An elite runner can face a lot of surprises during training. But 1,500-meter specialist Sarah Brown got the shock of her life when, after some lagging weeks of training with no apparent cause, she discovered she was pregnant—despite using an intrauterine device (IUD) as birth control. (IUDs are typically 99 percent effective.) Due March 22, Brown, who lives in Solana Beach, California, with her coach and husband Darren Brown, is taking it all in stride by keeping on track to make her goal of competing at the 2016 Olympic trials next July. “If the odds can be so stacked against me getting pregnant and yet I still manage to find a way,” she recently wrote on her blog, “then who’s to say that I can’t beat the odds again?” We got her to weigh in on the joys of cross-training, adaptability and starting new chapters.
Q: Before you got pregnant, what did a typical training week look like?
A: My typical mileage pre-pregnancy was 70 to 80 miles during base-training phases and 60 to 70 miles during racing season. I would do some sort of quality workout on Tuesdays and Fridays, with a mid-long run on Wednesdays and a long run on Saturdays. The other days would normally be easy runs or cross-trains. I would also double four days a week, but never with a second run unless travel made it unavoidable. Instead, I do all my doubles on an ElliptiGO elliptical bike. I have been prone to injury in the past so we incorporated cross-training the past three years as a way to limit the pounding on my body. We’ve also ended up adding overall volume, since my typical shakeout run three years ago was about 20 minutes and my typical ElliptiGO session now is 45 minutes to an hour. It’s played a huge factor in my overall strength.
Q: Describe your typical workout routine since you got pregnant.
A: I think describing a typical workout routine during pregnancy is tough because part of the process is being able to adapt as necessary when new challenges and situations arise. I still keep the basic routine of workouts on Tuesdays and Fridays; however, sometimes those are running workouts and sometimes those are ElliptiGO workouts, which I now use on a stationary trainer for safety reasons. I also use a heart rate monitor to keep track of the intensity for each session. Not only does it allow me to quantify my effort, but it also helps me to stay within the intensity boundaries that my husband and I have set for my workouts. As an athlete, you are always tempted to push just a little harder, but that’s something we want to avoid during the pregnancy.
Q: So you’ve had to switch things up a bit.
A: So far I’d say the biggest change has been an increase in the amount and variety of cross-training. I also swim two to three times a week for 1,600 meters to 2,000 meters, depending on the day. Since swimming does not provide quite as many run-specific training benefits as my ElliptiGO, I use these sessions primarily as active recovery and mental release. The increased blood flow and therapeutic properties of the water really help me feel fit, relaxed and happy!
Q: That’s the best! How have you felt physically?
A: I was very fortunate in that I did not experience morning sickness during my first trimester. I have experienced some pelvic girdle pain due to the hormonal changes. I added some new exercises specifically aimed at treating the pain and immediately reduced my running mileage and will continue to do so as needed until the pain subsides. Again, it all comes back to being adaptable when training during pregnancy. I simply have to listen to my body and communicate how I am feeling to Darren so we can make the appropriate adjustments. We know that there is more than one path to our desired outcome and we are not afraid to take the one less traveled in order to ensure a healthy pregnancy for both the baby and myself. If I can come out of this healthy, then that’s when the work will really begin!
Q: I think we know the answer to this question, but what has surprised you the most about training while pregnant?
A: The most surprising thing came early on when I didn’t realize I was pregnant! I was not able to push through fatigue at the end of workouts and races. It was the only real symptom I had, but it is the reason I ended up at the doctor to have blood work done. I thought for sure I had low iron or some type of physiological issue. I dealt with that fatigue for most of the first trimester, but now my energy level has definitely begun to increase again.
Q: Describe your pregnancy fitness philosophy in three words.
A: Be adaptable, stay positive and enjoy the process.
Q: You have your eye on the 2016 Olympics. What do you need to do now to stay on track?
A: My number one priority is to have a healthy pregnancy. I definitely have my eye on the 2016 Olympic trials, but I won’t let that cloud my vision of what my body is telling me. It is important to take it day by day and make the changes as necessary. It starts with having a healthy mindset toward training and knowing when to push and when to back off. Instead of freaking out that I’m not doing what I usually do, I need to take a step back and re-think the situation. There’s usually a different way to achieve the task at hand and still reach the same end goal. For example, core work is a huge part of my training regimen, but certain exercises that I am used to doing will be off-limits once I reach certain points in the pregnancy. I could get discouraged and give up trying, or I could realize that those are not the only exercises that strengthen the core and simply find an alternative one that suits this particular situation.
Q: The running world has had several pregnancies of late. What have you learned from those new moms?
A: I think the biggest message is that it can be done! It’s possible to have a family and also pursue athletic endeavors. It’s great to use these women for advice. I realize that everyone is different, but it’s definitely awesome to get support from women who have walked the path before me. Being prepared for what may happen will definitely help me to adjust when certain issues come up. Likewise, our blog at BTeamRunning.com is dedicated to openly sharing our pregnancy journey. While everyone is different, I know that there will be someone out there who may have to make some of the same adjustments that I have made. If I can make that transition easier for them or give them insight into my approach, then that’s my hope.
Q: What advice would you give pregnant women when it comes to continuing and enjoying their workouts?
A: I have a hard time admitting that I can’t do something. I think in order to keep enjoying what you are doing, you need to be honest with yourself and adapt as necessary. I am used to running lots of mileage, but being pregnant has allowed me to explore various other fitness activities. When you can’t do one thing, find another that you can do. You might even find a new training technique, passion or hobby.
Q: What have you personally learned during this experience so far that you’ll carry with you through the birth of your baby and into your new mom role?
A: I think the biggest thing I have learned through this experience is that there is so much more to life than my running career. Don’t get me wrong, I love running and competing. But this experience has allowed me to slow down and really look at life and all that it has to offer. My husband, who also happens to be my coach and is used to wearing multiple hats, has been incredible throughout all of this—in all of his roles. Even more so, it has reminded me that God has plans for my life and they are good plans. I am excited for this next chapter.
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