Sunday, January 06, 2019

Race Letter 2018

 There hasn’t been enough racing to write about this past year and no time to write anything. Still trying to reduce the 60 hour weeks.

Back in January, I found a race called Shiver by the River a winter series of 5k’s near Reading along the Schuylkill River. It was the second race of a 4-race series. The course is totally unsuitable for me with one-mile uphill right out of the start. Racing isn’t as much fun when its 10 degrees and windy but winter racing is better than no racing. Also, the small races where my warm truck is parked a hundred feet from the start-finish line make winter racing bearable. The January February and March races I do are all 5ks.

Late April is the start of distance season. I had 3 long races scheduled than got involved with a big project at work that would limit my weekends off. The big spring race would be the Philly 10 mile Broad Street Run. All the Philly races are headaches from picking up registration in the center city on a Friday afternoon to the inconvenient $20.00 parking lots, and the cold mornings waiting an hour on the start line. The positive side to Philly is a large competitive adaptive class and real money. Finishing in second place in the adaptive Masters Push-rim division paid $350.00. With a slight downhill grade, this race is intense.

I Found one new runway race near the Mushroom farms of Chester County. I like Airport runway races because they are flat with lots of elbow room. This airport race would be different. While I was the only adaptive racer among the 50 runners in the race, I registered for. There were hundreds of YMCA runners in a separate race and hundreds of women in a women's only race all starting together. At times I would find myself swallowed in the running hoards. Question? If you are directing a “girls on the run” women's only race should it be run in conjunction with two other races? Anyhow, a good time was had by all. However, this is a race I will probably skip this year.

The reason I race the push-rim in these 1 to 13-mile distances is that there are so few handcycle events. One of the few good Handcycle events is in Gettysburg. Gettysburg offers a handcycle only criterium and a 13-mile road-race the next day. Gettysburg is well attended and supported by the Paralyzed Veterans racing team. It is a lot more fun to finish near the back of the pack then first out of one. After Gettysburg the Handcycle wouldn’t race until mid-June with 3, USA Cycling sanctioned races for Handcycles.

That busy race weekend started on a Friday evening with the historic 1-mile distance with a push-rim on the Pottstown Airport runway. When you think of the one-mile distance, you can only think of Roger Banister’s sub-4-minute mile, this year I only missed Roger Banister’s mark by 3 ½ minutes.  

The Handcycle races started Saturday morning on rt 29 north of Trenton NJ. This is a 10-mile time-trail on a very straight and very flat course. The Rt 29 time trial is unusual because race director allows anything with wheels and a chain to race. This includes tandems, recumbents, an Eddy Merckx’s division, and handcycles. In the past 10 years only one other handcycle has ever shown up, but a first place out of one gets me a pound of coffee. Since this is a point to point race, my warm-up is the 8-mile ride from my parking spot near the finish to the start line.

From Rt 29 is a trip to the Grandview neighborhood of Lancaster for a Criterium on Saturday Afternoon. The next morning is another Criterium on the campus of Franklin and Marshall. A Criterium is a fun event. However, these two criteriums turned embarrassing when only two Handcycles turned out.

For me, adaptive road racing has changed my life I hope this is what you take away from my e-mails. I do what I can to support and grow my sport, however with work I can’t do all that I would like. One of the ways we can support our sport is by participating. This means showing up for events that are not always fun or convenient. The 3 local adaptive sports foundations have passed out free handcycles and free lessons that seem to be a wasted effort as they can’t even get a few riders to show up for local events. The two Lancaster race organizers are likely to cancel the handcycle division unless they get some commitments from the local adaptive sports organizations.

With the increased time I need to commit to the business, I had to skip some of the out of town events but found a few more somewhat local Sunday morning events to stay active during the heat of summer. This included a few trips to Hatfield and a trip to the largest sporting event in Ivylands history. These are both duathlons, (two event races) At Hatfield, you go from the 5k to the waterpark. In Ivyland, it’s a 5k followed by a pancake breakfast.

Whats Ivyland?

After labor day the fall distance season starts with the Bird in Hand weekend. Another course that is not adaptive racer friendly, but it is my favorite event. This year the weather didn’t look favorable. We got through the Friday night 5k race without rain however it was pouring on Saturday Morning. I am away from work I paid for the Hotel might as well race in the rain.


