One of the toughest climbs in the world is in Hawaii, on the Big Island. It’s a 42.6-mile leg buster that gains 13,837 feet as it winds up Manua Kea, the tallest volcano on the planet. But it’s a walk in the park compared to the abandoned route that scales the back side of the same volcano, which has pitches that reach 31 percent and soul-sucking stretches of “gravel” made up of sand and dirt and lava rock. Veteran pro mountain biker Jeremiah Bishop was the first person to ride the route, completing it in late February with YouTube star and amateur cyclist Tyler Pearce, a.k.a. the Vegan Cyclist. This grueling first ascent might be Bishop’s last big expedition for the foreseeable future, since, like many of us, his spring race and adventure schedule has been derailed by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Everything was going so well,” Bishop says. “I trained all winter, I knocked the toughest hill climb in the teeth, I was feeling good and confident and ready to tackle my next big challenge, a brutal expedition ride called the Massanutten Ring of Fire, in Virginia. And then comes the virus.”
Bishop has spent the last two decades dominating the mountain-bike endurance scene, topping the podium at some of the most renowned stage races in the world. He’s been a member of the U.S. national mountain-bike team 16 times and won gold at the Pan American Games in 2003. His true niche might be 100-milers, though—he won the National Ultra Endurance series, a collection of the best 100’s in the country, in 2014. At 44, Bishop is still sponsored by Canyon Bicycles and continues to win: he took first place at 11 races in 2019. Now he’s coming to grips with the fact that he probably won’t be standing on any podiums for at least the first half of 2020.
It’s the kind of situation that can send a competitive racer into a tailspin. But Bishop has been incredibly upbeat on social media, providing inspiration and unique perspectives for his fans, whether it’s posting about finding beautiful new gravel roads during his workouts or encouraging his Instagram followers to join him on virtual group rides on Zwift. “These things are not easy, and it’s perfectly natural to be disappointed,” Bishop says. “Athletes thrive on the pursuit of these races, and the fallout from that disappointment can be depression.”
Bishop encourages people to stay positive through these times, advising them to follow some semblance of a training program and accomplish daily, weekly, and monthly goals to help reinforce a positive mindset. “Setting those tasks and goals and scratching them off the to-do list creates a success cycle that helps you psychologically,” he says. “Even if you don’t do the race, you can be proud of the routine and the work that you’ve put in. That kind of reinforcement keeps me going during these setbacks.”
Bishop knows from experience. He says his progress as a pro athlete has been derailed countless times by injury or outside forces, like the 2008 economic crash, when his sponsors pulled the plug on his race team as his wife was going into labor with their first child. “I was pacing the hospital floor on the phone trying to find sponsors,” Bishop says. “My first baby was showing up in hours, and I felt so powerless. Not feeling in control creates a lot of fear.”
Currently, Bishop is still training as best he can under our ever evolving circumstances. He’s avoiding group rides but still pedaling on local roads and neighborhood trails solo when he has the chance, although he’s cutting back on his usual all-day epics. “It won’t be easy,” he says. “You can’t go on three-hour rides when your kids are home from school. I’m a dad, I have a trainer in the basement and Legos on the floor. I get it.”
Bishop has slowly fallen in love with that basement trainer over the last couple of years, leaning into Zwift when he can’t meet others on the trail or road. “I’ll get on Zwift and get to interact with friends in Spain or Italy or right down the street,” he says. “It’s really motivational, because you’re chasing someone down.”
He has also been focusing more on strength training, and says this extra time at home is a perfect opportunity to double down on the sort of work that cyclists and runners tend to avoid. “Building strength is so important if you want to avoid injuries as you age,” Bishop says. “I like to gamify my training to keep it interesting, using traditional moves but creating fun challenges.” For example, Bishop has a 35-pound rock in his backyard that he’ll hold against his chest while doing squats on a balance board. If he loses balance during the squat, he has to start the count over at zero. “It will destroy your legs,” Bishop says.
Whether you adopt a strength program at home (see Bishop’s go-to plan, below) or spend more time exploring your local trails, Bishop says this could be a good opportunity to try something new. “Consider it a splash of cold water that gives you the chance to refocus and do that thing that you really want to do, either shaking your training up now at home or later when our lives get back to normal.”
Jeremiah Bishop’s At-Home Strength-Training Routine
Kettlebell Step-Ups: Hold a 25-pound barbell or kettlebell (or rock) with both hands, and step up on a bench with your left leg. Then step down. Do 15 on your left leg, then switch to your right leg.
Box Jumps: Pick your height of box (benches work, too, if you don’t have a box). From a standstill, jump up on the box, concentrating on the explosive movement and a soft landing. Jump or step down. Repeat ten times.
Exercise-Ball Stands: Start by kneeling on an oversize exercise ball, your hands on the front of it for stability. Try to balance for 30 seconds. When you perfect that position, move to kneeling on the ball and balancing hands-free. When that becomes easy, stand on the ball, balancing in place. When that becomes easy, do body-weight squats on the ball. If you can’t balance on the yoga ball, use an upside-down Bosu ball, standing on the hard part and working on air squats.
Spiderman Push-Ups: Assume the push-up position. As you lower your body to the ground, bring your right knee beside your body to your right elbow, then return your foot to the starting position as you raise your body off the ground. Repeat on the left side. Work to 20 in a row.