Less than five months separate Sarah Brown from her lifelong dream of running in the Olympics.
And just one month separates her from the birth of her first child.
When we last checked in with Sarah, she was in the middle of her second trimester and she and her husband/coach Darren Brown had just found out they were expecting a girl.
But the birth of their first child in March isn’t the only big event the two will be tackling this year: In July, just three months after her due date, Sarah will compete at the Olympic trials for a spot on the United States track team that will be heading down to Rio de Janeiro in August.
Now in her third trimester, Sarah is gearing up for the birth of her baby – and how she’ll get Olympic-ready afterwards.
Sarah and her husband and coach, Darren, have had their daughter’s health in mind as the mom-to-be continues her training. Darren tells PEOPLE that his wife’s original OB-GYN fully admitted that she didn’t know how to approach this sort of elite athlete pregnancy. But a nurse practitioner in her office, who was a recreational runner herself and had recently trained through her own pregnancy, talked them through the complications that could arise.
“We felt really supported,” Darren said.
Sarah has since found new doctor who has been similarly encouraging.
“When we told him what our ambitions are, and how we wanted to keep training throughout the pregnancy, he said, ‘Well, why wouldn’t you?’ ” Darren said.
Their doctor told them there’s a misconception about what is safe and what isn’t during pregnancy. Really, he said, it’s all about the woman in question.
“A normal level of exercise for Sarah is insane for the general population,” Darren said. “But to you, he told us, it’ll be incredibly reduced.”
“That’s the big thing, knowing your body’s typical level of stress and what it can handle, and just not varying from that too much.”
Keeping the doctor’s words in mind, they’ve had no significant issues so far. What’s important is that Sarah keeps her core body temperature down, which she’s been able to do through regular monitoring (she has a thermometer she takes with her on workouts). They’re also working to keep her heart rate lower than usual – her standard maximum heart rate is about 220, and during her pregnancy, she’s kept it at 175.
Following a less-than-ideal showing at multiple races throughout last summer, Sarah spent the first half of her pregnancy relying more heavily on cross-training and swimming for workouts. She still kept running up until week 20 of her pregnancy. From week 20 to week 24, Sarah stopped running, and instead rode her ElliptiGO bike.
But as her body has changed, so has her exercise routine. At about 24 weeks, Sarah was able to incorporate running more fully back into her routine. The real turning point, Darren told PEOPLE, was on Christmas Day, when they set out to get one mile-long run under Sarah’s belt. That day, she ended up doing three miles – all under six minutes. Now, she’s running as much as four days a week.
The couple have gone through some personal changes, too, including a relocation from California to be closer to family in Virginia. As they settled into their new home and Sarah entered her third trimester, the number of workouts she’s been able to incorporate into her training has only increased, even adding more rigorous track exercises back into her routine, a change Darren calls “a blessing and a surprise.”
But throughout her pregnancy, both Sarah and Darren have been optimistic about their ability to keep moving. Even at the end of her first trimester, when she was dealing with pelvic pain and hip and lower back spasms, she wasn’t slowing down, and at times, even performing better than she had been the past year. (Sarah had surgery on her Achilles tendon in 2014, which was a minor setback in that year’s training.)
At this point in her pregnancy, Sarah is obviously not at the point she was last year, but that’s not a cause for worry for the couple.
“There was a point where we didn’t know if she would run again during all this, let alone get back on the track,” Darren said.
She may be back on the track, but it’s not all easy, Sarah insists. Running may be second nature to her, but this time, she’s doing it with what feels like “dropping a 10 to 15 pound bowling ball to the front of your stomach.” But she adds that any progress is another step towards her Olympic goal.
“Whatever I achieve athletically right now, it’s a bonus,” Sarah said. “Every little thing that I do is benefitting me coming out of this on the other side.”
And her training routine is decided on a day-by-day basis.
“I have to constantly try and understand how she’s feeling to able to adjust on the fly,” Darren said.
“Putting expectations on myself just adds pressure and strain,” Sarah adds. “I’m just being grateful for what I do everyday.”
Sarah’s doctor also understands that her post-birth timeline will be different. (Most women have a postpartum follow-up after six weeks; for Sarah, it’ll be after just two weeks – because at that point, she could be ready to start training again.) They’re even working with the hospital to give Sarah the ability to get up and walk around while she’s in labor.
“She won’t be doing runs on a treadmill in the delivery room, but she also won’t have to be bedridden for two or three straight days,” Darren says.
But the couple are letting go of expectations for after the birth. Instead, they hope to focus more on balancing their old habits with the new endeavor of parenting.
And naturally, they are most excited to meet their daughter. Sarah says she hopes to leave a legacy of pursing your goals, no matter what, for their little girl.
“Whether I accomplish my goals athletically or not,” says Sarah, “I want her to see that her mom wasn’t afraid to try.”