Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Brands

Culture

Wheelchair Racers Gear up for New York City Marathon

A familiar cast of racers, including defending champs Marcel Hug and Tatyana McFadden, will compete on Sunday.

A familiar cast of racers, including defending champs Marcel Hug and Tatyana McFadden, will compete on Sunday.

Forty minutes before the professional women begin their five-borough trek in Sunday’s New York City Marathon, another group of elites will precede them, but in wheelchairs, rather than on foot.

Unlike ambulatory runners, wheelchair racers don’t undergo the pounding that 26 miles of foot can engender, and thus can race much more frequently, sometimes only a week apart.

As a result, professional wheelchair racers needn’t pick and choose their races the way elite runners must, and the wheelchair fields at the major marathons are generally strong, with the same cast of characters, race after race.

That will be no exception in New York, with course record holders Kurt Fernley and Amanda McGrory and defending champs Marcel Hug and Tatyana McFadden lining up on Staten Island.

McGrory and McFadden train together in the nexus of elite wheelchair racing, Champaign-Urbana, Ill., home of the University of Illinois.

“Illinois was the first [wheelchair] accessible university in the country, back in 1948,” said the pair’s teammate Josh George, who won the NYC Half earlier this year. “It was to accommodate returning veterans from World War II on the GI Bill.”

Many wheelchair sports were added to the athletic roster after that, and road and track racing continue to be among the most successful among the Illinois roster of athletes.

RELATED: Americans Rely On Experience For NYC Marathon

McGrory, who set the course record of 1:50:24 in 2011, is a frequent racer but lists New York as her favorite event.

“I’m a climber, and the hills and bridge climbs suit me,” she said.

McGrory noted that the race through New York is often decided in the first two miles, with the climb and descent of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.

“If you can hang with the pack through there, you’ve got a good chance of being in the mix the rest of the way,” she said. “But if you get dropped, it can be a long, lonely 24-mile time trial the rest of the way.”

While McGrory and George are strong on the climbs due to their small stature that gives them a high power-to-weight ratio, bigger racers like McFadden and Ernst Van Dyk can use their weight as an advantage on the downhills.

RELATED: Linden Sees Bad Weather Forecast As Great Equalizer

The bigger athletes also tend to do better in windy conditions, which is in Sunday’s forecast.

“Tatyana may be the only person I know who actually looks forward to a headwind,” McGrory said.

If the conditions play to her favor this year and result in a win, McFadden will complete a double marathon grand slam, winning Boston, London, Chicago and New York two years in a row.