Breaking Records and Breaking Free: Woody Kincaid Opens Up About Leaving Bowerman Track Club
February 3, 2023
Woody Kincaid‘s first race for Nike as not part of the Bowerman Track Club went ridiculously well as he ran 12:51 to set the American record at 5000m. He keeps the ball rolling this weekend as he takes a crack at the 3000 at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix.
In between, Kincaid joined us from a basement apartment in Flagstaff where he has a two-month lease, for a special American record edition of the LetsRun.com Track Talk Podcast. (New 3000m record holder Yared Nuguse also joined us, and you can find highlights of what he said here).
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In a more than one-hour conversation, Woody opened up about why he really left Bowerman, he explained THE Jerry Schumacher quote everyone was talking about, detailed his dreams in the sport, his new training setup, and talked about how the death of his dad influenced him to take a new direction in the sport.
We’ve got some written highlights below, but if you want to learn more about his training, double threshold runs, who he thinks are the biggest stars in the sport, how he got started in the sport, and his tattoos you need to listen to the full podcast which you can do here (we’ve got detailed timestamps if you want to jump around) or in the player below.
Highlights edited for brevity and clarity
Breaking the 5000 Record, Is the 3000 next?
LetsRun.com (LRC): How does it feel a few days after the fact to be an American record holder?
Woody Kincaid: It feels really, really good. The workout today was flat, to say the least, but, emotionally it’s just been, I’ve been, buzzing for a few days.
LRC: How do the quads, hamstrings, calves, all those muscles you need to run fast, how do those feel after 12:51?
I mean for the first few days, I don’t feel like I felt anything. I was just kind of running on a high, I guess. But today we actually had to do a workout and I realized like, okay, I’m kind of beat up from this race. But nothing’s banged up.
LRC: When we spoke after your race on Friday, you said you’d either be running Millrose next weekend or The TEN on March 4 for your next race, and then suddenly we get an announcement, you’re actually going to be running this Saturday in Boston in the 3k. What changed?
Well, I was always thinking about running the two three 3ks (at BU and Millrose), but then this 5K lineup came out and I talked to Mike. We decided the week before, after a workout [to do the 5k]. I was like, this is a good lineup in the 5k. And I think we’re ready.
So we did the five and we’re going to keep [rolling] since we’re like, ‘Hey, this is this great fitness, let’s just keep going.’
LRC: Did you ever race three weekends in a row under Jerry?
No. No, I did not. But that’s part of the reason why I’m here, man, because I want to race and I have the fitness to do it. So let’s see what we can do.
LRC: What do you think you can do in this 3k on Saturday?
Well, the pace is I think from what I heard today, it’s like 30 seconds a lap (7:30 pace).
And, I think I’m just going to compete, I’m going to stay on the pace, and if the American record (7:28) happens, that’d be fantastic. But, you know, I’m going to try to go and win. That’s what I’m thinking about doing.
LRC: Doesn’t take more than basic math to know that comes to 7:30 plus with your kick, I think you get under the 7:28.
I mean I’m not counting it out. I think it’s possible. But that’s hard to do. You don’t just show up and do the American record. You gotta feel good too, you know?
LRC: Let’s rewind a bit to this 5k. Sounds like that it came up last second. Talk a little bit how that came about and also going in what were your expectations? What were you hoping to run?
I was texting Joe [Klecker] on Instagram. He saw me sign up for the race on Friday after I did the workout with Mike Smith and Luis [Grijalva].
And, he’s like, we’re looking to go fast. And so I was like, that sounds great. Do you want me to do work? And he didn’t respond to that. And so I think the general idea was we were going to run around 13 low or 13 flat, something along those lines. But I think I kind of got the vibe from On, especially after Nuguse’s race, and them running so well…I got the vibe from On that they wanted to do something special that day. And I was like, okay, I’m along for the ride. This is exactly what I want in this situation. You know, I don’t really know what kind of shape I’m in, per se, because I haven’t raced since September.
But, I knew I was in decent shape clearly. And when I kind of got this feeling that they were going to go after something, I was like, all right, I know where I need to be.
LRC: We were having this discussion before we started recording [the podcast], 12:51, 7:28, both American records. Which do you think is the more impressive performance?
