Dave McGillivray is Race Director of the B.A.A. Boston Marathon and has been since 1988. Actually, he was Technical Director from 1988 to 2000 and then his title changed to Race Director in 2001. His experience as Race Director also includes the B.A.A.Boston Athletic Association Half Marathon (2001 – present), 2008 and 2004 USA Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials, 2003 U.S. Women’s Marathon National Championship and 1990 Triathlon World Championship. As founder and President of DMSE Sports, Inc., since 1982 Dave has directed or consulted on over 900 mass-participatory athletic events. He is also an accomplished endurance athlete with personal bests of a 2:29:58 marathon and 10:36:42 Ironman triathlon. Dave has completed over 131 marathons including 42 consecutive Boston Marathons. From 1978 to 1986 he challenged himself with numerous feats of stamina and willpower including the Run across America (3,452 miles) and East Coast Run (1,520 miles); separate 24-hour runs, swims and bike rides; Empire State Building Run-up and the first sanctioned marathon held inside a prison. In most of these events Dave raised thousands of dollars for charity. Each year on his birthday since 1966 Dave has run the equivalent number of miles as his age. His illustrious career in the sport of road racing has resulted in numerous accolades including the prestigious ‘Lifetime Achievement Award,’ presented by Competitor Magazine, the ‘Race Director of the Year’ award by Road Race Management, Inc. and a 2005 induction into the Running USA Hall of Champions. Dave lives in North Andover, Massachusetts with his wife, Katie and five children, Ryan, Max, Elle and Luke and Chloe.
GCR: First, congratulations to you and the entire Boston Marathon race management team for the 2014 race. With all of the extra preparations due to the terrorist attack last year and the heightened focus by the news media and general public, after the race ended and it was early evening did you feel more of a sense of accomplishment, relief or a little of both?
DM: As you know for me personally I go out and run the course so as of yet I didn’t feel any sense of relief until I crossed the finish line myself. But in terms of the race itself, of course I felt relief. We didn’t know what to expect, though we knew we were prepared. But you never know until you go through it. We were ecstatic as to the result. The stars could not have lined up any better. Everything fell into place nicely. The thing I remember most about this year’s race, and I use one word to describe it is, ‘Respect.’ I think everybody respected what we were up against, heeded to our policies and our recommendations. Those who trained to run unofficially, i.e. bandits, were at an all-time low. The crowd was incredibly well-behaved, stayed to the side of the roads, held signs and cheered loudly. It was just a sight to behold and I tell everyone it was certainly epic. I don’t know that we will ever experience anything quite like it again. It was certainly a race for the ages. Given what we were up again the last two years with the heat in 2012 and the tragedy in 2013, we were obviously praying for a good day this time. We needed it to heal, recover and move forward into the future. Everyone delivered and it was a team effort all around across the board and all of the runners seemed to enjoy the experience too.
GCR: You’ve directed for over 25 years and had a big field once before at the 100th in 1996. How much more complex was it this year due to the number of entrants, heightened security, events of remembrance from last year’s tragic events and other factors of which the public may be unaware?
DM: A lot of people said about us, ‘They did it for the 100th – they can easily duplicate it and do it this time.’ Nothing can be further from the truth. We had a lot less space to work with this year than for the 100th as buildings have been built and real estate has been gobbled up. It was tough putting that many people in a small and limited space. That has always been our conundrum and our challenge. The roads were built over 100 years ago and we have no more space than they did back then when there were two hundred people on the course. So that coupled with the high level of security was challenging. The difficulty was in not knowing what we going to be faced with. It was a moving target and we never could assume anything. We couldn’t say,’ we’ve put that tent over there for the last twenty-five years, let’s put it there again.’ And we would hear, ‘No, you can’t because of security reasons.’ When we would ask where we could put it the answer would be, ‘we’re not sure yet. We’ll let you know when we know.’ Nothing was a given. Normally with our race we have the same level of runners and generally the same field demographics and course so from year to year it was sort of like, ‘add water and you’ve got soup.’ Not to belittle the challenge, but this time it was a whole different ball game. It was like starting over and we couldn’t take anything for granted. We didn’t get behind, but we weren’t ahead.
GCR: How did things progress as you worked through the year?
DM: We worked different stages. The first stage of two to three months after the 2013 race was processing what had happened, recovery, healing, dealing with the victims and all of that before we could even think about 2014. We didn’t do any after action reports as it just wasn’t a priority at the time. And then all of a sudden the interest and demand and ‘we will not be denied’ and ‘we’re coming back’ and the interest was high from the media and all over the planet. We were trying to decide how to piece it all together. So conceptualization then became our big challenge – what was this race going to look like? What was it going to be? We had to sort of reel all of that in. Once we had a general idea of where we were going then we finally had to get into the planning and execution phase which is what we’re best at doing. But time was our enemy as we only had four or five months to do so. The whole thing was an arduous process with lots of unknowns and uncertainties. But when you surround yourself with the best team on the planet that has more experience than arguably any other race in the world, everyone came together and you saw the results on April 21st.
GCR: I often tell others that I am leading or coaching that we have a limited amount of time, and also effort and also energy to accomplish an individual or group task. Which of these factors seemed to be most stretched to the maximum for your race management team and also for you personally?
