Gold Story: 2019 San Francisco Marathon Female Winner Says, “I’m Not Afraid To Dream and Work Hard”
January 20, 2020 | Nina was born and grew up in Moscow, the capital of the Russian Federation. She says she liked math and computer science and was a “normal nerd until age 25, without any serious sports background.”
She has a Masters of Science in Applied Mathematics and Computer Science from Moscow State Technical University and graduated in the top five percent of her class. Since college she’s been working in Information Technologies as a developer. She worked for Microsoft for a couple years and now she and her friends have a start-up company creating mobile application helping small businesses in marketing. She is also working on a mobile game project as well.
But, in Russia, when she was going to school, there was no sports or track and field in college, unlike in the United States, so she didn’t really think about sports or running at all while she was going to school. She says, “I was just studying my math. I almost forgot about sports.”
At about the age of 25, seven years ago, Nina says she was thinking about her future and what she wanted her life to be like in 10 to 15 years.
She was living near Moscow at the time, working as a software developer and she said she didn’t want her life to stay the same with a “home and work life cycle with regular traffic jams, extra weight, TV shows at night. I didn’t want to just dream about an active, fulfilled, healthy life and a sport-shaped body. I felt trapped, so I started to run.”
Nina says that running was and still is her “transformation route to a better life.”
She said her first one to two kilometer runs were running around her house and a couple houses nearby on a bad asphalt road. She tried to run on a trail nearby once, but she was attacked by a dog and decided not to go back.
In May 2012, Nina said that her mom told her that Nike opened a running club in the Moscow city center. She went to a free training session and then joined the group. She also created her first training plan for running the Moscow Marathon in September from the book Daniels’ Running Formula by premier running coach Jack Daniels. She started running four to five times a week and at least two times per week were with the Nike Running Club she had joined — no more than 65 kilometers per week.
She followed the plan she had created for herself and ran the her first marathon in Sept. 2012 in Moscow with a time of 3:25. So, from the very start Nina has been a fast runner, but with training and dedication she has only become faster.
Nina says she had no serious sports background, but her father was a professional swimmer in his youth – Nina tried swimming when she was young, but decided it wasn’t for her. Her mom did cross-country skiing and she runs as well. She ran her first half marathon in Barcelona in 2018 and she did a ski marathon in Italy in 2015 and 2016. Nina went to the junior training ski-school from the ages of 9 to 14, so she was familiar with training camps and regular training sessions.
But, at the age of 14, she decided she would focus on science and math because she thought her math education would help provide the money she would need for ski equipment and time for training.
As she got older, she decided to focus on running because “you only need one pair of shoes and the road to start.”
She took small, incremental changes over the seven years that she’s been running. She says, “I had my own ups and downs, I changed locations, coaches, places of work a couple times, lost 15 kilograms, and my stereotypes about how a professional runner should be.”
In Feb. 2014, she ran the Tokyo Marathon in 2:59:20 – her first marathon in under 3 hours. At that point her distance per week had grown to 100 km and she was running 6 days per week.
In May 2015, Nina ran a marathon in St. Petersburg with her new coach Sergey and she again ran under 3 hours, with a time of 2:55:07. She worked for three years with that coach and trained twice a day some days and her distance per week increased to 120-130 km. With this coach she also achieved a time a 2:43:03 in Frankfurt in 2017.
In November 2018 she found her current coach, Mikhail Monastyrskii, who she says she called herself after rejections from other coaches who said she was too old and too slow.
Nina said, “He rebuilt me, believed in me, gave me a professional vision, and he is the first one who supported my running passion.”
Her coach is still in Russia, but he plans all her training sessions and competitions. This year she says she should be training as a professional – 160 to 180 km per week, the gym twice a week, swimming on Sunday, short stretching days, and she’s posting everything she’s doing on her Instagram account too.
In June 2019, Nina moved to the U.S. because of a work project. She spent the summer in California and decided to stay. She says she moved here because life is better here. “I feel free here, a young woman with a lot of opportunities both in running and in business.”
