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 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.
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.
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.