DM: All of the above. For me the biggest item I was concerned with was the public’s safety. We deferred to our public safety partners to determine what safety would be like at the start, what would safety be at the finish, what could runners bring, what could spectators bring and not bring, are there bag checks and checkpoints, are there areas spectators cannot go, what can staff bring, what can I bring? We changed our whole baggage check program, didn’t allow gear checked from Boston to Hopkinton and then from Hopkinton back to Boston. And then we tried to instill within runners the concept of personal responsibility. We let them know that we’re just a handful of people trying to manage this event, but they are 36,000 strong and if everyone took personal responsibility and understood the challenge we were all up against, we felt that we had a fighting chance. On race day runners got it, they understood and didn’t fight us on anything. They supported everything that we did and the decisions that had to be made. I’ll be honest with you that even I was surprised how well it went as I thought there would be some hiccups here, there or wherever because we didn’t have total control of this year’s event like we did in the past. There were so many entities, organizations and agencies from the federal to the state to the local level involved. Hundreds and hundreds – thousands – were involved. We were in charge of what went on between the curbs and the race management side of things. As far as everything that went on outside the curbs – we weren’t really sure what was going to happen ourselves and that obviously impacts what we do. It was a day-to-day changing feeling and for me personally that is very uncomfortable. I always like to pretend an event is two weeks out from reality and this year we were right up against the clock until the day.
GCR: This year you completed your 42nd consecutive Boston Marathon and, due to your race day responsibilities, did not begin your run until around 7:00 pm. After the tremendous effort and energy you expend all race day, how do you summon up the energy to run a marathon at the end of your day, and especially this year with all of the increased responsibilities and maybe a little anxiety due to the fear of the unknown?
DM: I put on 10ks and half marathons and at the end of the races I am exhausted and feel like I couldn’t eve run five miles if I had to. So, I kind of pause and wonder how the heck I can run a marathon after the Boston Marathon every year. I think it’s more that I have prepared myself for it and have been running it at night now for 27 years. It’s not that I hesitate and wonder if I am going to run it or not. I know that it is going to happen. I try to minimize the damage during the day and stay off of my feet went I can, but 90% of the time I am on them. I try to get a little bit of rest before I head back to the start and I try to eat a little bit. But the fact of the matter is that I’m breaking every rule in the book as to what you should do before you run a marathon. It just doesn’t make any sense. Emotion carries me through it as it is the calm after the storm. Once that I get the green light that it is okay to leave the finish and to head back to the start, my focus is on the task at hand of getting through 26 miles. This year I was really fit and had trained really hard. In the past I kind of cheated a bit and was nervous before I got going, but this year I was pretty confident that I could run strong and I did. I got done a bit after 11:00 o’clock at night so it definitely was a long day for sure. I don’t know what I was thinking way back when I decided to do this. I wasn’t thinking thirty years down the road, but we’re knocking on that door now.
GCR: Let’s talk about this year’s race now. With the strong fields that the elite athlete team recruited, how exciting was it when Shalane Flanagan and Meb Keflezighi were both running strong past the half marathon point and there was hope of an American victor for the first time since the 1980s?
DM: As a Bostonian, and race manager, I have somewhat of an affinity for the thought that it would be great someday to see an American win. I was focused on logistics and the race even though I was on the lead motorcycle and had the best seat in the house to watch the race. It was tough this year not to get caught up in it quietly, internally, when I was up there watching Meb. Two nights before the race we walked the last mile of the course and he was telling me about what some of his strategy was going to be. Suddenly, he was running and I was on a motorcycle and he was doing exactly what he told me he was going to do. It was pretty fascinating seeing that come to fruition. That being said, the gap he had of about 45 seconds at one point in time had narrowed to about six seconds. I wasn’t too confident that he was going to pull it out, but he scraped the bottom of the barrel, found another gear and, God bless him, he pulled it out.
GCR: It was amazing that Shalane Flanagan ran the fastest time ever by an American woman at Boston, but only finished seventh. What were high points of conversation you have had with Shalane since the race?
DM: I e-mailed Shalane a few days ago and heard back from her. She said that to win this race sometimes you just have to go for it. She said that you have to have the strength to keep that pace for the whole race and sometimes you can while sometimes you can’t. It just wasn’t her day to pull it off even though she had an incredible time. It was a very competitive field and that’s the way of the world these days. Nothing is a given in the race. No matter what your credentials coming in every day is a new day and it is exciting to see it all play out. To have both of them in the lead simultaneously that morning with everything else that was going on and everything about the tribute, the survivors, the mobility impaired, the crowds and the media, you couldn’t have written a better script.
GCR: How exciting was it to see Meb win and the touching scene with him and the last American male to win, 1983 champ Greg Meyer, right after Meb’s finish?
DM: That was great! Greg was doing our announcing at the finish and was the second guy on the announcing platform and there he was announcing that Meb was coming across the finish line. A couple of the guys came up and said, ‘Greg, you’ve got to give him a hug since you’re the last American man to win.’ You couldn’t write a better script.
GCR: Even beyond that, we often talk about people coming to the United States and the ‘American Dream.’ How much does Meb’s victory personify the American dream when we look at the story of his family escaping war between Eritrea and Ethiopia in which hundreds of thousands were killed, arriving in the U.S. at age eleven speaking no English and have never been a runner, and then going to school and becoming an outstanding scholar and athlete and winning the Boston Marathon? Isn’t that the epitome of the ‘American Dream?’
