PORTLAND PRESS HERALD
The friendship between the race founder and director dates back to the late 1970s.
Shorthand for the TD Beach to Beacon 10K is often written as B2B.
It’s fitting, because at the heart of the race is another 2, a dynamic duo in the middle of this annual celebration of running by the sea – race founder Joan Benoit Samuelson and race director Dave McGillivray. They’ve been working together since the road race debuted in 1998.
Of course, Joan being Joan – the humble Olympic champion forever attempting to direct the spotlight elsewhere – rejects any such premise.
“It’s not a two-person show by any means,” she said. “Dave is the best in the business and it was my idea, but it takes a dedicated team to make this happen.”
Samuelson spoke by phone from a ferry in Casco Bay, headed to the family cottage on Cliff Island. She had just finished rattling off a host of other names involved with the race, including past president David Weatherbie, current president Mike Stone, volunteers, sponsors and other members of the board of directors and of the organizing committee.
“I think the reason we’re all so closely knit at Beach to Beacon,” Samuelson said, “is that there’s a real passion for the sport and the people, a shared passion.”
That passion, however, flows from the top. Samuelson and McGillivray are clearly the heart and soul of the operation.
Race director Dave McGillivray talks with the media before the 2013 race with Joan Benoit Samuelson by his side. Staff photo by John Ewing
“They are both deeply committed, diligent people at the top of their craft,” Weatherbie said. “They also have a desire to be able to take what they’ve experienced and share it with the rest of the world.”
“They’re an unbelievable team,” said Sheri Piers of Falmouth, a three-time champion of the Maine women’s category and currently in her second year on both the organizing committee and board of directors. “One feeds off the other. You can feel it. You can see it. They adore each other.”
Organizational meetings are regularly scheduled for 90 minutes. Piers said they always end within an hour.
“The first meeting I ever went to,” Piers said, “I came home and went, ‘That is a well-oiled machine.’ I can’t believe what goes into the preparation for this race. Dave McGillivray is the most organized man I’ve ever known.”
The friendship between McGillivray and Samuelson goes back to the late 1970s, when both were competitive distance runners from New England. As McGillivray remembers it, they actually got to know each other when both were training in Oregon. He had run across the country in 1978. She had won the Boston Marathon in 1979.
“We saw each other at races,” McGillivray said. “I would always find myself running in the lead pack with the women, either right behind them, right with them, or right ahead of them, so I’d see her around a lot.”
McGillivray opened a running store, and put on events to promote it. He soon discovered he liked putting on events more than he liked putting shoes on people’s feet.
“They’re not really road races,” he said. “They’re opportunities for people to set goals, to earn the right to toe the starting line, run the course, cross the finish line, get a medal and go home feeling good about themselves. There’s nothing more powerful in one’s life than to feel good about oneself.”
When Samuelson conceived a road race for her hometown of Cape Elizabeth, she initially worked with Maine Track Club veterans Charlie Scribner and Jane Dolley to design the course, and asked Dolley, past president of the Road Runners Club of America, to be race director.
Having the start on a rural section of Route 77 seemed a bit tricky, so Samuelson reached out to McGillivray to see if he was interested in coming on board.
“Whether I was or I wasn’t, didn’t matter,” McGillivray said. “It was Joan asking. ‘No’ is not an acceptable answer.”
A few months later, Dolley realized the race was becoming more than she could handle. Samuelson turned to McGillivray, and they’ve worked hand in hand since. Even though she’s 60 and he’s turning 63 within a month, both are brimming with energy and ideas for making the race better.
“I always say my greatest accomplishment is my next one,” said McGillivray, who is also race director of the Boston Marathon. “That’s how I look at Joan. She’s constantly setting new goals. She’s not living in the past.”
McGillivray is similarly motivated. Since the age of 12, he has run his age in miles on or near each birthday. A little more than a week ago, he knocked off his 63 in a series of 3.6-mile laps near his home, starting at 3 a.m. Accompanying him for the final three laps was 11-year-old son Luke, who by virtue of his 11 miles now holds the family record, according to his father.
In September, McGillivray plans to put on a marathon entirely within Fenway Park, with 50 people each raising $5,000 for the Red Sox Foundation and running 116 laps around the warning track. In January, he plans to run seven marathons on seven continents in seven days.
“I guess what we share,” he said, “is a similar foundation of ethics and goal-setting.”
“Dave is unique,” Samuelson said. “His desire to go after different challenges in the sport and complementary sports (including eight Hawaii Ironman triathlons) is quite something. The respect for one another is huge and probably contributes to the success of the event and the fact that neither of us wants to become complacent in our careers or in the success of the Beach to Beacon.
“Again, I attribute that to everybody involved, the board, the volunteers, the sponsors,” she said. “It’s a collective effort. It’s a group of people who share a passion for the sport or the community or the good things that Maine has to offer.”
Samuelson conceived the race. McGillivray built it. It’s a partnership at the heart of what has become one of the best road races in the country, if not the world.