NJINGA

Mary Benner

From nothing to novice to sportives to six-dayers in two years, and that’s just the start

NOTABLE PERFORMANCES WITH NJINGA

FTP Improvement: 43 Watts increase from 2016-2018

Power to Weight: 3.63w/kg - 10th highest female score in the Lab

First 100 miles in July 2017 in 6 hours 17 min only two years after getting first ever road bike

Completed six day stage race at Giro Sardegna in April 2018

WHERE MY JOURNEY BEGAN

A couple of years ago, rather randomly and extremely cluelessly, I bought a road bike and started tentatively on my current cycling journey. I was inspired by a colleague talking about cycling to work in the summer, and finding something other than the gym to improve my fitness.

Six months later, I rode my first 50 miles, still in trainers and without any of my own nutrition! My friend kindly supplied the snacks and it all turned out better than I expected, so much so, I was talked into taking up a charity place for Ride London 100. I continued to work out at the gym supplemented by cycling to work every so often and a few weekend rides, but didn’t really think too hard about how I was actually going to get round 100 miles and up the Surrey Hills.

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PREPARING FOR RIDE LONDON

The turning point came when another friend suggested I go to one of Togo’s talks about preparing for the event. It was actually aimed at intermediate and advanced riders so I found all the talk of gold standard times, training techniques, data and equipment extremely intimidating! My initial impression was that Njinga was for advanced riders only, but when I saw Togo was doing another talk for beginners I tried again.

After a reassuring chat with Leigh, I signed up for their 8 week Ride London programme, and I have to say I haven’t looked back!

What I really liked about the wattbike training was riding to my numbers in a structured way to achieve an objective; a big contrast to my previous spin class experiences, where the gearing was questionable and one instructor in particular very random. Although starting from a pretty low level and firmly rooted to the bottom of the leaderboard, the support and encouragement from Togo, Josh and all the riders in the programme was fantastic, and I was soon hooked. Eight weeks later I successfully completed the 92 mile version of the event – alas, incidents on the road meant that Leith Hill was off limits – but it was the furthest I had ridden, and soon afterwards I was back on the wattbike, keen to at least maintain my new levels of fitness.

If I hadn’t joined the programme, I honestly doubt whether I would have made it round Ride London within the time limit.

A CYCLING COMMUNITY

Since then, I’ve been a regular at the Lab for the Wattbike classes and more programmes, and I’ve lost over four kilos in weight, which wasn’t planned at all, but has made a massive difference to my power to weight ratio. One of the other unexpected benefits has been an improvement in my flexibility, thanks to the post ride stretches and the yoga classes. I’ve always enjoyed yoga, but Sam’s positivity, warmth and focus on the key areas for cyclists is great.

The other aspect of Njinga is the outdoor cycling; they don’t just do the indoor Wattbike training! The Collective is their cycling club, and this year, they introduced the Mbidzi group for newer riders. However, after a couple of Mbidzi rides, I realised that with my new fitness levels, I’d already outgrown them and joined my first full Collective ride with the Njati (meaning Buffalo) group. That first ride was tough, but the ride captains and all the riders were incredibly supportive and never let me feel that I was holding them back, which was great for my confidence. I’ve done a few more rides with Njati, and can’t speak highly enough of the captains for their helpfulness, handy tips and support.

It really does make me feel part of a cycling community.

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THANKS TO THE NJINGA TEAM

The other thing that has helped has been the Academy. The level 1 takes you through those basic foundation skills, and builds on them. The advice on gear selection has made such a difference, particularly to my climbing and I’ve become much more confident riding in a group. Midway through level 2, my pedalling is held up by Togo as a paragon of smoothness and my Strava times are coming down.

I’m sure the shiny new bike has helped, but the main credit to the massive pedal strokes forward, particularly outdoors, are due to the Njinga team."

Where I am now...

I recently completed the full Ride London 100, but due to sustaining three punctures my times were not what I’d hoped. However, when I reported back, Togo, Josh and my Academy friends helped me see the positive in what had happened, by highlighting my determination to keep going in the face of adversity. And that’s one final thing about Njinga. When things go wrong – and they do – whether ride incidents, or blowing up during an FTP test, or just generally having a bad day, the kindness and encouragement from the team is so fantastic that I’ve never lost my confidence. Thanks in particular to Josh for scraping me up and putting me back together after some tough FTP tests.

In summary, thanks to these guys, I’ve never been fitter, I’ve learnt so much about cycling and about myself, and I’ve found something I love doing as part of a community. I know they’ll be riding with me as I continue my cycling journey and achieve new goals. I’m hoping I can do Ride London incident-free and break the six hour barrier, and also improve my FTP scores by getting the chimp under control and channelling my inner buffalo!

START YOUR OWN JOURNEY

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Mary's journey with Njinga has included:

  • Regular wattbike and Yoga classes
  • Multiple 8 Week group Indoor Training Programmes
  • Njinga Academy Level 1 and 2
  • Weekly rideouts with the Njinga Collective

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