Nina Zarina: The queen of the Wings for Life World Run is expecting

Nina Zarina Usubyan holding her start number for the 10th edition of the Wings for Life World Run

Nina Zarina is the only woman to have run more than 60 kilometers in the last two Wings for Life World Runs. So one might assume that her goal for this year’s 10th anniversary of the run for those who can’t would be another personal record. But 2023 is different for the 36-year-old. This time, Nina will not run alone …

She is a four-time global winner of the Wings for Life World Run. Her winning distances add up to 224 kilometers. There is no doubt that Nina Zarina is the reigning queen of the Wings for Life World Run.

This year, the Wings for Life World Run won’t be as usual for her, though. In the global movement to find a cure for spinal cord injury, no one ever truly runs alone, but Nina won’t be alone in a different respect.  She and her husband Max Usubyan are expecting their first child.

Your life is changing drastically right now. Is this change difficult to handle?

Nina Zarina Usubyan: Without a doubt, my usual running season will be pretty different this year. We are happily expecting a baby boy in September.  As I was always more family oriented than career driven, this change has been planned, so I expect that shift won't disrupt my life too drastically, but rather introduce a new and exciting dimension.

How about the physical changes?

There are two main challenges for me: sleep and weight. During the first three months, I woke up every two hours. Now it’s better, but it is still far away from my regular routine as a professional runner. I’m getting tired much more quickly. I’m getting heavier and slower week by week. It’s quite unusual to notice regression instead of progression after each training week and be happy about that!

How did your training routine change during these past weeks?

I learned about my pregnancy a week before my main marathon race of the last season, so I jumped into maternity leave right at the top of my fitness level. Since then, we have been slightly reducing the weekly kilometers of running. I added Pilates and stretching. I suppose I will switch from running to walking/hiking soon.

What is your goal for the Wings for Life World Run 2023?

I will run in San Francisco with friends and fellow runners from the local Founders Running Club. We hope to meet the sunrise on the Golden Gate Bridge and celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Wings for Life World Run. My main goal is to show the beauty of the Wings for Life World Run event to local runners and build a reliable foundation for App Run Events in California in the next years.

Which race is the most memorable race in your life so far?

Each Wings for Life World Run was unique to me. The first start in Kakheti, Georgia, in 2018 was my first win in a well-known international race. I’m so happy to see the Flagship Run come back there this year. The next year, 2019, was the absolutely unexpected global win with such an intense finish. That literally has shifted my life to the path of professional running. 2020, the pandemic year, was when the Wings for Life World Run became the most important race. It united so many runners in challenging, uncertain times. It’s a big honor to be the first champ in the biggest international race in the world. In my best year, 2021, I can say honestly now that I was scared and nervous before the start about meeting [American long-distance runner] Molly Seidel in the race, so I set a high enough pace from the beginning and until 45 kilometers constantly asked Max, my husband, if she was racing. Last year I decided to run in L.A., as it was more important to me – after two virtual pandemic years – to be with the Janes team on their home turf despite more complex conditions: an earlier start and not the simplest route. With all their significant support, the local Wings for Life World Run team made it one of my life's most memorable experiences.

What’s so special about the Wings for Life World Run?

It’s a rare race that focuses not on individual accomplishments but on the idea of helping others through your personal achievement.

Will you be back in training soon?

It’s hard to predict. I believe our attention will be centered on our baby boy. I hope to have a recovery period while still being able to maintain some level of my running routine. A stroller was already chosen.

Are you already planning any races after giving birth?

That’s for sure. I already moved my existing registrations for the Houston and Boston marathons to the next year. There will also be an iconic USA Olympic Trial in February 2024. The Wings for Life World Run is always on my list.  To be honest, I even have a long-term plan of races for the next two Olympic cycles.

Do you want your child to be a runner?

I want him to be involved in sports, but which sport in particular will be his choice. Sport is significantly helpful in life and can give you priceless benefits, such as strong health and faithful friends.

Is there any lesson you’ve learned from running that helps you prepare to be a mother?

I think, patience in general. Be calm, constantly repeating things day by day.

Is there a lesson that you want to pass on to your child?

Dream big. Don’t give up. Choose your way, make your part and don’t expect results and awards immediately.

Interview: Michi Reichelt

Nina Zarina Usubyan

  • Born: March 17th, 1987 in Moscow
  • Education: Master's Degree in Applied Mathematics and Computer Science
  • First Marathon: 2012
  • Half Marathon Record: 1:15:54
  • Marathon Record: 2:34:19
  • Wings for Life World Run: Winner 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022