Fitness & Sports

Tracy DiSabato-Aust wins Triathlons

by Susan Harris on June 29, 2011

Tracy with husband Jim in Budapest

Tracy DiSabato-Aust is name that’s well known to American gardeners – she’s a best-selling author, popular speaker and garden designer.  But they’d be surprised to hear that she’s also the U.S. and world champion triathlete among women 50 to 54!  Won that title in Budapest last fall, where her husband and 21-year-old son competed, too.  (The family that does triathlons together probably does stay together.)

Tracy and family were three of about 200 athletes ages 20 to 80 who represented Team USA Triathlon in Budapest, where Tracy didn’t just compete but also blogged for the team (here are her blog posts). They’ve also competed in Italy and Australia, and will be going to Beijing this September for the world championships.  There’s lots more photos and stories about their athletic adventures right here.

What ARE Triathlons?
Events that include swimming, cycling and then running, at various distances - 11 different ones, in fact. Tracy’s favorite is the Olympic distance, which is just under a mile swim, 24.8 miles of biking and then a 6.2-mile run, which all takes about two hours and Tracy thinks is great fun. (Better her than me.)  Far more grueling is the aptly named Ironman distance, the running leg of which is a whole fricking Marathon.

Tracy after a triathlon where she won Best Overall Woman - of all ages!

“Sprint” distances became available just two years ago and Tracy says they inflict less wear and tear on older athletes.  Apparently the sport of triathlon has exploded recently, with lots of all-women events too.  All very safe and friendly, she says.   And if swimming is a hassle for you (joining a pool, driving to it), there are Duathlons now, comprised of just running and cycling.

Not an athletic newbie
I asked Tracy how she came to all this competing – was it a midlife crisis or something?  In other words, could it happen to someone like ME?  (Waaay unlikely.)  But no, she’s always been a runner, having started as a sprinter and hurdler in high school.  And before she became a mother she enjoyed 8 years of teaching fitness, “Jane Fonda-style”, as she describes it.   She also digs roller-blading and skiing around their 140-acre property during the long Ohio winters.

But at the age of 45 Tracy took up triathlons and now that’s her whole focus.  Trains 12 to 15 hours a week, covering two of the three sports every day.

So, only someone of independent means could afford to compete all over the world, right?  Or someone savvy enough to get sponsors, plenty of ‘em.

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Remember Diana Nyad, Olympian and holder of the world record for longest swim?  Back in 1978 she tried swimming the 103 miles from Cuba to Miami, but had to stop after some 40 hours because of bad weather.  Decades later, in which she worked as a television sportscaster, she tried again, at the age of 60.  That attempt last summer had to be cancelled, again because of weather, but this summer she’s trying again and I am SO rooting for her.

I heard Diana talk about this summer’s big swim on the Leonard Kopate Show, revealing that it’ll take a support team of over 20 people and a budget of about $400,000 to make the swim, which will take over 60 hours.  Think about it – 60 hours in the water.  Famously “shark-infested” waters, at that.  She won’t be using a shark cage, though – no asterisk for this record-seeker.

From Diana’s website we learn that she’s identifies strongly as a Boomer.

For decades, Diana has been at the heart and soul of the baby boom generation, many of whom are feeling irrelevant, lacking in vitality, and dejected that their best days are behind them. This summer, the imagination of the American public will once again catch fire. The authentic message, the walk that Diana walks, will resonate with millions of baby boomers looking for renewal, parents hoping their children spark to inspired lives, and women searching for proof that middle age is their prime, not the beginning of the end.

Love her!   And even after years on television, it seems that appearing swimming-cap-dented and make-up-free in this video doesn’t bother her at all.

I’ll be following her blog for news of the big swim, scheduled for sometime in July.   I know it’s weather permitting, but I find myself surprisingly invested in her being able to make the attempt this time – and accomplish it. For all of us.

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Me and my recumbent

by Susan Harris on March 30, 2011

There’s some history behind my decision to ditch the treadmill and take up a recumbent bike instead, but this is just a quick update on how it’s going.   As illustrated here,  the recumbent is great for reading, even for watching movies streaming to my laptop.  I couldn’t do that with the treadmill, even though I was just walking.

And work-out-wise, my 45 minutes on the thing gets the old heart rate up into the aerobic range, and produces some honest sweat without really straining.  (When it comes to any real punishment, I’m a sissy.)

The only negatives for me are:  one, the sore fanny syndrome from sitting on even this nice wide seat for too long at a stretch.  And two, I don’t find it as enjoyable as walking.   But walking was starting to take its toll on the old musculoskeletal system and you know the story – there’s no choice but to adapt.

