Road Champion Ben True Turns to the Track at the NY Diamond League
By Sabrina Yohannes
When Ben True won the Healthy Kidney 10K in Central Park on May 30, he defeated three current New York road champions and one two-time former champion. The men he left in his wake include the NYC marathon title-holder Wilson Kipsang, the half marathon winner Leonard Korir, the Healthy Kidney defending champion Stephen Sambu, and the 2011 and 2013 marathon victor and course record-holder Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya.
The New England native True out sprinted Sambu for the second time in two months, having taken an American record 13:22 victory to the Kenyan’s 13:23 at the Boston BAA 5K in April. The two men received the same time of 28:13 at the UAE Healthy Kidney, with Mutai taking third in 28:20.
After he ran 27:51 in Maine last year, the 27:48 American record was in True’s sights, though the warm temperatures and early pace in Central Park proved not to be conducive. He is a repeat national champion on the road, having last won over 15K in March.
True runs the 5000m at the New York Diamond League adidas Grand Prix on Saturday 6/13, after which he will contest the June 25-28 U.S. national championships and trials for the Beijing world championships.
The two-time former BAA 5K champion’s long distance track personal bests are 13:02.74 and 27:41.17. He ran 27:43.79 in Palo Alto in April, qualifying him for the Beijing 10,000m, while the entry standard for the 5000 is 13:23.00.
True, whose sixth place finish at the 2013 world cross country championships led the U.S. to a team silver medal, is based in New Hampshire, and has been working since mid-2014 with former Olympian Tim Broe. True spoke to RunBlogRun after the Healthy Kidney 10K.
Tell me how the race unfolded and how you were feeling.
It was hot and humid out there and I don’t usually do very well in the heat and humidity, and so it was a struggle. So right from the beginning, I put myself right up at the front and I felt fairly controlled, especially on the hills, after right around the 5K marker.
I was able to cover every move, so I was feeling pretty good. Sambu and Mutai went, probably right after the 4-mile mark, and that’s when I started to get a little worried maybe I wouldn’t be able to hang onto them, but I told myself going into the race that if I was with them at 8K to go, I’d have a good shot, because I was going to be too stubborn to let them get away with it with only 2K to go. And luckily, I was able to be stubborn enough that I didn’t let them go! [He laughs.]
What does this tell you going into the Grand Prix?
The Grand Prix is a 5K, so hopefully, I’ll get my legs sharpened up a little bit for a little sharper pace and a shorter distance, and it just shows that the strength is where I need it to be, and luckily, the last 100m showed that I still have some leg speed, so hopefully, it’ll bode well for the 5K this year.
Tell me about that last 100m.
Oh, painful! You know, I was just trying to get in front of him with anything I got, and it’s quite uphill and it’s a painful finish. A lot of doubt entered my mind that I wasn’t going to get by him, but I kept on trying to push, and somehow, in the last meter or two, I got in front of him.
What did you have to tell yourself?
I was just trying to go to basics and go to mechanics, and just trying to move the arms, move the arms, and stay relaxed. The legs are going as fast as I can. I know he’s right here, I can feel him — we were bumping elbows a bit — and just trying to see whatever I could do to just get in front.
That’s twice now you’ve beaten Sambu recently, and you also beat some big names here. How did that feel?
Yeah, it feels amazing. You know, Kipsang and Mutai are some of the best marathoners ever and, you know, what I think I had over them today is they’re used to a race that’s over four times the distance, so that helped me out a little bit — that maybe they don’t have the extra speed, because they’re used to such a longer race.
You were debating between going after the 5000 and 10,000 for the world championships. What are you thinking about it now?
I’m still debating it. The 5K is definitely more my focus so that’s where I am now. The 10K on the track is still something I’m working on and trying to figure out and maybe I’ll give it a shot, but the 5K is definitely where my focus is. I enjoy the 5K more. I have a lot more confidence in my abilities there.
Did you follow the Pre Classic distance races [run late the night before the Healthy Kidney 10k]?
I did check the results. The 5K there was a little bit slow, but the 10 was pretty quick. It was neat to see all those guys run fast.
Do you think about where you fit in, especially against the other Americans for the U.S. trials, and then, ultimately, against the others for the worlds?
It’s hard to predict where you are going to be. These are times that are not unexpected, so for example, Diego Estrada has run that time before, somewhere around that time. Hassan Mead is a phenomenal runner and his 27:33 didn’t shock me in the least. It’s something I figured he could easily run. I figure those guys are running well, it’s what they can do. It’s hard to read where you go in there, when you weren’t in that race.
You’re having a really good year. What do you think that’s due to?
It just shows I’m running well right now. I had a really bad race earlier this year. My focus was running to represent the USA at the world cross country championships and I did my first stint at altitude, and I kind of buried myself and raced the trials there and had one of my worst races in years. I was there probably seven weeks, maybe.
So that really kicked off the season really poorly, and I started second-guessing myself and how the training was going, and came back down to sea level. It still took about a month to get my legs back under me, and luckily, it’s just showing that I’m not as far off as I originally thought, and that the fitness is still there, so I’m running well now.
So when you returned from the ill-fated altitude stint, is it that you were driven by that outcome [placing 11th at the cross country trials]?
Driven by the disappointment from the first race and, you know, getting a little chip back on your shoulder; and you’ve got to dig down hard. I think a lot of it is just recovering from the altitude and getting my legs back. I’ve been doing a lot of good work in the fall and the winter and that didn’t disappear. That took a little while for everything to be able to absorb and then present itself.
Are you doing anything at all differently from what you were doing before?
No, it’s more of the same; consistency is the biggest thing.
What kind of training were you doing leading up to this 10K, in terms of miles?
I typically run about 100 miles a week. This week was a little shorter, but I usually run about 100.
And as you crossed the finish line after all that, what was going through your mind?
It’s always fantastic to win a race. It’s just joy and happiness that you were able to execute the race that you needed to on the day.
As the defending champion, Sambu was seen as the favorite. Is that how you saw him too?
Yeah, Sambu’s one of the greatest road racers there right now and I think any road race he enters, I think he should be kind of deemed the favorite. He’s just phenomenal right now, so being anywhere near him is just showing I’m where I need to be.
I think you’re going to be a target too. Do you like the idea of that, or do you prefer not to be?
[He laughs.] I’m OK being the underdog!