What It Takes for a Comeback by Jeff Bloomer

Running has its ups and downs on the course and for many of us on our health. It is not uncommon for a runner to experience the occasional ache, pain, fall on a course or loose bowel moment, but what happens when a serious injury occurs? How about a serious injury along with a major change of life? These two things happened to me and it took two things to get me back on my feet: Commitment to training and the support of my wife.

In July, 2008, a back injury forced me to quit running. Well, not quit but postpone it for a while. I developed a herniated disc in my lower back, L5/S1 to be exact, and had extreme pain in the sciatica running down my right leg. At the same time, I had herniated a disc in my neck which was later corrected through chiropractic treatment. I tried and tried to correct the disc herniation with numerous massage appointments and chiropractic adjustments to no avail. I finally decided to end the sleepless nights, groggy living on pain pills and swollen feet that had developed by standing for 20 out of 24 hours. Yes, I went under the knife this past December.

Getting surgery came as a real blow to the ego. I took pride in keeping a healthy body and felt that having surgery somehow tainted all of that. My 444-day running streak had ended, I couldn’t race, I couldn’t train, heck, I couldn’t even walk right. And now this? I would have a permanent scar symbolizing my body’s self-destruction.

I had the surgery and spent the next few months in recovery. A few days of lying around turned into walking around the neighborhood and then onto physical therapy. This past February I began rehab and told the therapist that I would need to be running again soon. That wasn’t received with too much excitement, but he could see that I was determined and helped me plan my comeback. Takoma Rehab Services in Greeneville is dedicated to athletes. Check them out!

Two months later I was running the Bunny Hop 5K. This did some work to my ego because I knew my race would be way off from when I last ran nine months earlier. Yes, I got my tail whipped by some people I had been beating but I loved being back out there. I was starting to feel whole again. Not running had left an empty spot and now it was being filled.

The Bloomer family
The Bloomer family.
I began picking up races here and there and putting the pieces back together. I hit my 100th career race at the Rhododendron 10K and just kept on rolling. Things were right again in my world of running. And then my son, Everett, was born!

Having a child changed everything…in a great way, but still different. I didn’t feel right about being away from home too long. I missed my son a lot and my wife, Rachel, was no longer able to be my road companion. Her comeback is in the making this very minute, by the way!

My training got way out of whack. A day between training turned to four, five or six. Old guys were beating me or challenging me in races that had never been up with me before. The ego was taking a big hit once again, but I made a plan.

I know that I cannot do anything well without the support of my wife. She and I had several discussions about what I felt needed to happen so my comeback would be complete. Complete meaning that I would once again be as fast as I was before the back injury. This plan would involve my wife being as dedicated to my running as I had to be. Fortunately, she bought in.

My training had to involve certain elements very well-known to the running community and very time-involved. Each week I had to commit to long runs, hard middle-distance and speed workouts taking away the necessary hours needed to make it all happen. On top of work, coaching cross country (Go Greene Devils!) and training, family time became a commodity and of course there is guilt involved in not being at home as much. Again, none of this happens without the support of my wife.

This past Saturday, I finally made the comeback by running a PR of 37:58 at the Eastman 10K in Kingsport. No more excuses. No more “I’m still recovering”. No more playing around. The race was bittersweet for me. I am proud of the fact that I am no longer an injured runner. I am proud to be running near the front again. I am proud to be able to run with the kids I coach. My competitive side left a bitter taste in my mouth as well.

During the 10K race, I started out strong and was running in good position. Then, one runner slipped by me, then another and another. My blood was boiling like it did over a year ago. I still need endurance work. I still need better finishing speed. I still need to be able to figure out my opponents and give myself a better shot at beating them at the next race.

So, for what it’s worth these are the lessons I have learned. In order to be good at something, I must be truly committed to it and have the support from home. I also have to make sure I don’t overdo it again and back off when necessary. Otherwise, I risk falling into the recreational jogger category and losing the title of “runner”.

September 14, 2009