And no, I don’t really hold the paper like this, but it sure worked for hiding my morning face and my morning hair.

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Kayak club gathers at riverside

After 25 years of playing a whole lotta golf, Mark was tired of it and ready for something new.   His maiden run in a beginner’s “funyak” on the nearest river was a blast, and it didn’t take much Googling for him to discover the local canoe and kayak group via  He bought a boat and gear and paddled for all of last season with the group, which put 20-40 kayaks on the river for each outing.   Men and women of all ages and made up the group, though it was dominated by Boomers and Gen Xers – both single and married.

Mark marvels that he “even went so far as to camp overnight on the river.  For a guy who normally uses a sleep apnea machine, this is a HUGE deal.”   (Well, we all have something we can’t imagine living without.  You know how many people travel with their pillows?)

Mark braves Class III rapids on the Nantahala River

Mark entertained his blog readers every step of the way with stories like “Didn’t Die on the Nantahala” that includes some great action photos like the one above.  For him the “Class III rapid at the every end was a BLAST.”   He was hooked, and already planning to attack another river.

Pride in new accomplishments

In his story about the kayaking season coming to an end he boasts:

I have mastered a new skill with which I take much pride. I now can now stand up in my kayak to pee! Yeah, well it is a big deal. When both sides of the river are rocky
bluffs and the river is up, the sand or gravel bars are hard to find. And since the water is mid 60s temperature I really wanted to keep my tootsies dry.

A bourbon-lover's kayak

More fond memories include tormenting his “Paddle Buddy” – the guy with all the Coast Guard experience – about taking a swim: “Yeah, the Coastie dumped!  Twice.”

And in this post Mark reveals that his daughter thinks “yaking” is just for rednecks.  Not true!  “The unrednecks stay in campgrounds with running water, showers, and flush toilets. And loud music,televisions, and motorcycles.”  Sounds very big-tent to me.

Golf is such an easy target

But my favorite of Mark’s kayaking stories is one for which he’s uniquely qualified, after those 25 years of golfing:  “Why kayaking is better than golfing”.   My favorite examples from his highly amusing list are:

  • Nobody cares how many strokes you have when kayaking
  • If you get behind a slow group of kayakers you can just paddle around them
  • Floating down a river is free
  • There is no plaid on the river
  • You can take a shit anyplace when kayaking

And by clicking on the link to that story you’ll also find a video mash-up of Robin Williams and George Carlin doing their bits about golf.  Williams’ routine as a Scotsman is okay but I recommend jumping to minute 4:55 for the start of a classic Carlin rant, including classic Carlin expletives (that’s a warning).  One G-rated quote is that golf is a “boring game for boring people”, and his suggestion that America’s 17,000 golf courses could be put to better use housing the homeless is nicely provocative.

How’d he learn to kayak?  I asked.  And Mark answered:

I bought a boat and life jacket and hit the river. As with anything, there is some skill involved, but not much.  The current pulls you along. The only thing you have to learn is to stay away from trees and logs that can grab a yak and dump you. It does require some endurance because when you are on a river, it’s usually for 4-5 hours. Late in the season when the current slows, it can be great cardio pulling on those paddles. I’ve never done the ocean, so that would require a different skill set and knowledge.

About Mark

Mark is the author of the blog Going Like Sixty, which I loved instantly, starting with the tagline: “When I turned sixty, I thought I had patience.  Turns out I just don’t give a shit.”  He also writes the blog  BBQ and Bourbon.   I wish I could say more about Mark, but he blogs anonymously and will remain anonymous here, too.  He hinted that the cause for all the secrecy is something about deep undercover work on a sting of some sort but I’m betting it’s some ex-girlfriend trying to track him down.

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Cycling through Europe with Susan and Hank

by Susan Harris on March 4, 2011

I asked Susan Ogden how she got into cycling like a crazy woman, and she patiently explained.

“Once when I was young, I led cycling tours for American Youth Hostels in New England and had cycled in Japan and Ireland; and 3000 miles from Seattle to Las Vegas in 1976 with a ex-boyfriend.  (Don’t do that).  At that time I had a racing bike and we carried all our gear and camped out each night.”

Years passed.  Marriage and parenting happened.  The next chapter began in 2001 when Susan met her current husband, Hank, and he turned out to be that rare guy who could actually keep up with her on a bicycle.   (They met at the local YMCA.)

