Mike McCarty: a true duathlete in every detail

If you think triathlon has a close-knit community, try duathlon. When you regularly compete in events that draw anywhere from 50 to 1,100 people total—as compared to several thousand in triathlon—you get to know your neighbors.

Over the course of a half-dozen national and world championship duathlons, I had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know Mike McCarty, resident of New Bedford, Massachusetts and Marana, Arizona. One of the most consistent and prolific competitors over the past 27 years, Mike raced his last duathlon on April 7 at the USA Triathlon Duathlon National Championship in Greenville, South Carolina.

Mike passed away this week at age 72 due to complications from heart surgery.

The duathlon community has lost a top competitor, a whiz analyst, and a good friend.

Mike McCarty
Mike McCarty at a post-race dinner after the 2013 World Duathlon Championships in Ottawa

“Mike and I raced together for 27 years and took pride knowing we had participated in more consecutive National and World Championships than anyone else,” says Jim Girand, a multiple duathlon national and world champion.

“Mike will always be remembered for the in-depth analyses he did on many duathletes. When seeing total strangers at a race, he would tell that person more about his/her race history than realized. Looking forward many years, people will remember Mike’s ‘historical’ contribution.”

McCarty, a retired optometrist, has a history of overcoming adversity and emerging stronger than ever. In 2011, he came back from open-heart surgery—and had a stroke on the operating table—to win his 65-69 age group at the Duathlon National Championships four months later.

In 2015, he had knee replacement surgery after years of running and racing “bone on bone.”

“My knee hasn’t felt this good since I was in college,” McCarty told SouthCoast Today. “My legs were always tired after a race. I used to take eight days off after a race; now it’s four days. I’ve cut that recuperating time in half. I feel like a kid again.”

Nine months post-surgery, he became a three-time national champion, winning the 70-74 age division in the sprint distance.

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Mike McCarty in 1996 at age 51. And a Trimble! (Standard-Times file photo)

In addition to his three national age-group wins, McCarty won the ITU World Duathlon Championship in Calais, France, at age 55.

Since the early ’90s, McCarty has racked up a string of national and world podium awards. His success came not only from training and talent, but from meticulous course preparation and competitor analysis.

As Girand alluded, McCarty analyzed past and current performances of his competitors down to the second. Amol Saxena DPM, another longtime runner and duathlete, recalled via Facebook post how McCarty assessed who Saxena needed to beat to qualify for Team USA. McCarty did all the stats by hand.

“His post-race analysis was also something unique,” USA Triathlon Chief Operating Officer Tim Yount wrote in an email. “I sometimes worried that he had GPS trackers out on everyone in his age group, to the extent that he could gauge power output needed in the next race or following season to overcome these same opponents.”

Yount says McCarty applied the same detailed research to his course previews—seemingly even more than Yount himself, who has to know every inch in order to lead USAT prerace meetings, group runs and rides, and to communicate any changes to participants.

“Even my diligent review of courses could not stand up to Mike,” Yount wrote. “He knew what apex of every turn would get him the fastest time (being an Optometrist probably helped here) where to ride various courses because of wind direction, and transitions…don’t think for a day you could work through processes for fast transitions faster than Mike.”

In the days leading up to the 2014 World Duathlon Championships in Pontevedra, Spain, Mike asked if I had researched my competitors. When I said no, he explained generally how I should do this. Since I’m not a numbers person, my eyes probably glazed over halfway through.

But that’s not what I remember most about that trip. I remember driving the bike course with Wolf Hillesheim, Jim and Mike on a drizzly afternoon, stopping for lunch along the way. I remember spending time with Mike in between and during the post-race Team USA reception, at dinner with lots and lots of incredible seafood, and during the Closing Ceremony. There, we watched Jim stand on the podium to accept a bronze medal (75-79) in front of thousands of people. He was beaming.

Wolf Hillesheim, Mike McCarty and Jim Girand in Pontevedra

If memory serves (details get fuzzy), Mike walked with me back from the ceremony to he and Wolf’s hotel room, where I had temporarily stashed my bike, even though his buddies were still celebrating. I appreciated he sacrificed missing part of the big party to escort me back early. I enjoyed the conversation on the way, too. I remember him as gracious, intelligent and really darned funny.

I’m so grateful to have gotten to know my Bay Area-and-beyond duathlete friends and grateful for the dinners, drinks and races where Mike was a part. There will be a void in the duathlete family without Mike’s presence. He will be missed by so many.

— Heather J.


Du’ing it as a pro: Alistair Eeckman

Alistair Eeckman has stood on a lot of podiums since taking up cycling at age 13. But when the 22-year-old from Berkeley, California crossed the line at Powerman Panama in January 2017, he had an even bigger reason to celebrate. It was his first win as a professional triathlete/duathlete.

Powerman Panama

It was only a matter of time before Eeckman, a top finisher since his first multisport race, would claim an elite license. He earned it in 2013, the year he won age-group gold and placed in the top 10 overall at the ITU Duathlon World Championships in Ottawa, Ontario. He also won the Junior USAT Standard Duathlon Nationals that year, at age 19. He had college to think about, as well as a potential future in triathlon. So he waited.

