Popliteal Artery Entrapment Syndrome

Hey blogging world! Long time no see. I’ve decided to start blogging again to document what’s going on in my life right now. You see, this past year has been absolute hell to put it nicely. I’ve gone from being a marathoner to not being able to walk without pain.

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My feet after walking less than a mile. My right foot loses color and turns a pale white.

I was diagnosed with bilateral popliteal artery entrapment syndrome. I know, it’s a long name. Basically, this means that one of the muscles behind my knee is attached abnormally and is crushing my popliteal artery (the main artery behind the knee). My right popliteal artery is completely blocked and requires bypass surgery and my left popliteal artery is partially blocked when I push off with my foot. Popliteal artery entrapment syndrome is a rare problem that normally occurs in young athletes.

It’s been a very long journey getting to this point. I first noticed symptoms last December, although I now realize that I had symptoms long before that. In the matter of about a week, I went from half marathon training to not being able to run for longer than 100 meters because my right calf would cramp so badly. I’m not talking about a little bit of aching. I’m talking about the feeling of trying to run with a Charlie horse. Within a matter of minutes of stopping, though, the pain would completely disappear.

At first, I thought that it was compartment syndrome again, but after repeating that fun test my pressures were normal. There were some other pretty weird symptoms going on too. My big toe is numb and sometimes I get weird tingling sensations in my foot and lower leg. Probably the weirdest one, though, was what happens when I walk. My foot loses color and starts turning a pale white. It’s pretty creepy.

I tried getting a deep tissue massage, didn’t work. I tried physical therapy, didn’t work. MRI didn’t show anything wrong. Then I was referred on to a vascular doctor and a whole new round of tests was done. Ultrasound, treadmill test, an MRA, and finally an arteriogram was done.

All the while my symptoms have been getting worse and worse. It’s now at the point where it hurts just walking. Standing for long periods of time is also painful. Even pushing down on the gas pedal when I’m driving causes my calf to cramp.

Hearing the diagnosis was absolutely shocking. The worst I was expecting was that I had compartment syndrome again and needed another fasciotomy. Instead, I found out that not only do I have popliteal artery entrapment syndrome in my right leg, but my left leg (which is relatively asymptomatic) as well. This probably explains why my right leg has never been all the way better since I had compartment syndrome. That’s probably why I couldn’t get past mile 20 in a marathon without my calf completely seizing up and why I get Raynaud’s so much worse in my right foot than my left.

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My right foot with Raynaud’s syndrome after going swimming. My left foot was a totally normal color. This picture was taken over 3 years ago.

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This is what my foot looked like after trying to do some calf raises.

I’m finally scheduled to have surgery on October 13th at the University of Maryland Medical Center. I will be having a muscle release and bypass done on my right leg. Then I’ll have to wait another 2-3 months and get a muscle release done on my left leg. Even though my left leg doesn’t have many symptoms, they want to fix it earlier on to prevent needing a bypass like my right leg.

I’m looking forward to getting this surgery done so that I can get my life back. I’m a 23-year old marathoner that is in pain just walking. How wrong does that sound?! I want to get this surgery behind me and finally get on the road to recovery.

Thanks for joining me on this journey. I plan to make regular updates. I hope that sharing my story will bring a little more awareness to this weird syndrome. Maybe another “Laurel” will find this blog and be able to understand a little more of what to expect.

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Back to Reality

Lake Louise

Last Friday we officially made it back home from our wonderful trip. Although it’s only been a week it feels so long ago that we were cycling the west and snuggling into our sleeping bags at night.

The last time I gave an update we were in Nanaimo. From there we continued westward on Vancouver Island to check out Tofino and then spent a few days in Victoria, where we reached 2000 miles. We took a ferry back to the US to Port Angeles, took a hike on Sunset Ridge in the Olympic National Park, camped for the last time at our very first campsite (Manchester State Park) in Port Orchard, and finally went back to Seattle to catch our flight home.

my dad skipping stones on the ocean in Tofino

my dad skipping stones on the ocean in Tofino

taken at the Butchart Gardens

taken at the Butchart Gardens

more Butchart Gardens

more Butchart Gardens

over 2000 miles!

over 2000 miles!

beautiful Victoria!

beautiful Victoria!

