Sarah Brown: A Different Kind of Fairytale

image2015 promised to be a dream year for Sarah Brown. She ran personal bests and her blazing times seemed to make her a shoe-in for a spot on the World Championship 1500 meter team. But at the 2015 USATF Track & Field Outdoor Championship meet, something wasn’t right; she faltered during the last 200 meters of the race.

Reacting to her disappointment, she and her coach, husband Darren Brown, dug in deeper and Sarah focused on the upcoming European track season. As she always seems to, Sarah shook-off the bad race as she crossed the ocean, but the dizziness and fatigue that plagued her at USAs came crashing down on her once again. She knew something was wrong. What she was shocked to learn was that she was among the 1% of IUD-using women to become pregnant. Her due date? Three months before the 2016 Olympic Track Trials.

Sarah and Darren were undeterred and remained committed to keeping her as fit as possible in the lead up to the Trials, as was documented in the ESPNW mini-documentary, Run Mama Run. I had the privilege of speaking to the couple, also known as BTeamRunning and to learn more about their story and hear some kernels of wisdom they gathered along their journey.

Sarah Brown: In A Nutshell

Professional Track & Field Athlete, 800m/1500m

Sarah Brown, originally from Warrenton, Virginia, is a professional track & field athlete for Team New Balance, who has competed on two World-Championship teams. Prior to that she won several national championships in high school and college. She is married to former pro-runner Darren Brown who is also her coach. Together, they are new parents to baby Abigail Ann Brown. Sarah is  currently preparing for the 2017 World Championships in London.

Training During Pregnancy

Salty Running: When you found out you were pregnant, did you decide right away that you wanted to continue training through it as a Rio hopeful in the 1500 meters? Or did you have second thoughts? What did you feel emotionally and how did you get through those first couple of months?

Sarah: I found out I was pregnant because I was racing so poorly. I went from a 4:03 1500 meter to a 4:09 despite being in peak shape. Emotionally, it got entirely draining and I didn’t know why I was doing so poorly out of nowhere and had PR’d in the 800 and 1500. When pregnancy was confirmed, it was actually a sense of relief! An answer.

We had to get through the first two weeks of anxiety that comes along with having an IUD still in place while pregnant, as this could be a major danger to the baby with increased risk of an ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, and placental abruption. Once we got through that I did my homework and realized how pregnancy and running/intense training recommendations had changed so much. There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to train even if my due date was on the day of the Olympic Trials and there was no way I was going to compete in them. I wanted to continue training. It’s what I do.

[pullquote]”I’ve always been a runner. I’m a better person when I run and I handle life better when I run. Through the pregnancy, there were moments where we had to readjust, but it was just about making progress each day. Whatever I could do, I would do.”[/pullquote]

SR: What was it like coaching and pushing Sarah to be in peak condition for the Trials while also trying to ensure the greatest safety and health for your wife and the baby?

Darren: The benefit was that I have been Sarah’s coach since 2012 and we went through that learning curve or understanding when she needed me to wear my husband hat versus when she needed me to wear my coaching hat. Having gone through this already, this really helped throughout the pregnancy and training. Sarah and I had the same intention the entire time: we weren’t going to do anything extreme. We were going to do everything we could for a healthy baby and for a shot at the Olympics; we didn’t know how it was all going to end. We talked to professionals (in OBGYN, fitness/endurance) and realized so many misperceptions. These misperceptions weren’t going to stop us. But, if we ever came to a point where we questioned if it was right or not, we didn’t do it. We became accepting of the day-by-day philosophy, incorporated flexibility and adapted where we needed to (i.e., if the roads were covered in ice, we weren’t going to have Sarah pound the pavement). We’d even go as far as timing our trips to the gym to ensure it was the least busiest time of the day so that we could have every, single fan pointing on Sarah and keeping her cool!

Running four days a week and cross-training helped Sarah prepare for the Olympic Trials.

SR: Can you take us through the journey of training toward the Olympic Trials? What did a typical week look like during training? What were your highest mileage weeks? Was your doctor on board and did you feel well supported? 

Sarah: Honestly, my training went backwards; once we found out, I took a down period and added in some swimming. I kept up with fall base training by doing consistent runs and mixed in some tempo efforts. When I was around 20 weeks pregnant, I started having hip pain related to the pregnancy hormone relaxin. This resulted in back spasms and I could only cross train from 20-24 weeks. By 27 weeks, I went back out and gave it a shot. I didn’t have any intention, but I felt so good that I ended up doing mile repeats in the mid to low fives: 5:50, 5:40, 5:30. I maintained higher intensity and speed up until 37 ½ weeks. I’d typically do four days of running: two work-outs, a long run, and a medium long run, averaging about 40-45 miles per week.

[pullquote]”I’d make the running days count and then supplement with cross training. It worked really well for me.”[/pullquote]

Post-Partum Training

After Abigail’s birth, Sarah took a week off and let her body reset and adjust, “as much as that’s possible with a newborn,” she said with a chuckle. She then did the Elliptigo for a week and at two weeks postpartum she attempted her first run. Sarah consulted with her  doctor and worked really closely with him as she eased back into training; conventional wisdom dictates women take six-weeks of rest after birth, but Sarah’s medical team understood her unique circumstances and trusted that she knew her body and how she was feeling. The doctors had a mutual respect for her and came up with an appropriate plan based on her background and health needs.

The Trials

SR: How did your experience at the Trials pan out compared to your vision of how it might have been six months ago? 

