“Don’t hassle the Hoff!” says Ben Hoffman, half-serious and half-smiling. The 29-year-old University of Montana graduate and 2006 collegiate national champion (and college teammate of fellow pro Linsey Corbin) is a devotee of hard-driving discipline, softened by a healthy dose of humor. On May 5, Hoffman celebrated his second Ironman victory, in St. George, Utah—on a day that saw a 29 percent attrition rate due to ferocious winds and weather piled atop an already brutal course. A few months later Hoffman won Ironman Wisconsin. Combine those titles with Hoffman’s first Ironman win, in Lake Placid (2010), on another notably challenging course, and you get the picture of a pro who won’t be deterred from his goal of rising to the top.
» My introduction to triathlon was in college. We had really bad weather in Missoula. It was like: OK, it’s raining. Let’s go ride. Winter lasted forever there, but we toughed it out. I grew up in Colorado, so I’m used to extreme temperatures. I’m used to hills and altitude. That’s always been my expectation: Training and racing are hard.
» Our team had a lot of fun. We got the work done, but we knew we weren’t saving the world; we were just training for triathlon. We played pranks on each other all the time. We did a training camp in St. George, and we’d rotate every night cooking dinner. There were these Oreo cookies that were half mint and half normal filling. The mint filling looked exactly like wasabi. Dessert when it was my turn to cook? Wasabi Oreos!
» The summer after graduation, my current coach [Elliot Bassett] and I traveled around Canada racing every weekend. My parents lent us their Suburban—we lived out of it and camped. In Canada they pay you regardless of your pro or amateur status, so you just have to finish top five and you’re in the money. I think I made $3,000. I thought: This is totally possible!
» After that summer, I moved to Durango to get serious about triathlon. I worked at a health department doing Spanish translation work (I graduated with a Spanish major and an English minor). It was part-time and they let me take time off whenever I needed, so it was a good intro to going pro. But I only made $1,000 a month. It was absolutely paycheck-to-paycheck. It was that time that I think everyone who eventually makes it has, where you’re living right on the edge. I kept finishing sixth each race, just out of the money. It was demoralizing. But I kept thinking: I know I can do this!
» I finished Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian right before St. George. There’s a part in the book where his grandmother dies, a good family friend dies and then something else happens—three tragedies pile up all in a row. His response is really cool—he sits down and writes lists of things that are really good in his life. So before the race I made my lists—the people in my life who support me, the things that I’m psyched about and the reasons why I was going to win that race.
» I don’t believe there’s ever a perfect race. But I do think there’s something noble in pursuing perfection while knowing that perfection is impossible. Having that as a goal all the time makes you focus on constant self-improvement. If you work toward perfection, you don’t get complacent. It’s always exciting. There’s always something more.
Ben Hoffman Fun Fact
Hoffman has a number of sponsors, though you may not have heard of all of them. Among them is the Infinite Monkey Theorem, an urban winery in downtown Denver specializing in “back alley winemaking.”