Bird in Hand ½ marathon with its grass paths, dirt roads, and steep downhills covered in slippery wet horse poop creates a braking problem. Racing this event would have been a danger to the runners, and I would have likely sunk up to my axles during the last hundred-yard dash through the hayfield to the finish line. Instead Barbara, and I had a leisurely breakfast and headed home.

A few weeks after Bird in Hand I would find myself in the pouring rain at the ABE airport runway race. It's not fun playing in the cold rain. However, the airport 5k was over in less than 30 min, plus runways are flat without wet horse poop. Of the 6 runway races, I do ABE is the flattest.

Did I mention how much I hate racing in Philly? The week after Bird in Hand is the Philly Rock & Roll ½ Marathon. I was dreading this race and wish I hadn’t signed up. It was the same way I felt the year before. Since I did sign up, I made my way downtown to pick up my registration and then got up at 3:30 am on a Sunday morning for the drive to the inconvenient $20.00 parking lot.

Except for the Broad Street run that starts in the Razor Wire district of North Philly the other Philly Race starts on Ben Franklin Parkway.  Ben Franklin Parkway is the most spectacular start line in road racing with the Art Museum behind you and Historic City Hall with the Statue of Billy Penn in front of you. For me, it is a Hero Start with a slight downhill grade. As the spectator's lose sight of my sprint, they are sure they were watching the winner disappear into the sunrise. Unfortunately, the sprinting start is all I have in my bag of tricks. After all the headaches of Philly, the Rock and roll ½ was a fun time on a warm day.

What happened the day after Rock & Roll Philly? I got the e-mail with the discounted rate and signed up for 2019. This is something I will regret all the way up until the starting horn.

Columbus weekend and my 12th Steamtown Marathon. Joining Bruce and me for the second straight year was Peter and Maria. Now that Peter and Maria are the only other handcycles to return they can join Bruce and I and consider themselves regulars. It’s always a great race made better by this years warm October Morning. All of us went home with a check and a good time was had by all.

The Steamtown would be my only full Marathon this year. I would skip the Philly full marathon after the horrible weather of the 2 previous years. I missed being there, I missed an easy $250.00 win in the 8k I will be back next year.  

I would end the year the same place it started at the first race of the Pretzel City series Shiver by the River. A change in the course made it even hillier than last year.

 I have big plans for more training and more racing next year. Hopefully next year I can reduce my business involvement to make that happen.

End of 2018

Rob Leiser

Now that I have this project done I need to move onto sending out Christmas cards.

Coming soon, Lier Lier pants on fire. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Race Letter fall 2017

 This letter has been sitting ½ finished in an open file since November. It’s long past due but finally finished.

The last letter ended with three late summer ½ marathons. The next race would be Steamtown marathon on Columbus day weekend. After 12 years I could have prewritten this race story, however during the Summer Steamtown officials decided to address problems that never existed. The committee decided to surprise the adaptive class with a harshly worded strict set of rules. Rule one would demand we start at the start line. WHERE ELSE WOULD WE START. The rules got more bizarre and confusing as they went on.

Below is the meat in the middle of the race directors rant.
      Applicants will be subject to proof of qualifications.
      Participants must report what type of equipment they will be using and verify the equipment is in good working order.
      Division participants are required to start at the designated Official start line.
      Participants must adhere to the posted speed limit or 25 MPH, whichever is lower, on specific locations on the course or they will be removed from the event.
      Participants must finish at the finish line by 11: OO AM. Anyone arriving after 11:00 AM, will exit before the finish line.
Because these rules were not posted at the time you registered, we will provide a full refund to anyone who is not able to abide by them.

I the full page list of rules I lost count of the words, “must, will, disqualified, and removed from the course.”

I found this e-mail from Steamtown disturbing or in better words “it pissed me off.” Number one is they didn’t contact me before they added these rules. (that certainly sounds arrogant doesn’t it). For a dozen years, I have been the go-to person when it came to adaptive racing at Steamtown. I know the directors well, and they have used my expertise of the course by referring questions and contact information of first-time racers.

I would eventually learn that the rules were a sloppy cut and paste from the Pittsburgh Marathon website. Pittsburgh is a race that has been trying to eliminate the adaptive class.
I took particular offense to the general wording of the document that portrayed the adaptive class as crazed idiots with no concern for the safety of ourselves the spectators or other runners. I couldn’t believe this is what the race director learned from watching the adaptive class from the lead car for the last dozen years.
My response to the race directors and the rules committee did not show anger but asked them to answer some questions.

