By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
HONOLULU (11-Dec) -- Sunday's Honolulu Marathon boasts one of the strongest women's fields in race's 42-year history. Kenya's Joyce Chepkirui, perhaps the most dominant road racer in recent years, will toe the line for her second competitive marathon, while past champions Ehitu Kiros and Valentina Galimova seek to retain the winner's haku lei. Alongside them will be Croatia's Lisa Nemec, one of Europe's top marathoners.
"I am very excited coming into Honolulu. I am confident in my shape," Nemec, 30, told Race Results Weekly in an e-mail. "I think this last month I have trained and felt better than before any other marathon."
Nemec (née Stublic) was born and raised in Connecticut, studied at Columbia University in New York City, then lived in New York where she worked two jobs and ran for the New York Athletic Club, which still provides her with support. Unable to find a job as a professor of music, Nemec moved to Croatia, where she became an English teacher and kept training hard.
Coached by Croatian record holder Slavko Petrovic, Nemec began to steadily improve her times. By 2012 she was the best distance runner in Croatian history, becoming the nation's first ever Olympic marathon representative at the 2012 London Olympics. Currently she holds national records at distances ranging from 3000 meters to the marathon.
Nemec --who pronounces her name NEM-itch-- had her breakthrough race at the 2013 NYC Half, where she finished third in 1:09:18 against a very strong international field. Since then, she was 12th at the 2013 TCS New York City Marathon, won the 2013 Zürich Marathon in a national record of 2:25:44, and most recently placed fourth at the European Championships Marathon (2:28:36). Now, Nemec has turned her attention to Honolulu.
Knowing that it would take a bit of time to recover after the European Championships --held on August 16 in Zurich-- Nemec wanted to run a late fall or early winter marathon. The Honolulu Marathon fit the bill perfectly.
"I wanted to run something in December to ensure that I had enough time to recover properly from Euros and still have enough time to be in good shape," she explained. "At the beginning of this training block for Honolulu things were a bit rocky. It took longer than I expected to recover from Europeans."
As Nemec explains, training for the Honolulu Marathon began in late August. At that point, she says it was slower and harder than normal. Not until mid-October would her body feel fully recovered. Racing the Zagreb Half-Marathon on October 12, Nemec showed no rust whatsoever, winning by a minute and 37 seconds in 1:12:45.
Using heart rate monitors and lactate measurements, Nemec made sure she trained in specific zones of difficulty, running hard yet making sure not to push her body over the limit. After all, half the battle towards completing a fast marathon is getting to the starting line healthy.
"In the beginning it was hard to put faith in running well when training seemed to not go as planned, but patience paid off and after a while training got better and better," she said. Now in Honolulu, she's ready to tackle the challenge ahead. "I am looking forward to competing and being competitive. Last year I ran well in the spring but then not so well in the fall. I feel really strong and am motivated to run well on a more consistent basis."
Back home in Croatia, temperatures have hovered around the freezing mark. In order to get ready for the heat and humidity of Hawaii, Nemec went to Albufeira, Portugal, for three weeks, where she trained and let her body adjust.
"The temperature and the humidity was similar to that of Honolulu so it was a good way to prepare. Because of this I am not so concerned," she said.
Nemec didn't give a particular time goal for Sunday's race, saying she'd wait until Saturday to discuss with her coach and designate a benchmark. But she did give an inkling about what may come if the conditions are ideal.
"If there won't be heavy winds I think I am in good enough shape to break the course record," she said, alluding to Lyubov Denisova's 2:27:19 mark set in 2006. "My place goal is definitely top three. However, above all my goal is to race and always put myself in a position to be competitive."
PHOTO: Lisa Nemec (center) in the lead pack of the 2014 European Championships Marathon at the 12 kilometer mark (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)