Hugh Malyon: My Dartmoor Classic

Hugh Malyon shares his story ... an inspiration to us all!

It may be a few months ago now, but it feels like yesterday!

I remember the week leading up to the epic and slightly mad idea of the Dartmoor Classic: What are you doing this weekend? “I’m visiting friends in London”, “I’m catching up on housework”, “It’s my best friend’s wedding”… my reply “I’m cycling 67 miles and ascending over 6,000 feet on windy and wild Dartmoor… for fun”

The Dartmoor Classic, as for everyone taking on this beautiful challenge, has been in pipeline for over half a year. I, along with my training coach, Hamish, from FreeTrike, could be seen making slow but steady progress up hills from Paignton to Totnes. These sessions would normally be 2 to 3 hours long, and would be mounted on a Pino. My mighty Pino is a semi-recumbent tandem. a German import, the Pino is produced by Hase and has allowed me to cycle miles. My Cerebral Palsy means it is impossible to balance on a standard two-wheel bicycle – changing gear and braking by myself is out of the question… but cycling, the basic left foot, right foot motion of pedalling is just up my street. My muscle tone fluctuates, often high tone where my limbs are rigid, can suddenly become limp, or low tone. Cycling, especially over long distances and with a high gear to counteract my tone finds this sort of equilibrium. Tom Pales, who operates FreeTrike (a local South West based company who help disabled individuals cycle) has documented the benefits of cycling for me on that basic less CP movement and more my choice of movement scale. Cycling on both Pino and a 3 wheeled recumbent have noticeably improved my fitness and my ability to control my everyday movements.  

That’s not to mention, of course, what brilliant fun cycling is. How it has allowed me to express myself, to be free, to move under my own steam, to keep me motivated and active and, above all, to belong to something that I enjoy…. I am part of the cycling community – I am a cyclist!

After a series of training sessions (actively seeking out hills to climb – I know, bananas!) my fitness improved dramatically. Hamish, half-jokingly kept cursing and saying ‘Dammit! We’re actually going to have to actually give Medio a crack – on a Pino’

The Pino is a wonderful design for flat road touring – in theory, a couple of people can cycle round the world on one. It’s quite efficient at going downhill because of the weight… but because of the weight, going uphill, even a slight increase is the Pino’s nemesis. If you know anything about the Dartmoor Classic, hills define the course! There are three main hills in the Medio event, but there are hills leading up to these and lots of going up bits leading to those!

Two months before the event, we gave the Picolo route a crack. This would give us an idea of how crazy we were to take on the Medio event. I remember it being a hot day and the first main hill was challenging but quite stunning with the Dartmoor valley backdrop. Halfway through the Picolo trial we felt good and excited that we could squeeze the extra miles in under four hours – wondering what all the fuss was about, and thinking what a jolly old trip this was. Three quarters of the way, I did not feel quite so good and leading off Dartmoor back to the racecourse (the start/finish point of the Dartmoor Classic) I had a new longing in this genius design with four wheels and an engine thing! Of course, twenty or so minutes after finishing, and after Hamish and I had restocked on food and in comfortable seats, I could not wait for the real thing and to do it all over again…. Just almost twice as long!

Early morning of the event was surreal. Hamish and Tom’s imagination, enterprise and commitment has allowed me to shrug off some of the barriers of my impairments to the community. The Pino Tour itself is a pretty standard model, but I have adapted pedals into footplates to hold my feet into position with snowboarding straps. There are also leg guides and padding to make sure I can continue to pedal. My gears on the front are calibrated to a higher, and therefore, more resisting gear. All these little painstaking adaptions have been perfected over time and continue to evolve, and I have FreeTrike to thank for that.