DM: Yes, you’ve said it better than I could ever say it and that’s what it’s all about in this country – anything’s possible. And to have him do what he did wasn’t just about a road race. It gave people all over the world a sense that if they put their mind to it and are willing accept the sacrifices involved and do the work to earn the right that they too can cross the finish line first in whatever race they chose to be in. He was just a classic, perfect example of that which is why it wasn’t just winning a medal or crossing the finish line of a road race. It really inspired not only American runners, but runners all over the world. As I said, it was epic.
GCR: The great stories of this year’s marathon, both on the roads and in ancillary events, were tempered by the sadness we had to overcome after last year’s terrorist bombings. As we touched on, you have run 42 straight Boston Marathons. How much more memorable and meaningful was it for you to run on behalf of the MR8 Foundation, in memory of eight-year old Martin Richard, who lost his life last year in the finish line bombings?
DM: For me this race has always been what it stands for in the minds of lots of people and that is the pursuit of athletic excellence. It’s about being competitive and earning the right to get to that starting line. And once the gun fires to really hammer as much as you can and to try and beat the guy next to you. That’s what it’s always been. The Boston Marathon has always been like that for me even when I run at night. If I’m not being competitive against anyone else then at least I am against myself. But this year was different. Last year my eight year old son was sitting in the bleachers and he saw everything. Martin was standing right across the street. I can only imagine that two young boys crossed sights with each other once or twice as they were right there. To think that one was just in the wrong place. That bomb could have been under the bleachers, God forbid. Anything could have happened. My heart just melted for that family. I knew that I had to do something. I’ve raised millions of dollars for charity with all of these charity runs I’ve done, but I never really raised money running the Boston Marathon for any cause. There is a first time for everything and I felt with this one that I had to do this. So I met with the Richard family and I did some appearances for them and I got to know them really. That obviously was an added meaning and purpose for me to get through my 42nd running. We raised a ton of money and I will continue to help the family and do some things with them in the future. So it was very poignant this year as I’m sure it was for thousands of others who did a similar and noble thing.
GCR: Looking back to late last year, you have had to battle back yourself from some health issues and you weren’t running for a time. For those who aren’t up to speed, what was the diagnosis?
DM: For a while in the past couple of years I would feel some shortness of breath in the first fifteen minutes of a run. I just chalked it up to pollen in the air or it was too hot or too cold. I changed all of the variables over time and nothing seemed to help. I had tests performed like stress tests and EKGs and echocardiograms. There were always the same results as doctors said, ‘You’re fine. You’re fine. You’re fine.’ I told them I wasn’t fine, that I know my body. I came to realize that my fitness may have been masking some inner problem I had that I never knew about. I talked to my doctor and said that we need to take a deeper look under the hood here and that they should give me the ‘big boy’ tests. They did and gave me a CAT scan and found some calcification. Then they did an angiogram and saw all this blockage and narrowing of arteries. I recall lying on the operating table while they pointed at the video monitor and showed me where all of this stuff was going on and my life flashed in front of me. I thought I was invincible. I’d run 150,000 miles, 131 marathons, eight Ironman races, run across the country and up the coast – all these crazy things and I had severe coronary artery disease? What is that? How did that happen? How did that sneak by me? I had a lot of it in my gene pool, but I’m like a lot of runners who do everything in moderation in their diet and figure if the furnace is hot enough it will burn. I realized it was self-inflicted as there was a combination of heredity and not the best diet.
GCR: How are you doing and what changes have you made in your health, diet, fitness and running regimen?
DM: I asked my doctor if it was reversible and he told me it was if I followed certain routines. He said that I of all people could make a difference. I didn’t need a second opinion and decided to go for it. Since then I’ve lost a lot of weight, not that I had a lot to lose, but I’m down as low as I’ve been in thirty years. I lowered my cholesterol level by eighty points. My breathing problem has gone away and I’m as fit as I’ve been in the last twenty years. I’m running really strong and I’m going to do the Hawaii Ironman triathlon this year. I haven’t done it in 25 years and I turn sixty in a couple months so I thought this would be a good year. It is good focus for me to get myself into really good shape. For so many years I’ve been focused on everyone else and not on myself. The best thing I can do for everyone else is to take care of me so I don’t burden them and they have to take care of me. I changed my diet and don’t eat any bad stuff. I just eat good stuff. I don’t count calories. I’m eating vegetables, fruits and grains. I stay away from sugars and fats. Everyone knows what to do – I let my conscious be my guide. When you put something in your mouth you know if it’s good for you so that’s what I’ve been doing and it’s made all the difference in the world.
GCR: The three U.S. major marathons have all had huge issues recently with Chicago’s black flag mid-race several years ago due to high temperatures where they stopped the race, the cancellation of the New York City Marathon due to Hurricane Sandy and the terrorist attack last year in Boston. Even with comprehensive preparedness, how tough is it to ensure a high level of success with such a big event that is not contained to a relatively small space such as a stadium?