“Hank and I met in 2001 when I was looking for new bike adventures and a biking partner.  I told him he had to be able to cycle 100 miles in one day to win my hand;  so we signed up for some long distance rides –the Seagull Century is the best known. We bought bigger, heavier, all-terrain bikes with comfort ‘shocks’, like midlife Mercedes.  Naturally, this bright idea of cycling through Europe came to them, and much Internet research followed.”The zeroed in on Holland during tulip season, and found 2 options:

  • Self guided. You schedule the trip for anytime you want.  (Susan says that “working Baby Boomers need a lot of flexibility.”)   The company helps you plan the trip and make all necessary reservations and rentals.  And when you get there, they actually pick up and take your luggage to the next night’s hotel.  Then you cycle at your own pace, stopping along the way to see a castle, take a short hike or swim,  or play in acres of tulips or fields of lavender.   Susan and Hank typically cycle 35-40 miles a day, though sometimes longer.
  • Guided tours mean cycling with others over a given period of days, but there are plenty of choices.  Be realistic about how much mileage you actually want to cover, taking into account the terrain.  After a day cycling through the relatively flat Loire Valley you’ll still be able to eat a lot of delicious French food as a reward.   And get real: “It will rain and tires will go flat –all for extra credit on your permanent fitness record!” says Susan in an example of the right attitude.
Cycling Europe
“Europe is full of lovely small towns and each country has been a pleasure for cycling. Even countries that don’t have dedicated bike lanes (like Italy and France) still respect cyclists, and most drivers yield to cyclists. Of course, Holland is the best for cycling because the Dutch cycle routinely, so dedicated lanes are provided throughout the country. The centre of Copenhagen is free of parked cars and that creates a very dynamic and stress-free experience for cyclists.  Bikes are available for rent there for – get this – a deposit of $5, which is returned when you bring back the bike.   Just remember that Holland may be flat but it’s also really windy, since much of Holland is the reclaimed ‘zee’.

“For us,  cycling is the best way to travel. When you are on a bike you can look closely at home gardens and get a sense of people’s lives.  And though we love urban life and spend a few days in major cities before and after the cycling, after days of touring through poppy fields and farms and relaxing in sunny landscapes, the cities are less and less appealing.  We typically ride close to 300 miles per trip.”

Oh, and they also take a noncycling vacation every year via some other active mode of transportation – like hiking and rafting.   No butt-sitting tourism for them.

Susan and Hank’s cycling trips include:

Susan Ogden is an adoption agent and Hank Prensky is a real estate agent.

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Working out with Dance Central, via Xbox 360

by Susan Harris on February 17, 2011

Steve and Stephanie Ney get all sorts of exercise, indoors and out.  But this winter they landed on a new way to work out indoors without having to leave the comforts of their own family room – the Dance Central program that plays on their Xbox 360 Kinect.

Here’s how it works.  What looks like a video game leads you through various dance routines using animated characters and symbols telling you what move is coming up next.  But this is a two-way deal here, folks – the program knows what you’re doing and grades you on it!   Using a Wii-like device – pronounced “wee” – you control the program using no controls at all, just by waving your arms!   Here’s a demonstration on Youtube.

According to this review,  Dance Central is the “first real dance game experience that is fun, social and for everyone!” and also the “first immersive dance video game that features and tracks full-body dance moves.”

More fun than watching videos or reading reviews about this strange product is watching Steve and Stephanie dance along with these animated characters in the aforementioned family room, and even giving it a whirl myself.   So I can confirm that it’s indeed fun and probably makes people better dancers in the bargain, so what’s not to love?

But I have to wonder how artist Stephanie and civil rights lawyer Steve stumbled about this thing in the first place – which I forgot to ask.  Probably had something to do with being parents, especially to boys, and the inevitable videogaming and Xbox-owning that that entails.   Apparently.

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How much treadmilling is too much?

by Susan Harris on February 1, 2011

For nine years now I’ve been addicted to my treadmill, logging 45 minutes on the thing almost every morning. It was an excuse to watch “The Daily Show” and Colbert on tape, or crack the latest red envelope from Netflix. I never installed a computer hook-up like this one in the photo, but I could watch something on my smallest laptop fit if I perched it just so on the book holder – in a pinch.

So, it was a nice deal – walking and being entertained at the same time – and it sure worked for me.

Until it didn’t, as evidenced by increasingly frequent foot injuries. So I went looking for a machine that produces a great work-out with less impact – a recumbent stationary bike from Schwinn (full report coming soon).

My treadmill is now making a young couple in the neighborhood very happy, or so I’m told (“My wife won’t get off the thing.”) That’s what I heard from the guy down who took it off my hands – free to anyone who could get the damn thing down from my second floor and out the door.

