XTERRA Saipan Race Report Chapter 1: The Set Up

Saipan International Airport Arrival 

The story of my race on the lovely Island of Saipan is a little (aka massively) different to Brodie Gardner’s the Pro Male winner. He arrived in the dead of night immediately before the race set up his bike and then with no sleep went out and smashed a course he’d never seen before to take the win.

If I’d have tried to do the same I would have probably seriously hurt myself from either falling asleep on the bike or falling off of it due to a lack of bike handling skills on the gnarly descents that would have come up too quickly for me to react to.

Fortunately for me I was blessed with Elsa Ng & Navin and Jaz Wathan who between them helped look after the “shop” and my dogs for me so that I could leave for Saipan on Thursday, 3 March.

That doesn’t mean I had over week to prepare though as from my current base in Ipoh, I went to Singapore, then Subic Bay & Manila for work opportunities. I then had a brief but pleasant overnight in Guam on Tuesday, 8 March where I stayed with Mark Cruz one of my XTERRA friends and his family. In this brief time Mark educated me on not only the fascinating naval military history that this area of the world has but also the status of the sport of triathlon in the area given his position as “El Presidente” of the Guam Triathlon Federation.

Mark Cruz - US Navy Officer, President of Guam Triathlon Federation and, most importantly, the veteran of 33 XTERRA events. The Warrior of Warriors!
As a result though I did arrive on Saipan at 8am on Wednesday 9 March. This gave me a full 3 days to prepare for the race.

Mark suggested I contact Brad Ruszala one of his friends on Saipan. Brad could probably be Mayor of Saipan based on how well known he is. He certainly has the friendly and warm nature to charm the spots of a Leopard and it was a real pleasure to meet him.

He set me up at Bike Pro where Romeo (the owner) and Ariel (the chief mechanic) set about lovingly rebuilding my bike that had been broken literally into little bits to try and avoid the penalty charges of United for having the audacity to travel with a bike. Thanks guys your attention to detail and friendly service was really appreciated.

While Ariel was working his magic Brad took me to The Shack, a cool café that became my second home whilst on the Island in terms of honest simple wholesome food.

Image source: The Shack Facebook Page

He also took me to “Swim the Tanks” a interesting swim just off of the beach at The Kanoa Resort (the race official host hotel) where you swim from 3 abandoned Sherman tanks that didn’t make to the beach when the US Marines invaded Saipan to reclaim it from the Japanese.

Image source: http://www.michaeljohngrist.com/2009/08/the-submerged-sherman-tank-off-saipan/#sthash.BoWh1HIK.dpbs

By then Ariel at Bike Pro had worked his magic and I spent the rest of the day checking out the bike course and catching up with Jim Lovell XTERRA’s ‘resident’ Race Timing guru over dinner.
(Jim has timed all 15 of Saipan’s XTERRA’s and was a wealth of knowledge about not just the Island but also the race course too. Heck he had even help mark the run course this year, which is what I call really, going the XTERRA Mile!!)

Thursday morning saw me spend most of it checking out the run course as closely as I had the bike course the previous day. After doing so I came to the conclusion that my goal for the race was to try and cover the entire course in under 3 hours and 45 minutes. This was 15 minutes slower than the goal I had set for XTERRA Albay, Phillippines but I felt it was fully justified given the seriously more technical sections on the run and bike courses and the 3,300 feet of elevation making this was a much more challenging course.

New features on trail run courtesy of last years massive typhoon

That evening, I attended the mixer and race briefing, which was delightfully informal, and Eric, Kelly and Kaz the organisers treated me to a few beers before I politely called it a day.

From left to right: Kaz, Eric, DD and Kelly

Early on Friday morning my roommate for the rest of the trip James Sardea joined me. He was another friend from the Guam Triathlon Federation and whom I’d like to thank for his company and camaraderie as well as his very civilized sleeping habits versus mine!!! I’d also like to thank him for the setting up the best airport transit ever by organizing an impromptu beach picnic for my 8 hour lay over in Guam on the way home J.

That evening I joined Jim again for an early dinner on and having checked my bike into transition that evening he also kindly gave me a lift to the start line 1st thing on Saturday morning.

All of the above meant that, unlike Brodie, I arrived at the start line of the race not only well rested and refreshed for race day but as well informed as I could be so that I was ready to rock n’ roll…

The start of the race had been brought forward to 6:30am and after setting my bike up in pole position the night before, I was able to set up the rest of my gear and do the usual last minute checks and re-checking of equipment with time to spare.

After lots of mistakes and oversights in the past this mental checklist has now become embedded into my DNA and I was one of the last to leave transition for the short walk to the beach start but in good time for the start.

(To be continued...)


  1. Congrats on your first blog story! Nicely written ;-)

  2. proud of you dad!
    Love you
    :) xxx

  3. Well read, nicely written, DD. Very entertaining piece. You Brits always seem to have a way with words and wit. Waiting for your next installment,

  4. Nice write-up. You have inspired me to start writing in my blog again. It used to be Nina's Chemistry aka Madame Curi @ Yang Farina. Keep on writing Dave.


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