Tatyana McFadden Feels “More Focused Than Ever” as She Trains to Reclaim Her Crown

Tatyana McFadden winning the 2016 TCS New York City Marathon
McFadden's last win at the TCS New York City Marathon came back in 2016.

Tatyana McFadden has won the New York City Marathon five times.

Five times she has broken the tape at the world-famous finish line at Tavern on the Green in Central Park. A top wheelchair division competitor and one of the most decorated professional athletes of all time, McFadden is a living legend. But despite her wealth of success, McFadden is still looking forward and on Sunday, November 3, she will be back in New York City looking to reclaim her title.

In 2017 and 2018 she was second to Switzerland’s Manuela Schär at the TCS New York City Marathon, after having won the previous four years’ races consecutively. However, to McFadden, the 2018 race was a tremendous result under difficult circumstances.

“Last year I had my chair malfunction and break in Berlin, so I actually raced [New York] in my coach’s chair. It is surprising that I did so well,” McFadden said. In addition to using unfamiliar equipment, she was coming back from a health scare that changed her life.

“I developed a blood-clotting disorder two years ago,” she recalled, “and I was still in the recovery phase and my body didn’t want to push harder and physically it couldn’t. I did a lot of fighting with the blood clots and all the treatments and recoveries.”

It took 18 months to fully return to form. McFadden, who is also a mentor and advocate for athletes with disabilities, underwent three surgeries and various physical therapy treatments, all while continuing to train and race. Looking back, she doesn’t regret any of it.

“Sometimes we have those challenges and you just get through it,” she said. “I feel like at the end of the day it makes us tougher. I think to myself, ‘I made it through. It wasn’t my best, but I still had a lot of fun,’ and focus on the positive. If I can do that, then the next year is going to be a whole lot better.”

Tatyana McFadden holding the flag of USA after winning the United Airlines NYC Half
McFadden won the 2019 United Airlines NYC Half earlier this year.

Trying to Reclaim Her Title

This year, she is looking forward to taking on the New York City course at full health and has been training and preparing to take back the title of champion.

McFadden knows the course like the back of her hand having raced it so many times, and knows which sections are the most challenging for her. She prefers the climbs to the descents, which she says are her weakness, and one of the areas that Schär was able to have the upper hand over her.

“Having broader shoulders compared to my competitors, it’s a little harder to get into that tucked position on the downhills,” she explained.

Her training in the last year has specifically focused on her downhills and adapting what she learned in last year’s race into her racing style. “Letting loose and going more for it, and not holding back, I think is the other part of it of why I find descents challenging,” she said.

She feels more prepared than she ever has before. “I have been more focused than ever,” she said. “It was kind of a blessing in disguise that my chair broke last year, because now I figured out a new seating position that works for me so much better. I feel like all of those challenges coming my way made me a better racer.”

Tatyana McFadden on the Verrazzano bridge at the start of the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon

New York Strategy

With the busy summer track season complete, McFadden has built a strong base to take her through her upcoming races. The New York course is one of the toughest out there and will be particularly difficult after racing the flat Bank of America Chicago Marathon on October 13.

“[In] New York, strategically you have to be really smart. It is a really technical course,” she said, adding that its difficulty is what makes it “fun and really exciting.”

McFadden knows that her experience in New York, which includes flat tires and racing in torrential rain and freezing cold, gives her an advantage. She also has developed strategies for staying focused. “I think it is being in the moment, being where you are, and how you’re feeling,” she said. “It is just being present and trying to problem-solve where you are and what you can do.”

And no matter what happens on November 3, McFadden knows she will come away a little bit stronger and wiser, win or lose. Despite the fact that she has been a professional athlete for over 15 years, having made her Paralympic debut in 2004, every race is still an opportunity to learn and improve.

“If you feel you got it all figured out you might as well retire! You learn from every race, from every setback,” she said.


Author: Katie Manzi

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