As mentioned in my previous post, I have been working through some leg ‘issues’ since mid-December. I say issues because I am clearly not injured, but definitely not able to train at full capacity. “Defective” is the term I used most recently that seems more appropriate. Key features of said issues have included right leg weakness, numbness and tingling in my calf and toes, and quad-glute pain/cramping. This occurs only during exercise (running predominantly, but also cycling) and more particularly at higher intensities and/or when going uphill.
Fast forward 6 weeks: today I am making my third trip to the vascular surgery department at Wake Forest. Why? Because in early March, I was strongly urged to have my arteries checked for a blood flow issue, specifically to rule out iliac artery endofibrosis (a narrowing in the iliac artery due to whatever reason). That was definitely a major lightbulb moment where all of a sudden my symptoms actually made sense.
My first visit was March 14th for an initial consult and iliac artery “duplex” (ultrasound) where the surgeon identified two areas of concern, but it was ‘unclear.’ A week later I returned for a follow-up CT scan with dye (yuck), the results of which were also ‘unclear.’ Again, a specific area of concern was noted nothing conclusive enough to move forward. I would need to return for further, more invasive testing.
Up until early March, we believed those issues were muscular and potentially related to some imbalances/weaknesses that perhaps resulted from the downtime with my collarbone. Perhaps dead-butt syndrome and sciatica, which I’ve had in the past. But after 2.5 months of PT and strength-specific work I was not seeing any progress and my frustrations were growing, so in early March I started seeking alternative opinions.
Today I report to the actual surgery center for an intravascular ultrasound and arteriogram. I was told I get to watch as the surgeon pokes around in my iliac artery with a scope that includes a microscopic camera, which sounds both terrifying and really cool. Lord knows I will need some chocolate to cope and refuel after having to ‘fast’ until after my procedure 😊 Don’t worry, there’s a Whole Foods near by with plenty of selection in that regard!
To say this has been a difficult process is an understatement. Many tears having fallen out of frustration and feelings of defeat, because this is not something I can “beat” or out tough. Lacking answers or a specific plan of action has contributed to said frustrations. The goal has been to maintain fitness while keeping pain at a minimum. The good news is I CAN still train and I’m thankful for the plans prescribed by coach Jim that have kept me moving (many days when I would rather not). My symptoms seem to intensify at higher heart rates so I have been trying to listen to my body and adjust effort accordingly. Swimming has been unaffected and is going extremely well. On the bike I can sustain upper aerobic and maybe short chunks of tempo wiith modest discomfort. Rolling hills are ok but have been avoiding major hills and climbing as I simply cannot generate or sustain the power necessary to get up them. Otherwise I can happily spin all day without issue. Running has taken the hardest hit, because it’s simply not fun to have your leg go numb every time you run and the weakness is a lot more pronounced. I dread most runs, and yet I still get out the door to do them anyway (well, most days).
My season is currently a ?? with my first race of the season being in 2 weeks - the Rumpas in Bumpas Olympic Tri. Chattanooga 70.3 is also an unknown and the subject of discussion with my coach later this week... after hopefully receiving more answers from today’s procedures. There are a lot of unknowns but this I know is true: God is good and is equipping me with the strength and resources to work through the challenges. I have a wonderfully amazing support system which I am incredibly thankful for. For now, I will dwell on that thought and let the rest just be.
Kristen Chang is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) and triathlete residing in southwest Virginia with her husband and dogs. Follow along as she shares favorite fueling recipes, general wellness and sport nutrition tips and stories from her athletic endeavors.
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