2014 Mount Diablo Challenge

1-hr T-shirts team2cropped
2014 Mount Diablo Challenge

After I purchased my first road bike in 2009, a Specialized Allez Elite, the second climb I ever did was Mt Diablo. I remember being amazed by how the mountain just kept going up and up for miles upon miles. Even though I’d been working out for most of my life and thought I was in reasonably good shape, I didn’t make it to the summit on my first try. So I decided to try again the following week. This time, I made it to the “wall” but had to get off my bike partway through because of the 18% grade. On my third try, I finally made it on the bike all the way. I had conquered the “devil”, so to speak.

Those first rides on Diablo fostered my love for cycling as the mountain represented the struggles I faced in life and the need to endure through them, keeping my eyes on the prize. When I learned about the annual Mt Diablo challenge, where up to 1000 cyclists ride up the mountain in the hopes of reaching the summit in less than an hour, I told myself, “if I can do that, I can do anything.” I started training on the mountain about twice a month, joined IC3 a year or so later, and gradually started to improve my cycling fitness. In the 2010 Diablo challenge, the first year I entered, I made it up to the summit in 73 mins. In 2011, I made it up in 65 mins. In 2012 and 2013, I made it up in 62 and 63 minutes, respectively.

Having gotten pretty close to the hour in my two previous attempts, I decided 2014 would be my year. This was also the year I turned 40 so I had extra incentive to prove that I could be stronger than ever at this “advanced” age. So, after I finished my last race of the season on Labor Day (the Giro di SF), I had a singular focus to get myself ready for Diablo. One of my IC3 teammates, John, had a similar goal this year, especially after missing the “one hour” T-shirt by 9 seconds the previous year. His wife had passed away tragically earlier that year, and cycling was a way for him to cope with his loss. This year, I knew he was as motivated, if not, more motivated than I was to finish under the hour. And so, for 4 weeks, we and a few other friends, met at the base of Diablo and trained on the mountain, sometimes riding up the mountain twice in succession – 6600 feet in 22 miles. One week before the challenge, another IC3 teammate, Carl, joined us for a final training session. We time trialled up the mountain and found ourselves at the summit in about 62 minutes, which was within grasp of our goal. Besides the training, John and I knew we would improve our chances if we lost some weight, so we adhered to a strict diet during that month. On several occasions, I would ride hard at lunch and then swim about a mile in the evening, often going to bed hungry. This allowed me to lose about 6 lbs in 3 weeks and John lost about 4 lbs (off his 130 lb frame!).

On the day of the challenge, I had a simple strategy – find a group of strong riders and spend as little time in the front as possible. After a hard warm-up on Blackhawk, I ingested some Gu and was ready to go. The horn blew, and the second wave was off. The first 5 mins from the school to the tire poppers was spent just riding inside the pack of close to 100 riders. This is the only “rest” I would get. As the grade began to increase, I started passing riders and began looking for a strong group. Soon, I saw Carl up ahead of me so I bridged up to him. Soon after that, a former IC3 member, Mark, joined our group of about 10 guys, in his single-speed, no less! Knowing that both Carl and Mark were strong climbers, I knew at that moment that all I had to do was hang on to this group. Sure enough, Carl and Mark did a lot of the pacing for our group. When we got to the Junction in a little less than 30 minutes, I knew I was on pace for the hour but had very little wiggle room. The second half would not be easy. Fortunately, the group seemed a bit energized and the next thing I knew, we had made it to Juniper in 13.5 minutes! That was a good sign, as my previous best time on that segment was around 15 mins. We had two more miles to go. I ingested another Gu packet and willed myself to keep going. My average heart rate since the first 5 minutes into the race was 170 bpm, which was about 95% of my maximum effort. I had never sustained that level of effort for that long so my body was begging me to quit. But I knew I couldn’t quit now – I was so close!

So I kept going. Soon I passed Carl, who had done a ton of work for the group. As I passed him, I heard him say, “Sam, you’re doing it!” I couldn’t believe it but it really was happening! When we got to the devil’s elbow shortly before the 54 min mark, I knew only a catastrophe would prevent me from success. At this point, adrenaline kicked in and I made my final push.

The wall was excruciating but as I crested the summit, I looked at my Garmin and saw 58:58!

My official time was 59:00 and Carl was just two seconds behind. I had bested Stan Terusaki, a national champion in track cycling and co-worker at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab, by 12 seconds. And I was only 9 seconds behind Chris Ott, a former professional cyclist and fellow lab noon rider. After taking two minutes to catch my breath, I caught up with my teammates and we congratulated one another. Besides Carl and me, both Johns had finished inside the hour at around 56 minutes! Rich was there to congratulate us as well, though he barely missed the hour this time after succeeding the two previous years.

After getting my “one hour” T-shirt and taking some photos, I took a moment to thank God for giving me the strength to do what was physically the hardest thing I had ever done. And I recalled the Bible verse that was written in the back of my collar: “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4) Conquering Diablo in less than an hour had been a personal goal and it was only through years of disciplined training (and dieting!), support from my family, and strength from God that I was able to achieve what had seemed to be an impossible goal when it was first conceived on that mountain 5 years ago.

-Sam Paik

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