WITHOUT CONTEXT, the announcement that Jerry Schumacher’s Bowerman TC had set up a men’s 5000 to go off on the track at Nike’s headquarters late on a Tuesday evening in September might have been a headscratcher. Yet context is always important and in this instance piqued curiosity: Lopez Lomong and Matthew Centrowitz would chase the tough 13:13.50 Olympic standard for the distance. Oh, yeah, along with Woody Kincaid. Kincaid won the race. What? With a time of 12:58.10. Double what??!
Lomong (13:00.13) and Centro (13:00.39) each PRed as well, and the Olympic 1500 champ’s haircut on his 5-year-old best clipped a whopping 19.67 seconds. Still, Kincaid was the story of the night. The USATF 5000’s 3rd-placer was already an accomplished runner, no doubt. But he was nobody’s pick to jump ahead of ’90s great Bob Kennedy to No. 5 on the U.S. all-time list, or to supersede Galen Rupp’s status as the fastest-ever American on U.S. soil. William Kincaid—26-year-old Portland alum, ’16 Olympic Trials 8th-placer, and owner of a 4:20 mile PR back when he was a prep at Colorado’s Columbine High—gets all that. He’s good with it.
“Good is an understatement,” he says, reflecting on a race which saw him lower his fastest time for the distance by 14.12 seconds from his indoor best in ’17. “I’m great!” Maybe a tad gob-smacked, too: “12:58. Yeah, I look at it and I see 12:58 and it hasn’t even registered that it’s next to my name. Forever. You know what I mean? Honestly, I can’t believe it either. Everyone else was like, ‘I can’t believe it!,’ and I’m like, ‘I can’t either, man. I don’t know who did it, I really don’t.’ I like the ‘1-2,’ that looks nice.” (Continued below)
The Bowerman TC’s Twitter account, with an anonymous scribe tapping the keys, declared, “There might not be a better demonstration of the importance of perseverance and self-belief than Woody going from years of injury to sub-13!” That’s more context right there. Kincaid struggled through a spate of stress fractures, the first of which came in 2015. He has run healthy this year. (Continued below)
The cogent question after Kincaid kicked to 3rd in Des Moines in a PR 13:26.84 with a 54.33 last lap, though, was what to do with the rest of his summer since he lacked the Doha Q-standard and wasn’t allowed under USATF policy to chase it? It put him at loose ends.
“No kidding, man,” he says. “So the guys that I was training with were training for a championship, right? So even though I wanted to go to Europe and I wanted to race, Jerry’s like, ‘No, I’m going to throw you into the fray, I’m going to get you ready for next year. I think Jerry does believe—and, well, I believe after USAs and Jerry definitely really, really thinks—that I can make the team in Tokyo. So he’s like, ‘Hey, I’m going to look towards the championship a year from now. I’m going to throw you into the fray” with Centro, Lomong and Moh Ahmed “and you’re going to do better for it for next year. And you’re going to get the standard, no matter what.’ If I survived the camp, I thought that I was definitely going to get the standard and I got more than that.”
To do so Kincaid stacked his woodshed with fitness at altitude in Park City, Utah. The Bowerman crew lived high at 8500ft (c2600m). “We stayed in the ski lodges at the highest possible and we’d drive down the hill to go for a run at 7000ft [c2133m],” he says. “We did all our workouts at 4500 [c1370m], either at U of Utah or BYU—BYU let us on the track quite a bit—or Utah Valley.”
Then, Centrowitz’s toughness in what was not a typical miler’s program shifted Kincaid’s routine. “One thing I was most impressed with by this camp,” he says, “is, I knew Lopez and Moh were going to train together but Centro, who I didn’t know had such a huge engine, was right up there with them and doing workouts with them. So I didn’t have a choice. If I had the option I’d be training with someone else because Lopez and Moh are just on another level. But I didn’t have a choice. I had to train with them because Centro was a lot better at strength work than I expected and he was able to train with them too. So we all trained together—until I fell out of probably more than half the workouts.”
