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.

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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.

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USAT Duathlon National Championships 2018 – race update

I’m almost a week late in talking about the 2018 USA Triathlon Duathlon National Championships held in Greenville, South Carolina. What I lack in timeliness I hope to make up with photos like this:

Greenville, SC
It’s…a peach. (Photo courtesy of Angie Wonsettler Ridgel)

Oh happy day, more than 1,100 athletes registered for some form of run-bike-run last weekend, either draft-legal or non-draft sprint or standard distance dus. The attendance makes the event the third-largest in USAT’s Duathlon Nationals history. Hooray!

I’m thrilled to see the numbers go up. Was it the location? The chance to compete in Pontevedra, Spain at the ITU World Championships? Or is there a glimmer of increasing interest in duathon? I hope it’s all of the above, though I most hope we see a continued increase in duathlon participation.

I’m biased, because I am a pure duathlete (never raced a triathlon, don’t plan to), but I do believe duathlon has so many advantages over its three-discipline sister. Less crap to buy and manage, less hassle in transition, no hopping on the bike cold and wet, and a chance to get very good at two sports rather than okay in three.

Enough of that. On to Greenville…

It was wet and gross on Saturday, April 7.

Greenville hotel
View on Saturday from the hotel of Eric Butz, a competitor in the standard distance du

However, that didn’t stop 303 athletes from competing in the Draft-Legal Sprint Duathlon (5K run, 18K bike, 2.85K run)

Jesse Bauer was in the lead pack through the bike; however, the final run determined the podium spots: Buckingham Shellberg, Derek Stone, Kenneth Svendsen.

Here’s a mini-report from Jesse.

Chris Mosier, a positive force for the trans community, duathlon and for athletes anywhere everywhere, didn’t let a little rain stop him from running a PR in the 5K and placing sixth in the competitive men’s 35-39 age group. Read all about it in this article from Outsports.

On Sunday, the rain subsided but the temperature dropped—to 37 degrees at the start! Not the worst thing for the run. No fun for the bike.

Alex Arman won the standard distance (8.45K run, 39K bike, 4.5K run) men’s race, while Aimee Phillippi-Taylor claimed the women’s victory.

It warmed up a little for the sprint race, with Taylor Huseman and Cassidy Hickey breaking the tape. Go you!

For the nitty gritty on the non-draft action, read this race report from Podium Sports Medicine.

Did you race in Greenville last weekend? How did it go? Tell us all about it in the comments below.

Guest post: Want a pretty medal? Wait for it.

Here’s another great column from legendary duathlon “mere mortal,” Dr. Steven Jonas. Funny he should bring up this very important topic. Last weekend, I volunteered for the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon, a race my running club, Pamakid Runners, puts on each year.

My teammates and I manned a booth at a local race expo. The number one question? What will the medals look like? It’s a beautiful, flat course? That’s nice. What about the medal? When can I see the medal? Can I buy a medal? Medals are a big deal in today’s running community. They’re also a big deal for age-groupers competing in big multisport events. Here’s Steve’s take on his well-earned inventory. Enjoy! –Du It For You

ITU Duathlon medal

Are you slow, but want to get a medal? Well, hang in there. Hey, you never know. I am a very lucky man to have found multi-sport racing. I reached the age of 46 having been able to do only two sports reasonably well. They were downhill skiing, which I got into during my first year of medical school at the age of 22, and sail-boating, which I got into in my 30s.

I fell in love with skiing on my very first day, even though I spent almost as much time down on the snow as I did actually standing up on my skis. But not being good at any of the usual school sports, I felt that I had finally discovered one I could do, if I took lessons and practiced. Eventually I did it well enough to become a Level I Certified Ski Instructor.

As for sailing, I was a good seaman and a safe sailor and just loved the “sailing sensation.” But I was never much at making my boat go fast in the club races I regularly entered. And in sailboat racing, if you’re not first, second, or third overall, fuhgeddaboudit (as we say in Noo Yawk). But then came triathlon, at age 46.

