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The 5-Peak Challenge: Celebrating Turning 40

5-Peak Challenge
Sarah (left) and Erin (right): about to celebrate their 40th birthdays like the Wonder Women they are.

By Erin Pavon, a BAMR in San Diego [and AMR's Fractional CFO!]

I was fortunate to meet my #BRF Sarah a few years ago in a YMCA Friday BodyPump class. As we started talking, running entered the conversation and she asked what I was training for. My response. “Um, nothing?”  Although I’ve been running basically my whole life, I had only done a handful of official races. Sarah offered up a half marathon in December that she was training for with another friend. I said yes.

Six years later, we’re still together.

Every week we meet up for long runs on #sundayrunday, when we discuss plans for future runs. As time wore on, we started to branch out and get creative. These conversations are always prefaced by the caveat: “I have this idea. You can totally say no if you want or if you think this is too insane but…” This is how we ended up running 5 half marathons in one year (up from our usual 2); how we started trail running and entered trail half marathons; how we started a girlfriend get-away race weekend; and how, back in July 2019 we decided we should run the Walt Disney World marathon as a celebration for our 40th birthdays.

Sarah and I have what we refer to as “unfortunate birthdays”: hers is December 26, mine in January 11. Right after the holiday rush, everyone is always too tired and overwhelmed to party with you, and how can you possibly have a birthday wish list when you JUST got a pile of presents?

The Marathon, which falls the second week of January, seemed like a perfect way to celebrate. It was a major event that would require both months of effort and the buy-in of our spouses to support our training (Sarah has 2 young girls; I have 3 young boys), but it would also be a celebration of what our 40-year-old bodies are capable of.  Plus, we could take our families along for a week vacation!  

And then the universe spoke. “I see your plans and I raise you ONE GLOBAL PANDEMIC.” Universe: 1, Erin and Sarah: 0.  Well crap.

I am, by nature, a fixer. I believe all problems have a work-around; you just have to think about them differently. We were going to find something epic to do to celebrate; we just had to organize it ourselves. Fortunately, spending 2+ hours together every Sunday does gave us time to focus on the problem at hand. 

Ultimately, we settled on the 5-Peak Challenge, a well-known run/hike here in San Diego: We’d hit Cowles Mountain, Pyles Peak, Kwaay Paay, South Fortuna and North Fortuna all in one day. We have run/hiked all 5 several times before, but never all together in one day. 

After much debate based on our self-designed training schedule, birthdays, and family obligations, race day was set as December 27. We made up our hashtag #5peaksfor40. Route planning ensued. We settled on a one-way route that covered 18 miles, 4,000 feet of elevation, over 400 flights of stairs, and anticipated roughly 40,000 steps. [Things with 40, just like us! Yay!]

Now we just needed a theme. If I am going to trot my happy butt around for 6 hours, I may as well look good doing it.  Hmmm, now to decide…what are we? Women.  How are we going to feel after we complete this?  Exhausted? Ha, no. We can do better than that…super fit, proud, powerful, super hero…Wonder Women! In a matter of days between Amazon, Etsy, Pinterest, and my Cricut, we had full gear.

The holidays hit, and soon thereafter? #5peaksfor40! A quick drive to the trailhead, a couple of swigs of coffee, and a prime photo op at the main park sign, and we were on our way to our first peak! 

5-Peak Challenge
Cowles Mountain, Peak #1: Fresh and smiley!

We selected the peak order in part because our first peak is ridiculously popular, and we wanted to get it out of the way.  Plus, it’s a short 1.5 miles up: a nice, quick win, followed by another peak only 1.5 miles later. Whee! Feeling great!

5-Peak Challenge
Jumping for joy on Pyles Peak, #2.

Two of five peaks complete and just 3 miles! However, with that comes the realization that there are seven miles to cover before we get to peak 3.

As an aside, if you are an introvert (like me), I highly recommend finding an extrovert (like Sarah) to hang out with. We’re trotting along – fully grown adult women in matching costumes—and walkers, hikers, bikers, and runners are shouting at us: “Go Wonder Women!” and “Love your outfits”. While I smile and mumble, “Thank you, Sarah shouts right back at them: “We’re doing the 5 peak challenge all in one day!”   Which earned us further exclamations of “Wow!” or “I’ve always wanted to do that.” 

Seven miles later, we arrived at Peak 3, the steepest by far. We used our climbing time to discuss our post-race meal and settled on cheeseburgers from In-N-Out. We celebrated Peak 3 with peanut butter sandwiches at the top, and the realization that we were only at mile 10. Eight to go. Oof. 

And to get the last 2 peaks we have to go up the saddle: a low dip in the mountain between 2 peaks. Because I like data (or because I am a masochist) I took a look at the grade going up to the saddle and it turns out it’s a 20% grade.  We trained on even steeper terrain, but not after running 13 miles, which is how far we had come when we began the climb.

As we slowed to a pace that we affectionately refer to as “power hiking”, we were greeted by another group of women hiking down the saddle.  We learned they were also doing the 5-peak challenge; they do it every year the weekend after Christmas and this was their 4th time.  A-goals!  Discussions surrounding the commitment of making this an annual adventure propelled us to the top of peak 4.

5-Peak Challenge
Symmetrical on South Fortuna, Peak #4.

Unbelievably we only had one peak left of our #5peaksfor40.

As we loped up to our last peak, on a sugar high from Stroopwaffles and gummy worms, the realization sunk in while our peaks were bagged, but the car? She was down at the base of the mountains. We had 3 more miles to go.  

Time to muscle up buttercup.

My right knee was l screaming obscenities at me as we crept back down the saddle. Small steps hurt less and I wasn’t trusting my legs to not shoot out from under me on the tiny pebbles as.  As soon as the path opened out to the flattish grasslands we started to trot, but we were silent. Moving forward required all of my mental attention (and oxygen) to cover those last 2 miles.  

Stopping felt GREAT!  We cheered for ourselves, then pulled up our masks and shared a big bear hug. While there wasn’t the fanfare that we’d have at the completion of a major race, we had each other.

Our weekly socially distant runs have carried me most recently through the pandemic, but also though career changes, family challenges, and down the rocky path called motherhood. When feelings of self-doubt creep in or I really want to quit, Sarah has always been there to say, “You can go a little further, you can do more, you deserve this!”  

5-Peak Challenge

We definitely deserve this moment of celebration. It—plus cheeseburgers and wine—is enough.

Do you celebrate your birthday with miles or adventure?

8 responses to “The 5-Peak Challenge: Celebrating Turning 40

  1. My husband is 8 days older than me. When we turned 40 we celebrated by doing the WDW marathon the following January and then the Dumbo Double Dare in CA in Sept. It was a great way to celebrate!! Enjoyed reading about your celebration too…sounds like you might make it a yearly thing!

  2. And THIS is why everyone needs a BRB! There’s no better feeling than coming up with some “harebrained” idea that someone else totally understands and says “YES!” to. I, too have been fortunate enough to have talked friends into such and BE talked into as well. It is what makes the world a little more endurable. Thanks for sharing your story and your joy with the rest of us!

  3. Way to pivot with you plans and make amazing lemonade with the lemons of the pandemic. Fabulous accomplishment for your 40 years and all the other things you are doing in your lives.

  4. My plans for a 40th Birthday Disney race (Princess Half in Feb) were also changed by Covid. Thanks for the inspiration to look for a different challenge!

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