I wanted to know who on the Steamtown committee was capable of inspecting Handcycles and doing background checks? I asked the race director if he was also going to put a 3-hour time limit on the runners?
I ended the letter by stating that if they felt I disrespected The Steamtown Marathon in any way that they should return my registration fee and I would stay home.

The answer I received was to blame others on the committee.

Since my registration money wasn’t returned, I drove up to Scranton to pick-up my registration. The race director didn’t apologize but did say they were reviewing the adaptive class rules.

The next morning my 4 am alarm went off on a dead still humid 70-degree morning. In other words, my kind of weather compared to a normal 30-degree starting line temperature. My trip to Scranton included rain but by the time I arrived downtown the sky had cleared on a starlit very warm morning. I locked the raingear in the truck and headed for the transportation area.

I met up with my bicycle escort at van loading area. We have been together for six years, and with my ability to carry on a conversation while racing we know each other well. As a physical therapist, he was also incensed that Steamtown officials would insert such a childish set of rules. He also discussed the new rules with Steamtown race officials.

During the 45 minute trip to the start line, the rain returned with a vengeance. Arriving at Forrest City the rain was still coming down hard. The great thing about the Steamtown race is a School that can hold all the racers inside. The Adaptive class and our handcycles would be escorted to a room to wait for the start.

As the start time approached the race director would visit our room and entertain Bruce, Myself with a tale of many dangers along the race course. In an effort to convince us to quit the race and take the vans back to Scranton we were warned about washed out roads mud and rocks on the road.

My first concern is always the race and respect for the concerns of the race committee. That said I do have enough sense and experience to complete this race safely. I have known Bruce, (the other Handcyclist the room)long enough to know that he wouldn’t be quitting the race. I also knew Bruce was thinking of how he could use being washed into the river to his advantage.

As we approached Go Time, the rain slowed up and the other two handcycles also decided to race. The stories of gloom and doom turned out to be just stories.

A handcycle in the rain has it’s little quirks like no brakes and the steady stream of water from the front wheel hitting you in the face. I backed off on the 40 mph downhill, however even the mile of mulch was navigable. By the time we hit the Carbondale city limits the rain had moved on. It was warm wet and a good day to race. Let’s say it was 40 degrees and raining I would have taken advantage of the ride back to my truck.

At the finish, Bruce would finish. First I would finish second Peter who lost some time fixing a flat was third, and Maria would get a first-place check for a female handcycle.

short video link

Registration for the 2018 Steamtown Marathon is open however I am not going to rush to sign up. After the race, I sent a note to the race director. I asked to be included in any discussion on rules or safety concerns. Still waiting for a response. 

The following Saturday I would find another new Airport Runway race at ABE. Another rainny warm day. It looks like in 2018 I will have six opportunities to race on working airport runways.

The Saturday after ABE airport I would race at Lancaster Airport in the morning before heading off to a PVA Handcycle Criterium in Gettysburg that afternoon. 

My highlight of the Criterium was winning a premium or a race within the race. Even though I was lap’s behind the leaders. I won a $20.00 premium by passing two other racers in a one-lap sprint. The next morning is the Gettysburg ½ marathon. 

As the racing season winds down it would be four weeks after Gettysburg until the Philly distance weekend in mid-November.

Philly was a good plan poorly executed.

I planned to use the faster Handcycle for the 1/2 Marathon, so I could finish in enough time to switch to the Push-rim for the late morning 8k start. For Sunday I would use the Handcycle for the full marathon. I completed both the Saturday races as planned. Doing three races in two days was not a concern. However, the weather forecast for Sunday Marathon was horrible. 

The forecast was for a similar windstorm as the 2016 Philly Marathon. Having a 40 MPH headwind on the 7-mile leg between the Art Museum and Manayunk would be doable if the same tailwinds would push me back to Rocky’s stature and the finish line. However, that is not what happens along the eastern canyon wall of the Schuylkill River. Maybe the word canyon in southeast Pa is the wrong word. However, any winds out of the northwest accelerate and swirl along the steep river bank. During the 2016 Marathon, the visibility was reduced by leaf and trash tornadoes. With still some fatigue from the Saturday, the decision to skip the Marathon was a good one.

While I like to finish up the season in an early December race in Palm Beach I had too many projects at work that needed my attention.