DM: We’re all at risk. I have a button in my office that says, ‘My job is secure and no one else wants it.’ It’s not an easy business to be in. There is a passion and people love to do it, but it’s not easy which is why everyone doesn’t do it. There are a lot of variables and moving parts and much that we have no control over – weather being the most typical. Whether it’s heat or nor ‘Easters – even volcanoes in Iceland one year made it difficult for everyone to fly in from Europe. You just never know what you’re going to deal with. That’s why I don’t take it for granted when the starting gun goes off that I can go home and put my head on my pillow. Anything can happen out there as were not in a controlled environment, an arena, a ballpark – we’re spread out for a marathon so there are fifty-two miles when you add the people on both sides of the streets. Anyone can do anything, Mother Nature can come at you, emergencies can happen at any given time so you develop contingency plans and the list goes on and on. As events grow in size so does the risk exponentially. When we used to put on races with two, three or four hundred runners the risk was minimal. But now with 20,000 or 30,000 or 40,000 or 50,000 there is so much chance that something won’t go well. It is virtually impossible to prevent everything that could happen. So it’s tough. My motto is to prevent fires rather than to put out fires. If you have to put out a fire, then maybe you were at fault for the fire being created to begin with. We try to envision what can go wrong and to plan for it, but at the end of the day, once the gun fires it’s out of your control and you’re hoping for the best.
GCR: Another area that keeps increasing is the great interest from runners with qualifying times and charity runners to race the Boston Marathon. How difficult is it for the event management staff to keep a high level of runner satisfaction with the experience as the race field has expanded over the years to over 25,000 runners and this year over 35,000 runners compared to a couple of decades ago when there were twelve to fifteen thousand runners?
DM: Our focus has always been about quality versus quantity. If we opened up this race to everyone who wants to race we’d have a hundred thousand or more. We recognize that we’ve set the standard in a lot of regards for a certain level of quality. The tough part is turning away business as we have many people who qualify, cross the finish line of a marathon and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to Boston’ and then we turn them away because they didn’t make the cut. It’s so difficult to turn people away who’ve earned the right to be here. But if we don’t then we could blow a fuse or it could be more risky. We focus on what that optimum number is that we can handle safely so that everyone can have a positive experience. Even though it’s a lot more than it was twenty years ago we feel that our systems are more sophisticated and technology has entered into the fray and so has an improved level of medical coverage and security. All of these variables and aspects for managing an event have ramped up so we can handle more though there is always a limit to what we can safely do and most races know what that limit is.
GCR: There were several special ceremonies and functions this year, including a pre-game ceremony before a Red Sox game at Fenway Park and a John Hancock function with many Boston Sports heroes. Are there any moments which stand out from these or other events that are in the forefront of your memory as extra special from this year that normally wouldn’t occur?
DM: There was definitely a distinction between remembrance and tribute and athletic competition. We always wanted Monday to be about the marathon, to get back to producing the marathon and people running in the marathon as that is who we are today. We also realized that out of courtesy and respect we would pay tribute to the survivors and families of the victims. We had a tribute at the Hynes Center on the one year anniversary on April 15th about last year’s race. Then we came down Boylston Street and hoisted the American flag at the finish line signifying that we have reclaimed our finish line and we weren’t going to be denied our running freedom. That was on Tuesday, and then on Saturday we had our running events. Our 5k had 10,000 participants, so that was no small task to bang out a 5k with 10,000 people a couple of days before the mother ship sailed. We also had a one mile tribute where a lot of the victims and their families participated. That was the most emotional part of the weekend as we had folks in prosthetics and wheelchairs who only a year ago were standing on the sidelines when the explosions occurred. They weren’t even sure if they were going to live and they came back a year later to participate in a one mile run. It was pretty amazing to see all of the emotions pour out at the finish line. Then we had our traditional one mile races and kids relays so it was all very appropriate. Sunday was Easter so we didn’t produce any events out of respect for that religious holiday. On Sunday the Red Sox did pay tribute to the marathon and I was on the field with Dick and Rick Hoyt and a lot of first responders and survivors, so that was very emotional also. Then Monday came, Mother Nature played into our hands and it was just a glorious day all around.
GCR: There were several logistics changes made for this year’s race and one I have heard many runners say they hope is reversed is not being able to put their usual items on the busses that take gear from Hopkinton back to Boston. When your race management team reviews each area, is there a chance that this or other areas could be reversed or loosened or is it too soon to tell?
DM: It’s still too close to this year’s race to know. We haven’t had our full debriefing meetings yet with everyone. My sense is that no one is saying we’re out of the woods now. Thank God everything went well and there were no injuries, but at the same time because nothing happened this year we can’t let our guard down and go back to the way it was. I think it will tone down a little bit but won’t go away totally for next year. The beauty about it is that the plans are now in place and we don’t have to recreate them. The work involved won’t be as stressful and strenuous. Some things we will keep in place for the foreseeable future, whether that’s no bag check remains to be seen, but my sense is that we will probably stick with that for a while longer. The weather was cooperative and we didn’t get many significant complaints about that, but runners understood what we were up against. How long that will last remains to be seen. Once we get together and review everything we’ll decide what we want to do going forward.
