CLAIRE ELSAM

From total beginner to confident sportive cyclist.

ACHIEVEMENT HIGHLIGHTS

FTP IMPROVEMENT

+ 39 watts from 2015 to 2018.

PROGRESSIVE OUTDOOR PROGRAMME

Completed eight-week progressive outdoor Njinga Academy programme stage 2.

FIRST 100
MILES

In July 2016: only one year on from getting first-ever road bike.

SIX-DAY STAGE RACE

Completed the Giro Sardegna in April 2018.

I became devoted to my indoor training and my outdoor rides at the weekend. My target, when asked by Togo, was just to finish. And I did.

Before Njinga

A work colleague of mine suggested we – her, another group of work colleagues, and I – do a charity cycle. All of us hadn't ridden a bike since our school days, but for some reason, we all said yes anyway.

One trip to the bike shop later and I was very smartly set up with a hybrid bike and a set of clipless pedals which would, I was told, improve my efficiency on the bike, which they did until 2 weeks before the charity cycle: I unclipped at some traffic lights and toppled off my bike. My reward was a fractured wrist and, disappointingly, an end to my charity cycle. The biggest consequence of my fall was that my confidence on the bike took a huge knock.

After my recovery, a friend's husband suggested we do Ride London and put into practice the fitness I'd built in training for the charity cycle. With my track record, I wasn't sure it was a sensible idea. I was still working on my confidence, after all. But I applied anyway, thinking that the chance of me actually getting a place was slim.

The programme alone helped with my ability and confidence to climb hills and do so efficiently. I've also learned the skills of climbing – both seated and standing.

Enter Njinga

Yep, you guessed it: I had a place in Ride London. But – cue: panic! – my friend hadn't. I didn't take this well. Firstly, I couldn't stay upright on a bike, let alone ride 100 miles.

Looking for answers, I talked to my local bike shop where they recommended I try Njinga. And why not? I figured, at the very least, indoor cycling would be a safer way to start training again. A stationary bike would be a hard one to fall off!

It was a little daunting at first to be the new girl – and an unfit one at that! – but the other riders at Njinga helped and spurred me on. It was the best place to be: really friendly and non-threatening, from beginning to end.

Claire on a Njinga training camp in Mallorca.

Claire cycling with her fellow Njinga riders on our training camp in Mallorca.

Claire refuelling with fellow Njinga riders after a long day on the bike at our Mallorca training camp

1:1 outdoor coaching & learning to ride in clipless pedals

After increasing my 
fitness indoors, I decided that it was time to try riding outside again. Alas, I was unsteady on the bike, my confidence was lacking when it came to clipping in and out, and I was feeling unsafe. The perfect ingredients for another topple, which I did have (though this time, at least, I didn't break anything). 

This time, Njinga came to my rescue. 

I booked myself in for an outdoor 1:1 coaching session with Togo in Richmond Park and we worked on my being able to stay upright on the bike. 

Appropriately, the session started with me providing Togo with an impromptu demonstration on how I end up toppling off my bike! I was picked up off the floor and Togo explained the issue: I was unclipping too late and leaning the wrong way.

Togo's plan to rectify my mistakes was genius and didn't involve the bike at all: I had to collect sticks in the park! 
Believe it or not, that was the exercise that helped me learn, off the bike, how to unclip my pedals. 

When I made it back onto my bike, I found myself heading towards Broomfield Hill in Richmond Park. I didn't believe I was ever going go be able to climb it, but with Togo's guiding hand on my back and his positive encouragement, I made it to the top.

I'd like to say that from that day onwards, I haven't toppled off my bike again, but it wouldn't be true. 

You always need to keep your head in the game and stay focused.

This is what Togo's coaching taught me, but alas, sometimes I do get distracted.

Getting outdoor miles in my legs with the Njinga Collective

With my confidence slowly growing, I was keen to start getting the miles in my legs before Ride London, so I joined the Njinga Collective, Njinga's not-for-profit outdoor riding group and the friendliest bunch of people you'll ever meet. They've provided me with encouragement and friendship; experience and expertise (including their insider tips on the local coffee and cake shops); and they make me want to get out on my bike! 

With the Collective, I've climbed many more hills and ridden distances I'd have never thought possible, including cycling to Kent and down to Brighton!

Ride London fast approaching

All the while, Ride London was still on the horizon, still daunting, and fast approaching! To help riders prepare themselves and get fit, Njinga ran a
group training programme focused on Monday and Wednesday nights.

I became devoted to my training in the lab and my outdoor rides at the weekend.
 

My target, when asked by Togo, was just to finish. And I did.

Ride London 2.0 and a goal to keep me focused

I entered Ride London again for a second year in 2016 but this time, I set myself a goal. Sadly, due to the infamous road closures and accidents en route, I didn't make my goal.

Claire completing the 100 mile Ride London sportive.

Claire on a cycle ride with her fellow Njinga riders.

Claire's Ride London finisher's medal.

Summer 2017: Njinga's Road Cycling Skills programme

The next summer, I took part in Njinga's Road Cycling Skills (Level 2) programme and learned so much, including when and how to change gears. It's not as straight-forward as you may think: it's about the feeling in the legs, not what you see ahead of you.


This programme alone helped with my ability and confidence to climb hills and do so efficiently. 

I've also learned the skills of climbing – both seated and standing; how to follow the line when descending hills; and I'm pretty good at doing the butterfly! I'm also now a confident group rider, and I've mastered many weekend rides with my fellow Njinga Collective riders.

Giro de Sardegna 2018: An adventure of firsts

Next up, I decided to sign up to ride Giro de Sardegna 2018, my first overseas event. Six days cycling back-to-back seemed like a good idea at the time (the most I'd done at that point was three days).

Claire with fellow Njinga riders at the start of Giro de Sardegna.

Claire in the start pen for a Giro de Sardegna race.

Claire at Giro de Sardegna.

It was a memorable experience in so many ways, both physically and mentally.

I had an incredible group of Njinga women around me and we kept each other going. It was an adventure of firsts: my first overseas event, my first individual time trial, and my first team time trial.

An Njinga Rider for life

Nowadays, my days off are spent cycling in the Surrey Hills with friends I've met through Njinga.


If you haven't tried any service with Njinga, I'd certainly recommend it.

From the owners to the instructors, from the ride captains to fellow riders, it's by far the best place to learn to ride and improve your fitness.

Claire and fellow Njinga riders in the start pen at the Giro de Sardegna.

Claire with her Njinga riders after completing her first Team Time Trial at the Giro de Sardegna.

Claire in Sardinia for a 6 day stage race.

If you haven't tried any service with Njinga, I'd certainly recommend it. From the owners to the instructors, from the ride captains to fellow riders, it's by far the best place to learn to ride and improve your fitness.
WHERE IS CLAIRE NOW?

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A NOTE FROM THE COACH

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– Togo Keynes, Head Performance Coach at Njinga Cycling Academy

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