SACRAMENTO (01-Dec) -- When you meet Andrew Colley you can't help but notice his long, flowing hair which hangs well below his shoulders. But you'll have to look closer at the ZAP Fitness-Reebok athlete to see the two long scars on the backs of his legs from two surgeries more than a year ago which saved the 27 year-old's running career.
"It's called popliteal artery entrapment syndrome," the soft-spoken Colley told Race Results Weekly here yesterday upon arrival at Sacramento International Airport before Sunday's California International Marathon where he will make his marathon debut. "I've got two, crazy Captain Hook-esque scars behind my leg now. I had zero blood flow below the knee every time I struck the ground. They said they can't believe that you had this as long as you've had it. It's been what's causing me a lot of problems."
According to the Cleveland Clinic, popliteal artery entrapment syndrome is a rare condition which affects young, mostly male athletes. Fewer than three percent of people are born with it, and most who are afflicted never develop symptoms. The muscle and tendons near the knee compress the popliteal artery which feeds blood to the lower leg. Continued compression will eventually cause permanent damage to the artery. The condition is hard to diagnose, but Colley got lucky.
"He is an athlete who has been really riddled with injury through high school and college," said ZAP Fitness-Reebok coach Pete Rea. "Due to the stars being in alignment, a couple of surgeries, he's really healthy this year for the first time in a long, long time."
Colley explained that surgeons repaired one leg in August, 2017, then after a recovery period did the second in October of the same year. He immediately felt a difference in his running.
"I noticed immediately my foot strike on the lower leg," Colley explained. "I've always been a heavy heel-striker, but I just felt way more fluid in my turnover."
But the surgery is invasive, and there are some side effects which should subside over time.
"And then, the kind of quirky effects are now I hit my left side, I can feel the nerves go crazy all over my leg just from how invasive it is," Colley admitted. "It just takes time to get the nerves back. So, I'm dealing with a little bit of that."
Colley is here in Sacramento with four ZAP teammates: Joe Stilin, Matt McClintock, Josh Izewski and Joanna Thompson. The four men are all making their marathon debuts and plan to work together. Colley has his eye on winning the race and taking the USATF Marathon Championships crown. He has never won a national title.
"We're going to go out there and be contained through 20, and then see how hard we can push the last 10-K," Colley said. "I want to win, plain and simple. We're definitely going to work off each other. We all have the same goals and same rhythm for the first 20, so you'll see out there together."
After recovering from his surgeries, Colley's running has taken off. He's raced sparingly this year, and never on the track, but his road racing results have been solid. Last May, he took third at the USATF Half-Marathon Championships in Pittsburgh in 1:02:40 in his debut at the distance. In the final sprint to the line, he only finished three seconds behind winner, Chris Derrick, and two seconds behind runner-up Parker Stinson. That race changed the 3:58 miler's perspective on tackling the marathon.
"The U.S. (half-marathon) Champs was kind of a toss-up; let's see what happens, just kind of sit back and race towards the end," Colley said. "Getting that close to the win was very special, especially with hardships of that past year. I was less than a year out from two surgeries, pretty major on my arteries. Getting that done and being able to get to that stage was great."
In his key build-up race for Sunday's marathon, Colley traveled to Valencia, Spain, for the Medio Maratón Valencia Trinidad Alfonso EDP on October 28. Despite less than smooth travel (there are no direct flights from the USA to Valencia) and not feeling well, he still lowered his personal best to 1:02:24.
"Then in this build-up, running Valencia, it was kind of crazy," Colley recounted. "I got delayed. Travel wasn't great. I got sick, and I was still able to run a PR. So, I was really excited, even though I didn't get my chance to knock one out of the park and put myself a little more in it. It was a good race leading into this race at CIM."
Colley admits he is an unlikely marathoner. His main focus after college had been the 5000m, but he was only able to get his personal best down to 13:40.19, and he's never broken 29:00 for 10,000m. But he always liked the long stuff during training, and not looks ahead to a different future.
"I never thought about it," said Colley of the marathon when he was focused on the track. "I thought, I know that the marathon and the mile are two completely different worlds. But, I always enjoyed doing those longer tempo runs. I really enjoy the long run. So, I guess in that sense it kind of makes sense."