Dave McGillivray, for Active Endurance
I get asked all the time, “So, what is it like being the Race Director of the Boston Marathon?” Wow, how do I answer that one in a sentence or two? I could write a book! If I only had a few words to describe it, they may be “It is truly an honor.”
As a kid growing up in Medford, MA, I marveled at the idea of simply running in the Boston Marathon. I got my chance at age 18 and haven’t stopped since. After 15 years of running in it, I was asked if I would be interested in helping to actually “run” (aka, direct) it! Imagine that? What an honor. In the history of the race there are less than a half dozen known race directors of it including Will Cloney, Tim Kilduff and Guy Morse. In fact, I believe I am now the only one to have both directed the race at some level (29 years) and have run in the race (44 years). And, I certainly don’t take any of this for granted. I am one of the lucky ones.
As a runner, I feel I have a good understanding of what is important to runners. In fact, I now run in other marathons just to “steal” good ideas from them! I learn both what might be another interesting way to do something but also what might not be a good way of doing things, too. Nothing like getting right into the thick of things to find out.
Another question I always get asked is, “which is more difficult, running the marathon or directing the marathon?” Both are very difficult but I would say directing it has been more challenging (so far) than running in it. Runners only have themselves to worry about. Race management has to take care of and be concerned about 30,000 plus people. No matter how much you plan and no matter how much time you devote to that planning, the event is just too massive to think that nothing will go a little awry or that there will be no last minute crisis to deal with.
The greatest asset the BAA has is our experienced team. For example, if you add up the total amount of years the BAA Organizing Committee members have been involved in this 120-year old race, it totals over 2,000 years! Many have been working on the race for over 30 years and some even over 40 years! The key for us, though, is to not take all of this for granted, but rather to continue to realize how important this race is for so many runners all over the world. This is the “holy grail,” the Super Bowl, the Tour de France, and the World Series of all marathons. No pressure here, yeah, right.
This race means so much to so many. It can be a life-changing experience. Stand on the painted finish line the week leading up to the race. There are more pictures taken there than perhaps any other location in the city of Boston. I used to think it was “only” a road race. I’ve changed my mind on that one after having directed it for a few years.
I’ve always thought my role with this event was more as a conductor than a director. If I have one talent (and even that is a stretch), it is that I know how to surround myself with good, talented, dedicated professionals. I really have no choice if I want the race to be a success. Boston is a massive undertaking. It takes a team and that is what makes this all work from year to year to year.
It is said that this race belongs to not only the Boston Athletic Association, but to millions of people throughout Massachusetts, New England, the country, the world. Everyone takes ownership and pride in the event. A few of us are just stewards of it. For me, I’ve said that I feel I am simply a “caretaker” for a while. It was here before I was born and will be here long after I am gone…I’m just taking care of it for a little while.
I travel to races all over the country every year. Maybe I am biased, but without question, the “jacket” and race clothing I see, more of than any other, has the BAA logo and Boston Marathon on it. It’s really amazing. People are sincerely proud to display the fact that they have some connection and experience with the venerable event. I crack a smile every time I see someone wearing a BAA jacket.
Many times I am running in a marathon or a road race and I hear runners just talking about “Boston”. I don’t tell them who I am, I just listen and take it all in. They talk about someday qualifying for Boston and how that is their lifetime running goal or about having run in Boston and what an incredible experience that was for them. I just smile again and run on…more evidence about how special this race is for so many.
We have 10,000 dedicated volunteers and unfortunately have to turn away thousands more. What other race actually has to turn away volunteers? Not many. Sponsors also feel that it is an honor to be involved. The cities and towns go out of their way to show the world they are all “in”.
So, I guess you could say it doesn’t get any better in this industry than to direct the oldest, most prestigious marathon on the planet. How does it feel to be the Race Director…is it a lot of pressure? Well, in this particular case, the pressure is truly a privilege.
I must admit, I love this race as much as anyone. My grandfather is buried right on the course in the Evergreen Cemetery. I always felt that I am going to run this thing right up until the day they lay me down right next to him! But, I am not “racing” to get there any time soon…he can wait a little longer, well, I hope a lot longer!