My-oh-my! Here was a racing sport which required only the ability to swim some distance, ride a bike, and then manage a run. My very first race was the 1983 Mighty Hamptons Triathlon at Sag Harbor, New York. In it, I discovered that unless you were fast, and competitive, it didn’t really matter where you finished, as long as you finished (and in my view, I did that happily and healthily, a phrase I coined the very next morning, when I went out for a little unwinding trot).

Then it just happened that my third race overall, held the following May, was what Dan Honig, the now-retired President of the New York Triathlon Club (nee Big Apples Triathlon Club) and I have concluded was the very first biathlon ever held. Dan thought up the event as a “season-extender” for multi-sport racing in our region. (FYI, “Biathlon” was the early name for our run-bike-run sport, before the application for inclusion of triathlon in the Olympics came up. Then, because biathlon is a winter Olympic sport consisting of cross-country skiing and target shooting, the Greek prefix was exchanged for the Latin one.)

Dan’s race was held at the old Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn. (That airfield, now long-closed, I had known in my New York City childhood as a Naval Air Station. Before that it was New York City’s first commercial airport.) For my first few years on both variants, that’s what it was in its entirety: racing for the pure fun of it.

But then, at what was already a relatively advanced age for getting into a new sport, in my region (New York Metropolitan Area), my age-cohort started to shrink a bit when I turned 50. And lo and behold, with the Mighty Hamptons back then giving age-group awards ten deep, I got my first award, an 8th, in 1987. I took my first age-group 3rd in 1991. I really started reeling them in in both duathlon and triathlon when I entered the 60-64 age group in 1996. Why? Was I going any faster? Why no. As I have gotten older, not one for speed-training, I have gotten steadily slower. But in this region, my age-cohort has continued to shrink while I have continued to race. Now 80, in my 35th year in the sport, I have 250-plus multi-sport races under my belt, including 90-plus du’s. At my age, I am almost guaranteed a plaque if I cross the finish line.

Would I still be racing if I weren’t getting plaques? Because I love the sport so much, I’m sure that I would. But I must admit that I do like getting them. That’s because I view them, for me, as a reward for staying with the sport for so long, especially since I am so slow (and now for the most part walking the run legs). And so, my message here is this: do you enjoy du-ing the Du for its own sake? Great! But even if you are slow like me, if you stay with run-bike-run long enough, you may eventually end up with some plaques too

*This column is based on one that originally appeared on the USAT blog and is used with permission.

2017 marks Steve Jonas’ 35th season of multi-sport racing. As of this writing, he has done a total of 255 du’s and tri’s. He is a member of USA Triathlon’s Triathlon Century Club and is in the 90s for duathlon. He has raced up to the ironman distance, but now at 80, he is sticking to the sprints in both duathlon and triathlon. Steve is a prolific author of books on multi-sport racing. His first (originally published in 1986) was Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals®. The 2nd Ed. (New York: W.W. Norton, 2006) is still in print. In 2012, he published a book exclusively devoted to duathlon: Duathlon Training and Racing for Ordinary Mortals®: Getting Started and Staying with It (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press/FalconGuides, 2012). All of his books on multi-sport are available at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. He is also long-time writer for various multi-sport periodicals, most recently, and happily, joining Du It For You.

USAT Duathlon National Championships 2017. Bend, Take Two

One sign that my race didn’t go as planned—no pictures. Sorry.

2017 USAT Duathlon National Championships
Okay, I took a couple. The finish line – a welcome sight!

This past weekend, duathletes from all over the United States convened in beautiful Bend, Oregon for the USAT Duathlon National Championships.

For the second year in a row, the beer-loving mountain town gave us near-perfect temperatures, sunny skies, and little wind. It was the perfect setting for fast times on a hilly course…mine, however, was not one of them.

