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Choose Your Own Adventure!

Make this the year your outdoor dreams become a reality

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» You've Always wanted to... Have a Crowd Cheer You On

Maybe you weren't the greatest athlete in high school, and you spent more time hitting the books (or causing trouble) than you did taking one for the team. Or maybe you're just looking for a way to relive your glory days. Either way, all you want now is the roar of the crowd behind you.

Your Goal: Run for the gold. Don't underestimate the thrill of running a race-especially if you've never done it before. What most runners know-and most folks who've never really taken to running don't-is that there's no better way to push yourself, test your limits, and see how you measure up than by competing in a race. And finishing your event (even if it's a small one) before an anxious crowd of spectators provides more personal satisfaction than almost anything else you could ever do.

Where to go: Step out your back door. There are clubs and organizations that sponsor races in even the smallest American towns. Just decide on the distance and type of race that's right for you. Since multisport races such as duathlons and triathlons include biking and/or swimming, they're a great way for beginning racers to break up the potential monotony of running only. (For tips on running your first triathlon, turn the page.) If a road race is what you're after, a good place to start would be a 5K or 10K. Don't be intimidated if you've never been in a race before-most races cater very well to newbies. And don't focus on breaking the tape your first time out. Set a goal for yourself, but keep it within reason. If it's your first marathon, your goal should be just to finish the race, not to set a record pace. If it's a duathlon or triathlon, shoot for a specific time, rather than simply to win. And no matter what, remember to have fun-and see just how far you can push yourself. For more info about road running, check out the Road Runners Club of America at rrca.org; for more info about multisport races, log on to usatriathlon.org.

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» You've Always wanted to... Really Break the Speed Limit

Stepping on a gas pedal and barreling along the freeway is too easy. If you want to experience real speed-the kind that sends adrenaline levels soaring and your heart rate firing like a machine gun-you've got to do it on two wheels.

Your Goal: Race a mountain bike down a single track. Riding single-track trails, which are only wide enough for one biker at a time, is the ultimate way to go fast. Ripping down a narrow dirt track and through the trees, catapulting around a tight turn, pumping around berms, and picking up speed all along the way-you'll never experience a ride quite like a single-track one. But do it once and there's no way you won't want to do it again and again.

Where to go: There are rideable single-track trails all over the U.S.-probably some in your town-but if you are going to start this year, then do it with the largest in America. The Maah Daah Hey trail comprises more than 100 miles of single-track courses, winding all throughout the badlands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. Hailed as the next great mountain-bike mecca by those in the know, the Maah Daah Hey is not exactly built for beginners. But if you're fit and adventurous, and if you start training now, within a few months you'll be prepared to rip some of the sickest single tracks ever created. "It's a good challenge," says Mark Seveno, owner of Western Spirit Cycling Adventures. "It's a unique ride, and it may be one of the only reasons you'll ever go to North Dakota." Western Spirit books trips covering the entire Maah Daah Hey trail, and it guides epic rides that cover the whole trail over the course of five days. westernspirit.com

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» You've Always wanted to... Have Fins

It's a sad twist of fate that caused evolution to leave us landlubbers with lungs instead of gills. But, while a life under the sea with a busty mermaid is out of the question, exploring the underwater world for a few hours is something every guy should experience at least once.

Your Goal: Learn to scuba dive. We've all sat and stared somewhat longingly into a fish tank or aquarium, trying to imagine life underwater. Scuba diving is as close as we're ever going to get to being on another planet: a completely foreign, weightless experience with alien sights and sounds, all of which are completely removed from the stressful hustle and bustle of life on earth.

Where To Go: Start your underwater adventure by getting a resort certification in scuba diving. In a safe environment, you'll learn the basics of how to dive, such as how to breathe from a tank, what to do if water gets in your mask, and basically how to survive out in the ocean. Once you've got a taste of the sport, escape the tourists and plan a truly memorable experience to a far-flung tropical destination, such as the tiny Micronesian paradise of Palau.

Renowned as one of the premier scuba-diving locations in the world, the waters of Palau are rich with sea life, and preserved shipwrecks sit on the ocean floor. An archipelago made up of more than 400 islands with fewer than 20,000 inhabitants, Palau is the ideal adventure location-without the commercialization and tourism that clutter most popular tropical islands. Although locals speak English and use the American dollar, there's not a McDonald's in sight-making life in this island paradise almost as rewarding (and exotic) on land as it is beneath the waves. visit-palau.com

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