Sunset Ridge

Sunset Ridge

This really was a trip of a lifetime and I’m so incredibly grateful that my parents and I were able to make it happen. I’ll never be able to thank them enough for bringing me along on this trip. I’m not sure I’ve ever been as happy as I was during those six weeks. It was like we were in our own little bubble of unreality where we didn’t have to think about real world problems. I’ll definitely miss the adventure of it all, that satisfying feeling at the top of a mountain pass, not knowing exactly what the next day will bring, and cracking up with my mom while secretly taking pictures of my dad sleeping … no, Dad, I won’t post the pictures. 😉 Heck, I’ll even miss getting lost from time to time.

I’m naturally a very practical person. I do the things that are expected of me in life and rarely spend my money on things outside my necessities. However, I don’t want to live my life being boring and not experiencing the things I dream of. This trip really made me realize that we only have so much time on this earth. We’re not guaranteed the next day in life so CARPE DIEM!

What’s next for me? I’m starting my senior year of college (I know, crazy!). In terms of athletics, I’m getting back into my normal running routine. I was able to keep up some mileage when I was biking and got a lot of practice running on tired biking legs. I know I’m fit right now, but biking fitness isn’t the same as running fitness. The sports use different muscles, so I’m planning on gradually building up this fall and possibly doing a couple of shorter races in October or November. My long-term focus will be on the Boston Marathon. Registration opens up in mid-September, so hopefully I’ll get a spot with my qualifying time.

at the beginning of our journey

at the beginning of our journey

Catching Up

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Hey, blogging world! Long time no see. I apologize to my readers that I’ve been absent lately. This past semester was definitely the hardest one yet. I’ve been telling people that it was my “semester from hell” to put it nicely. 17 credits (7 of which were quite difficult), research, being an RA, and president of running club meant I had to make priorities in my life. As a result, academics took up a huge portion of my time and running/blogging had to be put on the backburner. Oh, and remember my no-sickness streak? Well, that was broken as I’ve been sick at least four times since January.

Enough of my sob story, though, because I’ve got some big plans coming up! The first part of my summer is mostly devoted to getting observation hours in for grad school and studying for the GRE, but at the end of the summer I’m going on a big bike trip with my family. I’ll make a separate post on it later, but it’s mainly in the northwest US and southwest part of Canada. It’ll be a trip of a lifetime and I can’t wait. For the trip, we also got a Go Pro to record our adventures. I’ve been having fun experimenting with it and will probably share some videos soon. I plan to blog at various points on the trip and keep you guys updated.

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my new Go Pro!

So, what else is new? I’ve run in a few races since I last blogged. I ran the Half Marathon Unplugged in April, which went decently for sub-par training. I also split VCM with my best friend, Ellie, last weekend. Our team was called “The Twins” and we wore matching jerseys. For people that don’t know, we are not actually twins, but people oftentimes mixed us up in high school. The race went pretty well. It was Ellie’s first half and she kicked butt!

Team The Twins

Team The Twins

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over halfway through my half

I was on the front page of a calendar, which is definitely one of the coolest things that has ever happened to me! I didn’t even know about it until Sarah texted me. I definitely wasn’t feeling too hot during the race as you can read about in my recap. It was so humid that day I felt like I was swimming instead of running. At least I look alright. Most pictures of me running look a little more like this (2nd below, crossing the finish line of that race).

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I’m on a calendar!

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At the end of the race in just a little pain

Oddly enough, I was also featured in the bulk email VCM sent out to relay teams congratulating them on getting a spot in the lottery. Aubrey and I are coming in strong at the finish. Once again, another not-so-great race for me, but I got a good picture out of it! Apparently I’m talented at looking good when I’m feeling terrible.

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me and Aubrey in the email!

My training for the next month will be a mix of running and biking as I’m getting geared up for the bike trip. My aerobic ability is pretty good , but I need to get those different biking muscles ready.

That’s all for now. I’m looking forward to get back into blogging and adding in a video component with the Go Pro. I’ve missed you guys! Let me know what’s new with you! Have you run any races recently? What are your plans for the summer? Ever gone on a bike trip before?

Winter Woes

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Winter can be a tough time for runners. The freezing cold, shorter daylight hours, and icy sidewalks don’t make things easy on us. I’m not a fan of the dreadmill to put it lightly as I’ve explained in previous posts and the indoor track makes my calves flare up. I was hoping the New Years spirit would give me some motivation, but things feel like a lot of effort at the moment.

