NJINGA

Matt Drake

An inspirational story of a beginner cyclist turned 100 mile sportive rider who overcame a life threatening cancer diagnosis and transformed his cycling. Read Matt's story below...

Photo credits to sportograf.com.

NOTABLE PERFORMANCES WITH NJINGA

Improved his FTP score from 174w to 240w - An incredible 66 watt increase in less than 18 months.

Power to Weight increase from 2.46 to 3.59w/kg. An increase of 46% in less than 18 months

Completed first 100 miles in July 2019 in a time of 7hr and 47mins

Joined the Njinga Collective and within 1 season had progressed from riding at an average of 12mph to 15 mph

Where my journey began:

My journey started when I took part in the London Triathlon in 2016, back then I was already an enthusiastic “weekend warrior” runner and I thought my greatest challenge would be completing the 750 metre swim in open water. I put a lot of effort into my Swim training and thought the ride element would be pretty straightforward. 

When it came to the actual event I quickly found out that any gains I had made in the swim were quickly lost in the ride and by the time I got to the run I was nowhere in the field. The following year 2017 I made the same mistake so I decided to enter the Ride London ballot in an effort to motivate me to improve my cycling. I got a place in 2018 but had to defer to 2019 (more about why later). Reality set in, how was I going to conquer RideLondon 100 and the infamous Leith Hill. I'd never ridden 100 miles before. I needed help!

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My first experiences of Njinga:

Living in Surbiton I had driven past the Njinga Lab many times and after looking online thought they may be able to help me get ready for Ride London. My first class with Togo (co-founder) was called “Peloton Roller” and to be honest I had no idea what it meant. I have to confess being quite lost in that first class as I tried to understand things like Rate Perceived Exertion (RPE), power zones and pedal technique as well as play mental games whilst pushing your body to exhaustion. But what struck me immediately is the coaching expertise and energy of Togo and the friendliness and encouragement from my fellow class participants.

The new world of cycling fitness:

To be fair apart from occasional bike rides with the family on holiday I wouldn’t have described myself as a rider even though I had done three triathlons. In fact being in my late 40s I have come to the world of cycling rather late. But from that first class I was hooked and I started to discover this whole new world of cycling fitness.

The thing that I also immediately understood is that the Njinga training is different to regular Spin classes. Their training is based on power zones and to get my power zones I would need to do something called an FTP test.

Like my first triathlon and cycling class at Njinga, I approached this test with a staggering amount of naivety; pedal as hard as you can for 20 minutes. Sounds straight forward. I am pretty sure that 5 minutes into that test I was wishing for it to end. Let’s be clear an FTP is not a pleasurable experience, but I registered a 174 (watts) FTP score and now had a set of power zones to guide my training in a smart way.

 

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A "Pot hole" in the road:

Shortly after my FTP test and just before Christmas I hit a “pot hole” in my cycling journey. I was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer. It is a strange feeling being diagnosed with cancer; at the time I didn’t feel “unwell” in fact I felt fitter thanks to the riding at Njinga than I had for a long time. 

I had no idea what the impact of the treatment would be or if I would be able to continue my cycling training and Ride London hopes. However, I am incredible thankful that I had Njinga in my life at that stage as it was brilliant both as a distraction and a motivator for me to make sure that whatever treatment I needed I would be in the fittest state possible to recover from it and so it proved. Within 3 months I was back at Njinga riding abeit a little slower but back. The motivational and supportive environment was just what I needed to heal both physically and mentally. 

 

 

The Njinga Collective:

I hadn’t really envisaged being a cycling “weekend warrior” when I started training with Njinga but what I thought I needed to do was make sure I spent more time on my bike ahead of Ride London. Also I wanted to conquer my fear of cleats having already had a number of painful and embarrassing incidents with them; my particular favourite was falling off my bike in front of a pub with a beer garden packed full of regulars. Priceless.

As Spring started to arrive in 2019 I became aware of the Njinga Collective. This is a not for profit cycling club made up predominantly (but not exclusively) of riders who do the Lab classes as well, that meet every Saturday during the cycling season. I signed up. What I liked was that the groups are based on average speed and have a “no drop” rule; basically the peloton waits for you if you drop off the back. I joined the slowest group “Mbizi” (average 12-13 mph). The biggest benefit of this was that I got to improve my riding craft; who’d have thought there was so much to riding in a peloton? From bike checks to hand signals to nutrition.

 

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GROUP INDOOR TRAINING PROGRAMME:

As Ride London approached I signed up for the Njinga 8-week Ride London group indoor training programme to get ready for the big day. This programme was 2 x 60 minute evening training sessions a week with a British Cycling coach and included meal planners, fuel smart strategies, how to approach the big day, mental strengthening toolkit and so much more. There is also an FTP test at the start and end of the course and not only did I register an 11 watt improvement to my FTP score, but by the end of the 8 weeks I had picked up nutrition tips that I have maintained since. I started to really think differently about what I ate and the nutrition I would need on the ride. I also met a great bunch of people all with a similar goal that I have been friends with ever since. When the big day arrived I was thankful for the training and preparation I had done with Njinga. It got me through the 100 miles! I am incredibly proud that I managed to complete Ride London 100 and also raise over £1,200 for Prostate Cancer UK. I could not have done it without Njinga! Massive thank you guys.

Photo credits to sportograf.com.

New Personal Bests:

Looking back on my first season of riding I achieved some incredible improvements; my FTP score went from 174 to 215 watts and by the end of the season I had increased my average riding speed by 3mph moving from Mbizi to Mkango group (average 15 mph) and I completed Ride London, my first 100 mile. All thanks to the training and support I received from Njinga. So when I started thinking about next season I knew I wanted to hit the ground running when the season got started.

I enrolled on another 8 week group indoor training programme in January. This is a similar format to the Ride London group programme I had done previously although this time I knew a bit more what I had let myself in for. Again I made an incredible improvement in my FTP from my prior PB of 215 watts to 240 watts a 25 watt increase. What's even more amazing is since I started my journey at Njinga 18 months ago, I have increased my FTP score by 66 watts.

Another massive positive is I am cancer free and hoping to complete a number of sportives this year and also perhaps do my first cycling adventure abroad with Njinga.

These aspirations and goals are all down to the training, motivation, encouragement and friendship I have found at Njinga.

START YOUR OWN JOURNEY

 

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Matt's journey with Njinga has included:

  • Njinga Training Plan
  • Regular Wattbike Classes
  • FTP Testing
  • Pedal Technique Coaching
  • 2 x 8 Week Njinga Group Indoor Training Programmes
  • The Njinga Collective (our not for profit cycling club)

FEELING INSPIRED?

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