CATHY BELL

Cancer survivor to cycling inspiration.

ACHIEVEMENT HIGHLIGHTS

FTP SCORE IMPROVEMENTS

27 Watts increase over 8 weeks - 3rd highest female FTP Improvement in 2019.

POWER-TO-WEIGHT

Improved by 0.43w/kg in just 8 weeks by completing Njinga training programme.

1 MINUTE AVERAGE

Improved power by 22.2% over 8 week Training Programme. Increased from 194 to 237 watts.

SPORTIVE SUCCESS

Completed a 64km Sportive with 3131 Feet of climbing after a year of very little cycling.

As soon as my first training session was finished, I was on the app booking my next one.

Before Njinga

One of my friends, whom, at the time, I cycled with on a regular basis, became, quite suddenly, much faster than me and was able to cycle much further. After interrogating her about how she’d achieved this, she told me, with great enthusiasm, about Njinga. Of course, I had to go and see this cycling powerhouse (one that had turned my friend into a next-level cyclist) for myself.

By the end of the programme, I had gained 27 watts which means that not only had I caught up to where I was pre-cancer treatment, but that I had far-exceeded it.

Enter Njinga

When I arrived at my first training session at Njinga, I was overawed by all the numbers on the screen in front of me (if you have any experience with a Wattbike, you’ll know they’re more hi-tech than any spinning bike out there). But once the Wattbike was set up for me and the information on the screen was explained (power, cadence and pedal stroke), the training session was great. The numbers went from confusing to fascinating, the (or rather, my) elephant balls were prolific, and the instructors motivating. (Elephant balls, as I soon found out, is the shape indicated by a lack of pedal momentum as a cyclist switches between extending with their left and then their right leg. It’s not a good thing – it wastes a lot of energy!).

As soon as my first training session was finished, I was on the app booking my next one.

Cathy mountain biking in Sri Lanka.

Cathy with fellow programme riders in the Njinga Lab after completing the Ride Like a Pro 8 Week Training Programme.

Cathy making our FTP Improver leaderboard with an impressive 27 watt increase in her FTP score.

A performance-changing FTP test

Because I was yet to do an FTP test, for my first few training sessions, I rode at RPE (or Rate of Perceived Exertion - The 1-10 scale used to measure the intensity of your exercise. Each number relates to the descriptions or feelings used to rate how easy or difficult you find the activity you’re doing). Essentially, I would gradually increase my effort across the scale, from, for example, four – All-day paced riding, not easy but definitely sustainable. Able to maintain a full uninterrupted conversation – to six – Upping the effort, only able to talk in short sentences.

For me – 
a beginner cyclist with little idea what was going on – I found this approach difficult; I always seemed to start off too high up on the scale and couldn’t maintain the effort. But once I’d done my first FTP test, the guesswork was taken away and I was left with my personalised training zones, the most important and effective way to train at Njinga. (It really is like Togo says – Train Smart!)

Now I was able to put my head down, focus, and work towards my goal, 

which was to aim for the upper end of a zone, then the next zone, and so on and so forth, as I got fitter and stronger. 

A devastating cancer diagnosis

In the summer of 2018, I was diagnosed with head and neck cancer. Whilst awaiting my operation – and knowing that post-operation, my exercise routine would be significantly reduced, if not non-existent – I went to as many indoor training sessions at the Njinga Lab as possible.

I’ve always found exercise to be a great distraction from stress and I love those post-workout endorphins.

Riding like a pro, cancer-free

Six-months later, with surgery and radiotherapy behind me, I returned to Njinga with the realisation that I’d lost most of my fitness. But I was determined to haul it back. And what better way to do this than Njinga’s Ride Like a Pro indoor group training programme? It would be the much-needed tailor-made structure to help me regain my fitness.

In the programme’s first week, we did an FTP test. I had dropped 19 watts since my last FTP pre-cancer treatment, and so this became my sole focus: regaining that power and more (I am nothing if not determined).

Cathy on a cycling holiday in Sri Lanka.

Cathy mountain biking in Mashatu,Botswana in the game park .

By the end of the programme, I had gained 27 watts which means that not only had I caught up to where I was pre-cancer treatment, but that I had far-exceeded it.

I feel absolutely certain I wouldn’t have been able to improve my FTP without the help of the (really well structured and increasingly challenging) programme: Togo knew everyone’s training zones and who could push themselves harder, and we were all consistently (some might say relentlessly) encouraged to reach our targets or to work harder to surpass them.

What next and why Njinga?


At the time of writing, I’m attending as many indoor training sessions as my schedule allows, – sometimes even managing a 90-minute session (okay, the first 18-minutes is a Think-While-You-Ride quiz but it still counts!) – been to some of the pilates and yoga sessions, and I’ve signed up for a sprint distance triathlon. I’m also determined to improve my bike split and complete a half Ironman next year. I’ll definitely join the Njinga Collective to help with training for that.

If you’re thinking of trying an Njinga training session, go for it.

You’ll find them more structured sessions to help you train smart to improve your cycling fitness than simply doing gym-based spinning.

There are training sessions to suit everyone: sprinting, climbing, endurance, etc.

Once you’ve done a few sessions, think about joining a programme, too. It’s an amazing way to train, especially if you know you need (or want!) to improve your FTP and fitness. It’s a non-threatening, friendly, supportive, and fun environment with guaranteed results!

In three words: Njinga is awesome!

Cathy on her cycling holiday in Sri Lanka.

Cathy on her cycling holiday in Sri Lanka.

Cathy on her cycling holiday in Sri Lanka.

You’ll find Njinga training sessions more structured sessions to help you train smart to improve your cycling fitness than simply doing gym-based spinning. 
WHERE IS CATHY NOW?

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A NOTE FROM THE COACH

Cathy is a truly remarkable rider. She is quiet and reserved, and I remember when we first coached her, I was wondering how we could get her to perform at a higher level. She was just too nice. Our coaching team needed to find what made Cathy tick. Besides playing the right music to motivate her during training sessions, we felt it was all about letting her move at her pace, then once she was comfortable and confident, I lit a match under her. To her credit, she reacted so positively and rode so well. She had a fighting spirit and gritty determination that shone through and her new FTP PB was a sensational effort.
 
It's been awesome to have Cathy in the Njinga Collective — our not-for profit cycling club — and riding with us. Since cancer, she has bounced back and become a stronger and fitter cyclist. She is an inspiration to us all and we’re so proud of her.  
 
It's so true what they say: “you only grow when you're tested and taken outside your comfort zone.” So don’t think for a minute that staying in your comfort zone will make you a better cyclist.

– Togo Keynes, Head Performance Coach at Njinga Cycling Academy

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