But I won’t complain about my race—yet. First, I’ll talk about what went right. Two friends I made in North Carolina during the long-course nationals—Albert Harrison and Tom Woods—both stood at the top of the podium. Albert all-out won the standard course race, finishing the hilly 10K-40K-5K course about two minutes ahead of elite athlete Alistair Eeckman. Tom finished second in his age group in the standard course. Later that afternoon, in his second of three races over the weekend, he won the masters title and the competitive 45-49 age group division in the non-draft sprint. Read USAT’s report here.

Many of my Bay Area friends had great days. Wolf Hillesheim, Jim Girand, and Rick and Suzanne Cordes all finished second in their age group in their respective races. Jacqueline Sasaki, whom I met at a local race the week prior, won the 40-44 AG title for the standard distance. Cassie O’Brien, my transition neighbor at several big races and buddy from the Wolf Pack Events duathlons, finished third in our 45-49 AG for the standard. (Full results here.)

With the exception of the turnaround on the bike course and a slight change to the run course, the routes were identical to last year. You can read the specs in last year’s race report.

2017 USAT Duathlon National Championships
Reviewing the run course during the rules briefing.

The weather was slightly cooler, the wind about equally mild (but no mini twister). My performance: terrible. And I have no one or no thing to blame but myself. My transitions were almost 30 seconds slower. Why? I didn’t practice them. Not once in the past year. Granted, I did get a wave of nausea for a few seconds in T1, and I had trouble getting my cycling shoes on, and I was positioned near the back of the transition area, farthest from Bike Out, but really it’s because I didn’t practice. Why didn’t I practice? How many excuses do you want to hear?

My bike split was about two minutes slower than last year. Why? I didn’t train enough. Sure, we had nearly constant rain in the beginning of the year, and I sold my trainer, so my indoor option is a spin bike at the gym. Adequate? Eh, it’s better than no bike, but not ideal! When the weather cleared, there were many weeks where I’d be too tired from a long or hard run to eek out a quality bike workout later in the week. Or I’d get about half way through, see the pitiful power numbers and give up. Oh, and I switched to a shorter crank a few weeks ago, which I’m still getting used to. But none of that really matters. I didn’t train properly.

My run splits – no complaints there! I improved from last year on both the first and second runs. Why? I’ve been training! I’ve stayed healthy all year, put in consistent track workouts and competed in a variety of road races. No big breakout performances or PRs (at this stage, those are hard to come by), but consistently solid performances. Why? I was committed.

So I’ve finished two national championships this year in duathlon and am two months away from a world championship race. Yet, I have not had the motivation to train for this sport all year. Unless I want to beat myself up again in Penticton, after another crappy race, I’d better find some motivation real quick!

On the second out-and-back of the bike leg, struggling up what looked like nothing but felt like a mountain, my inner voice yelled at me. A lot. It’s typical to get the occasional thought during a race: “This is too hard.” “I should just forget it.” “Why am I out here?” Usually I can push those thoughts aside with a mantra or by telling myself to cut it out. In Bend, my “dark side” had the rest of me convinced this was my last duathlon ever. “F— it. I’m not having fun. I’m last. Oh Jesus Christ. There’s a car behind me. The sweeper car? Figures. I have no business going to Penticton. I can cancel my hotel. Maybe I can get credit with Air Canada. What would I do with it? Oh who cares. This sucks. I should just quit this duathlon business now.” And on and on and on it went. Meanwhile, the women I was with during the first run were long gone.

I wasn’t last. I managed sixth in my age group. That’s three places higher than last year even though I was slower. I had two pretty good runs before and after a sucky bike. My attitude toward duathlon is shifting back toward the positive. I haven’t canceled my flight. Time to get my rear in gear!

How do you recover mentally from a bad race? Talk about it in the comments below.

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!

