Tender Talk: Q & A with Professional Triathlete Ben Hoffman
Ben Hoffman is quite the meathead – but not because he’s an elite professional triathlete who will compete in the IRONMAN World Championships on Oct. 11, in Hawaii. He’s a Tender Belly meathead, boasting that the flavorful, antibiotic-free pork products that have put us on the map have served him well as he trains for the grueling 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2 marathon along the Kona Coast on Hawaii’s Big Island.
We sat down with Ben to find out what makes him tick, how he winds down after a big race and – what’s on all of your minds – his favorite way to enjoy Tender Belly pork products.
Q. How did you get started competing in triathlons?
A. I guess I’ve always been an athlete ever since I was a child. Both my parents are athletic and active. I was always into ball sports, playing soccer, golf and basketball; I ran a little track, rode my bike in high school, and was a rock climber growing up in Colorado. Having outdoorsy parents, it was kind of built in to me. I’ve always been competitive, always trying to see how far I can go with things. In college, I looked for something new to do. I had no background in swimming, but I owned a road bike, so I went out for the triathlon club team. I loved the structure of the training and the variety that three different sports offered. We won a national title as a team my senior year and I won as an individual, too. I was lucky enough to have a lot of good athletes competing with me and good coaching right off the bat. I took some time off to study abroad in South America, but I missed it and decided to get more serious about it. After that, I decided I didn’t want a real job and came back to Colorado and started training. I got my professional license in 2007. I didn’t have a lot of success right away, but I’ve developed into one of the better IRONMAN athletes in the world.
Q. How do you prep mentally for a big race?
A. It’s a combination of always thinking about it, finding that line of thinking in the right way so that it’s not constantly overwhelming you or stressing you out. That can happen in a race this big. For me, the mental preparation is a career-long thing. I remember my first professional race and how nervous I was. It was debilitating because I was so concerned about my performance and things that were out of my control that if got in the way of me having a better performance. Now, I envision my perfect race and try to focus more on myself and the things that I can control, and concentrate on making the best decisions in each moment. I stay aware of other athletes, but the big equalizer is mentally preparing and owning myself. Another big factor is that I draw a lot of confidence by the training that I do. There’s no question that I’ve towed the line and did everything I could to prepare in the best possible way. That always puts me in a good mental space. I also envision the race course, prepare for adverse conditions and I read a lot and research ways to become stronger as an athlete.
Q. What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten from a fellow racer or coach – something you remember often?
A. Recently, I wasn’t going 100% on a workout and was really struggling through a run when I remembered that one of the most important things you can do is just try the workout no matter what. Say you go out there and you’re struggling—I always tell people to do the best you can do no matter what you’re feeling because you’re going to get something out of it. I’m not saying to ignore injuries – don’t do that – but just get out there and do it. Often times I surprise myself and push through. There’s no magic workout – people are often looking for one workout that will make them a phenomenal athlete, but that’s impossible. The keys are consistent, hard work, staying healthy, taking care of your body and trying to stay injury free – that’s where you’ll really start to see gains.
Q. When you feel like your body is exhausted, what helps you through? Do you think/do anything in particular?
A. I’m a goal-oriented person. For example, right now I’m focused on the IRONMAN race, so I think about the race all the time and occasionally dream about it – that motivates me. I like this lifestyle – there really isn’t anything else I’d rather be doing, so I have that perspective that it’s a beautiful thing to test your limits and see how far you can go. I focus on dedicating a big part of my day to being healthy – paying attention to diet, exercise and rest, and the mental side of it, too. There are good days and bad days, but I can’t imagine having another job and giving up the freedom and experiences I’ve had because of it.
Q. What do you like to do on your down time?
A. I have a lot of hobbies: being outside, fly fishing, backpacking. I have a background in ceramics, and have a wheel at home, so I will throw a pot. Now that I own my own home, I like to tinker around with projects. Other than that, I just like to chill, drink wine and eat bacon.
Q. Speaking of bacon, we’re obviously partial to the subject – so tell us, how do you use foods like bacon in your training?
A. Obviously a huge part of my job is fueling during training – both while I’m training and while I’m in recovery. I use bacon fairly regularly for both. Sometimes bacon has a stigma of being unhealthy, but with the training load I’m doing where I wake up and train and end the day training, you have to eat lots of food. That’s one of the reasons I like good, clean foods that I know where they originate from and the people putting the product out there. So with Tender Belly products, I know I’m fueling with the best possible stuff and recovering with the best possible stuff. Luckily, I have some freedoms to eat a lot of calories, but they can’t be junk, so eating a diet high in protein – almost Paleo – consists of a lot of meat products.
Q. What is your favorite pork-inspired meal with Tender Belly?
A. I really love the Berkshire-cut Frenched Rack, which I’ve learned to cook through trial and error. Basically, I throw it on the grill to sear it and then bake them after that. Some people make the mistake of not letting it warm up enough before hand, so I make sure to let it get to room temperature, then sear and bake it. I also love their franks and the bacon tenderloin is amazing.
Q. How do you treat yourself after a race?
A. It depends on the race. Hawaii marks the end of the season, from March through October. So I will indulge a little bit – which is important to do in celebration of completing an event that is self-denying in some ways. I like to honor that and give myself a mental and physical break. I’ll spend some time on the beach, have some beers and maybe some bacon.
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