If you were the man responsible for nearly every detail of the world's most famous marathon, what would you do when the race is over? If you're Dave McGillivray, you'd go run 26.2 miles.
Of the 850 Porta-Johns trucked into Hopkinton, Massachusetts, for the start of the Boston Marathon runners can avail themselves of all but one. The private privy of Dave McGillivray is adjacent to the starting line, sealed inside a tent and further secured by a padlock that bars all other claimants to the throne. "Porta-Johns are a magnet," says McGillivray. "People do anything to get inside them."
Seven years ago, just before the start of the 109th Boston Marathon, a National Guardsman saw the padlock unshackled and dutifully locked it, not realizing that McGillivray—the man responsible for nearly every logistical detail of the world's most famous footrace, including the cue that starts it—was inside.
News helicopters hovered, troopers revved their Harleys, spectators shouted: The buildup to Boston sounds like a military invasion—27,000 bodies, all coiled energy, waiting for a gun to go off.
For three full minutes over this din, McGillivray's cries for help went unheard. He pounded so hard on the door that the Porta-John nearly toppled over. When his fists failed to attract notice, he fumbled for his two-way radio, which fell into the toilet
As tiny voices called to him from the bottom of that abyss, McGillivray knew what few men ever do: That all his dreams were finally coming true.
All too often during the 25 years he has been involved with staging the Boston Marathon, Dave McGillivray has had a dream in which he misses the start of the race. "I've never had it the night before," he said the night before last year's marathon, in a Boston accent that turns tuna into tuner, and vice versa. "But I might have it six months from now."
McGillivray, who was named Boston's race director in 2001 after holding other frontline jobs since 1988, has reason to sleep in fits and starts. His company, Dave McGillivray Sports Enterprises, has put on 900 events in the last 31 years, and he tends to remember those that did not go according to plan. In 1986, McGillivray turned up at the swim venue two weeks before a triathlon in Farmington, Connecticut, to find that the town had drained the lake dry. At the Goodwill Games in New York City in 1998, a volunteer removed the turnaround cones on the 10-K course, leaving McGillivray distraught when he saw the 50 runners in the race going the wrong way through Central Park.
It was a double fiasco that got McGillivray his Boston job in the first place. One minute into the 1987 Boston Marathon wheelchair race, several racers spun out of control, resulting in a massive wheelchair pileup. Then, at the elite men's start, the rope holding the runners back was still in place when the starter's pistol was fired, causing defending champion Rob de Castella to trip. The next year McGillivray, whose company by this time had been staging races for six years, was hired by the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.), the marathon's organizer, as "technical coordinator." Or as he likes to say, "They hired me to remove a rope."
All these variables explain why McGillivray doesn't sleep especially well on the eve of the Boston Marathon. Last year, as always, he set an alarm he has never needed, and asked for a wake-up call that has never woken him, knowing his body would summon him to consciousness at 2 a.m. in his hotel near Copley Square Park, where his son Ryan would collect him in an extended-cab pickup truck at 5:30 a.m. to head to Hopkinton, a great coppery moon hanging in the black sky.
When Ryan was in his mother's womb 21 years ago, McGillivray was at Walt Disney World, organizing a triathlon championship. His wife—his first wife, Sue—called from Boston at 2 a.m. to say she had gone into labor. McGillivray flew to Logan Airport, jumped in a taxi, and told the cabbie, "Drive it like you stole it." Which is pretty much the story of his life: Always on the run, frequently giving instruction, usually doing both at the same time. He runs every day with a digital recorder, into which he dictates memos to himself, including a reminder to pitch a voice-recording wristwatch to Timex. (They passed.)
And when the Boston Marathon is over, McGillivray's day is just beginning, for he returns to Hopkinton and runs the course himself. This April 16, the day of the 116th Boston Marathon, will be his 40th consecutive running of the marathon, the last 25 of them on an empty course, with only a few friends to keep him company. By the time he sets out, around 3 p.m., the streets are once again open to traffic, the sidewalks bereft of spectators, the lawns littered with signs—Go Mom Go!—that lend a morning-after poignancy to the proceedings.
"Dave is everywhere," says his friend Bill Rodgers, four-time champion of the Boston Marathon. "He's always going 100 miles an hour. I can't keep up with him." And yet McGillivray travels at this speed while somehow steering, maintaining tight control, even from the back seat of a taxi or—his vantage point during the marathon—the back of a motorcycle.
