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This Much Is True: Dartmouth Graduate Adds U.S. 5K Record to Growing Career

Monday, April 27, 2015
West Lebanon — At last year’s Boston Athletic Association 5-kilometer race, Ben True was beaten by a fraction of a second by Ethiopian and Olympic silver medalist Dejen Gebremeskel. This year, True earned redemption in record-setting style.

Winning for the third time one of his favorite annual races — the BAA 5K courses through Boston’s picturesque Back Bay neighborhood two days prior to the Boston Marathon — True set a national 5K record in 13 minutes, 22 seconds. It broke by four seconds the course record he and Gebremeskel had shared the previous April and beat Marc Davis’ 19-year-old 5K mark by two seconds. Fittingly Davis, whose previous record of 13:24 was set in 1996 in California, witnessed True’s feat while on hand as the BAA’s communications director.

It was True’s third win in BAA 5K, which he’s run four times since graduating from Dartmouth College in 2009.

“It’s easy travel, a two-hour drive, and the atmosphere is pretty tough to beat,” True said in a recent interview at Sachem Field, near his home. “It’s pretty cool, the enthusiasm that people have in the city right before the marathon.”

True was shoulder to shoulder with Kenyans Steven Sambu and Daniel Salel, as well as Girma Mecheso, of Pennsylvania, for much of the race. The group trailed Phillip Langat, another Kenyan, by about 33 feet at the first mile.

Running along Commonwealth Avenue, a half-mile later the course dipped under U.S. Route 2 and then back uphill, a section where True utilized his experience training in the hills of the Upper Valley for the better part of the last decade. By the time the runners reached the two-mile split on Boylston Street, True was leading the pack of five.

“That’s one of the reasons I really like it here,” said True, a Team Saucony runner who briefly trained in Oregon after graduating from Dartmouth. “There are a lot of great running opportunities here, a lot of hilly dirt roads. They might feel like a curse them when you’re on them, but (training on them) can definitely help you.”

True, Sambu and Salel broke away as the course turned north onto Charles Street and toward the finish line at Boston Common. With a knowledgeable crowd near the finish line partial to True, he dug in for the record-setting finish a full second ahead of Sambu and five ahead of Salel.

“I actually felt pretty bad for Sambu, because so many people were calling my name and rooting for me,” True said. “I guess there were a lot of people there who knew me from before.”

Naturally, Davis was one of the first to congratulate True on the new record, a mark True was well aware of heading into the race.

“I knew that last year my time was only two seconds away from the record, and it was a faster course this year because they took out some of the corners,” True said. “So I knew it was a possibility, but not something I was actively pursuing.”

It’s been a busy professional career for True, a seven-time NCAA All-American at Dartmouth while competing in cross country running, Nordic skiing and track and field.

After a one-year stint with the Oregon Track Club, True returned to the Upper Valley in 2010 and joined In the Arena, a now-defunct nonprofit that linked elite athletes with underserved youths. He joined Team Saucony in 2011, winning the USATF Road Circuit championship that year and finishing as the top American (35th overall) in the World Cross Country Championships in Spain.

Since then, True has captured seven USATF national road titles, ranging from five to 15 kilometers, and was part of the U.S. silver medal team at the 2013 World Cross Country Championships. His sixth-place finish at that race in Poland was the highest by an American at worlds since 1995.

“The cross country championships are fun, because it kind of gets you back to the essence of running,” said True, who’s married to 2012 Olympic triathlete Sarah Groff. “They’re in the springtime in Europe, and you’re running through fields and woods, the kind of stuff you remember from high school and college. As a professional, you don’t get as many of those opportunities.”

One of True’s lone setbacks came during the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials, when he was battling Lyme disease and placed sixth in the 5K and 12th in the 10K, not enough to earn a berth in London. He’s rebounded to win numerous USATF races over the last three years, including Stanford University’s prestigious Payton Jordan Invitational each of the last two years in the 5K.

True now has his sights set on the 2016 Summer Olympics at Rio De Janeiro, the trials coming in July 2016 in Eugene, Ore. He’ll first be in Eugene this June for the USATF Outdoor Championships, where he’ll hope for a top-three finish in the 5K or 10K to qualify for this summer’s World Championships in Beijing.

“That’s a big goal for this year,” True said. “I’ll be doing some other races, too, trying to set myself up for the Olympic Trials and Rio.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at or 603-727-3306.

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