I got notice via the Empire Speed emailing list that Team Unity was holding an inline skate race in Prospect Park on Saturday morning. The weather forecast all week long was for rain both Friday night and Saturday morning so I hadn't figured to go, but Friday turned out to be nice so I changed my mind and prepared to head to Brooklyn on Saturday.
The first surprise was that registration for the race started at 6:00am, with a scheduled start time of 7:30am. Yikes! I'm not a morning person at all, and I don't consider the 5:00am wakeup time to even be morning. The alarm went off and I got up. I didn't eat anything, but I put on some lycra pants, a wicking polyester undershirt and a bicycle racing jersey I picked up last year, grabbed the skating backpack and headed to the subway. I walked down to 86th street to get some money at the cash machine and got on the 4-train to Atlantic Avenue. The long part is waiting for the train to show up; once actually on the train it only took 30 minutes to get to Brooklyn. I then took the D-train two stops to Prospect Park and walked to the race registration. At that point I realized that in my groggy state I had forgotten my water bottle, but it was a little chilly so I hoped I wouldn't need it.
I paid the $20 to register for the race. Apparently I could have got $5 off as a member of Empire Speed, but I didn't ask for the discount. There were going to be three classes of race: a pro/elite men's 20K (four loops), a pro/elite women's 20K, and a combined open/masters 10K (two loops). Well, it was going to be 10K, until Robert and Doug convinced the organizers to make it 15K (three loops). I'm told these types of distances are fairly typical. I got my race number (71) and pinned it on and tried doing some stretches. Then I went and did a warm-up lap with Marcia and Jessie. Finally, around 8:00 the races were ready to get under way. The pro/elite men were launched first. This was by far the largest class with about 20 people and had a pretty strong field including a number of pros (including Nick) and semi-pros. The pro/elite women (all of the women) were next. There were maybe a dozen of them. Finally it was time for everyone else, including me which came to about eight people. We started off by immediately going up Prospect Park's main killer hill. It's not particularly steep, but it's kind of nasty because it goes up for a long way and then just when you figure it should be over, it isn't and keeps going for a little bit more. We mainly just sprinted up the hill. Several people got a little separated on this initial effort but the rest of us formed into a paceline and headed off around the park. I tried hard to concentrate on good skating technique, but I was pretty terrible. I spent a lot of energy mostly just flailing around. I managed to kick the person behind me a few times (usually Glenn, a nice guy and eventual winner of the class) but no harm done. People in the paceline were pretty friendly, pointing out obstacles, and offering encouraging words. It wound up being a kind of war of attrition... the paceline went fast enough that people would eventually get tired and drop off the end of it. Once you dropped off the paceline, it was impossible to get back on so your finishing position in the race was almost completely determined by how long you managed to cling onto the paceline. Moral of the story: STAY ON THE PACELINE AT ALL COSTS! I was fine for the first 10K with the paceline down to just three people including me, but on the third go-round up the hill I was pretty much done. My back and breathing were doing mostly ok but the legs were in trouble. In my experience once any part of you gets into trouble, the first thing that happens is your technique goes right down the crapper. Once your technique goes, it just gets worse and worse. I fought hard to get up the hill, but at the extra bonus hill-not-finished-yet part near the top, I fell off the paceline. I didn't fall off it much since a two-person paceline is not tremendously better than a solo effort, but it is better enough and over a couple of kilometers I watched them slowly pull away. I lost sight of them with a few kilometers to go and finished up in third place, with a 15K time of 38:57. Overall I was pretty happy with this first effort. The winning time for the 20K was 39:00, so by three seconds I managed to not get lapped -- a small victory.
Post-race I hung around and listened to them announce the winners and their times. There was a little prize money given out, but nobody (including the organizers) can have seriously been in it for the cash. Afterwards, Max, Nick, Juan and I headed into town for brunch at a diner. I got to ride shotgun in Max's Porche Boxster which was pretty awesome. At the diner the three pro/elites were discussing and commiserating about the race strategy: attacks, counter-attacks, dropping off the line and fighting back on when it slows to climb hills etc. Max, Nick and Juan all planned to do cycling in Nyack the next day, but I planned to just go home and sleep.
Note to self: next time, get up a little earlier and have a light breakfast! Get used to these early race times -- they are held so early so that the park doesn't fill up with the general public and the track will be relatively clear of traffic.
Send me suggestions!