I think probably the 3k. That’s something that’s run very often indoors.
I don’t want to give myself too much credit, but I do think it’s close. I have to give it maybe an inch to 3k because it’s run more. But that 5K is tough to break because it’s so hard to get in a fast 5k like that.
LRC: The other thing is Yared, the last 1200, he was pretty much on his own having to do that. Not like it’s easy what you did the last kilometer, but you did have Joe to chase down a little bit, but obviously it is close.
I’ll give Joe a lot of credit here, man. He’s a bull out there. The way I describe Joe’s running is he’s just like a bull. And, when you let the bull out of the gates, he’ll just keep going. He’s like a metronome out there.
So yeah, I’ll give it to Nuguse ’cause he did do it on his own. I’ll give it to Nuguse.
LRC: Does Friday’s race change how you view yourself in terms of your ability to get in that position where you’re kicking for the win or for a medal at a World or Olympic final?
Well, I think at some level, any athlete has to believe that despite all this past information that they can be in a position to medal, and I really do.
I look at Tokyo and I think, wow, it was really, really hot and I was in super good shape, but I think the heat got to me, perhaps it was the whole COVID situation and just the fact that I was at my first [global] championships. So I thought I was in 12:50 something shape at that time too.
I was in shape with Grant [Fisher] and he outperformed me in Tokyo. No doubt. But then you look at the next year, and I drop out of the 10k at USAs and I fall in the prelim of the 5k [at Worlds]. I was in shape then too. This isn’t the first time I feel like I’ve ever been in 12:51 shape.
I think I’ve left some fitness on the board, and I want to show that now. But do I think that I can medal? Yeah, I do. The chances have been there before and it just hasn’t come together yet. And I think any athlete out there that is ever going to medal has to still think that they could have and still can.
Woody Tells a Story about Matthew Centrowitz and Some Girls In Europe
LRC note: Once again we are only giving you select highlights of the podcast, if you want a lot more including more details on Woody’s training, listen to the whole podcast. After a conversation on who Woody views as the biggest star in American running, Woody told a cool story about Centrowitz.
Woody: Reminds me, I was on vacation with Centrowitz and Grant Fisher.
We went to Europe this summer… They were sitting down with a group of girls and Centro was tired of talking about being a gold medalist, so he just said he was second place in the New York Marathon or something, just to change the subject.
And they Googled who he was later, and they’re like, ‘You’re not the second in the marathon. You won a gold medal?’ And he’s like, ‘Sorry, sorry, yes.’ [Laughing] They were mad that he was just a gold medalist.
Did he feel overshadowed at Bowerman & ‘Sending it’
Update: We’ve created a video clip of this segment of the podcast if you prefer video.
LRC: When you were at Bowerman, we’ve talked about Grant and Matthew Centrowitz, you’ve got Evan Jager, and a lot of top American talents on that team. And you made it to the Olympics — it’s not like you’re a scrub — but did you feel overshadowed when you were at Bowerman?
I think slowly but surely I did. I loved being on Bowerman, but it did slowly start to creep into my psyche that I’m kind of being the sideshow here. Especially with Grant being a lot younger than me, and immediately rising to this level of international competition, I was like well, I don’t have a lot of time to do this.
I want to rise to that level too. And I think it’s possible on Bowerman, certainly, no doubt. They’re the most dominant team in the United States, perhaps in most of the world. But, I think I’ll have more opportunities outside of Bowerman because I’ll have more control over where I race, my training and, and things like that.
LRC: Well, one of the things Jerry’s known for is the workouts are very hard and a lot of the time it’s essentially, ‘Hey, here’s the workout for everyone’ and if you can keep up, great. And if you can’t finish, it’s kind of tough. Was that your experience? When you are working out with Grant and Moh [Ahmed], I mean Moh has medaled at multiple championships, Grant’s run 12:46, are you getting spit out the back on some of those workouts and how does that feel?
Well, I was getting spit out of the back because these workouts are so difficult. Jerry’s known for this, the workouts being notoriously hard, right? And, it’s like, this is what we’re doing, everybody. This is what it takes. Jerry truly believes you have to run this split. He has a lot of faith in his training as he should. You have to run this split if you want to be a medalist, right? And so I ended up being in a lot of situations, running as far as I could in a split or changing how far I would go in the middle of a workout so that I could finish the workout.