Duathlon’s humble beginnings

Welcome Du It For You guest contributor Steven Jonas, author of Duathlon Training and Racing for Ordinary Mortals®: Getting Started and Staying with It (Globe Pequot Press/FalconGuides 2012).

Duathlon for ordinary mortals

Now in his 35th year of multisport racing, Steve, age 80, has completed more than 250 duathlons and triathlons. He is a member of USA Triathlon’s Triathlon Century Club and expects to join the Duathlon Century Club this year.

Here, Steve takes us back to duathlon’s beginnings: who started it, why, and how it got its name. Got questions about duathlon’s early years? Post them in the comments below. Enjoy!

Duathlon: A Historical Perspective

The racing sport that for quite some time has been called “triathlon” originated sometime back in the mid-1970s in San Diego, California. No one is absolutely certain of when the first such race was run, who thought it up (although there are a variety of claimants to that honor), and under whose auspices it was put on. But we can be fairly certain of the original history of what is now called “duathlon” and who came up with the idea.

Daniel Honig was an early organizer and promoter of triathlon in the New York Metropolitan Area. I first met him at my second triathlon, a race held on Long Beach Island, New Jersey, at the end of September 1983. Right next to the transition area, Dan had set up a table for what he then called the Big Apple Triathlon Club. An inveterate joiner, who had actually fallen in love with triathlon during my first race two weeks previously, the second running of the Mighty Hamptons Triathlon (then held at Sag Harbor, New York for the first time), I jumped at the opportunity to enroll.

The next spring, when I received a notice from Dan of a race to be held in May 1984, something he called “biathlon,” I was intrigued. For there was a race one could do locally well, before the water at any of the then-available triathlon venues was warm enough for swimming. And that was the idea that originally inspired Dan to come up with biathlon. How about a variant of triathlon that could extend the season in the colder climes? It would still have three segments, but the swim leg would be replaced by an opening run.

Other two-sport variants of triathlon appeared around the same time under a variety of names: “Byathlon,” run-bike, “Cyruthon” (cycle-run). But the run-bike-run format, as developed by Dan, in the first instance quickly came to be seen as an entryway into multi-sport racing for weak or non-swimmers, some of whom might then stay with the form indefinitely (as do many of the readers of this journal).

“When I was a boy” in multi-sport terms, I did my first biathlon in May 1984 at the old Floyd Bennett Field (a former Naval air station) in Brooklyn, New York. It was a cold, wet day, but I was determined to do what then would be my third (what we now call) multi-sport race. I hadn’t raced in the rain in a very long time, for reasons both of safety and comfort. But having looked forward to the race for a couple of months, nothing was going to stop me on that day. Furthermore, it was on a flat, closed course, which made it somewhat safer than being out on a road with traffic. I don’t know what the distances were, but in my race record I do have that I was out on the course for 1:38. That first full season I stayed with both tri- and biathlon, and have done so ever since.

Of course, we now know the sport as “duathlon.” Internationally the name change from “biathlon” came about in the mid-1990s, when the International Triathlon Union applied for the inclusion of triathlon in the Olympic Games. As the campaign got under way, even though there was no idea of including the run-bike-run biathlon in the Olympics as well, the need to come up with a new name for triathlon’s two-sport offspring became appar­ent. In the Winter Olympics, there is a well-established Nordic event that combines cross-country skiing and target‑shooting. It is known as the “biathlon.” Understandably, the International Biathlon Union did not want an­other event in the Olympics, summer or winter, that was associated with the same name as theirs. So, using a Latin rather than a Greek prefix, still with the Greek root, the name “duathlon” for the run-bike-run races was created.

In this column, I will share with you some duathlon thoughts, experiences, and recommendations that I have had over the years. I hope that you will find them useful, and please, if you would like to get in touch with me, don’t hesitate to do so.

This column is drawn in part from Chap. 1 of my book, Duathlon Training and Racing for Ordinary Mortals®: Getting Started and Staying with It. © Steve Jonas, All rights reserved