At the beginning of Dave McGillivray's presentation to a group of runners last weekend, he asked Christine Rentsch, who will be running her first marathon in the Pittsburgh Marathon in May, to leave the room for a few seconds.
While she was gone, he instructed those in attendance to stand and applaud Rentsch when she returned. They did, and McGillivray awarded her with a gold medal that read: "My next goal is to earn my own medal."
McGillivray, director of the Boston Marathon, then told his story of overcoming obstacles as an inspirational message for those preparing to run in the Pittsburgh Marathon May 6.
"A lot of people have had an impact on my life," he said. "I like to think that I can give some of that back."
McGillivray, 57, has plenty of experience upon which to draw. He has completed 126 marathons, including the past 39 Boston Marathons. For the past 24 years, he has directed the race in the daytime, then run the course by himself at night. In 1978, he ran 3,452 miles across the country in 80 days.
His message hit home for both first-time marathoners, such as Rentsch, as well as runners who have conquered the 26.2-mile challenge before.
Robert Sheesly, 42 of Blairsville, Pa., will be running his third marathon this May. He said his biggest takeaway was not to let outside influence detract from his training.
"Not just naysayers, but people who are in your life that enjoy social libations like having a few beers now and then," he said. "You kind of need to watch that. It's easy to skip a run because you were out on Friday night or Saturday night too late or what have you."
Sheesly and Rentsch, 39 of Gnadenhutten, Ohio, cited McGillivray's motto of "my game, my rules" as inspiration while training for the marathon. They decided to run their first marathon at the same age, 39, and neither is a lifelong competitive runner.
Especially in recent years, marathons have taken on a new mass appeal. McGillivray said they differ from other typical "things to do before you die," though, because of the lifestyle they can inspire.
"Say skydiving is a 'bucket-list' thing for me. It's probably a one-and-done," he said. "For a lot of people, maybe a marathon, initially, is a one-and-done. And then it hits them. Because they understand it's more than the accomplishment of running 26.2 [miles.] It's all the benefit they derive training for it. The health benefit, the self-confidence, the euphoria."
Rentsch said she can't imagine what it will ultimately feel like May 6 when she crosses the finish line. It likely will be similar to how she felt when she received the medal from McGillivray, only multiplied exponentially.
That medal gives her a constant reminder of McGillivray's message, and she said it now is hanging from her rearview mirror.
"That's why I have it hanging in my car," Rentsch said. "So I can see it every day and say, 'Hey, you've got to run 12 miles today and go to work, but it's going to be worth it in the end.' "