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Taking fitness to extremes twice as fun for twins

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Barbara Warren and her identical twin sister, Angelika Drake, didn't get into endurance sports until they were in their 40s. But their fashionably late start didn't hold the former models back. Now 60, the still-striking sisters are elite competitors who have completed a mind-boggling list of the world's toughest endurance events. Just a few examples include numerous Ironman triathlons, more than 100 marathons and ultra marathons, and extreme wilderness races like the treacherous Raid Gauloises. Along the way, they've shattered national and international records. And they're not showing any signs of slowing down. "We grew up in the Austrian Alps and did a lot of sports as children," said Warren, a San Diego psychologist who draws on the lessons she's learned as an endurance athlete to help others overcome obstacles and achieve excellence in their lives through her seminars and books. "The most important time to develop lung strength is in adolescence. I think that made it easier for us to pick up endurance sports later in life." Their journey to becoming super athletes started with running. Within a year of running competitively, they graduated from 10K races to marathons. Then, eager to take on new challenges, they began entering ultra marathons, races that are any distance longer than a standard 26.2-mile marathon. Typical ultra marathons range from 31 miles to more than 100 miles. As the physical demands of ultra-distance running began to take a toll on their bodies, they added cycling and swimming to their training regimen as less stressful alternative workouts. "With all of the ultra running we were doing, we started getting more injuries, so we decided to try swimming and biking as a way of cross-training," Warren explained. "We didn't know anything about triathlons back then -- we just thought it was a good way to get stronger and help our running." In 1986, the sisters entered their first Olympic-distance triathlon, a race that includes a 1.5K swim, 40K bike ride and a 10K run. Finding they liked the sport and seemed to have a natural talent for it, they jumped to the Ironman distance -- a 2.4-mile swim followed by a 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run-that same year. According to Warren, highlights of their athletic achievements include the Triple Ironman in France in 1992. Drake set a world record of 46 hours in the grueling event that required competitors to complete the equivalent of three Ironmans without stopping. Warren finished just a couple of hours behind her. The two have also conquered what many consider the world's most extreme ultra distance running event -- the Badwater ultra marathon -- four times. They set two records in the 135-mile race, in which runners climb more than 8,000 feet from Death Valley to Mount Whitney while enduring searing summer temperatures of 125 degrees or higher. Race Across America, a 3,000-mile cycling race that starts in Oregon and ends in Florida, was another highlight for Warren. The twins were the first two-woman team to cross the finish line in 2001 with a time of nine days and 13 hours. Warren's recent victories include finishing first among a field of 100 women in her age group at the 2004 Los Angeles Marathon. She also took first place in her age group in the 2003 Ironman Hawaii in October. And at the time of this interview, she was getting ready to compete in the Triathlon World Championships in Portugal. The sisters devote 20 or 25 hours a week to training. Their schedule includes regular workouts with masters' running and swimming groups, as well as participating in structured cycling classes. A typical week of Ironman preparation might include swimming two or three times a week for one and a half hours, a couple of Spin classes, and two bike rides -- one a distance ride of between 50 and 100 miles, the other focusing on speed. If running immediately after a bike ride, they usually go about 10 miles. If they're just running, they might do a 20-miler. Their training regimen also includes regular trips to the gym to lift weights and plenty of stretching. For a change of pace and a break from the demands of intensive training, the sisters often turn to mountain climbing. While hardly a leisurely activity, according to Warren, their mountain treks help them recharge their batteries and maintain the mental focus they need to compete. "To stay in one type of sport for so long, you need some variety," Warren said. "We've climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, and in 2002, we set a record of 23 hours in our age group for climbing up and down Mount Whitney two consecutive times without a break. Doing things like this gets us out of our routine." Warren admitted that with age, she and Drake need to train smarter and take longer to recover. But their incredible levels of fitness continue to serve them well. They have had medical tests that show the levels of human growth hormone (HGH) -- a hormone that declines with age and that some medical experts believe has anti-aging powers -- in their bodies is equivalent to the levels found in a person who is 30. Other tests indicated their bones are as strong as those of a sedentary 28-year-old. "Yes, it gets harder with age," Warren said. "But the reward is still greater than the price we pay, which is very important. I think if God gives you a talent, you have to use it. We enjoy winning, but we also like the side effects of being in good health. This has become our identity, our lifestyle. We love it, and it would be very difficult to give it up." With their rare combination of physical, mental and spiritual strength, it's doubtful that giving up the lifestyle they love is anything the twins will need to worry about any time soon. To learn more, visit www.twinteam.com.

O'Donnell is a freelance writer in San Diego.

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