2017 would be another year when training and racing time was limited by work. However anytime I need to clear my mind I find stress relief out on the road. I am working to scale back business activities and hope to transform a business that won’t slow down into a hobby by the time I turn 65 in 2020.

While I am not a fan of winter road racing, I continue to race and train when weather and road conditions warrant. My April May distance schedule isn’t set as some regular races have switched dates. What I do know that on May 6th I will be among a good sized group of Push-Rim racers, lined up in front of 40,000 runners for the 10 mile Broad Street Run in Philly. 

Monday, October 02, 2017

Race Letter summer 2017

 The first Fri evening in September just about sunset I turned the push-rim off the road into a hay field and raced the last 100 yards to the 5k finish. The next morning an hour before sunrise I was back in the hay field as 2500 runners a dozen balloons and a hundred or so cyclists were gathering for the sunrise and the starts of the various events of the Bird in Hand morning.  By Saturday afternoon I was back at work.

 Sunday Morning, I am back at my desk ready to work on the race letter I started in May, however, on my desk are three clipboards worth of issues I need to address after spending the last day and a half away. Over the last few years, the Business has been an all-consuming endeavor. As I should be approaching retirement, the business is growing faster, and I am working harder and more hours.  

But that is not the story.

The Bird in Hand half Marathon is my toughest race of the year. The roads are hilly some roads are dirt and rocks. After dodging horse poop for 12 miles, I turn onto the buggy path. This year the constant rain softened the path and thickened the hay. With just a little over a mile from the finish, I hit the wall. Most of my forward momentum stopped as my tires started sinking into the soft grass, I would gather the strength needed to reach the finish.

The story I want to tell is my journey onto that muddy Amish buggy path.

Living in the Slate Belt, we all knew how to turn two pieces of slate and some rubber rings into a sport. Living next to a country fair got me involved in Tractor Pulling and competitive watermelon eating.  We tend to stay in familiar surroundings. So, any chance that I would find my way from Tractor Pulling into road sports would require planets to collide.

My hip problems started in my early 40’s.  I started feeling old long before I was ready to act like it. My surgeon’s recommended I put off surgery as long as I could, however, as I was nearing the end of my 40’s it was getting painfully clear that surgery would be sooner rather than later.  On a ski trip, I saw an odd hand-powered tricycle on a Utah road; it gave me an idea.  I was never a small person. However, road biking and skiing kept my weight under control. Because of my reduced activity level, I was approaching 300 pounds, and couldn’t reverse the weight gain. When I came home from Utah, I started searching the internet for that odd 3-wheel cycle. 

Without the internet finding a handcycle would have been impossible. I eventually found a used handcycle online and sent a $1300.00 certified check to an address in Wisconsin.  My fingers were crossed that in a week or so a large box would arrive.  When the box arrived in early 2005, I assembled it and completed a very labored 1 ½ mile ride around the township park. By mid-summer, I was riding 3 or 4 evenings a week, and my distance grew past 13 miles.  That fall I saw a TV interview with a Handcyclist that was participating in the Steamtown Marathon. 

The Wisconson Handcycle 2005

Most of those who know me see me as someone who regularly ventures outside of a comfort zone, however, for me it isn’t as easy as you might imagine. From what learned online about Handcycling I figured I was the only person riding a Handcycle that wasn’t a wheelchair user. The Steamtown racer doing the interview was using a cane that got me curious.  I contacted the race director explained my situation and was invited to enter the race.  The next step was to inspect the course and consider if I could complete the race. I looked at the course talked to the other racer, rode the infamous mile of mulch, however, one steep hill and the demons in my head would stop me from entering the 2005 race.  I would kick myself for wimping out however over the next year I would add some more hills to my training. The 2006 Steamtown Marathon was my very first race.  I completed the Steamtown Marathon course, and with my finishers medal and, tee shirt, I headed home. It was exciting; I challenged myself set a goal and achieved it. With my finisher medal framed I kept riding and continued to lose weight.

For Race number two I would need to confront the demons because this would be a big step way outside my comfort zone. I had found the United States Handcycling Federation web site.  The races listed were scattered all over the country however in 2007 there was a race in Arlington Va. I gathered some courage and contacted the USHF director and explained my situation. The Director mentioned a beginner class that USHF was running in Arlington for first-time racers.
On an early Saturday morning, Barbara and I headed for Arlington.  When I introduced myself to the director, he mentioned that since there was only two of us registered for the beginner class, we would race with the Big Boys in the National Championship race. After driving all that way, I was past the point of no return. I was introduced to the other first-time racer, and after a few warm-up laps Roger and I would line up at the back of the field. 

