TRACK FEATURE | Bumbalough Leaves Adversity in the Dust
Published: Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Updated: Saturday, April 23, 2011 19:04
Former Hoya Andrew Bumbalough has had quite the rookie year as a professional runner. In the past seven months, the six-time All-American landed a contract with Nike, finished second overall at the USA Cross Country Championships, ran a huge personal record of 13:16, achieved the the International Association of Athletics Federations ‘A' standard in the 5 kilometer and represented his country at the World Cross Country Championships.
It's hard to believe, but nearly a year ago — even after an extremely successful career at Georgetown — it remained to be seen if he would ultimately land a post-collegiate contract from a high profile sponsor.
Bumbalough at Georgetown
Bumbalough graduated from Brentwood Academy in Nashville, Tenn. in 2005 as one of the most heavily recruited distance runners in the country. Georgetown landed the runner nicknamed "Bumbi" thanks to then Assistant Coach Pat Henner, who started off his recruiting push on the first eligible day with a visit to Bumbalough's living room in Nashville.
While Bumbalough came to the Hilltop with aspirations of running after college, he struggled with injuries for much of his first two years. Then came a breakout junior year in which he broke four minutes in the mile, ran 13:30 for 5K and finished as an All-American in cross country and indoor track. It seemed as if it were a lock for him to run after the NCAA.
Yet the injury bug bit again, and Bumbalough was sidelined for much of the 2009 indoor and outdoor track seasons. As a graduate student in his fifth year at Georgetown, Bumbalough came back determined to have his best cross country season yet. He delivered, again earning All-American status by finishing 8th overall at the NCAA National Championships. He continued to train at a high level after the season, and returned to campus from winter break in what Henner called the best shape of his life.
Then, at perhaps the worst possible time, Bumbalough fell sick with mononucleosis. With the shoe companies of the world fixing their eyes on elite NCAA runners with expiring eligibility, Bumbalough faced a tall order.
He didn't just have to salvage something of an outdoor season. He had to have the best one of his life.
Earning the Nike Contract
Under Henner's watch, Bumbalough took eight weeks off from training. Upon returning, he set his professional sights on Coach Jerry Schumacher, arguably America's top distance coach for 5K — Bumbalough's best event. Schumacher had been in constant contact with Henner for nearly a year, charting Bumbalough's progress and seeing if he'd be a good fit for his training group.
However, that meant that Bumbalough would have to work to land a deal with the sport's biggest sponsor, Nike, for Schumacher had been signed to head up the Oregon Track Club and coached Nike athletes exclusively. Although the former University of Wisconsin coach had been high on Bumbalough ever since trying to recruit him out of high school, Nike wanted to see him perform in his last outdoor season before committing.
"Nike is interested in signing the best athletes they can and they're pretty selective about the athletes they bring on board," Schumacher said. "They just wanted to get a good honest evaluation of Andrew before any decisions were made."
With hardly any base training under his belt, Bumbalough had a good first step with a sub-4:00 split for the mile on the DMR at Penn Relays. However, he followed that performance with a very disappointing Big East championships in which he only finished third in both the 1500m and the 5K.
For Bumbalough to have a chance with Nike and Schumacher, he'd have to prove himself on the biggest stages: the NCAA National championships and the USA championships. While the Nike officials would be watching in both Eugene, Ore. and Des Moines, Iowa, Henner kept Bumbalough from focusing solely on earning a contract.
"I don't think I realized how much pressure was actually on me to do well if I wanted to keep running post-collegiately," Bumbalough said. "I don't think I realized the enormity of what I needed to do … to catch the eye of [Nike]."
He passed the first test with flying colors, finishing as the top American and third overall in the 5K at NCAAs. A month later, with Henner still keeping him focused on workouts and racing rather than on sponsors, he convinced any doubters with a spectacular 5K performance at the USA championships. Bumbalough was the top collegiate finisher in a deep field and was bested only by Bernard Lagat and Tim Nelson, both Nike athletes.
Sure enough, Nike put an offer on the table shortly afterward. By September, it was all official; Bumbalough quickly packed his bags and moved to Portland, Ore. to train with Schumacher's group.
Rookie Year to Remember
After seeing the adversity that Bumbalough overcame to run with the best as a professional, it should come as no surprise that he's been so successful in his first year out of the NCAA.
"His back was up against the wall," Head Coach Pat Henner said. "That really just demonstrated a lot about his competitiveness and his backbone, really, because there aren't many people that could be in that kind of crucible and still do well."
With running now his full-time job, Bumbalough's focus on training has paid off with PRs and world-class performances. Having only averaged 65-70 miles a week while at Georgetown, Bumbalough is now up to 90 miles a week and has devoted much more time to strength training and rest.
"A lot of it in college has to do with time limitations. Your practice can only be so long because then you have to go to class," Bumbalough said. "Literally all day, I can train all day and then rest all day."
Schumacher also pointed to Bumbalough's body of work in college and how Henner and the Georgetown program prepared him to run well at the next level.