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08th Oct 2014

From Zero To Hero in Less Than A Year: Melanie McCaughey Explains How She Became an An Post Cycling Hero

What I enjoy the most is that no matter what your speed, ability or level, there is always somebody to cycle with.


For many people, getting the motivation to get up and out can be quite difficult. However, 45-year-old Melanie McCaughey from Howth, Co. Dublin is surely an inspiration to all.

The talented Irish woman has become a sporting hero thanks to her dedication and commitment to the An Post Cycle series this year. She has proven to people countrywide that the impossible is always possible, and that no matter what, every bit of hard work is truly worth it.

This week, she tells us more about how she got involved in cycling, her participation in the An Post Cycle series and the satisfaction of completing the ultimate challenge, a charity cycle from Paris to Nice.


How did you get involved with cycling?

After a period of not doing much exercise and giving up smoking, February 2013 saw me doing a four-week programme of losing a few pounds and attending classes.  I found that I loved the spinning classes, so then I decided to use my sister-in-law’s bike and cycle around locally a bit.  Eventually, in September 2013, I availed of the Bike to Work Scheme and purchased a road bike. After that, I joined Clontarf Cycling Club.

What was your motivation for getting involved?

I was happy that I had found an exercise that I could do physically and that I could enjoy. It was kind to my body too as cycling is non-weight bearing, so my delicate knees felt the benefit and I had no pain while cycling.

What exercise did you do before?

In my twenties, I was a complete gym bunny (well nearly!). I loved it and went all the time. In my thirties, I spent most of my time sailing and club racing at Howth Yacht Club.

What do you enjoy most about cycling?

What I enjoy the most is that no matter what your speed, ability or level, there is always somebody to cycle with.  Then, if you fancy a trip on your own you can choose to go out and enjoy the peace, solitude and scenery all by yourself.  In a club situation, there is a great sense of camaraderie and team spirit. The more experienced cyclists help and mentor those coming up the ranks and also give great help and tips for complete newbies!

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What are the benefits of it?

The most immediate benefit is for your health. Cycling gives you a stronger heart and stronger lungs – I will never, ever smoke again, that’s for sure!  It also gives you a great social life with cycling holidays, weekends and of course, the obligatory coffee stops!

What has it been like being involved in the An Post Cycle Series?

The An Post Cycle series has been absolutely fantastic.  It was perfect timing for me because I won the An Post Spokestars competition and that included a coaching weekend with Alan Heary Performance and I took a lot from the weekend.  It was super that there were eight of us in the group and they have become people that I will know, be in contact with and encourage and be encouraged by again.  Of course the huge bonus was the support in attending the An Post Sportives around the country – the only one I missed was Cork.  I was not even aware of these sportives before. Now I will be happy to attend them again next year as well as bringing as many members from my cycling club along with me.  All-in-all, they are the best events of their type.

You’ve completed Paris/Nice cycle – what was that like?

I was over the moon! There were long days which were more tiring than I imagined, but also very enjoyable.  We were in groups of about eight to eleven people. In our group we had a great sense of camaraderie and helped and encouraged each other throughout the week.  Days comprised of getting up early, eating lots to keep the energy going before hopping on the bike. Then, there were water stops, a lunch stop, more water stops before getting to the hotel. Once there, you’d half unpack your bag, shower, eat dinner (again, as much as possible) before crashing into bed!

I was very nervous the night before Mount Ventoux, which is 1,912 meters. I took a deep breath though and committed to it.   We left the hotel at 7am and cycled 10km to Bedouin, the beautiful village at the base of Ventoux. Then we changed gear (several times) and settled in for the 21km steep climb. I admit it was not the quickest ascent, but it was not disgraceful.

I was absolutely ecstatic at the top – it was quite emotional! Then, because of the long day ahead of us, we still had to do 140km, we could not delay too long. The descent was quick and not as terrifying as I had thought! We arrived in Aix-en-Provenance at about 7.30pm that evening. It was a long day – 170km in total with over 3,000 meters of climbing. But it was worth it – I was so chuffed and proud!

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Melanie pictured at the Eiffel Tower, Paris.

What training did you have to do in the build-up to this?

My training comprised of doing all the An Post Sportives, the Wicklow 100, the Ring of Kerry and cycling in and out of work every day (well, nearly every day!).  The last two months before Paris-Nice I cycled in Wicklow three or four times just to get a taste of the hills.  I also cycled around the hill of Howth every day and on way home twice a week I did intervals on the hill.  Obviously the training paid off, as I felt quite comfortable during the week.  I was never sore or in pain, only tired, and that was just because of the long days.

How does it feel to have gone from zero experience to completing huge challenges such as the Paris Nice cycle?

It feels great – just great.  I keep thinking back on it, as it has all happened quite quickly. As you put it, from zero to hero in less than a year – pretty crazy!!  Words can’t really convey how I feel as it is something I did for myself by myself.  But then by doing the charity cycle, through my effort the RNLI was able to benefit.  Though that seems quite paltry in comparison to the bravery that the crews and volunteers of the RNLI exhibit when they go and rescue people and boats in horrific weather.

What were your goals to begin with? Have you fulfilled all of them? What was that like?

My first goal was to learn how to cycle, and then to cycle properly and well. This involved joining a club and learning cycling etiquette and how to ride in a group.  I did this through the An Post Spokestars Coaching weekend and I also joined a club.  Secondly, I signed up for a charity cycle which saw me cycle from Paris to Nice raising funds for the RNLI.  After that, the Spokestars coaching weekend I signed up and the An Post Sportives were challenges all leading to the next. The ultimate challenge was the six-day cycle from Paris to Nice which included climbing Mount Ventoux at 1,912 meters.  Everything was a step leading to the next and every sportive was a huge achievement. Each time I finished a sportive I felt proud and elated and truly delighted with myself!

Are you hoping to continue your progress and if so, what’s next on the list?

Yes – I will most definitely continue.  I would like to get a new bike first!  Then, I will spend the winter trying to lose a few pounds and maybe do some strengthening exercises. I would also like to do the An Post Cycle Series next year. I aim to look at doing a big challenge again, maybe in France – something similar to the Paris to Nice cycle I have just done.

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Melanie pictured with some of the Spokestar crew at the Sean Kelly Tour of Waterford.

Who are your sporting inspirations? And why?

I never really had any particular sporting inspirations.  I have always admired and had huge respect for international cyclists, though I never imagined that I could do something even remotely similar to what they do! Through cycling, I have been made more aware of the athletes and paralympians who represent Ireland.  It is for these people that I have the biggest admiration and respect for.  The training, determination and commitment that they all put into their sport is mind blowing.  My cycling club is honoured to have Cathal Miller (Irish cycling paralympian) as its chairman.  Cathal regularly rides out with all levels in the club.  He taught me the art of intervals on the hill.

Would you encourage others to get involved in cycling?

Yes – definitely!  I am driving everybody mad about it. I would also get everybody to go to the An Post Sportive as there is a level for everybody!

The An Post Cycle Series will kick off again in 2015, so keep an eye out as dates are due to be announced early in January!