The opportunity came again in 2014 after he won the competitive Challenge Penticton Half by 11 minutes. Again, he passed.

USA Triathlon offered Eeckman a pro card a third time in 2015 after he took the age-group win at the Wildflower Long-Course Triathlon by a whopping 14 minutes. This time, he said yes.

“That race was an eye opener,” he says. “I did the whole race by myself with no one around to push me. It would have gotten me 15th in the pro field. With more competition, I thought I could get top 10 in a pro race. So I decided to take it and see what happens.”

As a newly minted pro, Eeckman has competed in both triathlon and duathlon, the latter giving him an early chance to compete on an international stage. At Powerman Florida, held in December in Silver Springs, Florida, Eeckman ran out of real estate as he closed in on the leader, France’s Gael Le Bellec, a two-time Powerman world duathlon champion, to take second in the elite field on the 10K-65K-10K course.

At Powerman Panama, in January, Eeckman patiently moved up from sixth to second in the first 10K run. He took the lead on the 60K bike and held it though the end of a hot (between 77 and 90 degrees F), humid race. You can read about both races on Eeckman’s blog.

Powerman Panama
Alistair Eeckman opened up a gap on the bike.

“Several people took it out pretty fast on the first run,” he says. “You have to be careful—it’s easy to go out too fast on first run, and if you go out too quick in hot races, you’re going to pay for it pretty bad.”

Powerman Panama
Especially in hot, humid weather, don’t go out too fast!

Eeckman knew that about duathlon from his first race—the 2012 Golden Gate Du in El Sobrante, California, just a few miles east of his Berkeley home. With only two weeks of running under his belt, Eeckman won the race. From then on, he’s focused only on multisport and hasn’t looked back.

Eeckman’s physiology and personality make him ideally suited for multisport. As a junior professional cyclist, he excelled in time trials and hilly courses. In races with lots of attacks that only a sprinter’s DNA can cover, he struggled. Besides, he likes to race for himself.

The fitness gained from an active childhood and years of cycling allowed him to easily transition to running. It didn’t take long for him to build up to a 33-minute 10K in an Olympic distance tri. He continues to work on his swimming. In the meantime, he mixes it up by competing in both tri and du.

While some of his 2017 races remain in flux, Eeckman says he will toe the line in Bend, Oregon, for the 2017 USAT Standard Duathlon National Championships. And he plans to keep the run-bike-run format in his racing calendar moving forward.

“It’s something I’m good at,” he says. “I feel I have a good chance to win the Elite Duathlon Nationals and unfortunately, I couldn’t race it last year due to an injury. I also want to stick with duathlon because another goal I have is to get on the podium at Powerman Duathlon World Championships some time in future.”

 Follow Alistair on Twitter @ajeeckman, and on his blog and his website. For triathlon or/and duathlon coaching (he does that too!), you can email him at: ajeeckman@comcast.net.

Got a question for Alistair about training for Powerman duathlons, training in brutally hot races, or training as an elite? Ask us in the comments below!

Du’ing Great: A chat with Suzanne Cordes

Suzanne Cordes has a lifetime of racing experience and a mountain of running, triathlon, and duathlon awards. This June, however, the 57-year-old athlete added some meaningful hardware to her trophy case—she took home the bronze in both the ITU Duathlon World Championship in Aviles, Spain, and the USAT Duathlon National Championship in Bend, Oregon. Her performance in Bend also earned her a third place Standard Grandmasters (50-59) Female award.

The trip to Central Oregon came just a few weeks after an impromptu trip to Aviles, where Suzanne competed on a whim, a prayer, and a lot of determination. A serious hamstring tear sidelined her for about four months earlier this year, but as typical of us stubborn athletes, she kept her sights on June.

When the doctor said “maybe” she would be healed enough to race, she took that to mean, “I’m going to try.” Makes perfect sense to me! She didn’t just try. She did, and later, stood on the podium with a big shiny medal.

A runner since age 10, Cordes competed in track and cross country in high school, college, and, later, as a high-ranking masters athlete. She has earned collegiate and Masters All-American status and is ranked internationally in World Masters Athletics, the governing body for international track and field and cross country events for ages 35-plus. She started competing in triathlon in 1989 and duathlon in 2014.

A certified USA Track and Field Level 2 Endurance Coach, a USA Triathlon Level 1 Coach, and a coach with lots of other credentials, Suzanne trains runners, cyclists, and multisport athletes from her facility, In Training, in San Ramon, California.

I caught up with Suzanne during a well-deserved, post-Bend vacation in North Lake Tahoe, where she, her husband Rick (also a high-ranking duathlete), and their three large cats relaxed among the pine trees and magically blue water.

RBR: Tell me about the course in Aviles. All I’ve heard is that it was hot and humid and the transition area was very long!

