It was 1978 when the idea was planted in Dave McGillivray’s mind.
He was running across the continental United States — Medford, Ore., to Medford, Mass. — to raise money for The Jimmy Fund. His ceremonial start point was the Kingdome in Seattle. The end point was inside Fenway Park, where as a boy he had dreamed of playing second base for the Red Sox.
That idea — to put on a full race inside Fenway — sprouted and grew over nearly four decades. It stayed with him each time he finished a race inside the crown jewel of historic ballparks.
“Just the thought of putting on an event inside Fenway entered my mind, and I thought, ‘Well, maybe I can sort of put on a 10K road race,’ ’’ McGillivray said. “Then I thought, ‘Why a 10K? Why not do something more epic, like a marathon?’ ’’
So the race director of the Boston Marathon, who has finished more than 140 marathons and will compete in the inaugural Fenway Park marathon this Friday, first took the idea to the Red Sox about six or seven years ago.
“But it just didn’t fit yet,’’ he said.
So he waited.
He watched as Fenway Park played host to high school and college football games, the NHL’s Winter Classic, the Big Air ski jump event, a slew of concerts, and even Spartan Races.
About six months ago, he approached the Red Sox Foundation with the idea. The foundation and upper management signed off, under the condition the marathon would raise money for the foundation. Each participant must raise $5,000 for the foundation to get a bib for their 116-lap marathon around Fenway’s cinder warning track.
Then came the challenge of picking a date. A fall date was desired, but tricky. With the Red Sox poised for a playoff run in October, and scheduled to play the Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla., the foundation landed on Sept. 15 at 5 p.m.
“And I said, ‘I’ll take anything,’ ’’ McGillivray said.
“It’s a little bit unconventional to start a marathon at 5 p.m. in the afternoon, but I think everyone was just so thrilled with the opportunity to do this, it didn’t matter whether it started at 5 p.m. or midnight or 2 in the morning, people were just enamored with the idea that they could actually have the opportunity of running a marathon inside the park.’’
McGillivray and his team decided to limit the size of the field to the first 50 entrants to register, calling it an “educated guess,’’ factoring how a crowded field competing on a loop in a confined space would not be optimal.
“So pretty much pulled a number out of the air,’’ McGillivray said.
He bypassed more formal processes or a lottery to fill the field, opting for a simple Facebook post.
“I said, ‘I’m taking the first 50 people who register,’ ’’ he said.
“I didn’t want 500 people to register and then how do I pick the 50? So I just thought, this is a good way to do it, get the word out there, and people spread the word to other people who weren’t Facebook friends, so they forwarded it and shared it and in about a little over a week’s period of time, I had all 50 people.’’
For a man who has made a living managing races, McGillivray’s latest undertaking registers low on the intricacy scale. For the Boston Marathon, 10,000 volunteers pitch in for any number of things. For the marathon at Fenway Park?
“In this event, I think I have like six,’’ he said. “So on a scale of magnitude, it’s not a very complex event to manage.’’
There is one hydration station — “but you hit it 116 times,’’ he said with a laugh — an aid station in center field, and the visitor’s dugout will serve as a staging area for competitors to store any extra gear they may need during the race. Spectators are welcome, free of charge, and will sit on the first-base line.
Runners will have two bibs: A traditional one with their numbers on the front and an optional one with the runners’ names on their back. “They can shout out some words of encouragement because they’ll see their name,’’ McGillivray said.
The one factor that is singular to a marathon inside a ballpark is the absence of mile-markers. That makes more crucial the timing mechanism to convey to runners their splits and lap counts.
“The only way they’re going to know where they are in the race is electronically by the timing company telling them what lap they’re on,’’ McGillivray said. “I don’t think that — well, I’m not going to anyway — keep track of mile and laps. That’ll drive you crazy, right?’’
With just a few days left before the race, McGillivray already knows he has to change his evening routine on Thursday.
He’s an early riser — “I mean, early, like, really early. Like, 2 o’clock, 2:30 early’’ — McGillivray will stay up later than usual the night before the race and try not to wake up until 5 or 6 a.m. on Friday. When he does get his day started, he will run through his to-do list make sure every is just so, sending e-mails and making phone calls to “triple check’’ everything is in order for the race. He’ll monitor the weather — the forecast for Friday calls for rain — and work with the Fenway Park crew if any time adjustments for the race need to be made. (“I’m not even sure what that means at the moment,’’ he said.)
He’ll arrive around 2 p.m. to help with set-up before competitors arrive at 3:30 p.m.
He’ll guide the runners toward the visitor’s clubhouse, where they will each have an assigned locker corresponding with their bib number. And he’ll deliver his pre-race speech at about 4:15 p.m. before directing the participants back to the field for a warmup and then the start of a race he’s thought about for decades.
Despite offers from colleagues around the country to help put on a marathon in other ballparks and stadiums earlier in the year, McGillivray stayed the course to make Fenway the first to host something like this.
“I mean, the oldest ballpark in America, and my hometown and the most iconic facility in the country if not the world, sports stadium,’’ he said. “It has to be Fenway. So it’s exciting that it is.’’
. . .
A couple additional details from our interview with McGillivray:
■ He said it will be interesting to watch how the venue affects runners. In point-to-point races, there are parts along the course that are away from spectators, giving competitors a guilt-free stretch to regroup, walk, or collect themselves. That will not be the case in Fenway.
“It can be good in that it incentivises you to keep going without stopping or walking, but on the other hand, if you truly need to do that to regroup, then you should and not allow your conscience to get the better part of you and get yourself into real deep trouble because you should’ve slowed down or rested a little bit,’’ he said. “So it’s a whole different experience, really.’’
■ He said he expects runners will stop every so often to get pebbles out of their shoes. The infield and track at Fenway Park is made of up crushed brick. (“People keep calling it dirt and I keep reminding them that it’s not dirt, it’s brick,’’ he said.) That means pebbles that were not crushed all the way will likely wind up inside some running shoes.
“So if you’re more of shuffler, you could end up with pebbles in your shoes as you’re going along. I fully anticipate — at least me because I know it happens to me — pulling over once every 5 miles or something and maybe emptying out my shoes with all these pebbles,’’ he said. “And maybe runners will look forward to that as a good excuse to take a little break.’’
■ Live results will be available here by entering a runner’s bib number and name.
■ A few notable participants: Rick Hoyt of Team Hoyt will be pushed by Brian Lyons; Becca Pizzi, a Belmont native who won the 2016 World Marathon Challenge; and Michael Wardian, who won the 2017 World Marathon Challenge, running seven marathons in seven days on seven different continents.
■ Here is a photo of each side of the medal for finishers.