Boston Marathon 2020

Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray shares his favorite memories

"I reached for my two-way radio and dropped it in the toilet!"

Dave McGillivray finished running a marathon in his neighborhood on April 20, 2020. Courtesy of Dave McGillivray

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Like many of you who entered in this year’s 2020 Boston Marathon or who have a role in helping to manage it, I am here at home thinking about all my years associated with the race and with that comes all the highs and lows of my personal experiences. I’ve been involved with the race as a runner or director for almost 80 percent of the time I’ve been on this planet. I’ve run the Boston Marathon 47 times and have helped direct it for 33 years. I was thinking what might be my top memories as a runner and as the Boston Athletic Association race director. There are so many that it is difficult to shave it down, but ahead I’ve shared my top 10 highlights for each.

As a runner

  • 1972: My first attempt. I was 17. I collapsed in the hills of Newton and was taken to the Newton-Wellesley Hospital. Did not finish.
  • 1973: My second attempt. Unfortunately, I was sick but managed to finish. Many know about my grandfather story that motivated me to finish and then commit to run this race every year since then for the rest of my life, which I have so far.
  • 1979: I ran my personal best, the year after I had run across America so I was in pretty good shape and ran just under 2:30. My coach, Bill Squires, said ‘Seems like you have a good base now,’ after I ran the 3,452 miles!
  • 1988: I was offered the job as Boston Marathon’s technical coordinator, but I still wanted to run so I went back out to the start and started at 8 p.m. and finished at 11 p.m., dead last, and that has been the way it has been ever since – 32 years of running at night and finishing last.
  • One of the first years I was directing the race I was in the lead vehicle. As we went through Wellesley, a very rotund, cigar-smoking man yelled out at me, ‘Hey you bum, get out of the car and run like all these other skinny runners.’ Little did he know I was going to do exactly that.
  • 1976 Boston Marathon winner, Jack Fultz (Run for the Hoses), ran with me at night and stepped aside as I finished thus finishing right behind me (and thus last) which created a new trivia question, ‘Who is the only runner to have both won the Boston Marathon and finished last?!’ You guessed it, Jack Fultz!
  • 2013: I was standing on the starting line ready to run when the bombs went off. I rushed back to the finish and went back to work. Eleven days later, I ran the course as a personal tribute to all those who were profoundly impacted.
  • My son Max ran a few years ago. His first marathon ever. I grabbed the microphone and announced him finishing, gave him a high five, and then headed out to Hopkinton for my run. He gave me a high five when I finished. Amazing to witness your own son finishing the Boston Marathon. He was the first of my children to run but won’t be the last.
  • Hollywood actor and friend Sean Astin (“Rudy”) ran the marathon then came back out at night on a bike in the pouring rain to find me, and ride next to me. He didn’t catch me until I was running down Boylston Street to the finish line—it’s the thought that counts!
  • On October 12, 2018, I had open heart, triple bypass surgery. Six months later, I was able to finish my 47th Boston Marathon. Of course, it was the highlight of all my 47 finishes.

As a race director

  • 1988: My first year as technical coordinator. The year before, there was a wheelchair crash and a tripping incident with the rope they held across the start line to keep the runners back. All I ended up doing was removing the rope and placing a human chain of volunteers across the road instead. I’ve had the job ever since! The Globe wrote a nice article the next day, “Thanks to McGillivray, A Fine Start.” Ha! All I did was remove a rope!
  • 100th Boston Marathon: This was in 1996. Surprisingly and at the last “minute,” we had over 38,000 registered for the race. We worked on this race for two years. The year before we had 9,000 in the race. Most said it would take hours for everyone to cross the starting line. I calculated 30 minutes. It ended up taking 29 minutes for all 38,000 to cross. It was an amazing celebration.
  • 2007: This was the Nor’easter year. The day before and the morning of the race were brutal. The rain was coming down sideways! We were close to cancelling but were told that there could be a break in the weather later in the morning, which there was, and we all got through it all, miraculously.
  • 2012: This was the inferno year with the heat. It reached 89 degrees. We had 250 transports to area hospitals and treated over 2,000 people in the medical tents. Thank goodness everyone ended up okay. I recall standing on the starter’s platform announcing to the 27,000 runners, ‘we can’t fit you all in our medical tent at the finish so you need to take personal responsibility for yourself!’
  • 2013: The bombing. A few days later my seven-year-old said he never wanted me to direct the race again. He associated my job with danger. Now he can hardly wait to run in the race himself. We have recovered; we have persevered.
  • 2014: I’ve always felt the comeback is stronger than the setback and such was the case here. With Meb Keflezighi’s win, the script could not have ended any better. I rode my motor scooter next to him the entire way. Talk about a front row seat!
  • 2019: In all my years, I don’t recall ever experiencing lightning at the Boston Marathon. It wasn’t fun. Trying to decide to go or not to go, or to delay or not to delay right on the spot was excruciating. Talk about on the spot pressure!
  • Katie Lynch: This was one of the most memorable moments for me. Katie was 36 inches tall and was being treated at Boston Children’s Hospital. She asked me if she could run the marathon but that her marathon was 26 feet long. I said yes, barricaded 26 feet from the start and she did it in her walker. Katie passed a few years later but her memory will never fade.
  • A few years back I was using the port-o-john at the starting line reserved for staff. Someone locked me in by mistake. This was about 10 minutes before the start of the race where 25,000 runners were lined up and waiting for me to give the signal to fire the gun. Franticly, I reached for my two-way radio and dropped it in the toilet! Yes, I retrieved it and was able to finally get out. I’ll end this story here.
  • 2020: Coronavirus – now this. First postponement in the race’s 124-year history. September 14 will be like the 2014 race—epic. We will be back and even stronger.

Although not official, I will be attempting to run 26.2 miles around my neighborhood by myself on April 20. I wouldn’t know what else to do with myself on Patriots’ Day.

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Dave McGillivray is the Boston Marathon race director, a philanthropist, motivational speaker, and an accomplished athlete. You can read more about him at dmsesports.com/dave-mcgillivray

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