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Andrew Bumbalough Retires: Exit Interview with a Bowerman Track Club OG and One of America’s Most Consistent 5K Runners

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Andrew Bumbalough is one of the OGs of the Bowerman Track Club and has been training with them since 2010. In this episode, he announces he is retiring and no longer running professionally and no longer a Nike athlete. He’s shifting his priorities and getting into coaching. On Jan. 1, he launched Highgear Running, which offers personalized coaching for runners of all levels from the mile to the marathon. You’ll hear him discuss where the name came from and what he’s hoping to accomplish there.

We’ll also take a deep dive into his career from his days starting off as a soccer player in Tennessee through his consistency as one of America’s best 5K runners of the past decade. He’ll share the workout where he dropped Chris Solinsky and other fun stories like his 5th place finish at the Boston Marathon. He finishes his career with personal bests of 13:12 in the 5K and 2:10 in the marathon.  It was an honor to get Andrew for his exit interview of sorts but excited for what’s to come next.

Follow Andrew on Instagram: @abumbalough

Check out Highgear Running: @highgearrunning on Instagram | https://www.highgearrunning.com/

Photos by Kevin Morris.

You can catch the latest episode of the podcast on iTunes so subscribe and leave a five-star review. We are also on Stitcher, Google Play and Spotify!

andrew bumbalough bowerman track club retirement

SHOW NOTES AND QUOTES

Retiring from professional running

“I plan to step away from professional running in being my primary focus of life…Over the course of 2020, I was able to decide, I think I’m ready to finally move away from running. I’ve done OK the last few years but I’m ready to take on new challenges and see where I can contribute in different ways. Does that mean I never run a competitive race again? I don’t know. I think that’s too hard of a question to try and unpack. Physically, I feel better than I have in a really long time because I’ve taken a big step away from Jerry’s grind, where it just beats you down. If you survive it, you run amazing. If you don’t, you could be pretty tired after a little while…In 2021, I am no longer part of the Bowerman Track Club professional group and no longer a Nike athlete. That just took a little time to say that publicly. I think people who know me pretty well know that’s where I was headed this year. My passion for product has really come alive this year. Some of the teams that I’ve come to work with at Nike have just pushed me even further in that direction.”

“You really have to relish the moments that are good. Ask anyone who has done this.”

Getting into coaching through High Gear Running

“The inspiration for High Gear has been on my mind that I would love to work with athletes after I was done in some capacity. As you slowly start to think about what that might look like, I realized I didn’t want that to be an NCAA coach. I didn’t want coaching to be my full-time job where it’s all that I’m doing. I also realized the idea of working with athletes of all ages and ability levels was something that was really appealing to me. It was really cemented this summer when I helped out with the Bowerman Track Club summer program. It was great. We had like 300 high schoolers do a four-week online training program via Zoom and Slack. It was just an incredibly powerful experience. I always thought online coaching or that relationship would be very surface level and wouldn’t give you the same things that an in-person coaching experience would be but what I took away from that experience was that the kids were so dedicated and it meant so much to them. Obviously being in a COVID world, it heightened that. I was really impacted by how much could be taken away and brought to their own running in an online format. High Gear was born out of that idea as well as I had already started working with three or four local Portland athletes this summer and fall. I had seen their progression. It’s addicting, man. They’re not elite athletes. They’re just people who want to get better and get faster. That was really inspiring to see them progress and grow as runners…It’s a cool thing to be part of. I had some time on my hands and I heard someone say that if there’s something you always wanted to do and you don’t do it this year, you either don’t want to do it or you’re not going to do it. I was like, ‘If not now, I know it won’t happen.’ I started to do some market research and then came up with my own format and website. I launched it on January 1st.”