Add on top of that my dear Aunt Snug passing away earlier this week and things have been kind of rough. She fought a brave 5-year battle with cancer, but it still doesn’t seem real. I feel like I should still be able to go over to the house for 4th of July and see her at the end of the table cracking jokes. My family knows how to laugh, and Aunt Snug definitely ranks near the top. It was oftentimes hard for her to be serious about much of anything because she was always laughing.

This is how I'll always remember her. What a bunch of goofballs.

This is how I’ll always remember her. She’s in the second row third from the left with a big grin on her face. What a bunch of goofballs we are. I’m in the pink jelly sandals in the front.

She was patient with me, though. She’d tell me how good my piano playing sounded after plucking away in the living room for hours probably playing the same songs over and over. Or she’d ask me about my running and wish me luck in my next race. I doubt the sport made much sense to her. Heck, most people don’t understand why I run, but she still whole-heartedly supported me.

She probably has the biggest will to live of anyone I know. Even battling stage 4 cancer she didn’t ever want to give up. It just reminds me how precious life is and how privileged I am to have it. All of us come with an expiration date and we don’t always know when that’ll happen, so we have to make the most of it while we’re here.

Aunt Snug, I hope you’re having fun up there playing with your cats and cracking some jokes. I hope it’s warmer up there because right now it’s close to 0 degrees. Rest in peace. I love you.

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Rest in Peace, Aunt Snug (left). I love you.

NYRR Midnight Run Race Recap

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Soooo, this is a very long overdue update. On New Years Eve I ran in the NYRR Midnight Run. Yep, you heard me right. That’s a race…. in NYC… that starts at midnight. Epicness!

My friends from Running Club (Rachel, Isabella, and her friend Kirsten) met up in the afternoon in NYC. We had planned to do a little bit of sightseeing, but the weather kept us from doing much. Instead we just ended up migrating from Starbucks to Dunkin Donuts to the next Starbucks to have a warm place to stay and sit down. I’m pretty sure I walked about 4 miles before the race even started.

When we got to Central Park things started looking up. There was a dance party near the start put on by the race and within about a minute of joining in we were warm again. I’ve definitely not done anything like that before a race!

This race definitely made me appreciate having a support person. I just did it with my friends, so I didn’t have anyone to hold my belongings and had to use the bag check. Everything went smoothly with that, but because it was so cold it meant that for the 20 minutes before the race I had to constantly move around to just keep myself from shivering. It’s definitely a luxury having someone there to help out.

Granted, it was a relief when the gun went off at the start of the race. We were welcomed to the New Year with a beautiful fireworks display!

The course was really fun as it went all through Central Park. I didn’t expect it to be quite as hilly as it was. The course wasn’t super hilly, but definitely had some good rollers. I spent most of the race trying to find the shortest route, as the roads were a bit windy. I entertained myself with the traffic lights. All throughout the race the traffic lights on the course were changing. Each time they turned green I tried to pick up my pace! There was also this guy running near me whose watch kept talking to him. I don’t mind the occasional beep alert for a mile marker (I have that for longer races), but his watch went off about every half mile and told him his average pace and cadence. Please don’t do that in a race. Not everyone around you wants to hear your details. I probably should’ve studied the course more, but I greatly appreciated the last mile. It was basically all downhill and felt really nice to finish fast.

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Reflections

My finishing time was 27:25. I’ve never run a 4-miler before so I’m not really sure how to feel about it. Guess it’s a PR, though! My general feelings from the race are that I ran all right – not bad not good, but somewhere in between. I wasn’t taking the race all that seriously, but still wanted to give it a good effort. The circumstances definitely weren’t perfect. After all, we were racing at midnight and my internal clock was all messed up as I had been awake since 7:00 that day to drive to New York. The nature of the event makes it difficult to have a great race. Our bodies aren’t meant to race at 12:00am.

That’s not to say you can’t have a good race there! There are definitely some things I would do differently if I run this race again. First of all, I would arrive a lot closer to midnight to avoid chilling at coffee places to try and stay warm. Secondly, I would bring LOTS of warm clothing. After the race, I changed my base layers and had on about three tops (including my winter coat), spandex tights, and hat/gloves, but I was still freezing. After a hard effort like that you get sweaty, which makes you chilly minutes after finishing. I would bring even more warm clothes to keep warm for afterwards.