GCR: When I interviewed you over five years ago, and I can’t believe it has been that long as time is flying, I asked you how long you think it may be before you relinquish your duties as Race Director and rejoin the main field and run from the start with the other competitors. You noted that you may get more out of running with the field from a business perspective so you could see things for yourself, but that public perception may be negative. So I ask you the same question now as you are turning sixty years old this year – is there a time coming when you may be Race Director Emeritus and can do that?
DM: It’s a good question as I direct about twenty-five or thirty races a year through my company D.M.S.E. In fact, this past weekend we were involved in a half marathon in Boston called ‘Run to Remember’ with law enforcement personnel and I actually ran in it. I ran with my voice recorder and I critiqued it. I feel that I can help my own staff even more by running and getting a sense of what I think as a runner went well and maybe didn’t go well. Was it congested or not? Did we run out of water or not? Were things in the right place? I really can’t get that perspective when I manage a race, am on the lead vehicle or am hanging out at the start/finish line. So there is benefit to have someone who is directing or managing a race to participate in it once in a while. As far as the Boston Marathon, I don’t see that happening any time soon as far as me jumping in with everyone else. I think the next time I will be able to run with the field is when I decide or somebody decides that my services are no longer needed. Right now everything is going well so I don’t see that changing any time soon. I’m okay with the way I’m doing it. It’s kind of a tradition as people are waiting out on their decks and porches for me to come by. They’re yelling and screaming and it’s kind of fun to keep this going as long as I can, but we’re not getting any younger!
GCR: We touched briefly on your 42 year streak of Boston Marathon finishes which makes you a member of the ‘Quarter Century Club,’ whose members have run either 25 consecutive or 25 cumulative Boston Marathons. How rewarding is it to you to be a member of this group and how important is it for the B.A.A to recognize those who have achieved this milestone?
DM: For sure any race that is over twenty-five years old seems to be doing something similar, whether they call them ‘streakers’ or ‘legacy runners.’ The way I look at it is that these people were there when the masses weren’t. They supported the event. They were true runners back in the day and the fact that they have been able to keep it going and stay healthy enough to participate over so many years is fascinating and they deserve credit for that. The Quarter Century Club was developed and certainly the B.A.A supports that. I think it is really important to the people who are a part of it to try to maintain it, but you’ve got to be careful as we don’t want some people running in the race if they shouldn’t be – if they have an issue and maybe they should be taking it off – myself included I suppose. I can see how those who are members of it have earned the right to be part of this program and they want to go until they are just physically unable to go anymore. It is a nice piece of the overall equation because there are only a small number, maybe fifty people, who have done this.
GCR: Speaking of going until you can’t go any more, one of the most fascinating things is that you have been running miles equal to your age on your birthday which you have done since age twelve. I know that you’ve talked to me in the past about the tough decision you made at age fifty to continue rather than decreasing a mile every year. This year you will turn sixty years old, so do you foresee this continuing, will you consider maybe decreasing a mile starting next year at age sixty-one or are you just going to go as long as you can?
DM: It’s one of those things that I wrote about in my book, ‘The Last Pick.’ In the last chapter I wrote about changing the rules. My motto has always been ‘it’s my game, it’s my rules.’ I have the luxury of changing it any time I want to. Sometimes it’s tough to plan it out and I just let it be. When you get to the intersection you can decide whether to go left or right then – you don’t have to decide five miles before you get there, right? When I was approaching age fifty I thought that at age 51 I’d run 49 miles, at 52 I’d run 48 miles and so on. The reason I was going to do that wasn’t to make it easier, but to make it realistic. If I want to keep my streak going of doing something on my birthday, then that is more realistic to set it up for success than doing it the way I’m doing it now by adding another mile each year. Eventually it’s going to come to an end. Part of my thinking is like a ball player, ‘Do I want to get out on top or do I want to keep going until I slide into the grave beaten up?’ I don’t have any answer to that. Right now, as I said before, I feel like I’m in my best shape in twenty years. I’m almost looking at 60 as easier than the last ten years of 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58 and 59 miles. This might be easier than the past ten years. Maybe, but I know going in I’m not as intimidated by it like I have been in the last ten years. If I can keep my fitness level up and there is no reason to stop it, then I’m not going to stop it. I always look at it facetiously like, ‘last year I ran 59 miles – what’s one more?’ I only have to do one more mile so, ‘Don’t be a wimp.’ But I have to do 59 miles before that.
GCR: Like you said, Dave, you can change the rules, so maybe some year in the future you’ll decide to switch from miles to kilometers. Another thing you told me about five years is that the only athletic achievement you set out to do which you didn’t accomplish was swimming the English Channel as you were there for ten days and weather conditions were too poor. You said that you might try to change the rules and swim it as part of a four-person relay. Have you thought further about this as one of your future goals?
