CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine — Ben True’s racing season already has had its highs and lows.
The North Yarmouth native, expected to be one of the top competitors in Saturday morning’s 17th annual TD Beach to Beacon 10K road race, topped a star-studded field in the men’s 5,000-meter run at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational track meet at Stanford University in early May.
His time of 13 minutes, 2.74 seconds was a personal best by nearly 10 seconds, and it ranked as the best 5K time in the world for that distance at that point of the year.
“It was my first track race of the year and definitely was a nice start to the season,” said 28-year-old True, a former All-American at Greely High School in Cumberland Center and Dartmouth College. “It was nice to have a bunch of Americans running fast on American soil. That sort of thing hasn’t happened in a very long time, so I was proud to be part of that.”
True hoped the momentum from that victory would carry over to the Prefontaine Classic later that month in Eugene, Oregon, where he targeted his first sub-13-minute finish in the 5K.
But that return to the West Coast proved less than fulfilling for the resident of Hanover, New Hampshire, as True finished 11th in a disappointing 13:25.11.
“I didn’t do too well, my main goal was to break 13,” said True, who runs professionally for Saucony Elite. “I was really tired going into the race.”
Since then, True has regrouped, taking a brief respite before resuming training. Among his recent track events was a 13:13.30 on July 5 in Paris.
“In years past, I’ve done different distances, but right now, I’m focusing on the 5K,” he said. “That’s the one where most of my attention is going to.”
True, who set the Maine men’s resident record of 29:10.3 for the TD Beach to Beacon in 2009 to finish 10th overall, has not run in Maine’s premier road race since 2010, when as a resident of Eugene, Oregon, at the time, he placed 12th in 29:01.6.
But with a break in the European track season, the time was right for a return to his native state.
“Beach to Beacon just seemed to coincide pretty nicely with my track season and my schedule of racing right now,” said True, who plans to resume competing in Europe later in August. “There’s a big hiatus in the international track circuit with the Commonwealth Games going on right now, so it fit nicely with my schedule.”
The 6-foot-2-inch True has been one of the United States’ top distance runners since his days at Greely, where he was a two-time Foot Locker cross country All-American.
He went on to earn All-American honors in cross country, outdoor track and nordic skiing while at Dartmouth, and he was the 2011 USATF Road Running Circuit champion. He also was the top American at both the 2011 and 2013 IAAF World Cross Country Championships — with his sixth-place finish in that meet last year the best effort by a U.S. runner since 1995.
True also placed fourth in both the 5K and 10K at the 2013 U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Championships, and last August, he battled defending TD Beach to Beacon champ Micah Kogo of Kenya to the finish line at the Falmouth (Massachusetts) Road Race to place second.
Earlier this year, True won his second straight USA 15K Championship, and in April, he finished second to 2012 Olympic silver medalist Dejen Gebremeskel of Ethiopia in the Boston Athletic Association 5K, with both runners timed in a course-record time 13:26.
True will be challenged at the TD Beach to Beacon by a world-class field of more than 6,000 runners led by the likes of Kogo, the race winner in both 2011 and 2013 and who boasts a personal 10K best of 27:01, and American Meb Keflezighi, who in April became the first American to win the Boston Marathon since 1983 with his 2:08.37 finish.
Keflezighi’s previous best result at the TD Beach to Beacon came in 2007 when his time of 27:58 was good for fourth — the highest-ever result for an American man in the race. He placed fifth last year in 28:37.
“I’m a very competitive person,” said True, “and obviously when I toe the line, the goal is to win. So hopefully I’ll go out and mix it up with those guys as best I can.”
The women’s field suffered a significant setback Thursday afternoon when two of the favorites, Kenyans Joyce Chepkurai and Emily Chebet, withdrew from the event.
Chepkurai, the defending TD Beach to Beacon women’s champion, and 2012 runner-up Chebet, had raced to silver and gold medals Tuesday at the 2014 Commonwealth Games
“Following their participation in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow on Tuesday, the Kenyan Olympic Committee did not clear Joyce Chepkurai and Emily Chebet to compete abroad in a non-track event as the runners had anticipated,” said a statement by Larry Barthlow, elite athlete coordinator for the TD Beach to Beacon. “Therefore, both runners have withdrawn from Saturday’s TD Beach to Beacon 10K.”
That opens up the women’s division considerably, though top American figures to be 33-year-old Shalane Flanagan of Marblehead, Massachusetts, a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist at 10,000 meters who is returning to the TD Beach to Beacon for the first time since her high school days.
In April, Flanagan surged to the lead at the Boston Marathon and held on for 19 miles before ultimately finishing seventh in 2:22:02, the fastest-ever time for an American woman in that event’s 118-year history.
“It’s great to have a race with this kind of quality in the field and this size of participation in Maine,” said True. “It’s great to bring these kinds of elite races to all of New England but especially Maine. It’s cool to showcase Maine to all the elite runners and then have all the other runners and spectators come and join the festivities.
“For myself, I’m not able to do too many races in front of the home crowd, so it’s awesome to be able to race in New England and especially in Maine,” she said.