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Thoughts on the Race

I think NYRR put on a really great race. The course was well marked/directed and the volunteers were very friendly. I got some cool goodies from the race including a comfy shirt. They were giving out glasses and armbands as well, but I didn’t want to wait in line and get cold at the start. The cost was on the pricey side: I can’t remember exactly, but around $50-60. I definitely wouldn’t pay that much for most races (especially just a 4-miler), but the race had some special features that most races don’t have like fireworks and a dance party. One thing I wish the race did have was proper results. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe they only had results for the top 10 men and women. Maybe the results are hiding, but I haven’t found the results for everyone. I do wish I could get a proper time from them. Luckily, I did use my watch so I know my time, but it would be nice to know how I stacked up against my competitors.

The biggest thing I would compliment the race on? PORTA POTTIES! This probably sounds ridiculous to any non-runners, but having a place to go to the bathroom before racing is absolutely essential. Huge lines and not having enough porta potties are a common problem at races and can be a big stressor for runners. NYRR did a fantastic job and there were plenty of porta potties. Even a half hour before hand when things are normally crazy, I was able to get in within five minutes. Bravo!

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Overall, I had a fantastic time! It is definitely my most memorable New Years. Thanks Rachel for hosting me! Sorry I slept in for so long the next day, haha. I would definitely like to do this race again (with a few changes). I think I might even be able to convince some of my family into running it with me next year. Watch out guys! 😉

Did you run in any New Years races? Anyone else do the NYRR midnight runs? How’s your 2015 going so far?

New Year

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Now, I don’t mean to get all sentimental and mushy. I’m not sure why, but New Years resolutions make me want to gag. Maybe it’s because the normal quiet gym gets packed with people who all of a sudden decide to get in shape. Don’t get me wrong. I think it is super awesome that people want to make a change and get more active. That’s great! But for people who go all the time, the crowd can be a bit overwhelming. HOWEVER, I think it is important for improvement purposes to look back at my training every so often and plan out the next year.

2014 was a pretty big year for me. However, the first half definitely did not go well. My first marathon training cycle was a bit of a disaster. I ended up getting sick with a bad chest cold for the Half Marathon Unplugged and stupidly ran through it. Then I got a stomach bug for my first marathon (Maine Coast). I ended up finishing my first marathon at VCM, but that did not go so well either.

family after VCM 2014

family after VCM 2014

The second half of 2015 went really well, though! I cut nearly 1.5 minutes off my 10k PR in the summer. The fall races I ran at the Downtown 10k and Labor Day 15k were plagued with some pretty horrible weather, but I got some good efforts in. I qualified for Boston at the Baystate Marathon, which is my proudest accomplishment of 2014. I also got a half marathon PR at the Wolf Hollow Half Marathon.

running to my new 10k PR

running to my new 10k PR

Crossing the line at Baystate!

Crossing the line at Baystate!

I ran 2237 miles. That’s about 13.2 straight days I’ve spent running. Sheesh, it sounds weird when I put it that way. I got a marathon PR (well, obviously, since I never ran one before), a half marathon PR, a 10k PR, and a 15k PR (once again, never ran one before). Not too shabby.

The BIGGEST thing for 2014? My immune system finally picked up its game. Hallelujah! I literally have not been sick since May (knock on wood). This probably doesn’t mean much to most people, but this is HUGE for me. All throughout college and high school (maybe earlier but I can’t remember) my sports’ performances have been seriously affected by my weak immune system. It’s not like I would get any really bad sickness, but just constant colds with the occasional stomach bug. Every sports season in high school I would get a cold at least twice, but normally three times during the few months of competition. It was ridiculous. Oftentimes it would fall right around states or another important meet and I would have to suffer through. It’s not like a cold will always stop someone from competing, but the lethargy and difficulty breathing through one’s nose or chest definitely impacts performance in endurance sports. Just look at the first half of 2014 to see how it affected me. A chest cold made for a pretty miserable half marathon and a badly timed stomach bug ruined my first marathon.

