Like most college graduates, a fresh-faced Dave McGillivray wanted to do something extraordinary with his life. The year was 1978 and the current race director of the Falmouth Road Race, then 23 years old, had just read about two men who had run across the country. Then he learned of a friend who made the cross-country tour on a bicycle.
“I thought if he could bike across the country then I can run across the country,” McGillivray said.
Long before Forrest Gump made the coast-to-coast trek on the big screen in 1994, McGillivray set out to accomplish the same feat. With the support of the Jimmy Fund and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, he began his journey in Medford, Oregon, and embarked on an 80-day journey across the US to Medford, Massachusetts.
Beginning on June 11, McGillivray averaged 42 miles a day, amassing 3,432 miles in total, before strolling into a packed Fenway Park on August 29. A support team in a motor home following behind his every step.
More than just running cross-country—as if that wasn’t enough—McGillivray dedicated time every day following his run to write postcards to the children at the Dana-Farber Institute about his daily running conditions as well as a quick message to the children before sending them off.
“Every day after I was done, I sat in the motor home, wrote a postcard and mailed it to the kids,” he said. “When I got back, they had all 80 cards and gave them back to me. I have not reread those cards in 40 years.”
After rummaging through his home he unearthed the shoebox the postcards were stored in. At the Falmouth Road Race media event on Friday, August 17, McGililvray shared this story as well as the message he wrote to the Dana-Farber children on that very day 40 years ago. It read: Is anyone running Falmouth this year? I know I won’t be, but I sure miss Falmouth. It’s the greatest road race in America.
“I’m really lucky I have them today,” he said.
He began his journey on June 1, right round 1:10 PM. He was joined by the mayor of Medford, Oregon, and few runners from an area track club for a few miles. It was one of his shortest runs of the trip. It was hot, humid and sunny at an elevation of more than 5,000 feet.
On Day 35 he logged 42 miles and finished in Fort Morgan, Colorado, where the temperature peaked at 100 degrees.
“Grasshoppers and bugs are the main hindrance. Meeting a lot of nice people and signing a lot of autographs,” McGillivray wrote on July 15, 1978.
Twenty days later he entered Chicago Heights, Illinois, and logged 50.5 miles. Without shoulders to run on, McGillivray was forced to run on the roads. “It is very dangerous. Glad to get out of these cities soon,” he wrote.
He rolled through Rollersville, Ohio, five days later after completing 48 miles on August 9. He jotted down that it rained like crazy before taking a shower in the inclement weather in his BVDs.
“People thought I was NUTS—I am,” he wrote at the end of that particular postcard.
And maybe he is. What drives a person to put his body through that type of continuous physical exertion for an extended period of time? I jokingly told McGillivray following the road race event that it must take a certain level of crazy to pursue such an exhausting feat. He was quick to respond.
“I don’t know what it takes. I think it’s just a commitment to a goal,” he retorted before going on to share that he once swam a mile, biked 80 miles and ran 20 more every day for 35 straight days.
As if I wasn’t blown away enough, he followed that up by saying he once took a trip down to Woods Hole, looked across the water and decided he was going to swim to Martha’s Vineyard. It was March. He said he got about a mile deep before having to be rescued by his support group after nearly drowning. As he recalled, he attempted to do it without a wet suit. He was shipped to the island’s hospital where he was treated for hypothermia before recovering and being released later that day. Before the day was done he ran around the island for 25 miles.
He completed that swim a year later, washing ashore on the Falmouth Heights beach. A day later he ran the Falmouth Road Race.
“You have to be physically strong,” McGillivray said. “But it’s all about the mentality.”
To commemorate the 40th anniversary of his coast-to-coast journey, McGillivray recreated his historic finish of his run by running into Fenway Park before the Red Sox/Indians game on Thursday, August 23, at approximately 12:45 PM. Beginning with a brief ceremony on the steps of Medford City Hall, he then ran seven miles into Boston and onto the field at Fenway with four-time Boston Marathon winner Bill Rodgers, who greeted McGillivray at his finish in Medford 40 years ago.