Great Britain’s Sam Gardner and American Shonny Vanlandingham won the inaugural XTERRA Philippines Championship race at the picturesque Amara Subdivision in Barangay Catarman, Liloan, Cebu.
The race started with a 1.5-kilometer swim in the Camotes Sea near the century old Liloan lighthouse, followed with a 32-kilometer mountain bike and finished with a 10-kilometer trail run through thousands of cheering spectators fronting the San Fernando Rey Parish Church and Papa Kits Marina.
“Part of the run goes through a whole slew of fighting cocks with goats and cats, and the wild part is this bamboo walkway above the water. The bamboo sticks are lashed together but still not easy to run on,” explained XTERRA managing director Dave Nicholas.
According to the live updates posted on the XTERRAPhil.com website Gardner took the lead about three kilometers into the bike and never looked back. Gardner was fifth out of the water but found his legs quickly on the bike.
“I knew I had to get a big lead in the bike part of the race because I was concerned about the run,” said Gardner, who has also won XTERRA championship races in Saipan and Japan. “Good thing I was able to get that big lead. In the run I was able to focus on just enjoying the race. I just soaked it in. I was high-fiving the locals and basically just enjoyed it all.”
Gardner, who was unchallenged, came jogging down the hill of Amara into the finish line with a winning time of 2:25:59. Without any other competitor in sight Gardner could afford to joke around and exchange high fives with onlookers and the audience on his way to the finish. Gardner was even able to grab a miniature Union Jack, which he waved around on his jog to the finish.
The locals were particularly excited when National freestyle swimmer Lorendale Echavez, 18, a national swimmer in the 100 meter freestyle, showed up her male counterparts by leading the swim part of the race. The teenager, who was competing as part of a relay team, was shocked to discover that she was the first participant out of the water.
“I didn’t know I was leading,” said Echavez, a first year student of BS Biology at the University of San Carlos in Cebu City, during her press interview at the Alaska Media Center after her swim. “I only realized it when my friends shouted to me: ‘You’re the first, you’re the first.’ I was shocked but happy. I knew there were professional athletes participating and there were elite men triathletes.” She described the water as “very, very cold but manageable.”
Filipino Neil Catiil, the reigning Ironman 70.3 champion, was the top individual participant finishing the swim part of the race with a time of 23 minutes and 34 seconds. Trailing closely was top men’s professional Sam Gardner, 23:57. Other leaders include: Lance Watson, 24:33; Renata Bucher, 24:34; Fred Uytengsu, 24:29 and Shonny Vanlandingham, 26:17.
Senator Pia Cayetano, the only member of the Philippine Senate in attendance and who is also sometimes called “The Running Senator,” finished the swim part of the race with a respectable time of 35 minutes and 35 seconds.
In the women’s race Renata Bucher was first off the bike, followed 11 seconds later by reigning XTERRA World Champion Shonny Vanlandingham.
Vanlandingham took the lead three kilometers into the run part of the race after riding and running side-by-side with Renata Bucher for a large portion of the run and biking part of the race. Vanlandingham said she got through the most difficult part of the race because of the support of locals who watched and supported the participants.
“You just got so much energy from the cheering of the community,” said Vanlandingham. “The kids who watched the bike and run part of the race were chanting and cheering. It’s great to come to a place like the Philippines.”
Vanlandingham’s winning time was 2:31:39, nearly two minutes ahead of Bucher who finished in 2:33:35.
Athletes from 11 countries – Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Scotland, Singapore, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States – took part in today’s event.