DM: It’s funny that you ask these questions as you’re very insightful. I’ve been training for the Ironman triathlon. I haven’t been really swimming the last ten or fifteen years and now I am. I’m in the pool and cranking out a mile here and two miles there. The swimming is coming along and I have wondered why I stopped swimming. I should have kept it up at least recreationally if nothing else if I wasn’t training for something. As I’m in the pool going back and forth I’m thinking, ‘The Channel, the Channel – maybe I’ll revisit that again.’ It hasn’t totally dissipated. It hasn’t totally gone away yet. The toughest thing about any of these things now is that, even though I’m turning sixty, I’m still young and have a young family. I have five kids including a ten year-old, an eight year-old and a four year-old. All this stuff takes time to train for and that’s an enemy. With my business, directing the Boston Marathon, thirty events a year and speaking engagements I just run out of time. It’s all about balance followed by priorities. If I really want to do something like that, like doing the Ironman this year, I have to reshuffle the deck and give up something here so I can do this there. I have to make a conscientious decision that if I want to think about the English Channel, then I have to change certain things to accommodate that, so we’ll see. The beauty about that is that I don’t think age in the next five to ten years is going to matter, especially for swimming. If it was a running goal, the age limitations could be looming and if I didn’t accomplish a goal soon I may never be able to.
GCR: I think that you’re right and Diana Nyad just swam over one hundred miles from Cuba to the United States at age sixty-four, so maybe you don’t need a relay – maybe you can do it on your own.
DM: She’s a good friend of mine too and I sent her a congratulatory e-mail. We met at the Ironman in Hawaii years ago and it’s great seeing what she did and what Meb did winning the Boston Marathon at 39 years old. Just because the calendar says I’m this old doesn’t mean to stop. Just change the rules a bit and don’t go as fast or far, but we can still cross the finish line. It’s great to see what people can do, not for an ‘If they can do it, I can do it’ feeling, but to know it’s possible. The cliché is ‘Anything’s possible’ and if we have that kind of mindset we can live life to its fullest.
GCR: That kind of mindset which you have had has allowed you to do so many things whether it is your running 42 Boston Marathons in a row, completing eight Ironman triathlons, running nearly 3,500 miles from Oregon to Boston in 80 days and swimming a full 26.2 mile marathon in a pool. All of these must have given you a confidence, calmness and coolness under pressure that serves you well in your career in event management and as Boston Marathon Race Director.
DM: That’s exactly what it does which is why the sport which we are all fortunate to be a part of is what it is today. Years ago when people asked what I did for a living, I embarrassingly said in a low voice, ‘I’m a race director.’ People figured that all we did was mark a chalk line in the road and yelled, ‘Go!’ Back then, that was about it. Now when people ask what I do I say, ‘I help raise the level of self-esteem and self-confidence in tens of thousands of people in America.’ And that’s what it is. The walls of intimidation have crumbled. People are believing in themselves. Even though it’s just putting one foot in front of the other, it’s a life-changing experience for so many people. They never thought they could do this and now they can. Now they have the medal to prove it. And that gives them the strength and the courage and the gusto to set other goals – not just in running – to become a better parent or better employee. Whatever it might be, they think, ‘If I can run a marathon, I can do this.’ There is a transfer there. People can do this and that is why we are fortunate to be involved in the sport. It’s like when people ask me, ‘Why do you do your birthday run?’ It’s a connection with my past. I did it when I was twelve. I did it when I was thirty. I did it when I was forty. I did it when I was fifty. I want to be able to still do it! I want to give it a try. When I finish my birthday run each year I am at an all-time high. Is there any press here? No. Do I get a medal? No. What do I get? Nothing except the self-satisfaction that I did it again. I go to bed that night thinking, ‘I did it again – I can’t believe it!’ And I have another year to savor this until I get the heebie jeebies about the next one. It doesn’t get any better than that. And if I need to I can change the rules. It doesn’t have to be miles – it can be kilometers. I doesn’t have to be on my feet – it can be on a bike. People should set whatever goal they want. That’s what I do.
GCR: I’d like to ask a wrap up question, though you’ve touched on so much that you say to inspire and guide others. When you speak to groups and give positive advice and tips on overcoming adversity, is there anything else you would like to share?
DM: I could talk for another hour!
GCR: Okay, one minute limit!
DM: Like I said I’ve given commencement speeches and have given three of them in the past three weeks. I’ve had people tell me that they’ve been to many graduations and that they really enjoyed my speech. It’s because I’m one of them. I’m no better than them. I just tell it the way it is. I don’t talk about the economy or the challenges of the world. I talk to the kids about them, about setting goals and not limits. Never underestimate yourself. The worst injustice you can do is to underestimate your own ability. It’s great when those in the audience feel that I’m right and they can do things if they set their mind to it.
