Why Woody Kincaid Backed Himself & Stepped Away from Bowerman TC
By Jonathan Gault
January 30, 2023
It’s fair to say that, during six years with the Bowerman Track Club, Woody Kincaid was a bit overshadowed. That tends to happen when you train in a group full of global medalists and national record holders. Kincaid had his moments — running 12:58 at Nike’s Michael Johnson Track in 2019, winning the Olympic Trials 10,000 in 2021 — but he did not have an Olympic medal like Moh Ahmed, Evan Jager, or Matthew Centrowitz. He did not have an American record, like Grant Fisher. He was a world-class runner but could also be viewed as a cog in the highly successful Bowerman machine. When he ran his first Olympic final in 2021 in the 10,000 meters, he finished 15th in the world — and fourth among members of his own training group. When Fisher ran his indoor American record at 5,000 meters at Boston University last year, Kincaid was in the B heat.
So when Kincaid, 30, stepped away from Bowerman last fall, it was akin to the bassist in a legendary band staking out to prove he could do it on his own. And after Friday’s Terrier Invitational at BU, his first race since 2016 without BTC’s red and black singlet on his chest, Kincaid already has his first number-one hit: a 12:51.61 American indoor record for 5,000 meters, a two-second improvement on Fisher’s mark.
Current Situation: It’s “Complicated”
Kincaid describes his current situation as “complicated.” He remains sponsored by Nike but has spent the past few months exploring other options. In the fall, Kincaid coached himself, experimenting with the double-threshold workouts (one threshold session in the morning, one in the afternoon) popularized on the Internet by Marius Bakken and used with great fanfare by the Ingebrigtsen brothers as well as Northern Arizona coach Mike Smith. Since January 6, Kincaid has been in Flagstaff, training under Smith. It’s going well.
“I don’t really have a set situation, but I really like it with Mike,” Kincaid says of Smith.
Kincaid also has not ruled out a return to Bowerman, but says he wanted to prove he could have success outside of the team. So far, so good.
“[Bowerman coach] Jerry [Schumacher] told me ‘I think you’re throwing away your career by leaving,'” Kincaid says. “He didn’t want me to leave. And I said, ‘Hey, I can do this and I think it’s what I have to do.’ And I’m glad I did.”
Schumacher declined to comment for this story.
Update 1 hour podcast with Woody: Woody joined us on a special edition American Record edition of the LetsRun.com Track Talk podcast where we heard from him and Yared Nuguse. Woody went into a lot more detail about the quote from Jerry and explained how Jerry was mainly worried that Woody would be training by himself. You can listen to the podcast here or in the player below.
From College All-American to American Record Holder
Whether Kincaid runs another step for Bowerman or not, he will go down as one of the club’s all-time success stories. Kincaid finished 11th at the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships as a high school senior in 2010, but when he came out of the University of Portland in 2016, he was not viewed as a major prospect. Kincaid finished 57th and 70th in two appearances at the NCAA Cross Country Championships. In two NCAA appearances on the track, he finished 5th in the outdoor 5,000 in 2015 and 9th in 2016, graduating with a pb of 13:32 (though he would lower that pb to 13:27 and finish 8th in the Olympic Trials in the weeks following graduation). It was not the resume of a guy who would go on to run faster indoors than any human ever outside of Kenenisa Bekele, Haile Gebrselassie, and Daniel Komen.
Kincaid’s development from decent collegian to US champion is testament to Schumacher’s talent identification skills and coaching ability. There is a reason why Schumacher is rigid when it comes to his training system: it works. The vast majority of athletes to come through Bowerman in the last decade have found success, some for a couple of years, some for much longer if their bodies can withstand the intensity. The last six years of development had far more to do with Kincaid’s 12:51 on Friday than three weeks of Mike Smith workouts.
Because of Bowerman’s success, however, there’s a tendency to overlook the human element. You don’t win the US Olympic Trials without a great deal of talent. And you don’t win the US Olympic Trials without working incredibly hard. Schumacher and Portland coach Rob Conner deserve credit for developing Kincaid, but you know who else deserves credit? Woody Kincaid!
Kincaid admitted that highly-publicized developments such as Shelby Houlihan‘s suspension for a performance-enhancing drug and its fallout and Bowerman’s relocation from Portland to Eugene last year did not help when he was deciding whether to stay with BTC. But neither of those was the main reason he left. Instead, he says, it was a yearning to try something new — and the belief that his talent and work ethic would produce results wherever he landed.
Time for a Change?
“I’m getting older, I want to try different training,” Kincaid said. “…My dad passed away [in November 2021] and I kind of just needed a change in my life, in general. It’s not really a team thing.”
Two other men left Bowerman at the end of 2022: Brit Marc Scott, who relocated to the UK/Kenya as he switches his emphasis to the roads, and Amos Bartelsmeyer, who joined Nike’s other pro group, the Pete Julian-coached Union Athletics Club. Because most track contracts expire December 31, it is common for athletes to leave at the end of the year. But it’s notable that Scott, Bartelsmeyer, and Kincaid all remain Nike-sponsored athletes. They were not forced to go; they elected to leave.
Kincaid emphasized that he has truly enjoyed his three weeks (so far) in Flagstaff. He likes Smith’s workouts and likes his training partners — a suddenly-formidable group that includes World Championship finalists Abdihamid Nur and Luis Grijalva and NCAA stars Nico Young and Drew Bosley. It’s exactly the new stimulus he’s been looking for.
“It’s been refreshing being with these guys,” Kincaid says.
For now, Flagstaff is where Kincaid wants to be, but it is early days. Anyone who opens their season with a 12:51 American record is obviously going to be happy about how things are going. Kincaid plans to stay with Smith through the winter, with his next race coming either at Millrose on February 11 or The TEN in California on March 4.
At some point, Kincaid will have to decide on a next step — whether that is to ask Smith to permanently join his growing group of pros, rejoin Bowerman, or go somewhere else entirely as he weighs a potential move to the marathon after next year’s Olympics. Kincaid says he has not spoken to Schumacher recently, saying they’ve been playing phone tag, but he does not believe he’s burned any bridges and considers himself on good terms with the current BTC athletes.
“They understand that you have to do something to be happy and they want to see me succeed as a runner too,” Kincaid says.
With an American record in his first post-BTC race, Kincaid is overshadowed no more. He’s in the spotlight. The question now: what does he do for an encore?
Jonathan Gault, a high school All-American at 5,000m and cross country and track & field captain at Dartmouth, is one of the premier track & field writers of his generation. He has won numerous journalism awards including the NCAA Jim McKay Scholarship. He resides in Boston, Massachusetts, and is known for his daily analysis, in-depth profiles, historical pieces, and love of the Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club. You can follow him @jgault13 or email him.
- Woody MF Kincaid – Is 12:51 good for an opener?
- Woody Kincaid- Jerry (Schumacher) told me “I think you’re throwing away your career by leaving”
Woody Kincaid Speaking after his American record
Must Listen: 1 Hour Talk with Woody on the American Record Edition of the LetsRun.com Track Talk Podcast