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Rookie Season in the Books

By Robby Webster | Oct. 29, 2015, 7:51 p.m. (ET)

Two weekends ago I wrapped up my rookie ITU season in Punta Guilarte, Puerto Rico. It made for a very positive end to what has been a wildly successful debut season. My best races have been some of the hotter ones, most notably Dallas, Barbados and Cuba, and I'm starting to find that this is becoming a strength I can rely on. The race day temps were upward of 30 degrees Celsius (86 F), 100 percent humidity, and the water temps were registering in the mid 31s as well, dangerously close to the 32 degree Celsius ITU cutoff that cancels swims. The heat battle surely began well before the gun went off.

In Punta Guilarte, I started with a tough but solid swim. I had a great start and stayed in the white wash and on feet pretty well for the first 350 meters. I tried my best and held on to feet for as long as possible, but the front pack began to edge me out in the chop and stretch out at 450, which is when I started struggling. I got around the flag on the beach at 750 meters to start the second lap about 15 seconds behind the main field; so still very much in it. I cut through the surf and got into contact past the break, but found myself completely spent, struggling to get air and get the arms over in the brutal white capping surf. I could tell I was coming apart but kept fighting, and I came out of the water completely knackered about 40 seconds behind the main field of Jarrod Shoemaker and Jason West.

I had slim pickings for people to work with at the beginning of the five-lap 8-kilometer bike leg, as I came out of the water with three or four bikes still in transition. I thought, though, that the race was far from over and wasn't going to count myself out by any means. I rolled through a couple of stranglers, and then got some help from Robbie Deckard. We split off early and worked together, cutting into the 90 second lead of the main pack. I knew I just needed to minimize damage and keep the work on the bike strong and smooth.

My initial thought at this point was that salvaging a top 15 might still be in the cards if I could keep the gap under 2 minutes. The next lap we cut down 5 seconds. I started getting my wind back and started feeling great, taking stronger and stronger pulls. By the third lap the gap was down to under 60 seconds and I knew we had a good chance of making the bridge, motivated by the fact that the pack was in sight at this point. For the next 4 kilometers we threw in a few more hard pulls each (taking full advantage of downwind stretches) and caught the group with 8k to go. This gave me the chance to get my heart rate back down before the run. Even with the hard ride, I tried to ride as smoothly as possible to limit power spikes, doing the little things to save the legs for the run which I knew would turn into a massive battle of attrition in the heat.

The run went as good as it really could have. The legs felt solid but definitely a bit fried from the tough bike. I kept with my original plan of running controlled for 5k and starting squeezing the trigger for the latter half. This proved to be a sterling strategy as I gained momentum rolling around guys on the third 2.5k lap. I was chasing and closing hard on third and fourth, but just didn't have that next gear to get around them in the last 400 meters. A fifth-place finish ended up being a solid result for the circumstances I found myself in after my swim. There were a couple mistakes in transition that could have cost me the difference between fifth and third, but at the end of the day I have to be satisfied with a new personal best finish. And bridging a 90 second bike gap rarely happens in an ITU race, so I know that I'm riding better now than ever!

This year has had its ups and downs as development always does, but a result like this confirms that I’m on the right track. I anticipate that there will be some incredible gains to be had with a good swim block this winter, and I’m starting to look forward to refocusing and resetting for my second year. The CRP reports back to Scottsdale on Nov. 1. In the meantime I’m catching up with friends and family back home in Seattle, and of course, spending lots of time with my pup Quincy. Though it feels great on the body to have a bit of rest after 10 months of training and racing, after a week off I’m already starting to get that itch to get back at it! I truly can’t wait to see what year two has in store and I’m thankful every day for the support I have had from USA Triathlon, the Collegiate Recruitment Program specifically, and Coach Jarrod, who helped get me to this point.