SUSANNAH SCARONI ON RACING IN NEW YORK
She’s a top contender in the NYC Marathon’s wheelchair division.
One such athlete is Susannah Scaroni, a two-time Paralympian who has competed in the NYC Marathon every year since 2013. Now an elite in the wheelchair division, 27-year-old Scaroni is studying to become a registered dietician, all while training and competing against top-tier athletes in marathons around the world.
After suffering a spinal cord injury when she was five years old, she became paralyzed from the abdomen down. But the physical challenges didn’t quell her competitive spirit, and over the years, she’s found she has an advantage of sorts. “Because I was injured so young, my legs never fully developed,” says Scaroni. “As a wheelchair racer, that’s actually beneficial because your strength-to-weight ratio is really important.”
Furthermore caught up with her to talk upper-body strength, racing strategies, and why she fuels with liquid.
When did you notice you had different capabilities than your peers did?
But now you’re an elite. What reignited your interest in sports?
How did you end up on a competitive racing team?
What are the biggest differences between the able-bodied marathon and the wheelchair division?
Drafting [when you get behind someone to limit your own drag and save energy] is such a big element for us, making it a very tactical sport. In able-bodied running, if you’re able to maintain your speed over a distance that’s a great tool, but for us it’s not enough. You have to be able to speed up to beat the people around you, a strategy called rolling accelerations. While we do the same marathon course, our times are a lot faster. The top wheelchair time last year in New York was 1:37:51 compared to 2:10:53 for the runners.
What’s your typical training regimen like for New York?
Our track workouts focus on four-mile repeats at race pace. We have hand cyclists [who propel themselves forward using arm cranks, rather than by pushing the two back wheels] who act as the front of the draft, pulling at really high speeds so we can go at a higher intensity for longer.
What about strength training?
Once a week we do an hour and a half of core training and upper-body strength (focusing on the delts, pecs, and triceps) in the gym. In wheelchair racing, you push forward all the time, so we work on shoulder mobility and stability. Plus, our necks muscles are strained because we lie on our backs, so we do neck-strengthening exercises that keep the shoulders open and work the muscles that are more prone to fatigue.
A typical workout would be kettlebell curls to presses (4 sets of 8 reps with a 6-kilogram bell), floor smashes with a medicine ball (3 sets of 10 reps using a 20-pound ball), and core moves like sitting on a Bosu and catching balls thrown by our trainer.
How do you fuel on race day?
What’s your overall approach to nutrition?
Can you give the rundown on a full day’s worth of food?
Lunch could be sweet potato, two eggs, tomato or avocado, followed by an orange and Epic bison jerky in the afternoon. My dinner typically consists of quinoa, steamed broccoli, and protein like tofu, salmon, beef, or chicken. I end with hot chocolate in the winter or 2% Greek yogurt and blueberries. It’s good to have something before bed to help your muscles recover.
What are your expectations for this year’s race?
What’s next after you cross the finish line?
I’ll be excited for a cappuccino and a breakfast bowl from Le Pain Quotidien, plus a long nap and a fun post-race party with all of the athletes and organizers. During the eight-ish-week gap between the NYC Marathon and the Tokyo Marathon in February, we devote our time to building power capacity with less of a focus on volume.
Photo: Getty Images