Favorite birthday memoryI’ve only been doing one thing with my birthday run so there’s not a lot of partying and not a lot of cake and ice cream. I suppose the very first birthday run I did when I was twelve sort of set the stage for the rest of my life. So my birthday runs aren’t only my fondest memories but my only ones. Now it is interesting that I’m turning sixty as, when I was in my twenties and thirties, I used to think that people in their sixties were senior citizens and old people. Now my motto is that old age is always fifteen years older than I am. It’s a moving target
Junk food you can’t resist
Every time I look at those types of foods I think of the video monitor when I was lying on the operating table. I’ll tell you a secret here – my doctor said I could have a beer now and then or a steak once a month. I haven’t had a beer in seven months. I haven’t had a diet soda in seven months. I haven’t had any sort of red meat in seven months. I haven’t had any sugar products, trans-fats, saturated fats – nothing! I haven’t put one bad thing in my mouth in seven months. People tell me I can have some of the fun foods every now and then and I know that I can. But I’m almost punishing myself, not in a negative way, but in a positive way. I mean, I got myself into this mess and I need to teach myself a lesson. I said to myself when I saw that monitor, That’s it – I’m done!’ And I just went on a cleansing. I’m not on any crazy diet. I’m not a vegan. I only eat good stuff. We know what is good and what isn’t. Do I crave anything? I actually don’t. I’ve conditioned myself to not even have to diet. I’ve almost lost my appetite. I just chip away all day. I’ll have a banana, or a bagel then something else every two hours and suddenly its eight o’clock at night and the day is over. I’m off to bed in a couple hours without a big meal. I haven’t missed it and my energy level is as high and strong as it’s ever been. I’ve only had maybe a dozen big meals in seven months but for me it works. Someone may be reading this and think I’m crazy. Find what works for you
Embarrassing TV pleasure
The kids certainly watch their fair share of cartoons, like Sponge Bob and others. I watch with them to share time with them, but I’m not fully engaged in it. I’m not as much listening to what the characters are saying, but I’m fascinated but how they produced it, how the words being spoken go perfectly with the facial expressions of the cartoons themselves. I’m thinking of different things than what normal people do when they watch television, so it’s very different for me. That’s my operational, logistic mindset
Most annoying habit
My most annoying habit to myself is that I have a tendency of enabling people and helping them too much. It’s a bad habit and I have to learn to say, ‘No,’ more often and I just can’t. Sometimes I wonder at the end if I’m making it worse instead of better, but the compassionate side of me says if someone needs my help, I’m just going to help them. I’m not thinking of long-term consequences, but of short-term ones. All I want to do is make it easier and help people based on the challenges they are currently facing. If I just walked away and let them solve it on their own they might be better off, but it’s tough for me to walk away from someone in need
Music on your iPod that would surprise people
A lot of time I like to listen to instrumental music because I typically don’t run with headsets. I don’t want to be caught up in lyrics as I run with a voice recorder. I do my best thinking when I’m out on the road running. With instrumental music it allows my mind to loosen up and come up with the best thoughts I can come up with for a speech or items I haven’t thought of for the Boston Marathon when it is approaching. When I come up with ideas and thoughts I want to capture them with the voice recorder so inevitably I go out for a ten mile run and come back with twenty recordings of ideas. I’ll bet that without the recorder I would have forgotten fifteen of them if I didn’t record them. One of the things that makes me one of the most organized people I know is that I multi-task effectively. When I run or drive my car I am always thinking, capturing the good thoughts and then writing them down when I get home. Then I check them off when I do them as when you write something down you have to do it. That’s how I keep the pace going
First thing you do in the morning
I make coffee. Then I head over to the computer and check out what I’ve got. I get up early, no later than 4:00. My feeling is that I want to get a jump on the rest of the world, so to speak. I always want to be a step ahead, not competitively, but I want to be ahead of the curve all of the time. I never want to be chasing. I want to be a little ahead. By getting up early I feel like I’m getting that jump start. I can start working at about 3:30 in the morning, put in three hours of work, go for a two hour run, be home by 8:30, take a shower and be back at my desk by 9:00 and the rest of the world isn’t even at their desks yet. So three hours of work and a long run and other people are just getting going. I am so far ahead. It makes me feel good. A lot of people say, ‘I’m so busy’ or ‘I’m so behind.’ If they got up at three in the morning and started banging away they won’t get any return e-mails, they will chip away and get all caught up. Then you will feel great about yourself for the rest of the day. At night you may fade, but not much is going on anyway. So, that’s how my day goes
Best prank played by you or on you
I don’t know if it was a prank or not, but one year this happened at the Boston Marathon. I have my own port-a-john at the start of the race and I frequent it a lot. I went in right before the start of one year’s race. It has a master lock so that no one can use it. I unlocked it and put the lock and key down outside on the bumper of a vehicle. When I did my business and went to get out I was locked in as someone had put the lock on the port-a-john. It was about five minutes before the start of the marathon, 25,000 runners were waiting on me and I was locked inside of a port-a-john. Helicopters were overhead, music was blaring and no one could hear me. I had my walkie-talkie and I was feverishly trying to get a hold of people and I was so paranoid that I dropped the two-way radio into the toilet. I didn’t know how I would get out. Finally, someone heard me and I was able to get out. To this day I don’t know if someone pulled a prank on me and locked me in the port-a-john or did it by accident
Maybe physical confrontation. When I was a kid there were always older kids who went out into the woods to fight. I fought too, but I was always nervous about gang fights. Any time I see scuffles between people I wonder how I can get into it and break it up, but I’m not the biggest guy and figure I will get the crap beat out of me. So I fear that if physical conflicts break out what I will do. I may have to seek some assistance, but I may not be big enough to get in there and make a difference
