It’s been a banner year for Ben Hoffman, who bounced back from injury at the end of 2018 to enjoy an unforgettable year in all aspects of his life in 2019.
After his runner-up finish at the Ironman World Championship in 2014, Hoffman confirmed his position as one of the sport’s premier long-distance racers. While he hasn’t finished that high on the podium since, he’s remained a consistent contender on the Big Island, finishing fourth twice and in the top-10 another two times.
Hoffman missed last year’s race in Kona, though, because of a stress fracture in his sacrum – the same injury that sidelined Jan Frodeno in 2018. Like so many great champions, Hoffman seemed to learn from the experience and enjoyed a phenomenal 2019 season, including a third win at the Ironman African Championship, a close fourth-place finish in Kona and then a runner-up finish at Ironman Florida that included a 2:36:09 marathon, one of the fastest full-distance runs ever recorded. (Only Matt Hanson’s 2:34:39 from Ironman Texas in 2018 is faster.)
So how did Hoffman manage to not only bounce back so well in 2019, but also come back just three weeks after a huge day on the Big Island to become one of the fastest Americans ever over the full distance (his 7:48:29 in Florida) and run so fast?
Hoffman says one aspect is a new perspective that comes from being a father. He and wife Kelsey celebrated the arrival of baby Josephine just a month before the Ironman World Championship.
“I think that I’m generally just more relaxed and appreciative,” he said at the post-race press conference in Kona. “Instead of being stressed by the environment or seeing things as negatives, I’m seeing things more as positives and really just appreciating being here, because, for us, too, its also finite. I’m 36 years old and I know that, in some ways, I’m entering my prime, but also, the end, as well. You really want to make these count. It’s not just the race day, its also the experiences around the race day. I think having that baby girl at home just changes everything in terms of perspective.”
Of course, having a baby a month before the biggest race of the season isn’t the easiest way to prepare, but Hoffman was blessed with some outstanding support.
“I think there were some questions when we decided to have a child and it ended up being born a month before the race, whether or not we’d be able to manage things well, but its turned out really, really good,” he said. “I think I owe a lot to my family and to Kelsey’s family, and to Kelsey, of course, for stepping up and making it possible for me to toe the line without any excuses.”
Hoffman also attributes his more relaxed attitude to missing the race in Kona last year. Watching Patrick Lange and the rest of the athletes rip through the course in the perfect conditions “left a deeper hunger and fire in my belly,” he said. “It definitely influenced how I felt all week.”
Instead of being stressed out during race week, a time most athletes dread because of all the sponsor requirements and media responsibilities, Hoffman felt relaxed.
“It was different from year’s past,” he said. “I wasn’t in a rush to get to Saturday. I enjoyed all the interactions. I embraced an attitude of gratitude. That it was just special to be on the race course.”
Pre-race preparation helps with quick recovery
Hoffman feels that his record-setting day in Florida came because he’d been so well prepared for the race in Kona. After taking just four days easy after the race in Hawaii, he returned home and started to do some easy workouts. By the weekend after the race he was able to do a four-hour bike ride and a 13-mile run. He managed a 30-hour training week after that as he geared up for the race in Florida.
“I was mostly surprised by the mental side,” he said. “I was hyped up to go out and do another marathon.”
While Hoffman is dependent on all the family support that helped him to such great results in his daughter’s first two-months, his sponsors are also a critical part of his success. Earlier this week we spoke with Hoffman during a media tour he was doing in New York City with long-time sponsor Clif Bar. He enjoys working with the company – as he nears the end of his career, he feels its important to “align with people who have the same value set.”
“Clif Bar is more than just a nutrition company,” he said. “The things that they do go beyond just fueling me in my training. They are doing things to make the planet a better place.”
Doing the right thing is important to Hoffman, but he can’t afford to work with a nutrition company just because he’s a fan or they pay him money. His career is dependant on the products he uses helping him achieve his goals. Over the years he’s found the optimal race-day nutrition program that includes a mix of Clif products. While he enjoys the various bars for training and recovery, on race day he has a very specific nutrition plan.
“Everybody’s a bit different when it comes to racing,” he said. “For me, that entails a fully liquid diet in racing. Digesting solid foods on race day doesn’t work for me.”
Hoffman mixes his own bottles and flasks for race day, combining Clif gels and the Clif Hydration Electrolyte Drink Mix that he sips through the entire race. He chases that with water and, when needed, uses a salt supplement, too.
Even during that 2:36 marathon Hoffman was carrying a couple of flasks with his special mix.
“It’s the only way to carry the calories you need out on the course,” he said.
It has been quite a fall for Hoffman. The new dad nailed a top finish in Kona and followed that up with one of the best races of his career. He’s got his spot for the next year’s Ironman World Championship already, which allows him a number of options for his 2020 race season. He might return to South Africa to go after a fourth title, but is a bit wary of the long trip with an eight-month-old baby. Since he doesn’t have to race another Ironman, Challenge Roth is a viable option.
For now, though, Hoffman plans on spending some down time with Kelsey and Josephine. After a tough 2018, 2019 has been a banner year in so many ways. Based on his recent results and positive mindset, it’s hard not to think that things will only get better in 2020.