Oprah working out

Speaking of treadmills, in a recent Parade Magazine Oprah said her typical day includes 1 hour and 15 min on the treadmill – first at the office at 6:30 a.m. for an hour, then another 30 minutes at 7:50 in the evening. Well, good for her! But then there’s this detail about what she does at the same time, and it doesn’t involve watching comedians, I’ll tell ya. “While on the treadmill I play Scrabble on my iPad against the computer.”

So, another example of why Oprah’s a super-achiever, and I’m not. And that’s okay – I’d rather have the laughs.

Treadmill photo credit.

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Originally published on another blog in 2010 but copied here because it’s on-topic.

Feeling a bit sluggish about now, deprived of outdoor exercise for all these months? Me, too! But not as sluggish as I’d be feeling if I didn’t have THE PROGRAM. That’s what I call my ever-increasing compilation of exercises that a bevy of physical therapists has devised for me over the years.

Exercise for the gym-averse

See all my exercise toys? They’re cost under 150 bucks and with a little training in their use, comprise everything a middle-aged gardener needs to stay fit – just add cardio. So if, like me, you’d rather not spend money on health clubs that you’ll use for a month, or even if you had the money and discipline to go, you’re not crazy about the loud and sweaty young crowd there, no problem! Do-it-at-homers can get just as much done – with practically NO excuse for ever skipping a day.

So here’s my routine:

  • Every single damn day, right after reading my email and the NYTimes online, I get on the treadmill, with coffee mug in hand, for 45 minutes of fast walking. What makes this tolerable – nay, even enjoyable – is the television you see here, on which I play tapes of the Daily Show, the Colbert Report, an assortment of PBS shows and even the occasional network show (I’m loving “Modern Family”). Oh, and how can I forget Netflix? Good lord, what a great service! I’m currently racing through the fifth season of “Weeds”, thanks to those red envelopes of happiness.
  • Also every day, I do a bunch of stretches and some Pilates core-strengthening exercises. (Once you’ve discovered your “core”, you’ll never want to go back to your old, slouching, flaccid-muscled state.)
  • Every other day I use those dumbbells and stretch bands and that cool “therapy ball” to staunch the muscle-deteriorating trend that kicked in big-time in middle age. “Use it or lose it” turned out to be one of the better slogans from the ’70s.

That’s it. Plus in season, gardening my ass off, as we say in the GardenRant Manifesto.

Photo above right: The view from the treadmill. The TV is mandatory, lazy cat optional.

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Pilates for the Middle-Aged Gardener

by Susan Harris on February 1, 2011

Real gardening in middle age and later is a quite a challenge physically. As in, how much back-breaking work can I do without hurting something, most especially the aforementioned back? And that’s all on top of the ordinary hazards to gardeners of all ages, like the accidental removal of digits. So what’s the answer? Of course, there’s the boring advice we’ve all read about wearing gloves, and real gardeners resist that as a matter of honor, but the advice I do follow is to try to prevent back injuries. You know how nothing makes you feel older than having back pain? That’s the motivation right there.

It all started a few years ago when some now-forgotten injury led me to a physiologist, who referred me to a physical therapist who also does Pilates, and I became a convert. Not one of those advanced, I’ve-devoted-my-life-to-it converts, just a fan who’s incorporated it into my regular workout. I started with a class of five on the very expensive and very effective Pilates apparatus, which looks exactly like Medieval torture devices but healed me of every ache I’d ever had. Then, in an economizing move, I switched to a large class of Pilates done on mats, and learned a program of exercises I could do at home, which is the stage I’m at now – no expense at all. Well, I did buy a book the teacher recommended – Pilates Body by Brook Siler – and I started browsing Pilates videos for more at-home help. ,

So how does Pilates affect the gardener? I think it’s the focus on core strength in the abs, glutes and quads, all the large muscles that we use doing any kind of “yardwork.” I’ve seen its benefits described as muscle strengthening and body toning, which sounds about right except that I have no idea what body toning is, although I know it when I feel it.

In addition to doing the Pilates exercises themselves, it’s also important to use the Pilates-trained muscle tension and breathing when doing manual labor (including most gardening) so that the larger, toned muscles are engaged.  It’s going beyond the usual advice about bending at the knees when lifting to – dare I say it? – total Pilates consciousness.  I try to stay “in Pilates” when I’m doing my daily walk, too, a form of multi-tasking that feels damn good.

To round out my ever-optimistic program of prevention, I do stretches and weight-lifting as prescribed by the same wise physical therapist who led me to Pilates. Then, when it comes to the pre-exertion warm-up-and-stretch routine we’re always told to do, why do I suddenly act like a slacker? Coz that’s what happens when I first hit the garden, with all my pent-up impatience to get to work.  Impatience – probably not part of being “in Pilates” but we all work with what we’ve got.

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