NEW YORK -- If it’s autumn in New York, it’s time for Tatyana McFadden to rack up another wheelchair marathon grand slam.
How dominant is McFadden? She hasn’t lost a marathon since 2012, and her victory at the TCS New York City Marathon on Sunday was her third straight, giving her the Boston-London-Chicago-New York quadruple for three consecutive years. In near-perfect weather conditions, her time — 1 hour, 43 minutes, 4 seconds — crushed the previous standard for women wheelchair racers by more than seven minutes.
“I’ve had such a great season, and to be able to close it off with such a great race, it’s crazy,” said McFadden, 26, who has won 10 Paralympic track medals but none in the marathon. “I know each race is going to be harder, so it’s all about staying focused on my goals.”
The soft-spoken athlete, nicknamed “Beast” by her fellow racers, prompts admiration and near-awe from some of her competitors.
Manuela Schär, the Swiss racer who finished second on Sunday, thinks McFadden’s climbing ability sets her apart, especially on a course like New York’s, with its numerous bridges and hills.
“Starting from that bridge (Verrazano-Narrows Bridge) in the beginning, she can make so much ground already, that she pulls away and it’s tough to catch her,” Schär, 31, said. “I have to work on my climbing, to get stronger. I think that would be the key, actually. It definitely makes me work harder, to know I have someone to catch.”
Another Swiss, Sandra Graf, overcame a slow start to place third on Sunday. When asked what she could do to beat McFadden, she gave a good-natured laugh.
“That’s going to be really hard,” Graf said. “She is very strong. She’s really great.”
McFadden is the first to agree that climbing is her strong suit.
“I knew I needed to hit that hill as hard as I could in the beginning, no matter how painful it was,” she said. “I know I am a little bit weaker on the downhills than everyone else, and I knew downhills would be really fast, because of the tailwinds. The first 20 miles had a tailwind, and then the last six had a straight headwind.”
Susannah Scaroni, who placed finished fifth on Sunday, trains daily with McFadden at the University of Illinois.
“Tatyana is not only dominant, but she is so humble,” Scaroni, 24, said. “It is very inspiring how much hard work she puts in with such a great attitude. The University of Illinois has such a fantastic wheelchair-racing program. You have people pushing you every day, harder and harder. I’m learning from her, getting stronger.”
At age 42, South Africa’s Ernst Van Dyk was the men’s wheelchair winner for the second time, some 10 years after his first New York City victory in 2005. Josh George, who trains alongside McFadden and Scaroni in Champaign, was just 24 seconds behind in second place.
“I tried testing Ernst on Fifth Avenue, and climbing up to (Central Park) and on some of the hills in the park, but neither one of us could lose the other,” George, 31, said. “He has had a lot of experience in this race and that experience paid off today. He made the right move at the right time.”
McFadden and Van Dyk both won the first-ever Chicago-New York Challenge, awarded to the man and woman wheelchair racer with the most points earned between the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on Oct. 11 and the New York City Marathon. They earned an extra $10,000 to go along with the $15,000 New York City Marathon purse.
McFadden and George both qualified for the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Paralympic Games by merit of their finishes at the Chicago Marathon as well.
Kenya’s Mary Keitany dominated the women’s field, winning her second straight New York City Marathon in a time of 2:24:25. Cross-country champion Laura Thweatt was the top U.S. finisher, placing seventh in her first marathon.
“I definitely got what I wanted out of it today,” Thweatt, 26, said. “I got strength from the race, as well as the training. I had to put my head down and fight for the whole thing, so I think I definitely got mentally tougher.”
Although Thweatt’s time (2:28:23) puts her within reach of the top U.S. women marathoners, she does not plan on running in the U.S. Olympic marathon trials in February.
“I’m sticking with my original plan to run track (Olympic trials) in July,” she said. “Today really helped prepare to put myself in the mix for the 10,000 (meters).”
Another Kenyan, Stanley Biwott, won his first New York City Marathon after placing fifth in 2013. U.S. runners Meb Keflezighi and Craig Leon were seventh and eighth, respectively.
Keflezighi, who turned 40 on May 5, set a new masters (age 40+) record of 2:13:32.
“The pace was slow at the beginning, and I was in the mix,” Keflezighi said. “All I wanted to do was come out OK (not injured), and I think I did that. ... The race was solid, the time overall was slow, but it is what it is. I was hoping I could get fourth or fifth, but (others) made a big move, I couldn’t cover it and that was it.”
The 2004 Olympic silver medalist is sticking with his plan of trying to qualify for a fourth Olympic team at the Olympic trials in Los Angeles, but acknowledged it will not be easy.
“If I’m going to make the Olympics, I’m going to have to run a lot faster,” Keflezighi said.