And then we were off…. The plan was to keep my heart rate below 130 before the first main hill. But half because of my disability, half adrenaline/excitement meant that it was around 110 even before I started pedalling. Back to this surreal feeling, normally with these events, it’s about a) finishing and b) not being in the last 10%, or at least not being the slowest overall… for us, A) took a lot more precedence over objective B. In fact, we were worried if someone didn’t overtake us (apart from downhill, which probably is not wise for us to publish quite how fast we were travelling – it was fast). Therefore, on we went through Newton Abbott, past the official timed start line, and on to Dartmoor, on to the first hill and then onto the first proper hill! Hamish (an expert cyclist and an enthusiastic mathematician) was confident that we had the fitness, stamina and stupidity to complete the 67 miles – our real challenge was keeping ourselves fuelled and hydrated. We had to get drinks down every hour – I can eat on the go, with Hamish carefully breaking snacks into bite sized pieces, reaching around in front of the Pino to find my mouth, allowing me to munch away on flapjacks and brownies. However, for liquid we need to stop pedalling and Hamish needs to reach for a straw.

I recall with great fondness the first stop about 9 miles in: after sweating up the latest hill, Hamish jumped off the Pino, set up the stand, put a drink to my face with one hand and shoved some food in with other whilst thirty or so cyclists steamed past. It was fantastic to be part of the Dartmoor Classic. All those colourful jerseys, the character of Dartmoor, the romance of the challenge and, of course, cycling in the fresh air. All taken in, during this rushed ‘break’ before re-entering alongside fellow cyclists

I learnt loads about my body during the challenge. About digesting, fatigue, motivation, willpower the way my body moves and how much I love to cycle. Since that first pitstop, the rest of the race is an amalgamation of adrenaline, excitement and exhaustion. I do remember, however, the main food and drink stop – cyclists like ants systematically pulling up, leaping off their bikes, filling water bottles up, getting food, jumping back into the saddle and heading off again. Your time continued in your refilling, so the calculations of how much time you spent resting was just as important as the time pedalling.

Out of the food station and back into the blur of cycling beyond pain and exhaustion eventually… and I mean eventually….. to the finishing line. The Dartmoor Classic has two inishing lines and they’re both as wonderful as each other. The first, two miles from the racecourse, is the official time trial finish! Seeing the towers that marked that line gives a second wind…. or at that stage your 25th wind….. and you use your last strength to race over that line. Cheering to no one but the trees, I felt proud that I have achieved something that before FreeTrike and the ability to train wouldn’t have been possible! The second line was when my memory sort of caught up with my Pino body. I recall barriers guiding us between the crowd. My mum and good friend Jen were there cheering and clapping alongside other exhausted cyclists. It was an ecstatic moment and of great achievement. I was not in the best of shapes physically, and quite mentally drained, but alive within. Then, one of the outstanding, helpful and enthusiastic stewards escorted myself and Hamish to the medal zone, pat us on our back and delivered a goodie bag with a free Dartmoor jersey – which I wear with pride whenever I cycle today!

There you have it, a really rough, but raw, introduction to my cycling and the Dartmoor Classic. I hope I have given you some insight into how much this event has meant to me and how I am looking forward to next year’s race!

It’s a bit of a buzz phrase but this really is all about the training leading up to an event, and all the support from family and friends along the way. FreeTrike has been with me since 2012, allowing me to challenge my disability and experience the freedom of cycling. During every session, I feel free and after every session I sleep better and my body just seems more relaxed – the high tone/low tone thing I was talking about before seems to be less problematic and more harmonious. I definitely aim to do the Dartmoor Classic next year and continue to cycle week in week out, but as you might have seen form photos, gathered from my blog, or even overtaken me with a cheery hello through gritted teeth on Dartmoor, you probably gathered that it’s not that easy for me to just hop on a bike and get going. It takes planning, specialist equipment, specialism in my coach, care and commitment, not forgetting to mention my much needed 1:1 support before and after a session. Without all these factors, and yes, it does boil down to funding, I cannot challenge myself, feel free, and, ultimately, live an independent life. My funding, provided by Social Services, is under review, and cycling may not be an option for me anymore.

Anyway, this blog is about the Dartmoor Classic and cycling. Before the training for the Dartmoor Classic began, I had cycled the equivalent miles from South Devon to Pompeii… now, my mileage totals over 2200 miles…. so Hello to everyone who said encouraging words, a grunt or nod on the Dartmoor Classic – I hope my grin was just as encouraging as yours were to me!

 My official time was 8:16:33 and you can find it here on Strava (although I have sneaky suspicion that the altitude didn’t quite keep up)