I honestly am not sure why my immunity has improved because nothing has seriously changed in my lifestyle. I almost always get enough sleep (~8 hours). My nutrition (although not the best) has not changed much. My allergies have improved slightly so maybe that’s why. Or maybe it’s just luck? Whatever the reason, I’ll take it. Crossing my fingers that my immune system keeps this going in 2015!

I also didn’t have any major injuries. A touch of tendinities in March, and a tweaky groin/hamstring that came and went, but really nothing serious. I’m soooooooooo grateful for that.

All in all, it was a pretty solid year of improvement. I had some really big lows, but I also had some really big highs. I guess that’s running for you. Any sport, really. You are guaranteed to have ups and downs, but it’s just important to learn and get past the bad parts and celebrate and also learn from the good parts.

What’s coming in 2015?

I already told most of you that I’m not planning on running a marathon in 2015. I think I’ll run a couple halves (Unplugged Half Marathon and a relay at VCM) with probably some 10k’s or 5k’s thrown in. After my 10k PR this past summer and decent 5k I ran a few weeks ago I’m interested in seeing what type of damage I can do at those distances. I haven’t nailed down all the races as I’m still waiting for the dates of some of them.

What I’m most excited for, though, is the bike trip my dad and I are planning. I’ll provide some more details soon, but we are planning a big trip from the end of June until the end of August. We are so so excited! My dad has always wanted to do something like this, but has just not gotten around to it. I’m so happy to be coming along for the journey.

my Dad and I on our bike trip last summer

my Dad and I on our bike trip last summer

The aftermath of biking through a rain storm. Our legs were covered in dirt and grease when we got back.

The aftermath of biking through a rain storm. Our legs were covered in dirt and grease when we got back.

However, the bike trip will definitely impact my fall plans. I know that it won’t be possible for me to get quality running training in during this time. When biking 100 miles/day it’s just not feasible for me to also get in a good base. I’m still planning on running some as I don’t want to lose too much running fitness, but it’ll probably just look like ~25 miles/week. I don’t regret this at all, though, because the bike trip is a chance of a lifetime. Who knows the next time my dad and I can coordinate our schedules to do something like this?

I’ll figure out the fall when I get there, but I plan on using it to start getting ready for Boston in 2016. Hopefully I’ll get a spot in the race. If so, I would love to run in the Boston Marathon.

Goals for 2015?

  • PR’s in the half marathon, 10k, and 5k. Those first two I’m confident I can do, but that last distance makes me nervous just because I’ve been away from it for so long. It’d be really nice to get a new 5k PR, though, and would help me gain the confidence that I can still do shorter races.
  • Consistently get in 3-4 20-minute strength workouts each week. Sometimes I get lazy, but I normally get in 2 core/hip workouts each week of about 20 minutes. I know I should do more, but this is probably my least favorite part of running. I know it’s really important for injury prevention and performance, though, and really want to make a change next year.
  • Blog at least once/week. I don’t force myself to write a post when I’m not in the mood. Otherwise it comes out forced and weird. However, if I go too long between posts then it’s hard to make things flow when I get back to it. I think once/week is a good goal.
  • …. Yeah, guess that’s about it for now.

What did your 2014 look like? What’s on your plate for 2015?

Motivational Monday!

Happy Monday, People! The last Monday of 2014! Here are a few things I thought I’d share with you guys because everyone needs some motivation at times.

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Most of you know that I LOVE the November Project. Although I go to school at UVM I love when I can join a workout in Boston on my breaks. It blows my mind how even in the winter there are HUNDREDS of people that show up to workout in the dark at 6:30 in the morning. Recently the cofounders of the November Project gave a Ted Talk on “How to Start a Movement.” They talk about the secret recipe to starting a movement and their own experiences. The November Project started with only one person showing up to their first workout, but now there are hundreds of us at each workout and November Projects in 16 different cities in North America! That’s powerful! If you’d like to get an idea of their enthusiasm and what they bring then check out their Ted Talk.

This is how dark it is at 6:30. We still show up, though!

This is how dark it is at 6:30. We still show up, though!

Group photo from last Friday

Group photo from last Friday. Oh Christmas tree…

Lastly, here’s an adorable video that I saw last week. It went viral a few years ago and I think I remember it vaguely, but I couldn’t help but smile/laugh when I saw it again. It’s a little boy giving a motivational speech after just learning to ride a bike. You can’t get much cuter than this!

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Happy Monday everyone!