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Taking fitness to the extreme



He found his way around a 430-kilometer route with just a compass. When thick brush made cycling impossible, he traipsed on with his bike on his shoulder. Through six days of intense physical challenge, he slept just 15 hours.

Before Nov. 16, Tim Gallagher of Sonora had conquered marathons. He'd crossed Ironman Triathlon finish lines — after a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run. He'd even played three years of pro football.

But this was New Zealand's Southern Traverse — a hot event on the increasingly popular adventure racing circuit. And as Gallagher described the experience later, "Ironman is a cakewalk compared to this. It really is."

Adventure racing surfaced in the late 1980s, and has since become one of the toughest challenges for extreme athletes who want to know just how far their bodies can go.

The Southern Traverse is an expedition-style race where mixed-gender teams of four compete around-the-clock for six days. They use a compass to guide them through 10 stretches of hiking, biking or paddling a kayak across the South Island's back country. Teammates are not allowed to stray more than 100 meters from one another, and those who don't finish together are disqualified.

The Discovery Channel Eco-Challenge is a similar multi-discipline, orienteering team challenge, and probably the most publicized adventure race. While Gallagher did not compete in that annual televised event, if he tells people "it's like the Eco-Challenge," most know exactly what he means.

Gallagher began his Southern Traverse training three years ago, and said his weekday routine still consists of three daily workouts, totaling two and a half to three hours of sweat time each day. He lifts weights about three times a week and an array of cardiovascular activities compose the remaining sessions. Those cross-disciplines can range from a 5:30 a.m. run to a lunch-hour swim to an all-day Sunday 200-mile bike ride.

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