These things that I had to kind of learn on my own and Jerry to his credit, like learned to kind of respect how I went about the workout. But yeah, I think that their workouts sometimes were outside of my fitness level. Maybe I would come in with five days off or something, and they would be ready to roll, the workout wasn’t changed for that. And I had to kind of do what I thought was right that day.
Even working with Mike for three weeks or something, he will adjust the workout and make me see that I’m making progress.
LRC: The way Jerry operates, were you cool with that? Or were you kind of like ‘man, I wish this was a little more tailored towards me.’
No, no, no. I truly think when you are 23, you do have to just send it, man.
Part of the reason why I really liked Jerry coming out of college, and still like Jerry, is we had a conversation walking around Nike and he said, ‘You’re 23, now’s the time to see how far you can take it. I’m the coach that’s going to show people how far they can take themselves.’
And that was what I wanted. And it’s what I want now. It’s the same reason why I am leaving Bowerman, because I still want to see how far I can take it and sending it in these workouts I think I still want to do, but I want it to be sending it in a way where I’m still progressing, you know? [Where] these workouts are for me or closer to where I’m at. That’s how I feel.
LRC: When you said you were a sideshow within Bowerman, do you mean the workouts weren’t designed for you or you were just overlooked in general?
Well, I think that sounds a little petty. I don’t think sideshow is the right thing because I definitely always felt like I was part of the team, but when it came to racing and when it came to I guess publicity and just chances, you know, Grant Fisher is getting more chances to race in the Diamond League and Moh is getting more chance to race in the Diamond League.
And I’ve always felt like I can be there if I just get that chance. And so I felt like I need to put myself in a situation where I can prove that.
LRC: Back to the workouts. Not every runner can just max out every workout. So if it’s too much for you, I think it does hurt your development as a runner. If the workouts designed for Grant and Moh that day and you can’t do it and you’re adapting on the fly, I think one, you still may be able to beat them in a race, but it’s going to hurt your development. Did you find that to be the case? Is that what you’re finding now working with a different coach?
Well, it’s too early to tell. First of all, it’s only been four weeks, but I’ve liked it so far, but, I think when you’re really young you should see how far, like I’m really glad I would push myself and send it in those workouts.
But I’m 30 and some of these speed workouts might not be the smartest thing for me to do. But I know myself well enough that when I see someone really fast coming up on me, I’m going to dig a little deeper and try and do it. And sometimes that’s not the best thing to do as you get older.
So I don’t really think my development was hurt, but I do think my future could have been had I stayed in the situation.
THE Jerry Quote
LRC: One of the comments that you made in our interview on Friday after the race, that got a lot of buzz on the LetsRun message boards was, I’ll just read out the quote. It’s ‘Jerry told me, I think you’re throwing away your career by leaving. 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.’
There’s been a lot of different interpretations of this, so I’d like to get some more context on that quote.
Thank God you asked because I said it as just kind of an off comment in the interview and I didn’t say it like I was mad at him.
So, Jerry did say that, but when I told him I was leaving Bowerman, [you need to remember] I didn’t have a team [to go to]. You have to look at it like I didn’t have a plan going forward. And Jerry was like, you can’t just leave without a plan. Like this is not good. This is not a good idea.
And he wasn’t alone in thinking that. I think Jerry was genuinely concerned. And he’s like, you’re just being stubborn, like don’t do this. And to some degree, he was right. I was being very stubborn. But, he wasn’t alone in thinking that. The nicest person in the world, Evan Jager, was like, this is where you’re going to be your best. You need to stay on Bowerman.
My own mom was very conflicted on the situation. I tried to explain to her all the reasons, I’m getting older and, I want to try new training. And, even my mom is like, okay, but I don’t think this is a good idea until you have a team. And I’m like I have to go without a team.
That’s what it came down to. Because otherwise I would just be doing Bowerman training and it’s harder and harder to leave when you’ve just been doing work with the team and training with the team and you kind of fall back in the mold. And so I was like, I have to leave without a plan, basically. And trust that I would figure it out. In the meantime, I would work on my own training.
LRC: When did the thoughts of leaving first enter your mind?
