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How Sarah Brown ran at Olympic Trials, four months after giving birth

How Sarah Brown maintained her fitness throughout her pregnancy and after giving birth in order to compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials for the 1,500 meter.

When Sarah Brown stepped to the starting line of Thursday’s women’s 1,500 meter preliminary round at the U.S. Olympic Trials, she believed that she was already a winner. She finished 25th of 27 women in the first round, where she was just one of three women eliminated.

As she looked into the sea of 21,000 fans at Hayward Field, she spotted her family and daughter, Abigail.

“The best moment of this was going out there and seeing her,” Brown said.

Brown announced that she was pregnant in a blog post in September 2015. She noted that the pregnancy was not planned as she had been using an intrauterine device for birth control but was still very excited to welcome a baby into her family and attempt to make the U.S. Olympic team less than 15 weeks after her expected delivery date. She has the IUD removed and went about with a normal pregnancy. 

Less than four months ago, Brown gave birth to her daughter. She took a week off before starting to train for six weeks postpartum before feeling pain in the middle of her back. When she bent over to pick up her daughter, her back would sometimes spasm.

“As a runner, I thought ‘Oh maybe this will just go away.‘” Brown said. “It didn’t.”

She underwent multiple scans and MRIs to determine what may have been the issue. One of them came back showing a high grade stress fracture. She had compression fractures in her thoracic spine and one in her sacral ala.

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The doctor said that if she was feeling good, she could start working every third day. She did as much as she could and consulted every workout with her husband and coach, Darren.

“I wouldn’t have gotten to this point if it wasn’t for him,” Brown said. “It’s a team effort and he’s been supporting me through this. We have our daughter at the forefront of it all and she’s ultimately the reason I really wanted to follow through with this goal.”

Here is how Brown trained to get to the starting line:

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How often and how well were you running? I’m running every third day and doing a workout. I took it one day at a time to see where I was at. I was able to run an 800 in 2:06 and come back with some quick 400s. Things like that made me think I was ready for this but when you have to piece it all together and you just haven’t yet, it gets tricky.

How did you crosstrain? It mainly consisted of work on the Elliptigo [a cross between an elliptical and a bicycle] and swimming, which was a mix of swimming and aqua-jogging.

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How often? I was on the Elliptigo for about 90 minutes a day or sometimes even two hours. When I was able to do running, I kept it closer to 90 minutes. The days I was running, I just needed to cut back on warm-up and cool-down.

How much mileage per week? I was at about 20 miles per week.

Did you mix any sort of long run? There weren’t—just very long Elliptigo rides.

How much weight training did you do? When we found out about the fractures, we cut out weight lifting and I went back to body weight exercises.

How did it feel to put spikes on and how much of an effect does that have? I was definitely super sore in my legs. I’ve always worked really hard on rehabbing because I’ve had Achilles issues but with all my issues going on I haven’t been able to do a whole lot. Recently, I’ve had a big flare-up there as well. It’s just trying to keep up with all of those things.

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How did your diet change? During pregnancy, I was probably hungrier a lot more. I know that you don’t have to consume that many more calories but with exercise and a baby, I did find myself having a nightly snack of a bowl of cereal.

How different are things still? I still haven’t run consecutive days in a row. This week was the most that I’ve been able to pull it together just because I needed to get ready. From here on out, it’s about slowly adding more days and getting my training back to normal.

Are you shutting it down for the rest of the outdoor season now? As long as my body stays healthy, I want to progress and do some more races. I’ve focused so much on this child and when she was coming that I didn’t have a whole lot of time to plan exactly what I want to do. I’m even up for the road 5K championships in the fall. At this point, I want to do anything.