How Runner Sarah Brown Is Getting Ready for the Olympic Trials – While She's Pregnant

Sarah Brown is training for the Olympic trials – which begin three months after her due date

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Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty

2015 was supposed to be Sarah Brown’s year.

The runner, who is gearing up to compete for a spot in the 2016 Olympics, was on a roll for the better part of 2015, her husband and coach, Darren Brown, tells PEOPLE. She was crushing it on her regular races and hitting personal records in the 800 meters and the 1500, her two races. For the first time, she was a favorite to make the U.S.’s world championship team.

But instead of getting her kick in the last 200 meters like she always does, Sarah was faltering, and, on top of that, it was at two of the biggest races of her season. Sarah’s lack of energy and longer-than-usual times were seemingly inexplicable – until she discovered she was pregnant. And due just three months before the Olympic trials.

The signs of a potential pregnancy really began when they arrived at the U.S.A. Track & Field Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Oregon this past June (Sarah’s chance to make the world championship team). But the couple didn’t recognize them for what they were.

Come race time, Sarah was lagging. She says her legs felt like sand and she was unable to find the speed in her last 200 meters that normally pushed her to cross the finish line in the top three.

“That kick had always been there this year just wasn’t,” says Darren. “It was a bit baffling to me.”

Not making the world championship team was an undeniable setback, but Sarah and Darren (also known as BTeam Running) were hopeful. They got back to the grind at home, trying new workouts, but still, much to their frustration, something was off.

“You’re so in tune to your body, and my body was at its peak fitness,” Sarah told PEOPLE. “I had been running the best times I had ever run [and then] I couldn’t get through one interval of a workout.”

Her struggling performance was such a big question mark that Sarah thought she could be pregnant, even though she had an IUD. But when she first took a home test, it was negative. So it was on to the next race.

But it all came to a head at a race in the Diamond Race in Monaco, a challenge even more competitive than the world championships, Darren says. Runners were looking to break national and world records. And for Sarah, it was a chance to salvage her season.

“I was looking to surprise myself,” Sarah said. “I thought, ‘You’ve put in the training, you’ve done everything, you should be able to do it.’ ”

But on the line – before she even began running – Sarah saw stars. She was dizzy. And at the halfway point, where she normally picks up a second wind, it felt like there was no blood pumping through her legs. She struggled throughout the race, eventually coming in last.

“It was all these weird symptoms, that now looking back, are totally explained,” she says. “But during that race, they weren’t.”

After a few more lackluster races in Europe, Sarah and Darren agreed that they couldn’t ignore this funk any longer, and Sarah flew to her hometown in northern Virginia to see a doctor, where they did the routine blood work and urine testing.

That night, she got a call from the doctor. It was too soon for the blood work to have come back, so she knew almost instantaneously what this call was about: Her earlier suspicions were, in fact, correct. She was expecting.

“It was such a flood of questions,” Sarah said. The first of which concerned her baby’s safety – an IUD can lead to complications in a pregnancy. After telling Darren the news, they immediately worked with their doctor to figure out the next step in increasing their chances for the safest pregnancy possible, which meant not running again until the IUD had been removed.

Once safety concerns were settled, the next thing to think about was Sarah’s running. From the moment they heard the news, there was never a question of whether or not she would continue on the path to the Olympics.

“It never really came up as a suggestion for him to say, ‘Do you want to just sit this year out?'” Sarah said. “He didn’t even go there, because he knows I don’t want to [stop].”

Darren wasn’t the only one who offered Sarah support. She runs for New Balance, a sponsor that totally supports situation, she says: “They thought of me as a person, and not just their athlete.”

And with any negativity, both Sarah and Darren have long learned to shrug things off.

“You’re going to get people who say rude things, and then you’re going to get your friends who are reaching out and supporting you,” she says. “You just have to focus on the positive people. That’s the case with anything in life.”

Of course, her training regimen has shifted since learning of her pregnancy, incorporating more cross-training, jump rope, fast footwork and swimming.

“As we went into the pregnancy, our biggest approach was that we don’t know what each day is going to bring, but we know we don’t have just one path to accomplishing our goal.”

They’re aware that if and when a rough day comes, it’s okay to stick to a lower-intensity workout. What matters, Darren said, is incorporating enough straight running into Sarah’s routine to keep her “mileage and mechanics” in top shape. The core structure of her workouts are the same, but what she is changing is the details – it’s no longer just about miles-long runs.

Is It Safe for Her to Keep Training?

The couple are also trying their best not to listen to the opinions of others – especially since Sarah’s super-fit state makes her different from the average pregnant woman.

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“What we’ve been hearing from everybody is that her body will be stressed if it’s not doing what it’s used to,” Darren says. “So keep what it’s used to.”

Sarah’s doctor agrees. She says she was told never to get too overheated, or exert herself to the point where she can’t speak. But because she was already training at such a high intensity when she got pregnant, her doctor told her it was fine to continue with a similarly high level of activity.

But the knowledge of the pregnancy has allowed a peace of mind that was missing during those summer races.

“Racing is something that I love to do,” she says. “And it began to turn into something I was dreading. When that starts happening, you know something is off.”

With Sarah’s pregnancy now just past the 20-week mark, the couple are taking each day as it comes. And for Sarah, since her husband and her coach are one in the same, she’s got a constant support system in place, whether she’s at home or in training.

“These are not two things that you’d normally go after at the same time,” Sarah says. “To do both is a big feat. I don’t even know if I’d be going after this if it wasn’t for having that kind of support system in place.”

“I have such a greater position of insight into her as an athlete than most coaches do,” Darren says. “I see when she’s home asleep on the couch because she’s overly tired. I see when she’s having a hard time getting up in the morning. There are a lot of benefits that come out of our dynamic.”

Though unexpected, the two are embracing their growing family – especially since they learned they’re expecting a girl.

“I never knew how much I wanted a little girl until they said the [sex],” Darren says. “And I immediately knew why I wanted it. I think about this little girl coming into the world, and I think about the opportunity to bring another woman who is as strong, tenacious, athletic, competitive and caring as my wife into this world, that makes me incredibly excited. I hope that she takes after my wife.”

PEOPLE looks forward to following Sarah as she heads toward motherhood and, potentially, the Olympic Games in Rio. Check back for more from the family in the coming months.

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