"He's always backseat driving," says Ryan, in the driver's seat on race day, on the Mass Pike, en route to the starting line in Hopkinton, as his father literally sits in the backseat, asking Ryan if he has remembered to pay his E-Z Pass bill to speed their passage through the tollbooths.
McGillivray loves road racing in part because it requires a person to travel at maximum speed for a sustained period of time. He doesn't notice that he's framed a convenient metaphor for his life when he says, "People will watch a race and say, 'Why didn't that guy who finished second by one-tenth of a second run a little harder? It's just a tenth of a second.' And the answer is: Because he couldn't. That guy couldn't run a tenth of a second faster."
That morning seven years ago, imprisoned in his Porta-John, McGillivray finally attracted the attention of the National Guardsman who had locked him in, and who then freed him just minutes before the start of the race. But if a single word sums up McGillivray's professional existence, it's the one on the toilet that day, the one the guard missed, the one that describes McGillivray even at two o'clock in the morning at his desk in North Andover, Massachusetts: OCCUPIED. He is constantly occupied.
"Dave is never confused about his connection to the Boston Marathon," says Tom Grilk, the executive director of the BAA. "It comes ahead of everything else."
This isn't totally accurate. After his divorce in 1997, McGillivray, 5 7, was allowed four overnights a month with Ryan and his little brother Max, who is now 18. When he remarried in 2003—and had three more kids, Elle, 7, Luke, 6, and Chloe, 2, with wife Katie, 40—McGillivray vowed to be there for his kids. As with other voiced promises—swimming for 24 consecutive hours in a pool, for instance—he felt duty-bound to make good. "I have to be careful what I say I'll do," he concedes. "Because once it's out there—if I've told my wife or kids—I have to follow through."
McGillivray is less a man of action than an action figure. He is compact, with the anchorman hair of Malibu Ken, the kung-fu grip of G.I. Joe, and the to-infinity-and-beyond optimism of Buzz Lightyear. As a kid, in a bid to enter the Guinness Book of World Records, McGillivray did 1,600 sit-ups in his bedroom, desisting only when his mother called him downstairs for dinner. Even now, he looks a decade younger than his age.
He volunteers that his lack of height—he is "five-four-point-three-eight-seven inches"—set the course for his life and remains the source of his Biblical tenacity. As a child, McGillivray objected to his mother trying to brush his teeth one night. Young Dave, not ready for bed and in no mood to be manhandled, bit the toothbrush in half.
His siblings—he is the youngest of five—like to recall how their parents bought two new swivel chairs to flank the fireplace of their home when Dave was 11. The boy took one look at the blue monstrosities and announced he would never, ever sit in them. And he never did. "We would try to force him into the chair but never could," says his oldest brother, Bob, with a pang of regret.
McGillivray has made many such proclamations in his life, and has had to live with the consequences of all of them. Many of these involved tests of physical endurance, and they began early. On his 12th birthday, McGillivray spontaneously ran 12 miles and vowed—that night—to run his age on his birthday every year forever after. As a result, when he turned 57 last August, he had to run 57 miles. He knows it's a streak he can't possibly maintain but for now feels powerless to discontinue.
In this same spirit, at age 23, McGillivray decided to run across the country from Medford, Oregon, to his hometown of Medford, Massachusetts, and in doing so to raise money for the Jimmy Fund, a Boston cancer charity. When sponsors began giving him money for the trip, McGillivray had no choice but to run across the United States in a self-imposed time limit of 80 days that had a nice Phileas Fogg ring to it. Three friends followed him in an RV, McGillivray averaging 45 miles a day over 3,452 miles, subsisting largely on chocolate-chip cookies and his own pigheadedness. Some days he ran as many as 57 miles fueled by six-packs of Coke, buckets of KFC, and ice cream.
It was 1978. McGillivray came from a Boston running scene that—like the punk music scene in London and New York at the same time—was creating a new form of expression, with its own subculture, heroes, and shrines. With Bill Rodgers and Tommy Leonard and other members of the Greater Boston Track Club, McGillivray was a fixture of Boston's Eliot Lounge bar, which was to running what CBGB was to punk: incubator of a phenomenon loosed on, adapted by, and absorbed into the world at large.
