Ironman – the series of triathlon races, not the superhero – is so physically vigorous, its difficulty level is two above that of “Olympic” status.
Yet, the challenge is welcomed by professional triathlete Ben Hoffman.
Hoffman has won four Ironman races, including Ironman Coeur d’Alene 2013, where he set the course record. He also finished atop the field at Lake Placid in 2010, Boise in 2011 and St. George, Utah, in 2012.
Perhaps even more meaningful for Hoffman are his six Grizzly Triathlon championships, including the 2014 edition on April 19.
While it isn’t on the Ironman circuit, the Grizzly Triathlon is what sparked the now 30-year-old’s career in 2004, when he was a member of the University of Montana’s triathlon club team. Hoffman joined the club without any prior triathlon experience; he grew up playing soccer, basketball and running track.
He won each Grizzly race from 2006-10 and set the race record this year with a time of 55 minutes, 54 seconds. By breaking the record, Hoffman was allowed a $3,000 donation – by an anonymous donor – which he gave to the UM triathlon club.
Originally from Grand Junction, Colo., Hoffman graduated from UM in 2006, the year he turned pro.
When not competing, Hoffman trains 25 to 35 hours per week, using the rest of his time for recovery and “maintaining good status with sponsors and all the other supporters.”
Hoffman recently took time from his training to speak with the Missoulian about his experiences as a triathlete.
Q. What drew you to the sport of triathlon?
A. It was a combination of things. My history in sports goes a long way back, but nothing to do with triathlon really. I wanted some structured training and it seemed like a new challenge – something kind of cool. I went to one of the UM tri club team meetings. I met a bunch of the team and they seemed like cool, interesting people. I just fell into it. I made some friends, enjoyed the training, and it was a really good fit for me.
Q. Do you remember your first triathlon race?
A. I remember pretty clearly. It was 10 years ago and it was the Grizzly (Triathlon) – which is why this year’s Grizzly was to important to me. Back in 2004, I was in a head-to-head battle with Matt Seeley. He’s a six-time champion there and he used to be a pro triathlete. We went back and forth on the bike and he got the better of me on the run. I finished second, about 19 seconds behind him. That was my initial race for triathlon. It got me hungry to get back out there and see if I could take the top spot. It was 2006 when I first won it, and I was able to win it five years in a row.
Q. What kept you coming back?
A. I trained in Durango, Colorado, but I kept coming back because I wanted to see friends, see the town where I went to college, and then also I wanted to accumulate the most titles in the history of the race. I’m currently tied for that – with Matt Seeley. So I need to come back at least once more and try to win it.
Q. Which of the three disciplines is your favorite when it comes to racing?
A. Historically, probably my strength and favorite thing to do is cycling. Swimming was my weakness early on, but I’ve gotten to where I can be a front-pack swimmer, and my run has come up a bit, too. I’d say I’ve become fairly balanced across the three disciplines now. Overall, I’m still really fond of riding my bike. Fortunately for me, that’s the longest part of the race, so it works out well.
Q. What’s your biggest goal in regard to the sport?
A. I haven’t won Iron Man Hawaii yet. That’s kind of the grand daddy, the holy grail of world championships. That’s what I’m working toward and believe that I can do it at some point in my career.
Q. Are you ranked?
A. They do a point system to determine who gets to Hawaii (in October) throughout the year. Last year’s result, which I kind of consider my status, at least for a year, was 15th – the second American. Normally, I wouldn’t be happy with that, but it’s a step in the right direction for me. It showed me I can be up there with the top guys in the world.
Q. Do you have a favorite race?
A. I would absolutely put Grizzly up there for a number of reasons. Just the camaraderie and the down-home feel of it. Then there’s a lot of history there for me. Triathlon is a cool sport and Grizzly kind of embodies that. It’s a growing sport and I think Grizzly is the perfect launching pad for people to do one as just a “bucket list” thing or maybe it’s a career. Either way, it’s great.