SC: The bike had some hills. And we repeated loops—we went down a lower loop and made a hairpin turn, then to a far right loop and made a hairpin turn, then up and around another loop. And we repeated those loops three times. The run went along the River Aviles. It was basically flat, with some hard right turns and some little bumps. A lot of people didn’t run two loops and mistakenly got a DNF.

RBR: You had a phenomenal race! How did you overcome a nagging injury to finish on the podium?

SC: I had strong desire to perform well at the world level. Spain was purely mental. I wanted it. I had to mentally block out aches and pains and direct my focus on my mantra “keep the push!” to stay strong.

Suzanne Cordes keeps pushing through a technical 40K bike in Aviles.

RBR: Our mental attitude can really make or break a race.

SC: The mental aspect is huge. Many people don’t realize the power of the mind. They train the physical body, and focus on training, which is important, but the mind rules. You can be in the best shape of your life, but if your head doesn’t believe it, all that fitness is not going to rise you to the top. For me, Spain was a total mental race with so much want.

RBR: You coach groups in running and cycling at your studio in San Ramon. What training strategies do you use for new duathletes?

SC: My athletes have their workouts when they show up to practice. Most of them train in a group. I try to individualize within the group. Most of the training, though, is to build confidence. It’s not so much about whether they can run fast or bike well. That’s a given. They’re going to do the best they can. It’s about building confidence. I show them they can do it.

RBR: Does the confidence building come out in the words or the workouts?

SC: Everyone is different. I have to show them. We perform initial assessments as baseline data, develop goals with dates and distances to aim toward, then periodically compare times/watts. No mystery. They have proof of their improvements.

RBR: Is there a key workout that you do leading up to a national or international race?

SC: I’m always changing it up. I do a lot of my bike training on the trainer. A key workout for me though is to take my bike out to a place with no stop signs or signals where I can get in the aero position and simulate a race. On the trainer, I may divide up a workout into two times 10 miles and try to hit the watts that I want to hit in the race. Also, at my training facility, we’ve got courses that we’ll put up on a big screen and we race to them. That’s the secret sauce. That keeps Rick in the game. It gives you a total edge. When I look at the workouts that I do at the [training] center, it’s way harder than a race. All the stats are on the screen, and these guys are trying to beat me, and I’m not going to let them. It’s a game!

Follow Suzanne at @coachcordes.

Du the Spotlight: Wolf Hillesheim

Wolf Hillesheim of El Sobrante, California, on the Eastern side of the San Francisco Bay Area, got interested in multisport at age 50, but he’s never stopped moving. Ever. Really, I don’t think he knows how to sit still.

His endless energy has propelled him to 18 ITU World Duathlon Championships, and dozens and dozens of national, regional, and local races. He had his eye on a gold medal for years, and in 2015, he claimed two: at the USAT Duathlon National Championships in St. Paul, Minnesota, and at the ITU World Championships in Adelaide, Australia.

That same year, at age 70, USA Triathlon named Wolf Grand Masters Duathlete of the Year. He’s been on a roll ever since, and will likely continue to top the USAT rankings for years to come. “Health is wealth,” he’s known to say. If that’s the case, he is very rich indeed.

We caught up with Wolf just a few days before the local Du TOES (Triathlon of El Sobrante), one of several duathlons and running events that his company, Wolf Pack Events, puts on each year. His low-key, but challenging duathlons regularly attract local elites and newcomers alike. His well-organized race directing and commitment to recognizing all athletes, from the front to the back of the pack, keeps people coming back. (That and the post-race pizza.)

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Wolf (right) with friend/duathlon champ Tom Parker post-race in Aviles, Spain

RBR: When and why did you start Wolf Pack Events?

Wolf: I started Wolf Pack Events because I gave my Karate Dojo, Kempo Karate, to my son. Forty-nine years was enough. And there were no sanctioned USAT duathlons in the East Bay, and I live to race, along with some of my duathlon friends.

RBR: You competed in the 2016 World Duathlon Championships in Aviles, Spain recently. I heard it was a tough day out there. How so? Are you pleased with your performance?

Wolf: When you race in Europe, all the best in the world are there. I came in fifth, hoping for third, but could not have done any better. The winner has not lost a Worlds race in his past six events. The sprint races started early. We [standard distance] started at 11:30 a.m., in the sun…and then the humidity…lots of American teammates had major cramping problems. But it is the same for all, except that living in the Bay Area, where we seldom have humidity, takes a small toll.

RBR: You are a national and world champion and ranked number one in your age group in USAT’s 2015 national rankings. You’re racing up a storm! What training principles help you stay speedy at 70?

Wolf: Du speed work every week. Eat some real boring meals six days a week—salad and chicken breast at least five days a week. Very seldom miss a day of training. Du most of my bike training indoors, and then go out on every Saturday and du a run/bike /run if we are not racing. Hang around with people that don’t whine and like to have fun. My goal is to be the oldest male to compete in the world championships, so I have a lot more races to DU.

On June 25, Wolf and many others (including me) will head to Bend, Oregon, to compete in the USAT Duathlon National Championships. Run bike run swift!

run bike run