Q&A with 2018 NYC Half Marathon Winner Ben True

A group of professional runners at a race

Ben True on Winning the United Airlines NYC Half, Training, Life, and coffee

Track star Ben True, 32, of Hanover, New Hampshire, won the first half marathon he’s ever run last weekend at the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon. His victory made him the first American to win the race in over 13 years. In light of the historic win, we reached out to True to talk about what propelled him to run a half, his training, what’s next (is he going to run a marathon now or go back to the track?), how he handles the pain of racing … and coffee.

Professional runner Ben True wins a race

What are some highlights from the race?

It’s a new course that starts in Prospect Park and goes over the Brooklyn Bridge and past so many iconic New York monuments and special places, which is pretty neat. The coolest moment happened when we turned onto 7th Avenue because the kid's mile race started just as we were running through Times Square. It was so cool to look over and see these kids racing down the street literally two feet away from us.

How did you decide to run a half marathon?

It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while. In fact, I entered the Houston half in 2012 and had to pull out halfway because of hypothermia. Then, in 2013 I was planning to run the United Airlines NYC Half but couldn’t run because of an injury.

After getting pretty beat up from doing a lot of workouts on an indoor track last year for an indoor track season, I decided I wanted to stay on the roads as much as possible this year. The United Airlines NYC Half seemed like a perfect fit.

Any takeaways from the experience?

A half marathon is a long way! I did a lot of longer intervals in training that prepared me well for the grind that’s required to run well in the distance. Still, since it was so cold and windy, the race didn’t go out that fast. No one wanted to take the lead and tire themselves out too much. I know that if the weather had been ideal, it would have been a fast race from the beginning, and therefore completely different. So, in that sense, I don’t think I got the full experience of the half marathon.

You were lucky enough to set up shop in Arizona and escape the New Hampshire cold for most of your build up. Still, you squeezed in some running in frigid temps. How did you manage to stay warm?

My old ski coach always told us that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. It’s all about layering up and making sure you wear enough of the right type of clothing. In addition to the right layers, I always need something like a buff or a neck gaiter to pull up over my face.

Professional runner Ben True wins a race

Do you think you have a mental advantage over other runners? If so, how have you developed it?

I always say I don’t feel pain when I run. It’s not that I don’t feel discomfort; I’m sure I feel the same sensation as anyone else out there running. … But I don’t associate that discomfort with pain. I associate discomfort with running. I think it’s just how you’re supposed to feel when you’re running fast. So, whatever that feeling of discomfort is, to me, it’s just the feeling of the act of running. And ‘just running’ is a lot easier to embrace than pain or discomfort.

What are your plans for the rest of 2018?

I want to try my luck again at a few track 10Ks. I’ve run the distance a few times before, but don’t felt like I’ve ever raced it all that well. So, I want to get my bearings there. Other than that, I'm going to focus on Diamond League races. Plus, I’ve still got speed for the 5K to explore.

Professional runner Ben True poses for photos with an American flag after winning a race

Let’s talk about gear. You raced the NYC Half in Saucony’s Type A8. What do you like most about racing in that shoe?

It’s a nice, lightweight racer with the right amount of cushioning for a half (for shorter track races I’ll wear the Endorphin Racer). And it’s the shoe that I do probably 85 percent of my workouts in.

And what’s your favorite Saucony training shoe?

My shoe of choice is the Saucony Ride. I do a lot of speed work in very low drop shoes or spikes, and so my calves take a pretty big beating. That means that when I’m doing my easy recovery, I want to make it as easy on my body as I possibly can. The slightly higher heel on the Ride helps a lot (8mm heel-to-toe drop).

When you’re not running or recovering from running, you’re roasting coffee. Tell us more.

I’ve always been interested in coffee. I don’t have many vices, but coffee is my one big thing. I love how you can take a bean and, depending on where the bean is from, and how the farmer was able to cultivate the particular cherries that make the bean, and how you roast the beans, that you can brew a beverage from the beans and experience all these amazing and complex flavors. It’s fascinating how you can make one cup of coffee taste completely different from another cup.

As I got more into coffee, I decided to start roasting it myself. And it’s been going well so far; it’s been a lot of fun. And, actually, during the Boston Marathon weekend this year, Ryan Lindon and I are going to be providing free coffee to folks around town. It’ll be our first 'soft launch' of two dudes who like coffee and want to share our love. … But it’s just a hobby right now.

How do you make your ideal cup of coffee?

I’m using the V60 pour-over brewer right now. It uses a 16 to 1 ratio. I drink it black. Right now I’m drinking some Blue Bottle Ethiopian I picked up while i was in New York, but I’m also working on cupping a bunch of other coffees I’ve roasted to check their quality. Overall, I like lighter roasts because lighter roasts give you all the nuances of the bean’s flavors. And most lighter roasts are sweet enough on their own that you don’t need to add sugar.