Even though I have an internal alarm clock, I will always set an alarm clock as a fail-safe. If I know I need to get up for an event at three or four o’clock, somehow someway I feel it and I wake up two minutes before the time the clock is set for me to wake up. I get up and check the alarm and everything is right. But my biggest fear, at least in the running industry, is oversleeping on the day of the Boston Marathon. Just not getting out for the start in Hopkinton, everyone’s looking for me and I’m flat out in bed. I’ve had over the years at least a dozen nightmares about this specific instance. It’s a recurring nightmare. I don’t have a lot of nightmares, but this one seems to keep coming back, year after year. When I finally wake up I am really sweating because I can’t believe this is happening. I’ve spent a year planning and then I have overslept and don’t make it to the start. In my dream I’m hearing people saying, ‘Where’s Dave, Where’s Dave,’ and ‘I haven’t seen him.’ The race is being stalled because I’m not there and I’ve got twenty-seven thousand people ticked off at me. So when I go to bed before the Boston Marathon I set my alarm, I set my watch alarm, I set the room alarm, I call for a wakeup call and I ask someone to call me if they haven’t seen me by a certain time. Then I figure if I don’t wake up after all that I’m dead
One thing that’s always in your fridge
Fruits and energy drinks, Gatorade in particular. I love drinking lemon-lime Gatorade. I work out a lot now so I guzzle that. I like watermelon and pineapple. I have my own drawer and space. The kids say, ‘That’s daddy’s stuff – don’t touch it’
Christmas memory or present
We didn’t come from a family with lots of money, but my parents recognized how important it was to us to get presents and open them up with each other. They weren’t expensive, but something to open up and to be surprised by. It was important to enjoy Christmas together. They didn’t always buy us presents. Sometimes our dad would make them for us. Our dad made us stuff like go carts. I remember that my dad made me a car for the Cub Scout derby. He was a craftsman by trade so anything he made in that area was top of the line. He made this derby car that we were going to use. It won all kinds of awards for how it looked. As brilliant as he was he put extra weight on the front end with a bigger screw towards the front. What he didn’t realize was that the track had a center beam to guide the car. Our car just sat there as the screw hit the center beam. He made the best car in the world and it wouldn’t go an inch. We were devastated and he was devastated. Sometimes you can go overboard to outfox others, but you may end up outfoxing yourself
Another Christmas memory
One Christmas when I was a young boy my parents asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I was starting to learn the value of money – cash – as when you got cash you had a choice of what you could buy. I opened up a present with a tree that my parents had made and attached to all of the branches were one dollar bills. At the time it was probably twenty-five dollars’ worth of dollar bills. I had hit the jackpot. I opened it up, saw all of this money, thought it was cool and figured I’d leave it intact for a while so I could enjoy it by looking at it instead of taking all of the money and putting it away in a safe place. So, of course as we were opening up other gifts I sort of threw the money tree on the floor. The long and short of it is that my dad was cleaning up after us, gathering all of the wrapping paper and we have a fireplace which was burning brightly. He threw the wrapping papers in the fireplace and, lo and behold, all of the money was with it. As the money was burning behind me, I was looking for it and asking my parents, ‘Where’s my money? Where’s my money tree?’ My mother said, ‘I don’t think you should turn around.’ And as I did all of a sudden I could see the dollar bills all burning. So it was my lesson for cleaning up after me. I should have put the money away in a safe place instead of being so anxious to open up all of the other presents. But I dropped it on the floor and didn’t really pay much more attention to it. I burnt my Christmas gift
Worst cooking experience
Every once in a while I try to impress my wife with my stellar cooking experience which is basically nonexistent. I call them ‘David Niven Nights,’ recalling the suave 1960s actor who used to impress the women wearing tuxedos and having fine dinners. So every now and then I’ll say to my wife, Next week do you want to have a David Niven night?’ The kids will go off to their grandparents and I’ll go all out, with the candles and getting flowers and trying to do the best job I can. I went to the grocery store and bought lobsters and trimmings, got home and started doing the cooking and it just wasn’t working. I was totally destroying this meal and since it was a lobster dinner I went out to a lobster store or fish place and bought all of the food ready to serve, brought it home and put it on the dining room table. I got rid of all of the evidence – the bags and wrappers and stuff. My ability to cook a decent meal is pretty abysmal, but I wanted to produce something for her. She came in and to this day I still haven’t told her the truth. (At this point I noted that if she reads this interview Dave will be busted!). That’s okay – I think it will be pretty funny. I’ll come clean in the media
If you had a time machine where would you go or who would you see first
I’ve always been fascinated by the Egyptian Pyramids and I’ve never been there. Growing up and taking ancient history courses, I would look at picture of the pyramids and wonder how they did that. They had no modern machinery, instruments or tools and how did they do that? It is just fascinating. Someday I’m going to get on a plane and go to Egypt. But if I had a time machine I would like to go back to that time and just visit, hide behind a tree and watch how all that came to be
I’ve always been fascinated by the Egyptian Pyramids and I’ve never been there. Growing up and taking ancient history courses, I would look at picture of the pyramids and wonder how they did that. They had no modern machinery, instruments or tools and how did they do that? It is just fascinating. Someday I’m going to get on a plane and go to Egypt. But if I had a time machine I would like to go back to that time and just visit, hide behind a tree and watch how all that came to be
Final comments from interviewer
It was great to hear such detailed commentary from Dave, especially this year with the recovery of the Boston Marathon after last year's terrorist attack, the first male American winner in 31 years and Dave's own recovery from health issues. He was so engaged and a few of the answers were from a short follow up call as he wanted to be thorough, even for some of the 'Inside Stuff.' If you haven't read my earlier interview with Dave from back in 2009, scroll down though the pics on the main 'Interviews' page and you will find all sorts of stuff about his amazing personal endurance feats and more!