The Boston Marathon’s 63-year-old race director just finished one of running’s most grueling challenges

Dave McGillivray is pushing young runners after completing the World Marathon Challenge.

Dave McGillivray
Boston Marathon Race Director Dave McGillivray is also a children's book author. –Mary Schwalm / AP

The first marathon, in Novo, Antartica, was tough. The second and the third were the same. But by the fourth and fifth, Dave McGillivray’s fatigue was fading and his legs felt firmer beneath him. And in Miami, running his seventh marathon on seven continents in seven days, he felt so good the only thing stopping the 63-year-old from going for eight was that he’d run out of continents.

McGillivray, the race director of the Boston Marathon, completed the World Marathon Challenge in January. After covering 26.2 miles in the Antarctic Circle to raise money for the Martin Richard Foundation, he did the same in Cape Town, Perth, Dubai, Lisbon, Cartagena, and Miami.

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“Recovery at 35,000 feet isn’t always quick,” McGillivray told Boston.com. “You gotta just deal with the pain and deal with the discomfort because you know you have to wake up the next day and do it all over again.”

He’s spent a lifetime doing it all over again. On McGillivray’s 12th birthday, he began his annual tradition of running his birthday age in miles. Since then, he’s logged an estimated 150,000 miles, including a blindfolded Boston Marathon in 1982 and a 3,452 mile journey in 1978 from Medford, Oregon to his hometown of Medford, Massachusetts. McGillivray picked the sport after serving as the last pick in all the others.

“Because of my short stature I was always the last one cut and the last one picked when my friends picked sides,” he said. “I was determined to be an athlete in some way, shape, or form so I started running. I ran to stay in shape for other sports, but then I realized, ‘Maybe I’m not being given an opportunity in these other sports,’ so I said, ‘Well, I can always run.’ Nobody can cut me from running.”

David McGillivary
In this Aug. 29, 1978 photo, David McGillivray reaches out to fans at Fenway Park in Boston as he completes a 3,400-mile, 80-day cross country run to raise funds for a children’s cancer research charity sponsored by the Boston Red Sox. —Chip Maury/AP/File 1978

McGillivray leapt into his new pursuit, opening up one footwear store, then another, and deciding to organize races to boost the sport’s (and with it, the store’s) popularity. By 1981, he was the director of the Boston Marathon. McGillivray has run the Marathon 45 times, the last 30 of them at night after making sure the rest of the race went smoothly.

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When he’s asked what he does for work, McGillivray responds that he doesn’t. He said he enjoys what he does so much he doesn’t consider it a conventional eight-hour job. The result of his work, or passion, each year is an event that draws 30,000 runners to the road and 500,000 spectators to the sidewalk. McGillivray credits the history of the race, the athletes, the crowd, and the sponsorships for the Marathon’s success.

“And I like to think it’s managed well,” he laughed. “That’s a big part of it. If it wasn’t managed well, no matter what the history is, people wouldn’t show up. So you look at all those ingredients, if you will, and it just adds up to a pretty decent event.”

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In 2013, the “pretty decent event” was attacked and its future called into question. In the immediate aftermath of the bombings that claimed three lives, McGillivray was nervous that no one would come back. And that was the initial response by some runners.

“But then, a few days later, all of a sudden the dam opened,” he said. “Everybody wanted to come here. It was just the opposite. It was like, ‘Alright, we will not be denied our running freedom. We’re going to Boston and we’re taking back Boylston. We’re taking back the finish line.”

In a matter of days, McGillivray went from worrying that there wouldn’t be another Boston Marathon to wondering how they were going to fit so many extra runners on the tight course. For the 118th edition of the race, the organizers expanded the field by 9,000 runners amid a intensified focus on safety. There were new rules limiting what people could bring to the race , and a higher security presence, but the inconveniences were quickly forgotten when Meb Keflezighi broke the tape.

Dave McGillivray
Co-authors Nancy Feehrer of Westford and Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray of North Andover.
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McGillivray planned for that race the way he does all the others, by forcing himself to pretend the Marathon was taking place two weeks before the actual date. This year’s Marathon could kick off today without a hitch, McGillivray said, and that preparation leaves him free to react when the inevitable last-minute curveball arrives. With the majority of the work for this year wrapped up, the focus has already shifted to 2019.

McGillivray’s eye had drifted beyond even that race to the runners who’ll toe the line in Hopkinton decades from now. He co-wrote a children’s book, “Dream Big,” that he hopes will inspire kids to lace them up and hit the road. At the back of the book, McGillivray issues a challenge to the young readers. If they run 26 miles, read 26 books, and do 26 acts of kindness, he’ll mail them a medal.

“I don’t want them to just read the book, put it down, walk away and say ‘oh that was nice’ and go about their business,” he said. “I want them to read the book and say ‘I’m going to act on this now.’”

If they do, the kids get a medal and McGillivray gets the satisfaction of knowing he made an impact. McGillivray hopes the young runners will keep seeking out challenges, and maybe one day help him find that eighth continent.

 

 

Photos: The Boston Marathon through the years: