On a cold and dark evening in early March, I went for a pre-dinner hike with an eight-month pregnant Erin Shaw.
It wasn’t an ideal night for a hike. I thought french fries at Under The Sun Brewery sounded far more appealing but Erin charged into the night before I could say burger. I shuffled close behind, prepared to catch her in case she and her protruding belly slipped on the treacherously icy trail.
She didn’t slip—but I did. I laughed at myself for worrying about her. She was clearly in her element in those sub-optimal conditions. With that thought in mind, what she said next made perfect sense.
“I think I want to run The Bear 100 this September.”
Before she gave birth, Shaw committed to running a 100-mile foot race. That’s an incredible effort for anybody—and she would do it a mere six months postpartum.
Erin’s a seasoned and tough ultramarathon runner. Still, pivoting so quickly from pregnancy to long distance racing seemed like a daunting challenge. But just I shouldn’t have fretted about Erin being able to handle the technical trails that night, I knew she would be fine come race day.
One month later, almost to the day, her son Ethan was born. About six months after that, on Sept. 28, 2018, Erin toed the line of The Bear 100.
“It just felt like I was marching off into the unknown,” says Shaw. “I had a new body, and I just didn’t know what to expect from it
She wasn’t wrong. Research suggests that the biomechanical changes that occur during pregnancy linger long afterward and alter a woman’s running stride. Childbirth is also tough on the pelvic floor, which she comically describes as “having taken quite the beating.”
But she was determined to run The Bear 100. And in tenacious Erin fashion, she prepared thoroughly despite her taxing schedule as a new mom.
“Erin has changed as an athlete since Ethan,” her husband and fellow ultrarunner Matt Shaw says. “Her increased dedication has been impressive. She has a small window of time each day for training, and she really makes the most of it.”
But balancing motherhood and running wasn’t even the half of it. While other runners can sit, refuel and regroup at aid-stations Shaw had to spend her time at checkpoints being a mom, feeding young Ethan instead of taking care of herself. And she did without complaint, drawing on the less-appreciated aspects of her training.
“While training for The Bear, early runs required me to get up earlier to pump, long runs required me to make sure Ethan had milk and I had to carry a manual pump, and on shorter runs, I had to make sure I timed it so he would eat right before I left to run,” she says. “It was just like that.”
Shaw had to feed her newborn baby every 10-20 miles and needed to carry a manual pump for 100 miles in case she became engorged on the trail. She still managed to finish in the top twenty women, 30 hours and 47 minutes after starting the race. Over 35 percent of the field didn’t even make it to the finish.
“I didn’t really think I could do it even the day before the race,” she says. “I had trained hard, and things had gone well, so it wasn’t like I had any real reasons to doubt myself, but I was about to run 100 miles with a 6-month-old baby, which just seemed crazy.”
But even though she was scared, venturing into the unknown and unsure of her ability to finish, she faced 100 miles with unwavering determination.
“She was extremely focused, and we even had conversations about how she knew she would finish,” Adam Chapman, who paced Erin for 25 miles through the night, says. “She needed very little motivation. She led the way and made the calls. It was beyond inspiring to see a close friend stay positive when she had every reason not to.”
The race presents a daunting challenge for any racer. Shaw went from giving birth to running 100 miles in less than six months, an accomplishment that left her husband in awe.
“Ethan and I are very lucky to have such an amazing woman in our lives,” he says. “Someone who is able to balance taking care of and supporting her family with pursuing her passion.”