Sarah: Well, I wasn’t allowing myself a ton of expectations; our mantra the entire time was “healthy baby, healthy mom” no matter what we needed to do to make that our top priority. We had no major expectations. At about six-weeks postpartum, when everything was falling into place, we did start to envision that fairytale ending.

Unfortunately, at these turning points of fitness, I began getting back spasms. It trickled into a series of bad luck with impending injury and those dreams began turning into thoughts of well, I’m probably not going to the Trials. There were many moments of feeling like I wasn’t even going to toe the line at the Trials. With the impending injuries (check out The Brown’s ‘Run Mama Run’ series done by ESPN if you want a more in-depth view of what Sarah had to endure), I really didn’t start doing workouts again until about three weeks before the Trials. I had to make the most of the days.

During the race itself, with about 400 meters to go, my Achilles kind of gave out on me. I had bad Achilles tendon issues a few years back and probably neglected the attention it needed. I gave all I had, and I knew my body just wasn’t going to give it to me.

It was disappointing, yes, but it was also a victory, just getting out there and persevering through everything. That was a testament to the journey. You just have to pick yourself up and keep going. That’s how running can be. Everyone can experience this, no matter what your level, but having your family becomes so important through the disappointing times. If you solely rely on running success for your happiness, you’re not going to be a very happy person. In the end, it’s all about family. My family allows me to go out there and take those running moments, make myself vulnerable and give all I’ve got to give.

Under the supervision of her doctors and coach Darren, Sarah continued to train successfully throughout her pregnancy and gave birth to a healthy baby girl at the beginning of March.
Sarah gave birth to a healthy baby girl at the beginning of March.

SR: What made you most proud of Sarah throughout her build-up to the Trials? 

Darren: Two things: Sarah’s perspective and resilience throughout all of it. Sarah is either “all in” or “all out.” She is a very results driven person. But when we found out she was pregnant, we knew it couldn’t be about winning. This was asking for a huge change in her usual mindset, but she did it with flexibility, resilience and grace. She was at it for nine months plus, had a little setback for four weeks during pregnancy and ran 10 miles the day before she went into labor. But then the training all came crashing down, and it was out of our control. We couldn’t have prevented the osteoporosis or hip fractures, and for her Achilles to flare up like that at the Trials … it just wasn’t fair. But, she’s pressing on.

Motherhood

SR: How’s Abigail? Do you run with her? How has adjustment been to parenting and how have you been able to balance the selfless role parenting to the seemingly selfish role of being an elite athlete? 

Sarah: Well, Darren and I did move back to my hometown and we have a great deal of support with our friends and family to help with Abigail and we’ve invested in treadmills! Abigail likes to be up for a bit in the morning and we have a routine of her first nap then being in the Pack n’ Play next to the treadmill or Elliptigo as we get in our work-outs. I think she finds the Elliptigo sounds soothing since she heard it so often while she was in my belly. She’s not old enough yet, but I’m looking forward to having her be my running buddy in the running stroller; it’ll bring it full circle!

SR: What advice do you have for other moms out there who want to continue running at a high caliber? What kept you going? Were there days you wanted to give up or your body just wanted to say no? 

Sarah: For me, it’s that undeniable feeling after a run that keeps me going. As hard as it is to take those first steps, nothing beats the feeling after completing a hard run. It’s just a feeling of ‘pure happy’. Running makes me feel like a better person; it makes me proud of what I can do. And that feeling lasts the whole day. Right now, I’m trying to find that balance. Now that I’m a mom, I’m always going to put my daughter’s needs first, but I think I’m a better mom to her when I have those outlets that make me happy as an individual. I’m more well-rounded and can be more ‘in the moment’ with Abigail when I’m able to accomplish my individual goals, too. I’m  a firm believer in doing things that you enjoy for yourself because you become a better person for those around you too. As for Abigail,  I just hopes she finds something that she’s just as passionate about as I am with running – no matter what that is.

SR: And last, but not least, the question our readers are itching to ask: What’s up next for Sarah? 

Darren: The Trials weren’t the end all, be all. Right now, Sarah’s getting back to where she needs to be. She’s going to work hard and make things count. That’s not a question, not a doubt. There’s a chance of doing some races before the end of the year, possibly on the road in Europe or Aussie, but anything we do, we aren’t going to compromise the 2017 World Championships in London.

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We’ll be rooting for you, Sarah!

Did you watch the “Run Mama Run” web series or read about Sarah’s journey leading up to the Trials? What would you like to ask her or her coach/husband, Darren, if you had the chance? 

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For a more comprehensive information about running during pregnancy, check out Salty’s What to Expect from Running When You’re Expecting Series:

What to Expect from Running When You’re Expecting: First Trimester

What to Expect from Running When You’re Expecting: Second Trimester

What to Expect from Running When You’re Expecting: Third Trimester

If you’re thinking about racing or doing harder workouts while pregnant, check out our Racing While Pregnant post.

You might also be interested in On Your Mark, Get Set, Gain! Pregnancy Weight Gain in Runners.

I'm a new momma, full-time non-profiter, and coffee lover. I write about healthy body image, half marathon training, and recovery from eating disorders. I'm currently training to maintain fitness throughout the winter and break 1:27:00 in my next half marathon.

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3 comments

  1. Great piece! I’ve been interested in watching the ESPN show but don’t think I can access it in Canada.

    People in general get worked up about pro women training during pregnancy, but the fact is – this is her job. I certainly didn’t stop working while I was pregnant to the best of my ability!