I don’t really know. I think it was kind of like a slow realization. I think when I was over in Europe racing and I really experienced racing out in Europe this last summer, I was racing in Europe and I was like, this is amazing. I really love doing this and I want to go keep doing this. I want to keep racing in Europe. I want to keep racing in these big races. And I think that that was kind of like a mental shift.
There also was just kind of for the last year I’ve been struggling with my own issues. You know my family’s in a difficult situation.
My brother’s moving back home. My other brother’s moving to England. My mom is widowed, and my dad passed away. So it felt like in general that I just needed a change in my life to kind of have a different outlook and keep pursuing my dreams. So it is kind of an accumulation of things, but I would say probably this last year.
Bowerman Teammates Reaction to His Record
LRC: You said on Friday you’ve been playing phone tag with Jerry, but how would you describe your relationship with him right now? Are you guys still on good terms?
I think so. I mean, have you talked to Jerry? I think we are on good terms.
Strangely enough, I do think we’re on good terms. You know, Jerry sometimes doesn’t, he’s not, how can I put this? He’s not a touchy-feely coach, but he does care. And when he told me he didn’t want me to leave Bowerman, it was because he really did care about my career.
Did he go about it the right way? Probably not, because there’s just a piece of Jerry that he’s not really good at. But, I’d say we’re on good terms. We can’t deny how much history we have together. Like he made me who I am as a runner right now, and he knows that.
LRC: Did he reach out to you after the race? Who did you hear from on Bowerman? What was the interaction there?
They’re all happy for me. They’re stoked, you know. They saw, they saw the whole journey last year. The way that I struggled last year and the way that I had hot and cold races and the way it was a very hard decision for me to leave.
It was like these guys are my best friends and so much of my identity is tied into Bowerman. And they were nervous for me too. They were just kind of like, ‘Is this really Woody’s best decision for Woody? Or is Woody just losing his mind there?’ There was always that question.
I think that it wasn’t just me losing my mind and kind of following my gut, and so they were really happy. They’re really happy it actually worked out.
LRC: What did you hear from Grant?
He just said, ‘Mate’. [Laughing] All he texted me was mate. So, I think he’s stoked. He loved it.
What 12:51 did for him
LRC: When you run 12:51 how much of that is relief? Like, I put this big bet on myself that I can do something outside of Bowerman and I just freaking did it and I totally validated this decision. Are you relieved by that?
It’s up there with making the Olympic team in terms of just the pure relief, pride. I’m very proud of what I did. There was just so many things that could have gone wrong. If I don’t have a good race there, maybe Nike’s no longer even interested in having me, an athlete leaving Jerry and training on his own. Maybe they’re just like nope. My contract’s up at the end of this year. But now I’m confident Nike’s going to keep me around. So, there was a lot hanging in the balance.
And my family, they depend on me a lot too to succeed. So there was that too. It was a very big deal. It was a lot, it was a very big deal. And the crazy part is after making this change with Mike, I didn’t even feel the pressure like I usually do.
It’s just been refreshing being with these guys who are super young and like motivated and just very, very optimistic and positive. And Mike I like him a lot too. We just get along.
Even though after the race, I thought of it like, ‘wow, this could have gone really bad.’ I wasn’t really thinking about that before the race. I was just like, we’re going to race, you know? So that was nice. Maybe that was the key right there.
Doping Accusations and Shelby Houlihan
LRC: (After discussing a thread where people posted they wanted LetsRun to ask Woody) Some of these questions are like what cocktail is he on? When you break an American record, people are going to say ‘He’s on drugs. [He’s on] Bowerman, You defended Shelby.’ What’s your response to that?
Man, this is going to be long. This is a long answer.
LRC: [We had talked about the podcast going long]. Go, go, go we have time.
Okay. Well, the Shelby situation, we don’t know how she got nandrolone in her system. There’s so many things I could talk about here. The burrito thing was the best example, the best option that she could think of because she doesn’t know how nandrolone was in her system. We can’t deny that nandrolone was there, but she doesn’t know how. And I do know that other athletes who have gotten bad meat [in their system], and they were able to prove that the meat was tainted in some way. They had no ban at all.
