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American-Born Nemec Runs for the Croatian Flag

Her running career blossomed after moving to Croatia after college.

Edward Everett Hale wrote a short story entitled “The Man Without a Country,” but Lisa Nemec might as well be known as the marathoner with two.

Although she lives in Zagreb, Croatia and has represented that country in interational competition for half a decade, she was born and raised 100 miles south of Boston in Waterbury, Conn., where she began her running career as a high school freshman. After continuing her competitive career at Columbia University in New York, she moved to Croatia, her father’s homeland to teach English in a private school. Joining a track club in Zagreb restarted her athletic improvement, and also fostered a move to longer distances. Her first try at the marathon distance, in Berlin in 2010, resulted in a national record 2:33:42.

She’s since run seven more marathons, including the 2011 IAAF World Championships and the London Olympics a year later, where she became the first runner to represent Croatia in the marathon. The following year she sliced a huge chunk off her personal and national record in winning the Zurich Marathon in 2:25:44. Last year she returned to Zurich for the European Championships and ran 2:28:36 on a different course to place fourth, then did a quick turnaround and finished second at the Honolulu Marathon in December.

“Last year the main focus was the Euro champs,” she said. “But I wanted to run one more marathon and Honolulu was the latest one on the schedule. I expected it to be really hot but it was rainy and windy.”

Nemec spent most of the winter training in southern Portugal, then tested her fitness at the Prague Half Marathon last month. “My shape was pretty good and I was planning to break 69 minutes,” she said “I think I was too excited and started out too fast and after 5K my legs started to cramp up a little. I’m a little disappointed but in the long run it might be good to make me be a little calm at the start here.

“In New York City [where she finished 12th two years ago] my strategy was to start out and stay with the lead group,” Nemec said. “But they started really slow and I think if I’d run my own pace I would have run better. I think I learned from that experience that you can’t always depend on the competition. The competition is always strong at these big races but you know how you’ve trained and you know what type of race is best for you so you can’t always let other people dictate what you do.”

Unlike many elite entrants who have done extensive recon and training on the Boston course, Nemec hasn’t even seen the iconic route from Hopkinton to Back Bay, but she isn’t fazed by that potential lack of firsthand knowledge. “The Euro champs course was on a pretty hilly 10K loop with a 1K steep uphill followed by a steep 1K downhill,” she said

“We started preparing for that last January so I’ve had over a year of training on up and downhills. I’m a pretty good uphill runner and been doing a lot of training on downhills, so hopefully I’ll be able to handle the Boston course. I think I have to be really careful the first miles—my main goal in the beginning is not to go out too fast. I think I’ll stay behind a little then try to catch up. If it goes out slow then I’ll just run my pace although I have a feeling it’s not going to start out slow.”

Although a second World Champs run, scheduled for Beijing this August, is a possibility for Nemec, nothing is definite yet.

“This is the first time I’ve been running a marathon with no plans for the future,” she said. “There’s World Champs but we decided that Boston is the main focus this year. We’ll see how much time I need to recover after—it will probably beat up my legs so I think maybe I’ll need more rest than normal. If I recover fast enough and can have a long enough buildup I may go to Beijing but we just don’t want to rush into anything. When I ran Honolulu the buildup was real short and the whole time I felt like I was behind and playing catch-up—I don’t think it’s smart to do that very often.”

While her Honolulu prep might have been hurried, Nemec’s Boston buildup has gone exactly as planned, with all her workouts run at a faster pace for the same effort than in the past. “This is actually the most confident I’ve ever been going into a marathon,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s because I’m really prepared or because I’m more experienced and know what to expect. Normally when I go into a race I’ll look at my training log and that gives me confidence but there’s always this voice in the back of my head saying ‘it’s still the marathon’ but this is the first time I don’t have that feeling of second guessing. I guess we’ll see on Monday.”

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