NJINGA

Ali Gilbert

Turning the tables: from cycling widow to gold time sportive rider

Notable Performances with Njinga

FTP Improvement: 29 watt increase in 9 months

Power to Weight Improvement: 0.95w/kg in 9 months

Richmond Park Lap Improvement: 5 minutes 3 seconds in first year

First 100 miles in July 2017 in 6 hours 20 minutes only a year after getting first ever road bike

Ali Gilbert

"I was becoming a cycling widow because I couldn’t keep up with my husband. I was becoming a little jealous of him.

At the end of last summer Matt treated me to a second hand road bike and I competed in my first 50 mile sportive last September. I loved it. It was exhilarating! The sense of achievement, the beautiful ride, the camaraderie. But my body bonked later in the day – my fuel strategy probably wasn’t what it could have been - but that didn’t stop me as I had caught the cycling bug!

By this stage Matt had visited the Njinga Lab and had been impressed with the instructors, and encouraged me to try it out, knowing that I’d enjoyed spin classes previously and wanted to improve my fitness for the bike. It was clear from the very beginning that this was not a spin class. The first few classes were a bit intimidating and the focus was on performance. There were elite athletes at the classes, people pushing out four or five times more watts than me! I felt I was in over my head. And there was another thing – your individual power scores were up on a big screen for everyone to see! I felt embarrassed at not just being last, but being last by quite some way at the end of a class.

It was intimidating until I realised no-one else really cared about anyone else’s results. They were focused on themselves. Once I got that in my head then the numbers became my motivation and drive me to ‘not leave the lab disappointed’ (As Josh likes to say).

Still, it was a bit scary, I was in trainers whilst everyone else appeared to be in cleats. I hung onto the fact that Njinga do cater for people in trainers, but soon realised that if I wanted to be more competitive in a class, I needed the advantage that cleat shoes offer. My school sports competitive spirit was starting to resurface in my mid forties. I didn’t realise it was still there! At my first class, Josh was so welcoming and encouraging, taking great care in helping me set up my bike and writing down all the settings. The care they took was very comforting, as I had been injured in the past from badly fitted spin bikes. I also started to learn about pedal technique, with the bikes showing you in real time how you are doing, and guides on the walls to remind you.

At the end of the class they took huge care going through several stretches, a great safety measure to avoid injury. Josh checked in with me both through and at the end of class to make sure I was okay, which certainly helped me feel supported. I have to be honest and admit that I was intimidated for the first few classes. I felt a bit conscious setting myself up each time and having to ask for the trainer pedals to be added, but the whole Njinga team were always super friendly. Before taking an FTP test you have to gauge your efforts at different points in the class, so I’d sometimes burn too much to early.

But once I’d undertaken an FTP Test, which I did quite quickly, I was no longer second-guessing my numbers and actually had a purpose and focus. That’s when I think I took a step up. I knew what I needed to do in each class based on my fitness levels and it gave me the incentive to push.

That coincided with a move into cleats. Eek! Yet again the Njinga team were super encouraging about that and advised I’d see small gains quickly and it would improve my technique. I didn’t join Njinga initially to train per se, I didn’t have a time goal or anything, for me it was about joining my husband in doing something we both enjoyed. But within a few weeks I’d say I had drunk the Njinga kool aid and I was pushing my numbers. I loved the buzz of a great session, having worked hard, sweated harder than I ever had and just feeling the endorphins flowing around my body. I felt like I’d literally found a new lease of life. Plus I found it easy to fit Njinga into my lifestyle as the multiple classes across the evening worked with my job and I was getting to the Lab at least twice a week.”

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"I first experienced the fantastic community that makes Njinga truly special when I participated in one of their group training programmes. There is such a breadth of people that attend: twenty year olds and people in their sixties, men and women, athletes and those just trying to be the best they can be. And everyone is so encouraging of each other. 

On the course we gelled as a team supporting each other’s progress. The class was made up of very different standards but that actually didn’t matter. We all had our own targets based on our FTP as taken at the start. The encouragement and engagement of everyone was all for the same purpose; to improve and get stronger while climbing. We spent eight weeks training twice a week together. The buzz at the end was amazing - there was definitely a bond that had been created between us all and I know that I’ve made some great friends at Njinga. The sense of achievement at the end of the course was huge. I’d not felt that pumped since participating in inter-school championships in my teens. And it’s given me an appetite to push myself harder since. I improved my FTP on this course considerably and that was down to the encouragement by both Josh and Togo. That course finished just before Christmas and Togo gave me a seasonal directive to keep my level of fitness up and not lose the gains I’d made by slobbing out over the festivities. I thought he was joking slightly, but I’ve since learnt Togo doesn’t joke about these kinds of things. Anyway, I took heed and kept my focus strong.

Since that first class I’ve taken further programmes; I guess you could say I’ve become an Njinga superfan. The FTP Booster course was perfect before heading to South Africa to take on the Cape Argus and the Academy Outdoor Beginners course, helped me fine tune my existing bike skills and learn some new ones.

Something I didn’t expect to learn about from Njinga was nutrition. I’ve learnt how to fuel my body on the bike and what to consume pre and post ride. They’ve shared some tasty meal ideas (their beetroot burger recipe is amazing) and made from scratch snacks (date and coconut balls are great) in order to provide energy and recover well. I’ve also consulted with Leigh and decided to take out gluten and dairy from my diet. This has seen multiple benefits on and off the bike.

I know Togo believes in helping make any cyclist that comes to the Lab into the best they can be. I’ve certainly had a great year so far. Every time I go out I seem to see improvements on my Strava times. I’ve knocked three minutes off my Richmond Park lap time – winning my local bike clubs May Challenge. I’ve improved my Box Hill time by two minutes. And I’ve progressed in the Collective, Njinga's outdoor cycling club, moving from the Mbidzi group into the faster Njati peloton. It felt a real achievement to be going out in that new group with some fellow Academy graduates who had been on a similar learning curve.

I set myself some goals at The Lab at the start of the year, and I have my picture on the wall there to encourage myself to keep pushing. I’ve achieved one already. (A big thanks to Togo for pushing me hard in my last FTP test!) The big target now is to complete Pru 100 in siz hours thirty. I know with the foundations and training I’ve put in with Njinga that’s within my grasp! Roll on July 30th!! Then it’ll be working out what’s next. With Njinga I know anything is possible!"

Ali's journey with Njinga has included:

  • Regular wattbike and yoga classes
  • Njinga Academy Level 1 and 2
  • FTP Testing to TrainSmart
  • Multiple 8 Week Group Indoor Training Programmes
  • Weekly rideouts with the Njinga Collective

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Latest Update

“This weekend I took part in Pru London and rode my first 100 miles. I was quite anxious in the run up to it, wondering if I could really achieve the target time I’d set with Njinga - I thought maybe I’d been slightly over ambitious since I wasn’t feeling great in terms of training in the last rwo weeks before the ride. I didn’t want to let myself or my coaches down. But wow, what an amazing event! I met some fellow Njingas at the starting gate which settled the nerves and we were off before I knew it. I felt like a flew around the course and I must have done as I smashed my target time of six and a half hours, coming in at 6 hours 15 minutes. I couldn’t believe it. I am so proud of what I achieved that day. I know that I worked hard to get that result, both in terms of training and my diet and nutrition leading up the event, but it was also down to the amazing support of the guys at Njinga which was never more evident than on the day; they were out cheering us all on at Njinga corner on the way out to the hills as well as on the way back through Kingston. Such a fabulous reminder of what a great community I’ve become a part of. Njinga, you’re awesome and I consider myself so lucky to have found you and the gang around you!”

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