Run to California: Nina Zarina, MAI graduate, speaking about the role of sports in the life of an engineer

24 December 2021

Nina Zarina, a charming MAI graduate, the absolute winner of the “Wings for Life” international race, is called the fastest girl in Moscow running clubs and the best runner in Washington. Nina has been taking part in sports competitions since 2012. She took part in marathons in Russia, Germany, Spain, USA, Switzerland, South Africa, Japan and the Netherlands. In Sacramento (California), Nina showed her personal best result – she ran the marathon in 2 hours 33 minutes and 22 seconds in December this year. And a month earlier, she overcame the marathon in Los Angeles in 2 hours 37 minutes 36 seconds and took third place in the overall standings among women.

The girl also won marathons in Washington (in 2020), San Francisco (in 2019) and Zurich (in 2019). This year, she made her first professional marathon start in the most prestigious series of races in the world – Major. She finished twice in the oldest ultramarathon in South Africa at Comrades and became the undisputed champion of the major running event Wings For Life three times in a row, where she set the record for the 60.1 km distance.

The graduate of the faculty No. 8 "Applied Mathematics and Physics" (now Institute No. 8 "Information Technologies and Applied Mathematics") decided that she would like to study IT, at the age of 14, and already in high school she transferred to the mathematical class and began to prepare for admission to Moscow Aviation Institute. The choice of the future champion initially fell on the Moscow Aviation Institute, because, from her point of view, the university provides good technical education of a high level.

Nina's final qualification work was devoted to adaptive methods of predicting advertising placement on television – she worked on the topic under the guidance of Alexander Marasanov, the candidate of physical and mathematical sciences, associate professor of Moscow Aviation Institute.

MAI press office asked how to graduate from the university with distinction, become successful in business and sports, and why move to California.

How did you get into sports from MAI?

As a kid I took cross-country skiing, but when I entered the university my sports life ended. I could afford a couple of aerobics classes a week: the rest of the time was spent on studies, and later on work. But in my senior years I again started running on weekends and skiing with my classmates, I remember the cross at the Planernaya with the guys. These meetings became the starting point in my life for returning to sports – I was 23 years old, and I began to increase the number of training sessions and kilometers per week.

How long have you been planning to become an athlete? Are your professional plans for the future related to running?

I never planned to go in for sports professionally, and this issue, in fact, has not yet been resolved. My plans for the future are more related to my family, and my professional ones - to work in IT, I program and deal with management and operational activities. Sports and running are already an integral part of life, they are needed to feel beautiful and healthy. It's just that a lot of constant training together with professional approach can lead to quite high results even at the world level.

What were the emotions that you felt after your first marathon?

My first competition was the Moscow Marathon in 2012 – then it still ran in four circles along the Moscow River. I ran it in 3 hours 25 minutes, and I was absolutely happy with the result and very proud that I was able to run the whole marathon without stopping. Then everything, of course, hurt a lot, my legs almost didn’t bend. I walked happily, but with difficulty.

What was your decision to move connected with?

I came to the United States for the first time in the summer of 2019 – I was invited to take part in a marketing automation project for small entrepreneurs, and our team met in Los Angeles. In December, I returned to America – in Washington, where I met the family of my future husband. Then the pandemic began, the borders began to close, and I decided not to leave and to wait until the situation stabilized. I got stuck there for a couple of years, and after all I stayed – now my home is here in California.

Could you please tell us about your podcast. Is it a hobby for you?

This year I started recording interviews with Russian athletes who have achieved high results in athletics at the international level. We do not often talk about events in this sport - there are several good media, but even they mainly focus on men's results. I thought that the media lacks honest girlish stories, especially from athletes of such a high level, and their experience and knowledge is invaluable.

The podcast is called “About Running and Girls”. Five issues are already available: with Valentina Egorova, Tatiana Arkhipova, Maria Farnosova, Irina Privalova and Lyudmila Petrova. The sixth episode will be released soon – the interview with Galina Bogomolova, the current record holder of Russia at the marathon.

I plan to make eight issues about different disciplines: from sprint to marathon, as well as about different periods: from the early 90s to the present day. And the accents for each episode are different, typical for the particular heroine. It seems to be simple conversations, but it becomes easier to train with them, and I am so glad that the first issues found a huge positive response from many. I am very grateful to my listeners, who every time let me know that not only I am interested in all these conversations about running.

In the future, I would like to translate all interviews into English. I hope that such sincere personal stories will help to recognize Russian athletes as hardworking, honest and incredibly strong girls.

What else do you do besides running?

I still work in advertising and information technology – recently I tried to set up a neural GPT-3 model to generate advertising messages, it works well. For the rest, like everyone else, I run the house, communicate with friends, sometimes draw, sometimes cook, study, and have my Instagram account. I really love nature, especially the national parks of America, and I am glad that my hobby allows me to travel a lot.

How does the education you received at Moscow Aviation Institute help you in the implementation of your ideas and plans now?

I am certainly glad that I chose mathematics. It helps to treat problems as tasks a lot, though difficult and incomprehensible at the beginning, but solvable. Any problem can be decomposed, and if you look for a solution, then it will definitely come. The key is to deal with the problem, not avoid it. After completing semesters of mathematical analysis and functional analysis (FAN), no courses are perceived as difficult. I always remember that since I passed FAN, it means that everything else can definitely be learned. Stanford and Harvard courses are quite enjoyable fun now. And, of course, my profession now supports me. My mother, who from childhood told me that I need to study, turned out to be right. Education gives me the freedom of choice that is valuable to me and the opportunity to run without dependence on any organization or sponsor.

What motivates you to be successful?

Success is illusory and relative. I usually base my decisions on what is best for my family and me. I was also very lucky with the people around me – this is motivation, support, and endless inspiration.

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