So at the very least the way that Shelby acted and her actions surrounding the situation tell me that she at least did not know she had nandrolone in her system, right? Because if she did, she just would’ve missed a test. She had never had missed a test. Her hair said that she had no nandrolone in her hair follicles. [Thus] she hadn’t taken nandrolone before.
The burrito thing that people latched onto is just, it’s unfortunate because it doesn’t really show the actual side of the story of Shelby. We don’t know how it got into her system. She most likely did it unintentionally, or perhaps it was a burrito.
We don’t know. So I’ve always defended Shelby’s innocent by those standards, and I still believe she’s innocent. I think when she comes back to running, she’s going to be a force to be reckoned with still, because I know she’s so motivated and driven.
Now in terms of how it changed my life, like, damn, you guys really got this out of me, huh?
How it changed my life. The Shelby situation shook Bowerman up too because Bowerman, I’m part of Bowerman or was part of Bowerman and we know that nobody was doping on Bowerman. And it’s tough when everybody assumes that now you are ’cause you have a convicted doper [on the team].
And I think even it shook Jerry to the core. I know what it’s like to have something shake you to your core. The Shelby situation was earth-shattering for Jerry. And, you know, I lost my dad. It was an earth-shattering situation there too. So I think the Shelby situation is tragic.
I don’t know how to get around that. I know people are always going to say that she’s doping, but I know she wasn’t. And at the very least I know it was unintentional and it should have been treated as such. Which I believe at most the max ban should have been two years and she should be in the Olympics again [in 2024].
But that’s not what happened. So yeah, I could talk about this forever, but, Jerry doesn’t deserve this reputation. Shelby doesn’t deserve this reputation. I don’t think I really get much of the flak, those two take the most of it. But, I don’t know what could have been done differently, but I wish something would have.
So, sorry. Sorry to end on that note.
The Death of His Father
LRC: You’ve mentioned your dad a couple times, and I can’t imagine, losing a parent, it hasn’t happened to me yet. We act like Bowerman’s your family, they’re not, they’re your teammates. You can be very close to them, but you’re a runner. You have a real family behind you. Do you want to talk about your dad, pay tribute to him? I feel almost we’d be amiss if we didn’t mention it because you’ve mentioned him a couple times and I feel bad that I didn’t know your dad died until [finding out] Friday night. That’s on me.
People deal with grief in different ways and my dad was a huge part of my running crew. He was the sports guy in my family. He led me through running and he’s always been, he was a guide through the whole situation.
Leaving Bowerman, I tried so hard to think what would my dad say in this situation? And I think he would say, you have to do what you have to do. You have to follow your gut. And my mom said the opposite. I could talk about my dad forever, but he was a big part of my life.
And when you’re dealing with anyone that’s lost a significant other, a family member or even a best friend or something along those lines it’s going to change your career. It’s going to change not just your own career, but you see how it changes your whole family.
So I think this real move from Bowerman should be more attributed to that than anything else. As much as the running community wants it to be something else, it probably is more personal and very involved with my family.
LRC: Do you have a favorite memory of your dad?
I don’t know if you guys noticed, but he was there at the Olympic Trials, you know, that was crazy. That was some Rudy-level shit. That was a very special moment. (LRC note: Sarah Lorge Butler had a great piece on Woody’s dad at the Trials).
And, it not like, okay, now you can die, dad. That’s not how it was, man.
But I do look back on that and it was one of my favorite moments for sure in my life with my dad. He was so happy. Who doesn’t like to see their parents like super proud and happy man? Like, that’s something.
LRC: Well, thank you for sharing and hey, keep the train rolling. We got the race Saturday. I gotta drive up there for this. I gotta tell the wife she’s in charge.
I’m honestly stoked too. This is a brand new track. Get to run on a new track, going after a fast time. I’m going to keep riding this wave. This is what I’m doing.
LRC: And it’s on national TV as well. This is great. It’s on NBC. You wanna be a star? Break a record on regular NBC. That’s what we’re talking about.
[Woody salutes the camera]
Yeah, thanks guys.
More: Full podcast with Yared Nuguse and Woody Kincaid with detailed timestamps
The full podcast has more info on his training, double threshold runs, who he thinks are the biggest stars in the sport, how he got started in the sport, and his tattoos. We’ve got detailed timestamps with the podcast if you want to jump around
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