L.E.S. track enthusiast in it for the long run

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Frank Schiro proudly displays his Penn Relays medallion.

BY ALBERT AMATEAU | On any fine day, a visitor to the E. Sixth St. track in East River Park is likely to find a tall, thin 63-year-old man leading a fitness class and talking up the sport of running.

Two Saturdays ago, the man, Francis Bishop-Schiro, was almost beside himself about his victory, along with the three other members of his Lower East Side Track Club team, in the 122nd running of the Penn Relays.

“It’s the longest and oldest track meet in the country,” Schiro said of the renowned three-day event that took place April 28-30 at Franklin Field in Philadelphia.

Schiro’s Lower East Side team in the 60-plus-age group ran the 1,600-meter relay (4-by-400) on Friday night April 29 in 4 minutes 27 seconds.

A search of The Villager archives for March 2004 notes that Schiro, with a different 4-by-400 relay team, smashed an indoor world record for the 50-plus age group, running in a Washington Heights meet in 3 minutes 56.77 seconds.

The Penn Relays, however, are the pinnacle of U.S. track events.

“This track has six lanes,” Schiro said, pointing to the E. Sixth St. oval. “The one in Philadelphia has 10 lanes. As soon as you finish your race, the next event, maybe an Olympic team, replaces you.”

The 1,600-meter relay is slightly less than a mile.

Schiro’s teammates — Kendrick Smith of the Bronx, Simon Barrett from Great Britain, and Reinhard Michelchen from Germany — are all 63 years old, like he is.

“Reinhard is the current European champion for the 200- and 400-meter races in the 60-plus age group,” Schiro noted.

How did a resident of London and a resident of Stuttgart get on the Lower East Side Track Club team?

“Well, the number of 60-year-old guys who run a quarter of a mile at that level is limited. It’s a very small pool and we all know each other,” Schiro replied, adding, “I met Reinhard about 12 years ago in a track meet in Germany. We were running against each other then and we’ll probably run against each other in the future.”

In relays, the runners pass a baton to each other, and the passing can be a crucial point in a race.

“Simon led for us and ran a perfect race in a tight field with a lot of elbowing — track can be a contact sport sometimes,” said Schiro. “We all had lots of experience, so we didn’t have any trouble with the handoff. I was second and passed the baton to Kendrick, who passed it to Reinhard, our anchor. It got progressively less crowded as the space between runners opened up. We ran with 50-year-olds in our event and we beat a few of them,” Schiro said.

“There were 45,000 people in Franklin Field on Friday night. It was a real thrill. My wife was in the stands,” Schiro said.

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Frank Schiro, right, with two members of his 4-by-400 Penn Relays team, Simon Barrett, left, and Reinhard Michelchen.

He and Elizabeth Bishop, a social work supervisor with an agency in the Bronx, were married a year and a half ago.

“It was my birthday, too,” said Bishop, who is also a runner. (She finished a New Jersey marathon two years ago and is training to run one in Baltimore in October.)

Born and raised in Chatham, N.J., Schiro started track as a youngster.

“I could always run faster than anybody else,” he said, noting that he had 17 offers of college track scholarships in high school. “I wasn’t mature enough to take any of them,” said Schiro, who gave up on track soon after high school and embarked on a life that included on-and-off periods of drug dependency. Along the way, he managed to get both arms tattooed from wrists to shoulders. He became drug-free and returned to the track in his 40s.

“I was 44 when I entered a 4-by-400 relay with the Central Park Track Club team. We came in second,” he recalled.

Pointing to the 16-inch wood-and-bronze Penn Relays medallion that he was carrying, Schiro said, “This is not really the goal. If medals come, that’s fine, but I don’t need them for validation; I love the sport.”

Schiro conducts fitness training for people of all ages and every level of ability.

“I have a sliding scale and I’ve never turned anyone away,” he said. “Now I’m trying to get kids interested in joining my Lower East Side Track Club. It’s a sport that can last all your life.”