Cait Chock has been providing thoughtful, well written features for RunBlogRun for some time, this piece is on Sarah Brown and her journey of running through pregnancy, having a healthy baby and building towards her athletic dreams!
Chasing Dreams: Sarah Brown's pregnant push for the Olympics
By: Cait Chock
The past decade our sport has evolved in ways well beyond the times and performances. How runners and, the mass public, views our sport has shifted. Running has experienced its boom, (running this time not jogging ;) ) and along with greater numbers has grown a better understanding. Running culture has changed and key elite females have leveraged their notoriety to impact how women are portrayed in our National and Global cultures.
Strength is the new beautiful, being able to beat the boys is sexy, and anyone who views pregnancy as a weakness be damned. Paula Radcliffe wasn't the first, but she acted as a major catalyst for the movement when she openly shared she planned to be running with baby on board and would return right back to 'regularly scheduled programming' nine months later. This World Record Holder balked at the critics and wasn't scared that having a baby would do anything but enhance her life.
The proceeding years has seen other elite females take their pregnancies in stride, supporting all other mothers-to-be who wanted to maintain their activity, running included, throughout their pregnancy. Such women have worked hard to slowly admonish the stigma that a pregnant woman should be draped in bubble wrap and slapped with a huge 'Handle With Care' sign for nine months. It should be noted these runners aren't proposing that running or training shouldn't be adapted, more that everyone's pregnancy should be their own and with the message that it can be individualized to include running under a doctor's care.
Alysia Montana left jaws gaping as the then 8 ½ months pregnant American Record Holder blitzed two laps around the track of the 2014 USATF Outdoor Track Championships. She and baby clocked a 2:32...leaving one to debate whether little Linnea Montana holds title to the World Record for fastest fetus. ;)
And now, enter Sarah Brown. When Brown found out she was pregnant she was coming off the best year of her career and actually questioned how a pregnancy could be possible. You see, Brown fell into the less than 1% of women who become pregnant using an intra-uterine device for birth control.
What this runner never questioned for a moment was whether the pregnancy would stop her from toeing the line of the 2016 USA Olympic Trials in July, despite an anticipated birth date a scant four months before that.
Brown still had sights for Rio. Where mothers-to-be had previously shared that they kept running during their pregnancy, Brown is unique in that she and husband/coach Darren were going to tackle this with more structure to maintain as much fitness as possible. The plan was to enable Sarah to bounce back in time for the Trials. A decision, that pushed the couple into the spotlight, making Sarah Brown the latest woman to redefine what it means to be a pregnant athlete in our society.
"I never meant to become a role model or spokesperson," admits Sarah, "I just decided from the beginning to be open and honest about my journey. It's not a story that's been told much." She also took to blogging about what would lie on the road ahead of her on the couples' website http://bteamrunning.com/ and sharing updates on her social media channels. "I also knew that blogging about the journey would be a sort of outlet for me."
As her pregnancy progressed so did the media storm. ESPNWOMEN approached the couple for a docu-series, 'Run Mama Run', "It was actually the second outlet that approached us. We turned the first opportunity down because Darren and I didn't feel like it fit our story and aligned with our goals. When Danielle, the producer of our ESPNWOMEN document series approached us, we felt very comfortable." Impressed both by Danielle's previous work and her approach, the couple signed on and are currently still in filming and production. The series will premier in April and run through August.
While Sarah took to blogging, coach Darren set to reading. Talking with doctors, experts, and pouring over articles, Darren schooled himself on the most effective and safe way to approach these next months of training. Paramount above all else was communication. "Darren has done a great job of getting me to communicate with him and adjusting workouts as necessary," explains Sarah. "We got on a solid schedule of running four days a week. We made those days count by getting 10-12 miles."
Making the mileage count, Sarah's running days would be intervals on the track or hills and her long runs. Supplementing the running, Sarah spent ample time in the pool or on the EllipGO trainer. A brand that had, in fact, been a sponsor of hers before the pregnancy and a company Darren works for. The closer Sarah got to her delivery date the more she relied on the ElliptiGO and even turned some of those sessions into her quality workouts. To keep her core strong, Sarah did pelvic floor exercises four to five days a week and a modified lifting routine twice weekly.
And then, March 4th, 2016 baby Abigail was born. "Two days before Abigail's arrival, Darren and I were actually filming for an Inside Edition segment. I wasn't feeling well that day and ended up with a fever by early evening." The fever got the couple immediately on the phone to Sarah's doctor and scheduled an appointment first thing the next morning. The doctor then sent Sarah to the hospital where it was discovered her water had been leaking. "Since my water had broken, the protocol was to deliver my baby. It was especially urgent due to the fact that I had some type of infection and we weren't sure how long my water had been leaking," explains Sarah. "It risks an infection getting into your uterus and harming your baby. I ended up being induced and Abigail arrived about 12 hours later."
Amidst a hectic couple of days, the moment Abigail entered the world everything changed. "I didn't hold any expectations on what it would feel like to become a mom," admits Sarah, "but I must say the bond was instant. From the time she was laid on my chest, I could have stayed in that moment forever! I'm feeling such a sense of peace and calm while holding her, like nothing else really matters. It's an amazing experience that I never could have anticipated."
Basking in the new glow of motherhood, it didn't take Sarah too long to get itching to get back to training. A mere two days later and the runner was counting down the days until Coach Darren would give her the go-ahead. "We really wanted to see how I felt and recovered after delivery. Both Darren and I have been super surprised at how good I've been feeling." Sarah credits some of that to all of the pelvic and core exercises she maintained throughout her pregnancy. After consulting with her doctor, Sarah gradually re-introduced those exercises along with the ElliptiGO one week after Abigail's arrival. She laced up her shoes for a run two weeks postpartum.
As for how these past months have shaped her outlook on running, "I think this whole journey has definitely helped with my mental strength. When you can run with a huge belly and a baby kicking your ribs and bladder, you definitely get practice at blocking out the small annoyances!"
With prep for the US Olympic Trials underway, both Sarah and Darren have eyes on Rio...a fixed gaze that never wavered even from the moment Sarah heard the news their family would be growing. "The message I really want to send is that enjoying your pregnancy means something different for everyone but if running is something you enjoy then I think you should continue it."
Last year Sarah set PR's both in the 800-meter and 1500-meter events, "At my age, constant improvement justifies all the work I've put in. I think it's proven my longevity in the sport."
Cementing that, while more PR's are certainly in store for Sarah, no matter what, she has already left an impact on the sport. What's more, she's crushed another glass ceiling for which little girls and woman may look beyond and higher towards their goals.
Caitlin Chock (caitchock.com) set the then National High School 5k Record (15:52.88) in 2004 and previously ran for Nike. A freelance writer and artist, you can see more of her work on her website and Instagram @caitchock.