Michigan Runner of the Year: Lisa Veneziano
Lisa Veneziano went to a tiny high school in central Pennsylvania that didn’t offer cross country or track and field.
The closest thing she had to competition was being on the sidelines as a cheerleader for the football and basketball teams at West Branch High School in Alport, Pa.
At times, she wonders how good she could have been had she run during those so-called prime years. She doesn’t dwell on it, though, because she has been redefining what is considered a runner’s prime for more than 20 years.
The Fenton resident was still winning road races as a 47-year-old in 2011, running times that would easily make her a state qualifier in high school cross country. Never content with merely being the top masters runner, she was competitive enough in the open division to win the overall 2011 Michigan Runner of the Year award.
Veneziano racked up 145 total masters and open points, outdistancing co-open men’s winners Boaz Cheboiywo and Kris Koster by 45 points. She was the Michigan Female Masters Runner of the Year last year.
She was the first Michigan masters runner in the two most prestigious races in the state, the Fifth Third River Bank 25K Run and the Crim 10-mile. She was the first overall woman in the Milford Labor Day 30K, first master in the Mackinac Island 8-mile race and second Michigan master in the Dexter-Ann Arbor half marathon.
“I feel that I always have a chance of winning,” Veneziano said. “I’m really competitive, so whenever I go out, I lay it on the line and try to do the best I can. I feel I can still compete well, except for in the really big races with major elite competition. I never count myself out.” Veneziano, who started running when she was 25, isn’t sure if she’d still be this competitive had she gone for broke during her high school and college years.
“It would be neat to see where I would’ve been if I’d had the coaching,” she said. “Every now and then, I think it would be neat to get a coach now, someone who could tell me exactly what I should be doing for training; I’ve never had that.
“On the other hand, I’m also grateful, because if I’d run in high school and college, I probably wouldn’t be able to run as long as an adult. I’m not burnt out. I don’t have any major injuries. I think it’s a trade-off.” Veneziano said her best race of 2011 was the Crim, where she covered the hilly 10-mile Flint course in 1:02:23. By taking second overall among masters to Romanian Natu Olaru, Veneziano won $1,000 for the biggest of her seven paydays there. She’s won $3,375 in Crim dollars, placing in the money the last three years. “The Crim is usually a really good race for me,” she said. “As a runner, you can have a good race or a bad race; it’s just a matter of what body shows up that day. For some reason, I’m usually right on for the Crim. I think it’s because we gear towards it, because it’s the local big-time race.”
Veneziano said she doesn’t do Michigan Runner series events to chase points. She genuinely likes each of the races on their own merit. “Each one of them has a character of its own,” she said. “Jay (Owens, her husband) and I really like all of those runs. It’s something we put on our calendar every year and do.
“There was one this year, Corktown (in Detroit), that we’d never done before. We always like to do St. Patty’s Day races and ended up doing one that was different. I didn’t realize it was part of the series until after the fact. That’s another really nice race we’re looking to put on our calendar.
“There’s just a lot of great races in that series. It sounds like the points just added up.” Veneziano ran two marathons, three weeks apart, this year. She was the 15th woman in the Detroit Free Press Marathon Oct. 16 in 3:06:07, and the second masters woman at the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon Nov. 5 in 3:08:52.1.
She is registered for the 2012 Boston Marathon, an event she hasn’t run since starting with the elite women’s field in 2009. “I’m happy I haven’t slowed down a whole lot,” she said. “I’m very fortunate there, but most important is that I’m still able to run. I want to be able to continue that for as long as I live, because I really love running. I just like working out and the benefits you get from it.”