Shortly after she moved to California, she joined the Janes Elite Racing team, the fastest elite running girls team in Santa Monica and USATF National Champions in 2019. She says that the Janes team helped her adapt to running in the U.S., helped her find interesting races, showed her running routes, as well as provided support and motivation through her training.
When asked how she runs so fast, she said, “In general, six days a week, I’m running. This is the main part of my training session. If you would like to run and run fast, you need to run almost everyday.”
After years of consistent training, she’s raced in marathons and ultramarathons all over the world, she’s the winner of international marathons, she’s a member of an elite racing team, and she believes that the Olympic Games could be a possibility someday.
One of those international marathons that Nina won was the 2019 San Francisco Marathon. It was her second international marathon win ever, with the first one at the New Year’s Marathon in Zurich, Switzerland on Jan. 1, 2019.
She said that winning the Zurich New Year’s Marathon, which starts at midnight on New Year’s Day every year, was a great start to the year. She also won the Wings For Life World Run in May 2019, and then in July she came to San Francisco and won that race. 2019 was a great running year for Nina!
But, San Francisco wasn’t even a race she was supposed to be running — she only signed up about three weeks before the race.
Normally, in the winter, Nina said that she and her coach plan out her races for the entire year. San Francisco wasn’t on the list. But, then a few weeks before the San Francisco Marathon, she realized that she was going to be in the area for her work at the same time that the marathon was happening.
She said she thought that it would be a beautiful course and a great opportunity to see the city, “so why not run?”
In the couple of weeks before the race, she researched the course and the previous winners’ times. She thought that maybe it was possible for her to win the race, and she even told people she wanted to win. But, she still wasn’t sure if she would be able to.
For most of the race she didn’t think she was going to win. It was just a training run for her really.
“I didn’t start out very fast,” she said. “I didn’t know the road, the course, and I wasn’t at my peak form because I was in the middle of my training session.”
In the first half she said there were a couple of women in front of her. And she said the wind on the Golden Gate Bridge was really hard for her.
In Golden Gate Park, there was a woman in front of her who was running faster and faster and Nina said she decided she’d be okay with being second.
But then she says that at about 25 to 30 kilometers into the race, the woman in front of her started to slow down.
She says, “I could feel more energy. And the second part of the race was downhill.”
Nina took first place with a time of 2:47:01.
She says, “It wasn’t my best time, but I was happy with it on this complicated route.”
She was proud of herself for winning another international marathon, and she knows it’s another step forward in her running career.
When asked if she was planning to run the 2020 San Francisco Marathon Nina said, “I would love to see the sunrise on the Golden Gate Bridge one more time.” But, she wasn’t sure how the training and race schedule would work out this year and if she would be available.
For 2020, Nina’s big race that she is gearing up for is the Chicago Marathon in the fall. Leading up to that race she’ll be running the Nike LA Half Marathon and she said she’s planning to “run for pleasure on the legendary Boston Marathon.” She also said she’s going to try to beat her own record in the Wings For Life race in Miami.
The Olympic Games may be in her future at some point, but she said that “for now, that is not my goal.” Although with her recent successes and her continued training, she does think it is possible.
Through her running and her posts on social media, Nina said she wants to encourage other women and support the girls running community.
“I’m not afraid to dream and work hard,” Nina said. “I believe my way is a good example of how it is never too late to start changing and transform your life. Even if nobody believes in you at the beginning.”
She believes, “There is no reason to miss your chance to do what you would like to do. Just try, be brave and strong, and magic will happen.”
Nina loves to run and doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
“As an addicted fan of running, I will be glad to tell people more about how amazing it is to run,” Nina said, “And I will try to be an inspirational example to non-professional athletes.”
In honor and celebration of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games that will be happening at the same time as the 2020 San Francisco Marathon, we are telling runners’ Gold Stories.
For many, running in the Olympics may be a far off dream, but we know you have your own goals and achievements that we want to hear about and celebrate, because everyone can have their own version of a Gold Goal!