Top 13 of 2013: Tatyana McFadden completes marathon grand slam

By Aimee Berg | Dec. 29, 2013, 11 a.m. (ET)
Tatyana McFadden crosses the finish line at the 2013 Chicago Marathon
Tatyana McFadden crosses the finish line at the Chicago Marathon, marking her third marathon win of the year.

 Tatyana McFadden
With a win at the New York City Marathon, Tatyana McFadden became the first athlete to win four major marathons in one year.

Tatyana McFadden completed an unprecedented marathon grand slam on Nov. 3, winning the women’s wheelchair division of the New York City Marathon after taking the titles in Boston, London and Chicago in 2013. No other athlete has won those four races in the same year.

It took the 24-year-old University of Illinois student 1 hour, 59 minutes, 13 seconds to complete a grand slam and add the 2013 New York City marathon title to her list of accomplishments.

Dominance wasn’t as easy as it looked, though.

“I was pretty nervous, especially after Chicago,” McFadden said afterwards. “In Chicago, I was very fatigued.” Prior to that race, she had also quietly dealt with a rib injury and worried that the pain would return in New York. McFadden was also nervous about flat tires which had knocked her out of contention in New York in 2009 and 2011.

Her fears were for naught.

The only time McFadden’s victory was challenged was when Wakako Tsuchida of Japan caught McFadden at the bottom of a hill around mile four.

After taking turns blocking the wind, McFadden surged on a climb, dropped the world record holder, and flew solo the rest of the way.

“I thought for sure they were going to catch me,” McFadden said. “I just had to re-focus and hit each climb hard, and keep a really fast, continuous pace. I had a plan, a plan B, and plan C. I just had to believe in myself and my training.”

By mile 8, McFadden had a one-minute lead. By mile 16, the gap had grown to a three-minute chasm.

Then, “all of a sudden I could feel it,” she said. “I could just see my speed slowing down from 15 [mph] to 12 to like 7.

“By mile 20, I was just exhausted,” she said — and not only from the pace and the headwind. It was months of studying while other athletes were resting, and a grueling race schedule with marathons held as few as six days apart. The course record would have to wait.

Pushing on with a four-minute lead, McFadden finally crossed the line to cap an extraordinary year — in which she also went six-for-six in gold medals at the International Paralympic Committee Athletics World Championships — to win her second New York City marathon. (She also won in 2010.)

Tsuchida placed second (2:02:54), Manuela Schaer of Switzerland took third (2:03:53), and the defending champion and course record-holder Amanda McGrory placed fourth.