the top of Red Hills Parkway will sneak up on you don’t save a little for the back half.
Triathlete.com: St. George has been a training destination for you since your college days. Do you have a list of must-visit places when you get to town?
BH: My favorite rides are probably going a big loop through Zion and around through Colorado City, as well as the more local Gunlock loop where the old Ironman course went. Snow Canyon is amazing for riding and running, and Gooseberry Mesa is top notch mountain biking. I’m not the best resource for the local hotspots when it comes to food, because I always stay with close family friends downtown and we cook almost all of our meals, but I do enjoy the Bear Paw Cafe for a breakfast, or The Painted Pony for dinner.