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Habit Forming: Couple Builds Foundation of Fitness One Race at a Time

Liz Merritt
October 16, 2017
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Charlie and Teresa Woodhouse aren’t your typical couple pushing 70. In fact, retirement has opened up a whole new world of athletic performance that neither could have imagined 43 years ago when they said “I do.”

You see, the Woodhouses have taken their beloved sport of triathlon to a level that commands daily care and feeding. From sunrise bike rides and runs to mid-day laps in the pool, they relish in the training and work diligently to build a foundation of fitness that will carry them well past their 70s.

Accolades Aplenty

foundation of fitness

The Woodhouses specialize in Half Ironman distance triathlons.

Charlie Woodhouse, 68, and Teresa Woodhouse, 67, of Tucson, Arizona, accomplish more before the sun comes up than most people half their age.

Both specialize in the Half Ironman distance, a total of 70.3 miles broken down into a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike leg, and a 13.1-mile run.

In fact, two years ago the couple was dubbed USA Triathlon’s Fittest Senior Couple in the World for the Half Ironman in the 65-69 age group, based on points accumulated throughout the racing season.

“Really, what I focus on mostly is staying healthy, not injured and able to train consistently,” says Charlie. “For me, that’s the accomplishment that I look for, rather than a specific race achievement. If I can do that each week, and build on those habits, then I’m in good shape for the next week.”

For Theresa, the looming excitement of competing in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in her age group this fall in Chattanooga, Tennessee, has her beaming.

Mind you, this isn’t her first rodeo. In 2011, she placed 4th in the world for women 60-64. Charlie also competed in the World Championships that year, finishing 7th overall in the men’s 60-64 age group.

“My biggest thrill was being on the podium for the World Championships that year,” she says. “I didn’t even recognize my capabilities until that point. I’m excited to see what I can do now and how my training will shape up when race day comes.”

Building a Foundation of Fitness

Perhaps the best part about the Woodhouse’s story is that neither considered themselves serious athletes before retirement. They dabbled, did some racing, but nothing bordering on what they do today.

Charlie’s medical practice as an oncologist and a growing family kept him too busy to pursue anything more. “In college and medical school, there was no time to do much organized fitness. Then we got into raising a family and starting careers. Life was just too busy.”

Foundation of Fitness

Charlie Woodhouse competing at Ironman 70.3 in St. George, Utah.

When their daughter excelled as a cross-country runner, Charlie took advantage of the opportunity to begin his own fitness journey. “I was getting older and putting on more weight than I liked, so I started running and biking and trying to keep up with her.”

For Theresa, her first career as a registered nurse, second career as a certified public accountant, and raising three kids found her mostly on the sidelines. “I was always kind of interested in sports,” she says. “But when I grew up, there wasn’t anything for girls that my folks would let me do.” Running eventually became an outlet for maintaining basic fitness.

It was the early 1990s when Charlie found triathlon. “I was already biking and running, and I had always admired the swimmers,” he recalls. “Triathlon was just starting to become popular, so I said let’s give it a try. It was something I could work into my life.”

Short-distance sprint triathlons paved his path to fitness back then and formed the foundation of the training habits that he calls on today. “It was something to keep me fit at the time. That was it – until we retired. Then it got serious, and I moved up to the half Ironman,” he says.

And Teresa was right there with him. “I did a few triathlons before retiring, but not much,” she says. “Charlie did a lot more races, and I got tired of sitting on the sidelines. So I gave it a try and was successful. I could actually win something,” she says with a big smile.

Ultimate Accountability Partners

Foundation of Fitness

Teresa Woodhouse races the bike leg at the 2011 Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas.

For athletic couples who compete in the same sport, household energies and tensions can sometimes be challenging. Pile on the fact that Charlie coaches himself and Teresa, and you might think it could get a little dicey.

Not so for this seasoned duo. “Triathlon is a very individual experience. We never, ever train together because our workouts are completely different.” The couple reconnects each evening over dinner the dinner table for a download of the day, the training, what the next day’s training looks like and any adjustments that need to be made.”

He adds, “The advantage of the two of us doing a race together is that we’re there for each other,” Charlie says.

“I probably wouldn’t do it if I was all by myself. And having her along as a participant is even better than having someone to cheer you on.”

Future is Bright

foundation of fitness

Charlie Woodhouse peels away his wetsuit in the race transition from swimming to running.

The sport of triathlon is the holy grail of health and longevity for the Woodhouses. “We’re both doing really well health-wise,” Charlie says. “That’s the great thing about triathlons. You look forward to getting older.”

Teresa adds, “It gets a little harder as you get older in your age group. But how many 70-year-old women will be doing this? I’m hoping to be at least one of them!”

With a goal to remain injury free in a sport and distance that can be grueling, Charlie goes back to the habits he built over the years.

“Consistency is key to showing up at the starting line,” he explains. “I don’t have any desire to see how much pain and suffering I can endure by showing up for a race that I’m not trained for.”

Recipe for Healthy Aging

The Woodhouse’s best advice for healthy aging is to build the habits that will carry you to good health as you age.

Coming from a physician who treated cancer patients his entire career and a one-time nurse, understanding the importance of exercise and healthy nutrition critical. “I know what it’s like to see some people age well and others who don’t age so well,” Charlie explains. “Negative health habits like smoking, inactivity and obesity can really put someone in a hole quickly.”

Teresa agrees wholeheartedly. “For me, the most important thing is to keep moving. Once you get into that habit, if you skip it, you miss it.”

The couple’s final words of advice: “Once you build the proper habits – exercise, eating right – it makes it a lot easier. Just figure out what healthy habits are accessible to you and then go develop them.”

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