YEAR IN AND YEAR OUT, few other American 5000 runners are as dependable as Ben True. Since ’11, the Maine native has ranked among the top 7 in the U.S. every year. The last 7 years he has been at No. 5 or better. In ’15, the year he ranked as the No. 1 American, he placed 6th at the Worlds and earned a matching No. 6 World Ranking.
Yet with the Trials delayed a year and time marching on—True will turn 35 just before New Year’s—is he considering a serious move up to the 10,000? Not that he’s a neophyte at the 25-lapper. He did contest it—along with the 5K—at the last two OTs. His best of 27:41.17 dates back to ’12, though his 5000 PR of 13:02.74 would certainly seem to indicate there is more there at the longer distance [Click here for video interview after the ’19 Payton Jordan 10K].
When put to the question, the Dartmouth grad laughs. “I don’t know. We’ll see. There’s a lot going on still between now and then, and who knows where we will be in the world at that point.”
Unlike the last two OT go-rounds, he indicates a double is likely off the table—or maybe not. “I am more for focusing on one event at a meet, so I probably would—well, I may do both at the Trials, but for a global competition, I’d run only one.”
In short, True won’t be making up his mind on this till much later in the game. First he’s got to get through the rest of ’20, which for so many in the sport has been the quintessential dumpster fire.
“Pretty early on when things started falling apart in March, you could kind of see the writing on the wall that most likely there would be no competition for the entire year,” he says.
“So I mentally prepared myself for that. At one point I was considering doing a fall marathon, but then those were all canceled as well. So I figured it was time to run, time to train, time to work on some possible weaknesses.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a year where for 52 weeks I’ve averaged over 100M [160K] a week and this may be the year to do that.”
For most of his running career True has bucked the trend and done his training alone, from his base in New Hampshire. For years he was self-coached, though he started working with Ray Treacy in ’17. With no training group to speak of, as of mid-August True has found himself with nothing on his schedule resembling an official race: “There was no ability for me to put on my own meet. So, I’m really just training. I haven’t even been looking at trying to travel all over to find a race at this point.”
Either way, he’s glad to put the ’19 campaign behind him. Even though he ranked No. 5 in the U.S., he admits, “It wasn’t a good one. I went over to Europe in May and ran two Diamond Leagues back-to-back. The Rome 5K [11th, 13:09.81] and the Oslo 3K [8th, 7:40.49].
“And it was in between those two races that I really did a number on my Achilles and was never able to fully come back from that till after the World Champs. The whole season was basically two weeks of cross-training, and trying to do a few workouts and then potentially race or not be able to finish a workout because the Achilles flared up.
“It was complete hit-or-miss the latter half of the season, just trying to manage injuries, which is mentally frustrating. I’m kind of glad I don’t have to deal with that this year.”
With True limping in at the end of the ’19 campaign, what motivated his decision to say yes to a WC team berth in September after an injured Drew Hunter took himself off the squad?
“The only reason I was still racing was to maintain my world ranking so I could maintain my healthcare [insurance]. Otherwise I definitely wanted to shut it down much earlier to allow the Achilles to heal because every race was a pain.”
The situation was trying and forced True to confront the existential question: Why run? “I remember last year trying to figure that out. And actually looking up Bernard Lagat and seeing that he set the American Record when he was 36 and thinking, “I have a few more years before that. So I’m still ready to go.
“The hardest part for me is I do 99% of my training alone. Doing those long grinding workouts that you need to be top-level can be fairly wearing not just physically but also mentally. Being by yourself, going to the track when nobody else is there, it’s just you and you’re suffering through it.
“I’ve really been trying to change it up a bit. A lot of times my wife will come out to time me. Just having another body at the track actually makes things a whole lot mentally easier.”
True has also started doing some workouts with Iowa State alum Dan Curts. “I’m trying to do little things to make sure that it stays fresh and doesn’t turn into drudgery,” he explains. “That’s a big thing. Age doesn’t matter, but if you start burning yourself out from all the hard work you have to put into it and you’re never going to be able to get the results.
“You can’t let it turn into a job. You’ve got to keep excited.”