The shoe technology revolution

“I think, for me, it was a big enabler of my marathon career. If I had tried to run a marathon in a Streak 6 or whatever, it’s hard to kind of contemplate what that experience would be like, especially for me being an athlete and coming from the track. The 5K and 10K were my sweet spot. The marathon, as you know, is a totally event entirely. It fits within what is USATF and high-level running but it’s totally off on its own. The technology and one of the greatest benefits from it is that it will extend people’s careers. The pounding that a marathoner takes maybe with the new technology and shoes that people are using now, maybe they can run 15 marathons instead of 10 in their careers? Maybe they can even run 20? For me, this was a way I could extend my career into my 30s really easily and then shift to a distance that is really foreign and different for someone who is known for 5K for most of his career.”

Drawing the Line for Technology in Sport

“I think it is important to have a line. At the end of the day, what we want our sport to be is this pure measurement of fitness, toughness, grit and ability against the other people in the race. I think that technology and improvement is inevitable. It’s been a part of our sport for decades. It just hasn’t increased this exponentially I think really ever – at least not since I’ve been around it. I think giving a very specific framework for what the rules are and having a committee at World Athletics. They need to have a group of people that really understand the sport but also understand the technology…Ideally, you have people who understand both really well and then you find out what works for everyone. Companies have the license to innovate within that framework. If it’s 40 millimeters on the road then Nike, Saucony, Brooks and Adidas can all go at it and figure out who can make the best thing that fits within that framework. I think that’s healthy and good. It pushed both the companies and the sport forward. Athletes really rely on shoe companies to pay them. If it’s a good thing for shoe companies then hopefully it’s a good thing for athletes. We just have to figure out how to make it even on a playing field at least starting out.”

Dropping Chris Solinsky in a Workout

“The workout was a fartlek. It’s one of Jerry’s old ones. It was 500 on, 100 off on the track for 10 miles. It’s brutal. It is absolutely brutal. The difference in pace is so bad. If you’re having a bad one, it’s one that will expose you halfway through. I think Chris just didn’t have a great day. It was Halloween. I remember because he was having people over for a Halloween party and he was upstairs all night. He was miserable. That’s a badge of honor and one of my career highlights for sure.”

2012 U.S. Olympic Trials fourth place finish

“You had Galen Rupp and Bernard Lagat. I knew Bernard Lagat would make the team. As long as he showed up, he was going to make it. In the last few weeks going in, the question was: Is Lopez (Lomong) going to run the 1,500m or is he going to run the 5,000m? Jerry and he made the decision that he was going to run the 5,000m. Again, going back to the discussion the way teammates are…I was like, “Ugh..OK. That stinks. I’m going to have to beat him too. I think I can still do it.” You have to believe in yourself but it’s just going to be harder. I don’t remember a whole lot about the early stages of the race. I remember being calm, in control and confident. I do remember by the time we got to a lap to go…Lagat, Rupp, Lopez and myself had separated ourselves as the four guys that were probably going to make it. It was going to be a big last 400 meters. I didn’t anticipate just how big it was. Galen had never closed a race like that…ever. He won the race and set the Olympic Trials record. I had never seen him close out a race that fast…It started to string out along the backstretch. With about 200 meters to go, I started to feel people pull away and it was kind of getting out of reach. There’s this picture of me that was taken around the steeplechase put area where I just have this look of working really hard but there’s a bit of sadness and panic setting in. It’s getting away and there’s nothing I can do about it. When I look at that picture, it’s kind of devastating. Even now, it’s kind of hard to think about. If you make that first Olympic team, it would probably have changed a lot about my career going forward. It’s such a defining thing. You’re either an Olympian or you’re not. There’s no middle ground. Fourth place doesn’t count for anything other than to say you’re close. A lot of people from my community had come to watch. I had to go through team processing and drug testing because I was fourth. You’re sitting through that and everyone else is happy and congratulating each other. I’m in the worst mental sadness that I have been in a really long time. I remember leaving drug testing and seeing my high school coach. He was just there and hadn’t left the stadium yet. I embraced him and I just broke down in tears. I was so sad. It was such a hard thing because I got really close but didn’t quite do it. 

It’s one of those things that it took me a while to get over. Luckily, now I don’t think about it too much. It was eight years ago now. It’s one of those things that would have been a nice way to kickstart my career as a pro but also that’s kind of what you sign up for as an athlete.”

