Sam Gardner, right, and Shonny Vanlandingham smile after winning Saturday's 2011 XTERRA Saipan Championship. (Roselyn B. Monroyo) 
Slowed down by food poisoning, Gardner still finished ahead of 46 XTERRA Championship course finishers, clocking in at two hours, 53 minutes, and 46 seconds in Saturday's race. His time in the 2011 XTERRA Saipan was about 20 minutes behind his record and 2010 time of 2:34:03.

“It was a long and slow race, as I had been battling food poisoning for about a week. Coming into this race, I was a bit worried that I might lose the title, as I am not feeling well and instead of having a practice run or bike, I kept myself in my room and take medications,” said Gardner, who suffered food poisoning during his stint in XTERRA Philippines, two weeks ago.

“I am just glad that the race was over and I came to the finish line in one piece,” added Gardner, who had his wife worried when the U.K. pro did not make it to the finish line after two and a half hours.

Less than eight minutes after Gardner completed the race, Vanlandingham reached the finish line at the American Memorial Park compound, making her the second overall finisher and first in the women's division and ending Renata Bucher's six-year reign.

The Colorado native timed in at 3:01:09, more than five minutes ahead of eventual runner-up and XTERRA Saipan newcomer Carina Wasle (3:06:33). Bucher dropped to third after clocking in at 3:08:10.

“I was relieved to finally win XTERRA Saipan. It was a tough battle and I think it helped a lot that I am fitter coming into this year's race than in 2010. Hats off to Renata, who was liked an animal in the jungle, chasing me, and to the rest of the pros, who really pushed me,” Vanlandingham said.

Completing the Top 5 in the women's division were U.S. pro and XTERRA Saipan first-timer Suzie Snyder (3:20:12), and Saipan's Mieko Carey (3:30:27).

Snyder and Carey came to the finish line after Japan's Takahiro Ogasawara, who placed second to Gardner with a time of 3:09:13. Rounding out the Top 5 in the men's pro were Japan's Paul Chetwynd (3:37:00) and Adam York (3:41:13) and Brazil's Denilson Freitas (3:43:18).

Scary swim

Less than 18 hours after a Tsunami warning was issued on Saipan, XTERRA Championship participants plunged into the cold waters off Micro Beach for the 1.5-kilometer swim.

Rough waters with strong current and waves greeted swimmers and slowed them down. No swimmer finished the two-lap race under 20 minutes. Last year, Kai Staal timed in at 15:10.

“When we started the first lap, the water was just below my waist, when I did the second lap, it was above my neck,” Saipan's Butch Sublemente said. “I even asked the kayakers to look after me, as I was a bit scared.”

Carey was the first out of the water at 21:30, followed by Synder at 21:23. Gardner finished third, but almost lost to10-year-old Saipan Swim Club swimmer Kento Akimaru, who timed in at 21:32 against the former's 21:30.

Bucher surprisingly placed fifth at 21:39, while Vanlandingham was seventh (22:35), and Wasle came in at 10th (23:02).

Slippery bike ride

Behind by only 1:04, Vanlandingham caught up with Bucher in the 30-kilometer bike race. By the time, the U.S. pro reached the peak of Mt. Tapochao, she was already ahead of the Swiss bet by about three minutes. Vanlandingham finished the bike race in 1:36:06 (third best) against Bucher's 1:41:48 (fourth best).

“I knew I had the edge in the bike, so I kept on pushing myself. I have to have a big lead in the bike leg, so when I am tired, I could slow down a bit in the run race,” Vanlandingham said.

Gardner was the fastest in the bike leg at 1:28:37, about six minutes ahead of Ogasawara.

Wasle was fifth overall in the bike race at 1:46:20, crashing twice. Snyder also had a crash at the new Lamar trail and was sixth overall in the bike leg at 1:50:56. Several other riders, including Saipan's Kieran Daly and Jackie Van Dam, had crashes in the bike race.

Carey did not crash, but had a minor problem in her bike and finished 12th (1:56:22).

“I pushed myself too hard in the swim and then started quickly in the bike and ran out of power in the end,” Carey said.

Bucher had the same dilemma, saying she tried very hard to catch up with Vanlandingham, but simple did not have enough legs to do so.

Blistering run

As promised, Wasle had the fastest time in the run leg at 55:23. She was the lone XTERRA Saipan Championship course participant to complete the 12-k trail run under one hour.

She could have finished early had she not fell on the trail twice.

“It was tougher than I expected,” said the Austrian bet, who relegated Bucher to third place after her best time in the run portion.

“Overall it was a tough, but fun race. XTERRA Saipan is now my favorite course,” the diminutive Wasle added.

Bucher submitted 1:02:55 in the run leg (fourth best), Vanlandingham recorded 1:00:40 (second best), and Gardner logged 1:01:49 (third best).


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