Illinois senior Tatyana McFadden completed an unprecedented marathon “Grand Slam.” The 24-year-old Maryland resident won the NYC Marathon women’s wheelchair race Sunday after taking the titles in Boston, London and Chicago in 2013. No other athlete has won those four races in the same year.
“I’ve had an incredible year, especially with the track season and with the marathon season,” McFadden said.
She also was the 2010 champion in New York.
McFadden had the lead most of the race, and she said she tired around Mile 16 until she hit the crowds near First Avenue.
“I mean, people were shouting my name, and it was absolutely wonderful that they knew the racers and that they knew me,” she said.
Born with a spinal defect and left at a Russian orphanage as a baby, McFadden was adopted by an American family and got involved in swimming, basketball and track. She’s a senior at the University of Illinois.
A transcript of her post-race interview, courtesy the NYC Marathon:
THE MODERATOR: Our champion, Tatyana McFadden, finished in 1:59:13. Marcel Hug finished in 1:40:14.
Q. Congratulations, Tatyana. Grand Slam, what did it take in terms of consistency, training, mindset? Just run down the list.
TATYANA McFADDEN: Today I was pretty nervous, especially after Chicago. I knew that the girls were going to be really strong, Manuela was here. Amanda ‑‑ I mean, she won it last year. Wakako is here.
So for this race, I knew it was going to take strength and endurance and power. So this morning, I knew it was going to be a little bit chilly on the start line, and I knew it’s going to be a headwind so that I could use to my advantage.
What’s difficult about this race for me is not only it’s flat every year, except for 2010 and this year, but the downhills, just not a very good coaster compared to the other girls. So the headwind was a little bit of an advantage for me because it slowed us down.
So I just kept pushing, and at the bottom of the hill, Wakako did catch me, and so we sort of just took turns pulling, and then on the climb, I just surged, and I just didn’t see her.
So then I was by myself for the whole rest of the marathon. And I was nervous and worried because I knew ‑‑ I didn’t know who was going to be coming, who was going to be creeping up, but I just had to believe in myself and my training.
I’ve had an incredible year, especially with the track season and with the marathon season.
My coach, Adam Bleakney from the University of Illinois, he’s a phenomenal coach. I really have to thank him and my teammates. There’s about 25 of us on the team. So it’s like competition every single day.
Q. Tatyana, can you just describe the course in terms of what you experienced, what you saw in terms of fan support, and just if there was a most challenging point, if you can describe that, as well.
TATYANA McFADDEN: Yeah, that’s a great question. Right now I’m feeling exhausted and fatigued. That course was ‑‑ it was very difficult.
I was fine for the first, I think, eight miles. I was comfortable. I was climbing really consistent, pretty fast. And then around mile 16, all of a sudden, I could feel it. I felt the wind. I could just see my speed slowing down from 15 to 12 to like 7.
But having the support from the crowd at each mile was great because it helped you to refocus your energy. Instead of thinking about how you’re feeling, you can take the energy from the crowd. I mean, people were shouting my name, and it was absolutely wonderful that they knew the racers and that they knew me. So that was definitely incredible.
It just kind of uplifted your spirits, especially being by myself. You just see the mileage coming in slowly and slowly and slowly. By mile 20, I mean, I was just exhausted. It was very exhausting at mile 20.
So really just having the support from the crowd was really nice.
Q. Tatyana, can you explain or put a finger on what it is this year that has taken you to this level. Is it something mental or physical that’s pushed you past where you were maybe a year before?
TATYANA McFADDEN: Yeah. It’s taken me a long time to get where I am. I didn’t just wake up and this all happened.
This summer, it took me five years to finally win the 100 meters. In Beijing, I lost it. I came in sixth place. In London, I came in third. In the World Championships, I could never win it. So I was always right there but not there.
So for track, it took me a long time to develop. I started marathoning in 2009, and so slowly and surely, those races came. I mean, this is only my second win in New York.
So it’s just about the training and taking the time and to really develop my muscles and develop the sprint aspect and developing endurance and try to put those together.
Being at the University of Illinois and having Adam there and having the training center there and the whole team, I mean, it’s phenomenal. That’s what it’s about. It’s about having the facility and the equipment there for athletes to excel.
Q. You just got done saying you’ve had a really busy year, but apparently you’re going to swing right into training for the winter Paralympics.
TATYANA McFADDEN: Yes, I recently ‑‑ last year I tried skiing, cross‑country skiing. The coach came up to me and said, you’d be the perfect person for cross‑country skiing. You have the body for it. You have the strength, and you have the endurance, and we just need to teach you technique.
So I tried skiing, and it was so much fun. Although I was freezing and a spent a lot of time looking at the snow, it was a lot of fun.
So in December we have trials, and in January they’re going to pick the team.
Q. Tatyana, I want to ask you a little bit about the exhaustion that you mentioned. Was it because of your pace, or was it the course, or being so close to Chicago, or the whole year?
TATYANA McFADDEN: That’s a great question. I guess just the whole year together. I mean, I’m still a full‑time student. I graduate in December with a degree of human development, studying child life, which you’re there for the emotional support of the child and the family.
So I’m done in December, and trying to fit in Boston, London, and Chicago and then New York. So Boston and London were very close together, six days apart, and then Chicago and New York, they’re only a few weeks apart.
In the meantime, besides training, I’m also going to class and staying up late and trying to turn in assignments. So the exhaustion definitely catches up. When everyone else can rest, I have to study and stay up late.
So I was nervous. I was nervous because in Chicago I was very fatigued. I had an injury, a rib injury, which I kept pretty quiet, but I saw the chiropractor, and it was fine. It was healed. I was nervous that the pains were going to come back for this race. I just really managed my nutrition really well, tried to get a lot of sleep this week and a lot of rest.
The training the past couple of weeks were really good, so I felt confident. And whatever happened, I told myself on Sunday, I did everything that I could do; just believe in myself and just hit all the strength on the course.
With the wind, the course did become exhausting earlier on because you’re going against the wind and then you’re climbing, and you don’t have that much rest downhill because of the wind hitting your chest; it slows you down.
But overall, it was a really good day.
Q. Tatyana, given flat tires were a problem in two previous races here, did you have any close calls? Or how much of a concern was that?
TATYANA McFADDEN: I mean, a few times during the race, as I hit a few bumps, I was like, oh, no, this is going to come again; I’m going to get a flat; this is great. But I just quickly looked at my tires and saw they were still rolling and saw they were okay.
Then I just had to stay calm. If I flat, I flat. I have time to change it since I was in the lead. So I had to keep remaining calm and just think, okay, it’s going to be okay. You’ve had to change tires in the past.
But I was nervous. I always have to strap on an extra tire and extra suit, too, because it makes me nervous that in the past I’ve flatted so much.
Q. Tatyana, were you surprised to find yourself all by yourself for almost the whole race, that nobody went with you?
TATYANA McFADDEN: I mean, I did find it surprising because, when Wakako caught me, I thought she was going to stay with me the entire race, and Amanda and Manuela are also really strong. So having them work together with picking up the speeds, I thought for sure they were going to catch me.
But I just had to kind of refocus and hit each climb hard and each downhill, keep it a really fast, continuous pace. Then I just couldn’t let the nerves ‑‑ you know, I couldn’t worry what was going to happen. I had a plan, and then I have plan B and plan C, whatever happens.
But it was just about believing in myself and my training and just really using the support from New York.
THE MODERATOR: If that’s it, we want to thank our champions again. Thank you all for coming. We’ll see you soon for the next round.