Woody Kincaid Ready To Run Faster Than Ever

After “a whole year of being healthy,” Woody Kincaid is optimistic about his Olympic 5K prospects. (ANDREW McCLANAHAN/PHOTO RUN)

ONE MIGHT THINK that running 12:58.10 last September, in what we all thought would be the autumn before the Olympic year would put a big target on Woody Kincaid’s back, especially among U.S. 5000 types.

Yet the Portland-based Colorado native, now 27, isn’t feeling the pressure as much as he’s feeling encouraged. “If anything, I’ve just had a whole year of being healthy. I feel like I have a good shot to run faster now than I ever really have,” he says, taking a break alongside the road—finally in range of a reliable cell tower—to catch up by phone while on a long road trip.

Kincaid, 8th in the ’16 OT, was the guy who ran a breakthrough race in Des Moines last summer, hanging on through Paul Chelimo’s extreme pace swings to finish 3rd in a PR 13:26.84. Yet that USATF finish didn’t put him on the U.S. team for Doha, as he hadn’t hit the qualifier of 13:22.50—and there was no time-chasing allowed.

“It was frustrating,” he admits, “but we knew the rules. I wanted to go to Worlds, but I knew it was going to be hard to make the Worlds team. I just wanted to get top 3—I wanted to win USAs. I had plenty of time to reconcile the reality that I probably wasn’t going to go, but I still was going to run as hard as I could.”

Fast forward to September, when Kincaid produced one of the year’s most surprising headlines with his 12:58.10 win in Beaverton, moving to No. 5 on the all-time U.S. list. “Honestly, I can’t believe it,” he told us at the time.

It was the culmination of a stretch of great training and healthiness, a welcome change for the sometimes injury-prone Kincaid. Yet just as quickly he and Bowerman TC coach Jerry Schumacher shut his season down to focus on the Olympics.

“I had a pretty good winter,” he says of the next phase. “It wasn’t bad. I had a sore soleus in the fall, but in the winter I went to camp and I didn’t do any workouts, but I was out there doing full miles. I wouldn’t say it was ideal, but it was pretty good. I came out of it in sub-4:00 shape and ready to roll.”

That inaugural trip under the 4-minute barrier happened in late February in Boston, when his 3:59.23 made him the 559th American into the club.

“I mean, there is no perfect year, right? There’s going to be some mix, some injuries every time,” he says. Still, when the Olympic postponement came, the disappointment was palpable. “The team as a whole, from all my time on Bowerman, was probably in the best shape that they’d ever been. It’s easy to say now, but everybody was just there.

“Obviously [the postponement] was necessary. You have to roll with the punches and we got in shape and we stayed in shape and honestly, Moh Ahmed, Shelby Houlihan, Karissa Schweizer, they went and did something pretty special anyway… We definitely made it work.”

Kincaid admits his intensity slipped a little bit when the Tokyo postponement hit. “When it first happened and we were still running workouts like the Olympic Trials were a few months away, I felt like to do what was necessary to run, say a 12:47 like Moh Ahmed, to work out with him, I was going to have to dig very deep in the workouts. There was probably a 1- or 2-month span in there, I wasn’t really digging my heels in like I did the year before.

“I was still getting in good work, no doubt. I’m in great shape. But I think to do what Moh did and to do what Shelby and Karissa did—they never really took their foot off the gas, and I guess I did slightly.”

He’s not worried. “When the chips are in the pot, I will definitely go all in. I have no doubt about that. But I felt like this was an opportunity for me to not have to always be on empty after every session because I’m only just trying to get back into shape.

“The year worked out for everybody. I think I did what I wanted to do, where I got in like low-13-minute shape, and just maintained fitness from that 12:58 that I think will allow me to really go and do something next year.”

Not that there was a lot of racing—just two outdoor meets for Kincaid, both of them BTC intrasquads. On July 10 he was in the 5000 when Ahmed ran his 12:47.20. However, Kincaid’s mission on that day was a fast 3K, which he achieved with a 7:47.04 PR—then he loped home the final 2K.

Eleven days later he produced a big breakthrough at 1500m, taking his best from 3:42.42 to 3:37.36. Happy? Not terribly: “I think I’m slightly disappointed. I had a pity party for about 50m on that last lap. I wanted to be up there with Marc Scott [3:35.93]. I think I’m capable of running a 3:35. So I’m happy with it, but a big PR would have been better in my opinion.”

The workouts alongside some of the world’s best runners, Kincaid says, “felt easier towards the end of the summer, more than they ever have before. Of course, when you’re not in shape, it’s mentally very difficult. When you are in shape, you’re more excited to get up for it.”

This summer has been better than last, when Kincaid says he was struggling to get used to the workouts “off not a great buildup. I was having, like, night terrors I was so stressed. Grant Fisher had never been on the team before and he stayed with me and I was yelling at him in the night.”

After the initial quarantine, he says, “we went to camp and got focused and we’re still really just together as a team and just enjoying working out hard.”

With the books closed on ’20, Kincaid is looking forward to his next cycle. “Since I’m in good shape and I haven’t really had any setbacks, I don’t want to lose a ton of fitness,” he explains. “I’m going to run as soon as I get back to Colorado and start my training slightly earlier this year.”

For ’21, he is still committed to the 5000. “I’m all in. I have not discussed this with Jerry, so this is truly my brain. I would like to ride out the 5 as long as I can, but I could see myself moving to the 10 for the next one, because I think I have the engine for the 10. I would love to stay in the 5 as long as I can, though.”