83-year old Joe Shami, of Lafayette, CA climbed Mount Diablo last year for the 500th consecutive week. Diablo (3,849) is at sea level about 40 miles east of San Francisco, CA. Most of the 11-mile climb is a 10-12 percent grade averaging 8 percent. “The wall” the final stretch to the top is 17-19 percent. Wow!
He rides from his home and depending on the route it’s a 38 to 46-mile round trip.
Shami was a runner and ran 10 marathons, including the Boston Marathon at age 44. When his knees gave out in 1992, he started bicycling. He rides a 30-speed 2003 Trek Project One bicycle and has logged over 81,000 miles all around the San Francisco region and across California to Yosemite National Park. He’d planned to stop his streak at climb #500 but just put a lower gear on his bike and is still climbing. On New Year’s Day 2019 he rode up with several hundred cyclists.
At age 70 he completed the Markleeville, CA “Death Ride” in the high Sierra. He climbed 15,000 feet over five mountain passes in the 129-mile day.
He started his weekly rides up Diablo in July 2008 when he was 73 years old.
When I lived in California Mt. Diablo was on one of my training routes and I did the Death Ride multiple times. Shami is tough!
He tries to ride early on Sunday mornings and still has another six days in case he doesn’t make it on Sunday. You might think that climbing it every Sunday would get boring but he enjoys watching the seasons slowly change from green in the winter and spring to dry and brown in the summer.
Not all the rides are routine. He checks the weather right before he leaves home. Despite a stormy forecast he sometimes tries to beat the weather. On ride number 23 when he was only 74 he made the top but it started to snow and the road got icy on his way down. As if that weren’t enough his front hub cracked and the wheel started wobbling and rubbing the brake pads. He was 22 miles from home. He had a cell phone for emergencies that only called 911. He figured the situation wasn’t that desperate and he continued slowly down the mountain. Fortunately people in an SUV picked him up and drove a hypothermic Shami home. On ride number 399 it was only a gentle breeze at home but gusts up to 73 mph forced him to turn around.
Joe Shami didn’t think, “I’m in my 80s. I can’t possibly do this.”
(Information from “83-year-old cyclist reaches Mount Diablo milestone and numbers keep climbing” by Bonita Brewer, East Bay Times, January 19, 2018. Trek also writes about Shami here.)
Lessons We Can Learn
- Think young. I turn 70 in April and every time I think about that I’m surprised because I don’t feel 70. I feel like I’m in my early 60s.
- Start now. Shami was 57 when he started riding seriously in 1992 and was 73 when he started his weekly routine.
- Enjoy the ride. Shami didn’t get bored because every ride he looked around and noticed all the small changes. Diablo isn’t forested so he could look to the horizon.
- As you mature ride less and recover more.
- Be consistent. Unfortunately as we mature we lose fitness faster if we don’t ride. Even if you haven’t set a goal like his ride every week except for three or four different weeks a year off the bike. These weeks off the bike with family and friends provide full physical and mental recovery.
- Ride frequently. Because we lose fitness faster as we mature you should also ride at least three or four days a week … but not all seven!
- Have confidence in yourself. Shami believes he can climb it every week.
- Commit to achieving a goal. Don’t just set a goal for 2019 – commit to reaching it.
- Avoid injury as much as possible. Ride at the safest time like early Sunday morning or a weekday morning after the commuting traffic.
- Let nothing stop you except a serious injury. A serious injury is something that won’t heal in a couple of weeks or a minor injury that could get worse.
- Don’t do anything risky. Something may be low risk but if the potential consequences are bad don’t do it. Gambling on the weather may be low risk but if you’re wrong, how serious would the situation be?
- Always check the weather. It can change unexpectedly so be prepared.
- Remember there is always another day.
- Carry a cell phone to use in true emergencies, not just when you’re tired.
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Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written over 40 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio.