By Kim Perkins
Kim Perkins ... ready to roll.
Q: It's my first skate race. ... What should I wear?
Male or female, if you want to blend in, wear a bike jersey with pockets in the back for your gear and Lycra (spandex) tights or shorts, such as the kind worn by winter runners or sold by Under Armour in your local big box store. This is about as flattering to all body types as it gets, without pegging you as a newbie who doesn't know enough not to wear cotton or other things that get heavy with moisture and/or flap in the breeze. Bike shorts are okay in a pinch. For women, tank tops are a cute alternative, but not as practical, as they lack pockets and leave shoulders exposed to sun, cold and road rash. If you are male and absolutely abhor the thought of Lycra, please keep in mind that everyone else will be wearing it because it's the "right tool for the job."
Q: Do I need a skinsuit?
Not unless you will be competing in the Pro category. But if you want to, go ahead. No one will object.
Q: What should I wear under the Lycra?
If it's warm, your regular sports underwear will do. On the other hand, a double layer of Lycra shorts will preserve modesty while supplying extra road rash protection. If it's chilly, wear tights under your regular gear, and if it's extra cold, wear an additional Lycra top, but remember that it adds a lot of heat and you won't be able to take it off en route.
Q: What kind of padding should I wear?
Pros make it look cool to roll with no protective gear save helmets. But you'll be happier if you wear enough padding to ease your mind about falling. If you want full protection without looking like the Michelin Man, don a double layer of heavyweight Lycra (shorts plus tights or Capri-length tights), use palm (gel) sliders or bike gloves, and tuck bare knees or elbows into an Ace bandage or similar neoprene splint/wrap. And always bring sunglasses for the wind.
Q: What should I put in the pockets of my bike jersey?
For a marathon, bring a water bottle, a small skate tool or allen wrench, an energy bar and a couple servings of Gu or similar gel for when you feel tired. I prefer the gels that come in a small reusable squeeze bottle — less messy. Staffers will hand out water along the course, and you should take it. But it's best to have your own — or your favorite sports drink. The energy bar is for after the race — or during if you run out of gel. Camelback-type carriers usually add more weight than their worth; fanny packs aren't as good as pockets. Feel free to bring your iPod, but don't tune out the world — you'll need to hear people approaching or yelling directions to you.
Q: What about a heart rate monitor? GPS?
Wire yourself to your heart's content, but remember that the excitement of race day will make for wild readings. Neither gadget is required for a good time — or for good training.
Q: What's the best way to travel with skates?
Get a good backpack-style skate bag — nearly all skate manufacturers make them. Make sure it's big enough for a 3-day weekend and small enough to take as carry-on luggage. Airline security will confiscate pointy skate tools and make you take out your tube-packed bearings (which look like blunt instruments on the scanner). Put them both in checked baggage.
Q: How should I pack my skate bag for a point-to-point race, where they bring my bag to the finish line?
After a race, it can take a while to get back to home base, so pack your skate bag heavy. In addition to the stuff that goes in your pockets, pack your shoes, extra food, an extra jacket if it's cold, tools/wheels for last minute adjustments, and whatever you need to reconnect with your friends/family at the finish line: cell phone, keys, camera, cards so you can exchange info with other skaters. You probably won't need cash, credit cards or lipstick. If it looks like rain, bring clothes to change into and a plastic bag for your wet stuff. They almost certainly won't lose your bag, but put your name and bib number somewhere inside of it just in case.
Kim Perkins was one of USA's top ultra-distance skaters until she retired in 2005. She won the Athens to Atlanta Road Skate in 2004 — her third consecutive a2a victory. She moved to Southern California to pursue a master's degree in psychology at Claremont University.
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