Monday, May 5, 2003

Veneziano first beats traffic, then the field

Road delays almost derail women's winner

By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Runners start
Runners take off along Mehring Way.
(Photo by Craig Ruttle)
Photo gallery
Fifteen minutes before the scheduled 6:30 a.m. start of Sunday's Flying Pig Marathon, Lisa Veneziano was stuck in traffic on I-75 near the Norwood Lateral, along with her husband, three fellow runners and a friend who was driving.

An accident had held them up for 20 minutes, and they were only now beginning to move again.

When they reached downtown, Veneziano got out of the car near Fifth Street and Central Avenue and hurried toward the starting line behind Paul Brown Stadium.

"It was 6:26 and we were still running to the start line," she said.

Veneziano, who lives in West Chester, received a break when the start of the race was delayed for about five minutes while police moved a barricade, but she didn't have much time to gather her thoughts before she took off running.

"We got a little chance to relax," Veneziano said. "But it was a close call."

Running in her 25th marathon, but her first Flying Pig, Veneziano took the lead on the 20th mile and held on to win the women's race with a time of 2:57.54.

It was her fifth marathon victory overall and her second in a month. She won the Toledo Glass City Marathon three weeks ago.

Veneziano, 38, said she would have run the race even if she had been late for the start. The computer chip that each runner receives when registering would have allowed her to record her time.

But even if she had produced the best time, she would not have been considered the winner unless she had crossed the finish line first, race director Rich Williams said.

Veneziano and her friends were about 100 feet behind the accident. She could see the police and a tow truck on the scene where a truck ran into one of those traffic control vehicles with the lighted arrows on them.

She didn't know how long they would be delayed. And they weren't the only ones worrying: Veneziano noticed other runners with numbers on their backs getting out of cars, trying to find out what was happening.

Compared with the anxiety she felt before the race, actually running the course was a snap.

"When I started off, I was seventh or eighth for the first several miles," Veneziano said. "I didn't start passing people until sometime around seven miles."

It wasn't until the 25th mile that she began to hit the wall, but by then all she had to do was fight through the fatigue and the finish line that was waiting for her.

Once she assumed the lead, she wasn't challenged the rest of the way.

"I didn't hear any woman or anybody calling for any woman behind me," she said.

Veneziano, a Penn State University graduate, moved to the Cincinnati area last December when she was transferred from Columbus. She works at General Motors in its parts distribution center.

She and her husband, Jay Owens, drove the course Saturday night, familiarizing themselves with their new city as much as they were plotting strategy.

Veneziano ran her first marathon when she was 30, and even though she has won four others, she didn't enter the Pig expecting to win.

All she knew about the field was that last year's winner, Tatyana Pozdnyakova, was not entered this year after setting a course record of 2:34.35 in 2002, 23 minutes faster than Veneziano's winning time.

"I thought I could be in the top five," she said. "I heard the winner from last year wasn't coming back. Obviously, I couldn't compete with her."

Once the race began and the stress from almost being late subsided, Veneziano knew she was in good shape, even before she took the lead.

"I knew early in the race that I was going to have a pretty good one," she said, "because I felt good the first couple of miles.

"In almost every marathon, you typically hit a wall somewhere. To hit it at mile 25 is pretty good. I'll take that."



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