Thanks to everyone who gave me support before my first race yesterday. Here is the report (sorry so long):
To set the stage, the race was held on a 1km course in a stadium parking lot. The course was shaped like a giant cowboy boot with a very sharp turn at the "toe" portion of the boot. The wind was 15-20 mph out of the North West and it seemed like you never really got it at your back but there was somewhat of a tailwind on the home stretch.
I got there an hour early and tried to warm up (not really sure what I was doing). I took the advice of some forum members and printed off warm-up instructions I found online but really just did 20 minutes of pace riding followed by 5-10 minutes of quicker riding & sprinting before lining up.
I was the one and only wreck of the day. It occurred while my team was lining up. My buddy and I were rolling slowly into a 180 degree turn to face the line when he planted his feet, grabbed his seat post and whipped the rear end of his bike around. His rear wheel clipped my front wheel and I went down in a pile at 2 mph with the entire field (roughly 30 racers) watching.
I was expecting to go hard from the whistle and was surprised that the pack took its time clicking in. From the starting line, we had 100 yards to the first left turn. I had 4 teammates in the race and we positioned ourselves in the front of the pack for the first turn. My goal was to hang onto the rear wheel of my faster teammates and not let go for anything. Given that this was my first race and I had little group riding experience, I was a bit squirrelly in the corners at first and struggled not to make a hazard out of myself. I have to admit that I hit someone's rear wheel at one point and cut another out of his line later on. People seemed to be doing that kind of thing all over the pack, however. It was not long before my inexperience holding my line caused me to concede one or two places and I lost my buddy's wheel, never to find it again.
I held my place in the front 3rd of the pack roughly halfway through the race before two pivotal moments cost me dearly. The first critical point was when I lost positioning to the rest of the pack and found myself at the back holding on for all I was worth. It occurred just out of a corner. I was keeping pace with the leaders but the rear of the pack attacked and moved past me. One of my teammates said "they will come back" and I assumed it meant "don't worry about it" so I kept my pace while, unbeknownst to me my teammates and the rest of the heretofore leading group were speeding up to reel them in. So that was it; before I knew what happened, I was at the back of the pack and finding myself struggling through every corner to hang on.
The second pivotal point was when I was spit out the back. The group turned a corner onto the front stretch and jumped. I think I was mentally soft in the corner and was not anticipating the effort so when I tried to catch the jump I found myself 6 yards off the back and unable to bridge. It was at that point that the race (my ability to stay with the pack) was lost for me. It was like something in my soul died and I zoned out of the race for 15 critical seconds. When I got my lungs and legs back the pack was gone. The wind was merciless out there by myself. Over the next 15 or so laps, I was lapped twice by the pack. I tried to hang on both times but was unsuccessful in getting up to speed for re-entry.
Looking back, I found that I made some critical mistakes.
1: I got used to being in the front of the pack and not having to sprint out of the corners; when I found myself in the back of the pack, I failed to sprint out of the corners and subsequently lost the pack.
2: I really need to work on my race attitude. It was like I was just out for a fast ride and not a race. This contributed to my being lapped twice.
3: I have some tactical skills to learn. My teammates said they say the attack from the rear coming because they were watching the shadows and were geared up by the time the attackers hit them. I handled a couple of charges initiated from the front well, but never even saw the critical one from the rear coming.
4: I have some work to do on both sprinting and cornering. I will ask to initiate some drills on my group rides from here on out. I also have a different idea of how I need to work my commute between lights.
Overall, I found the experience to be more fun that I imagined (although I could not wait for it to be over) even when I was out on my own. I got my butt handed to me, but I was certainly not the slowest either. I lapped a couple of people multiple times myself and even pulled one teammate (it was his first race as well) back up to speed twice. When the pack left me, I looked behind and thought I was all alone, but we had dropped many riders off the back in the first half of the race, so I don't feel so bad. Lastly, I hear that this is pretty normal. My teammates who led the race for some time and contested heavily in the final sprint were spit out of the pack only a couple of weeks ago. I will keep at it.
Thanks for the support.