This was a criterium or a ¾ mile fenced-in course on the downtown Arlington streets.  Entering the course was so far beyond my comfort zone we will call it the “twilight zone.” The fences were lined with sponsor banners on one side and spectators on the other. Roger knew and pointed out some of the other racers. This group of racers contained many of the best Handcyclist’s in the country.  These were names I recognized from my internet searches. My thoughts were how to avoid being run over or interfering with the other racers.

The race was timed for 30 minutes, and at the end of the 30 minutes they would open the fence and let us out. During the race, I was lapped by the leaders several times I saw crashes I lapped a few racers myself, and by the time they opened the fence to let us out, I was hooked.  Any thoughts that the race at Steamtown would be my last race vanished.   

Those closed course head to head shoulder to shoulder criteriums would become my favorite format. For a few yearsBarbara and I would travel up, and down the east coast racing with the friends, I made in Arlington. Adaptive racing has changed. However, the races are still out there

This Oct will be my 12th Steamtown Marathon. Over the last dozen years, I have raced 50+ marathons another 25 or so ½’s with the push-rim and more than 100 other races that covered Criteriums, to neighborhood 5k are I have raced through occupied buildings, on airport runways, boardwalks, dirt roads and a lifestyle mall.  I have raced from South Florida to Vermont and as far west as Indianapolis.  I have raced with the legends of the sport and helped the first-timers at their first race. 

Yes, that Handcycle sighting in Utah was a life-changing event.   
OK, so what have I been doing and why haven’t I been writing.  Work the last few years has cut deep into my training, and the increased stress has reduced my ability to focus on writing. I also don’t want to bore you with the 5th of this race and the 7th of that race. 

 The season started in early January with a new race in Reading was sponsored by and benefited the I am Able Foundation. Chris Kaag and his I am able Foundation provide adaptive racing gear like Handcycles for those who can’t afford them. Chris was also one of the competitors at that 2007 Arlington Criterium.

April starts the spring distance season I was registered in three 10+ mile races on three consecutive Sundays.  The last of these races was my first Philly Broad Street Run. The Broad Street run is the largest 10-mile race in the country. The Race starts in the razor wire district of North Philly and ends in the Navy Yard in South Philly. Behind the dozen + adaptive racers were 40,000 runners. Broad Street is very flat and very fast with money.  It was 10 miles of head to head racing that ended with a 1-mile sprint to the finish with a rugby chair for the middle of the pack. I was sure I finished out of the money but, ended up with a nice check for 3rd place male masters.

The rest of the summer was more work than racing. The Ice Cream race ended but. I found the 4th race on an airport runway. As a veteran airport runway racer, runways are not as flat as you would imagine.  September starts with the fall distance season and 3 ½ Marathons in 4 weeks

Last weekend was the Rock & Roll ½ in Philly. For the weeks leading up to the race, I had wished I hadn't registered for this race.  Racing in Philly is just a logistical nightmare however once you line up on Ben Franklin Parkway and watch the sun rise over Billy Penn Philly has the greatest start in Road Racing, I then remembered why I registered the day after last years race. What about next year? I already registered.

Adaptive racing has changed over the years in Philly I would be the only racer using a push-rim. US track and field considers the push-rim as the recognized adaptive machine for road racing. However, USTF allows race directors to use discretion in allowing handcycles and other adaptive equipment in races. At Philly, I would be outgunned by Handcycles, Recumberant foot powered tricycle and Push Chairs. (A pushchair is a racing chair with a severely disabled person being pushed by an individual or team.

The Sprint, This is a very very bad habit I picked up in 30 years of ski racing. In Ski racing, the starter counts down, and at the go signal, you GO! In Philly, I WENT, as I was flying down Ben Franklin Parkway the spectators that bet on me thought they picked a winner. The lead I had on the handcycle, and the rest of the field must have looked impressive for the first ½ mile. After the sprint, I settled into the middle of the pack

It has been an incredible journey over the last 11 years. It would have never happened without that chance sighting on a Utah road. Quoting Yogi Beera one of the great philosophers of the 20th century. 
"When you get to the Y in the road take it"  

When was the last time you tried something new. 

It’s no longer about the race it’s about the event. The people I have met and the places I have been will be the subject of the next letter.