On Lopez Lomong

“Lopez is one of the most talented athletes I’ve ever been around. The guy’s ability is incredible. His ability for speed and endurance just baffles me, especially that he’s done in the last two years. Lopez is the closest thing to a superhero that I’ve been around personally. Everything that he’s gone through in his life and also what he’s been able to do when he puts his mind to something, he’s unbeatable.”

Being top five in the 5,000m from 2010 to 2014

“There was consistency. There was never the breakthrough that I thought could happen. You can only control what you do. I think for the most part I did everything that I wanted to. I didn’t have a lot of terrible setbacks injury-wise in those five years (on the track). People were just better. I went through the buzzsaw of Lagat obviously being at an incredible stage of his career still; Rupp was doing unthinkable things – like the Galen Rupp from college I knew he was very good but the things he was doing around that time like running 3:50 indoors, setting all of these American records, running 12:58 in the 5K and running really fast in the 10K (the 10K didn’t surprise me as much but it was some of the things he was doing at the shorter distances was just like how is this happening). Those two were at the height of their powers on the track. Occasionally you had someone like Lopez or Ryan Hill who would get in ahead of me in 2013. I just kind of never got that exact thing I needed to happen to end up in the top three. I ended up fourth or fifth for like five years – other than the off-year when I was second.”

The Bowerman Track Club vs. Oregon Project Rivalry

“I think that other sports do rivalries a lot better than track and field. If you’re a Yankee fan, you probably hate the Red Sox. If you’re a North Carolina Tarheels fan, you hate Duke. If you’re a college basketball fan, you hate Duke – unless you’re a Duke fan. Other sports really understand a rivalry. It’s kind of OK to dislike another team or want to beat them not because you want to beat everyone but you want to beat them even more. I think there was an element of that for sure during that time period. I think it extended for different reasons. There was a lot that went into that. That was the environment. It was not a thing where you go to a track and we’re there at the same time, it was not this lovefest where people are chatting, joking and talking. It didn’t really exist at the time. That relationship evolved. As Pete (Julian) started to bring athletes on and you have a bigger squad on both, you don’t have as many OGs like me who were there at that time when things were more heated. I think it naturally smoothed out a little bit more and took its course. I’ll be honest. I wanted to beat anyone in the Oregon Project more than everyone else. I didn’t do it a lot. I don’t know if I ever beat Galen but I wanted to. I think everyone else would say the same thing if they’re honest.”

The state of American marathoning

“You’re starting to see the American men become, in the way that they started on the track, believe that they belong and there’s this next level of performance that they can achieve and get to. I think you’re starting to see that a bit more in the marathon and a bit more on the roads. I don’t know if we’re going to see American men running 2:04 consistently any time soon. If we can start to get to where 2:06 or 2:07 is relatively normal for the fastest guys like it is in Japan. I think we can compare ourselves to Japan in the marathon. You can have a slew of guys breaking 2:10. To qualify for their trials, you have to run close to that anyway. That would be the next step. Can we have 100 guys break 2:10 and then have 50 guys running 2:08 or 2:09 and then maybe the top 15 running 2:06 or 2:07.”

“It’s a culture shift and maybe breaking down the barriers that are set with athletes spending too much time on the track who are marathoners – identifying people who are marathoners earlier. I’ve had this discussion with a lot of different people. There’s lots of athletes who finish the NCAA system and should go straight into the marathon or at least building toward that and not spend two Olympic cycles trying to make a 10K team that they’re never going to make. No offense but if you can’t close a 10K in 55 or better, you’re just not going to make a team anymore in the U.S. You might as well start to earn your stripes as a marathoner. It’s a beautiful thing. It doesn’t have to be this thing where track is elevated above the marathon. In fact, you can earn a better living and do a nice job as a marathoner and be set in a way that’s just harder to do on the track for some. Let’s break that stereotype. Let’s have 20 athletes from the NCAA start really putting themselves into the longer distance stuff like a half marathon or marathon.”


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