Interview: World Championship Finalist Andy Bayer Comes Out of Retirement

By Kyle Merber

November 23, 2022

Those of you who signed up for this newsletter because you’re old enough for us to have exchanged posts on the Dyestat message boards might remember Andy Bayer as a 1500 meter runner. In 2012 he dove across the line to beat out Miles Batty for the NCAA title, and then at the Olympic Trials he finished in the agonizing fourth place spot.

Eventually, as a member of the Bowerman Track Club, he transitioned to the steeplechase and finished fourth at the 2015 USATF Championships, fourth at the 2016 Olympic Trials, fourth at the 2017 USATF Championships, and then in 2018 he was third, but it was a non-championship year.

His fortune finally changed in 2019: he finished on the podium again at USAs to qualify for the World Championships, where he ran his personal best of 8:12.47. But he retired during the pandemic, passing on his third shot at an Olympic team. But as he shared on Instagram this week, he’s ready to give this running thing another whirl.

Can you start by rewinding the clock a little bit? The last time that you raced was in February 2020. What happened after that, which led to you making the decision to retire?

Obviously, a global pandemic came down upon the world.

I figured if everything was going to be shut down then I would spend time with my kids. I did keep training and even did a mile time trial under four minutes by myself on a quiet morning with just my family watching.

I checked in with Nike to tell them I wasn’t comfortable traveling around to races and they said that was okay. I started an online coding boot camp program, knowing that running wouldn’t be forever. And based on how long it took to get my final payment of the year, I knew I wasn’t going to be re-signed. Technically, I could have been reduced since I didn’t make the Olympic team – it was a whole thing.

Without me on a contract we would just be living on my wife’s teaching salary. If I got a part-time job to try making a run at things in 2021 and it didn’t work out, I would not have been happy with the decision. Doing that would have been highly stressful and not fun. Without many races to validate that process, the only thing that would have mattered was the final result of making the Olympics. Ultimately, by not running I spent 45 hours a week on the boot camp and got a good job pretty quickly and it feels like it was the right decision.

There were a lot of other people who got pushed out of the sport earlier than they wanted and it sounds like you’re one of them. Did you continue running the last couple of years just for fun?

When I tried to train during the start of the boot camp it was just too much. I took a good few months off of running but played a lot of pickup soccer so I stayed in decent shape. I’d play hard enough to get tempo tummy.

When does this thought start creeping back into your mind that you’d maybe want to return? You were set up well to potentially be in Tokyo – was it watching that?

I kind of checked out completely for a year, but I did watch Tokyo. It was hard. I sort of feel like I didn’t miss out on too much because it seemed like a toned-down Olympic experience. But that’s just me reasoning with myself to try and make it easier.

I just started wondering how hard it would be to get back in shape, but I wasn’t seriously thinking about it. But then I was shown a LetsRun thread where someone said they wished I started running again and it sort of became a joke with some friends. It was just a fun experiment, with nothing to lose.

I don’t have a contract and if I quit tomorrow, I only did one Instagram post and talked to you. There’s not a whole lot on the line. I have some running left in the legs and I am now working from home – that’s a good sponsorship to have.

What has transpired behind the scenes that you felt ready to tell people?

I’ve done a lot of really good strength work. I just did 10 x 800 at 2:12 with a minute rest. That needs to be a few seconds faster before I am ready to race, but it’s getting close. I just had a conversation with work and my company has been really supportive and is allowing me some freedom in my schedule to train.

But now I’m a little more committed to doing this, right? By publicly announcing a comeback. Whenever I have shared it with people that I am starting to run again they’re so excited about it. I’ve learned that a lot more people were invested in how I did than I maybe realized previously.

What’s the big overarching lesson here that would be the takeaway about your relationship with running? You’re probably sounding pretty relatable to a lot of people right now.

I can only really do it when I can make it fun. Getting out there and working hard is still something I enjoy. But I feel like I have to be at a place where I can appreciate enjoying the training that comes with balance and stability in life. I like to run, but I have other needs that need to be met.

My kids are now 11 and 13 and if I could make the World or Olympic team and bring my whole family to Europe that’s something that a 9 to 5 couldn’t provide. And I know if I still have it in me, why not give it a shot

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Kyle Merber

After hanging up his spikes – but never his running shoes – Kyle pivoted to the media side of things, where he shares his enthusiasm, insights, and experiences with subscribers of The Lap Count newsletter, as well as viewers of CITIUS MAG live shows.