Fell out of workouts? “Oh, yeah,” he says. “If you asked my teammates, they would not believe that I was going to beat them” in the Portland run. “I mean the race was set up for me to win [he dashed past Lomong off the final bend] but they did not believe that I could run a sub-13 race based on how I’ve been working out.”
Canada’s Ahmed, a Wisconsin alum, agreed to pace the U.S. trio. Sub-13 was never part of the plan, which, Kincaid explains, “was just to run 13:12, 13:10. Jerry said we were going to go through the 3K in 7:55 and we went in 7:51 [7:51.65], I think. So we had a lot to give and Moh, I think he sensed that we had something special going and he felt good so he was running 62s pretty early in the race and he just kept clocking it off. And with 1200 to go we came through with 9:59 or something, right. We only had 3 laps to go. My read is that Moh realized he ran really fast, and because he’d run faster than we expected he was going to take it as far as he could. It doesn’t get better than someone taking you through 4600 on sub-13 pace. Our pacer dropped out with 1 lap to go!”
Kincaid’s assessment of Ahmed, 4th-place finisher in the Rio Olympic 5000, is unstinting. “What Moh did was far more impressive than anyone else in the field,” Kincaid says. “He ran basically the sub-13 race from the gun without tapering and then he has the humility to step off the track and let someone else have a day ‘cause he’s looking towards Doha. Honestly, I told Moh that I’m going to name my daughter ‘Momo’ and my son ‘Moh Ahmed.’ It’s incredible what he did.”
Ditto what Kincaid did, a dream coda to his pre-Olympic season. “There are no other races around, really, and at this point if I would run some smaller meets for a thousand dollars, a couple thousand dollars just for some money, I feel like I’d be getting greedy,” he says. “I just want to be in shape in November. I want to take time off now so that I can really start pushing early for this Olympic year.”
He’ll take a vacation in Greece with his girlfriend, who has spent the past 12 months in Dublin—”I guess if you want to get fast just don’t see your girlfriend for a year ‘cause that’s the way to do it.” Then a stop in Ireland “and after that,” he says, “I’m going to see my family in October, and then it’s going to be the first day of November I’m back to work.”
Kincaid, who hosts a podcast, The Price Of A Mile, feels nothing but admiration for the men he outkicked in Beaverton. “These guys’ spirits are incredibly high right now, and I think they should be,” he says. “Especially after this performance. The expectation is we’re going to go out there and we’re going to try and get some medals this year. That’s the goal. Centro definitely, especially after this 5K performance, feels very good about where he stands. He’s going to hate that I said that, but these guys are ready to roll.”
Lomong? “Dude, it is beyond belief for me. If I didn’t work out with this guy every day I’d feel like there’s no way he’s going to medal. He’s 34 years old. But it’s incredible. From what I’ve seen from camp, nothing surprises me. If he wins the gold medal out there in Doha I wouldn’t even be surprised because he’s just one of the mentally toughest runners I’ve ever seen.”
Kincaid looks upon his shock PR with humility. “I know how this is going to look,” he says. “Moh Ahmed took me through 4600, perfect conditions, all my friends are there. You know, I got lucky, man. It was just a huge opportunity that I don’t think anyone else will ever get. Because basically I had home field advantage and your friend takes you through 4600, right. Everyone from Portland and their mother was there and it was just like, ‘OK, I’m not dropping out.’ I wanted to, believe me. 2K in I thought I wasn’t going to finish the race. I thought, ‘There’s no way, I feel terrible.’ Straight up, after 2K I had to just get through one more lap, and thank God I did.”
Kincaid has never run a sub-4:00 mile, though he covered his last 1600 in Portland in 4:03.17. Even his 3:42.42 1500 PR this year just misses on conversion. He may be the first man who ever said this: “I’d actually be happy if I never break 4 in the mile and I have that sub-13. I think it’s better.” Guess what? He’s probably right. It’s quirky, a stat distance geeks could be calling up for decades.