"I got to know Dave when I came to Boston and joined a running club that Dave's company sponsored," says Karen Smyers, the winner of the 1995 Hawaiian Ironman World Championships. "It was during Tuesday night track workouts, where we'd run hard track intervals for 60 minutes, then drink in the parking lot for 60 minutes, then spend another 60 minutes eating pizza. That was my introduction to triathlon, those three events."
McGillivray started his company in 1981 while he still owned a failing running store (that he eventually sold for $2, half of which went to his business partner). At a dinner last year to honor DMSE's 30 years, Bill Rodgers looked around the ballroom of the Boston Marriott Quincy and said, "In this room, there's a lot of the building of this sport in the modern era—in New England and worldwide—and Dave and DMSE have led the way."
"It wasn't by design," says McGillivray. "We weren't doing it to start a trend."
Having run across the United States, McGillivray reached Boston on August 29, 1978, and ran a victory lap around the warning track at Fenway Park before the start of a Red Sox-Mariners game. He would go on to compete in eight Hawaii Ironmans, and run 120 miles in 24 hours, and complete a 1,522-mile solo triathlon around New England, but the greatest moment of his endurance career remains the end of that run across the country. "I never expected to be a race director," he says. "No one does. I only ever wanted to be an athlete." In Fenway, he passed the Sox dugout, and Boston relief pitcher Bill Campbell tossed a cap to him, and the boy who dreamed of playing on that field found himself running past the Green Monster, in a Sox cap, to a standing ovation.
He has helped raise $100 million in the years since, but the money he donated to the Jimmy Fund in 1978—close to $150,000—is considered to be the first any runner ever raised for a cancer charity. Endurance sports and philanthropy have a long history together, but McGillivray officiated at their wedding. And that pairing quickly spread like an anti-virus.
The morning after his Fenway victory lap, McGillivray appeared on Good Morning America. He was profiled in national magazines. "I first came up here in 1980, and one of the first things they taught me was the old marathon joke, 'It must be spring, the saps are running,'" says Barry Nolan, who hosted Evening Magazine on WBZ-TV in Boston and anchored Hard Copy and Extra on national television. "I grew up in a very different culture where we didn't have this tradition of the marathon, where people of any age, of any background, aspired to run in this incredible race. I grew up in northern Virginia, where we aspired to have one of those free scooters you get with Medicare so you didn't even have to walk. And then I started to read, and you'd read these amazing articles about this guy, Dave McGillivray, who'd not only run the marathon, but he'd do the swimming and the biking, and you'd think, He is really nuts."
What's wrong with my mind?" McGillivray had said without a trace of laughter, pointing an index finger at his temple, a month before last year's marathon, at the headquarters of the Boston Athletic Association. There, in an auditorium, he chaired a meeting of 85 volunteers, consultants, and B.A.A. officials on every conceivable detail of the race, from cell-phone coverage to pothole repair to security preparations.
Six weeks out from the marathon was McGillivray's busiest time. "I'm like the conductor of an orchestra," he says.
In his tenure, the race has grown from nearly 7,000 to 27,000 runners. "That means three times the Porta-Johns," he says. When he started, registration opened in September and closed in March: "There was no rush, no urgency. People qualified and sat on their application. If they got injured, they didn't want to risk their money." An explosion in popularity—it's become a bucket-list item for countless runners—changed that, along with the Internet. "That seven-month application process," says McGillivray, "[became] eight hours and three minutes" for the 2011 race—a compression that led to an eruption of complaints from qualified runners who did not get entry into the race. (Afterward, the B.A.A. devised a new registration system that went into effect with this year's race.)
And while he says that if he's doing his job right, "I should be the least busy person on race day," he is manifestly busy on race day. Dressed in sweatpants, cap, and a hooded sweatshirt worn under a Boston Marathon jacket, he pulls into Hopkinton Middle School around 6 a.m. "How'd you sleep last night?" a cop asks.
"Great!" lies McGillivray.
He commandeers a Gator utility vehicle and drives past the staging area where buses will soon disgorge most of the day's runners. Tire tracks have left deep ruts in the grass. The school grounds have become a lavatorial Levittown, row upon row of Porta-Johns, as far as the eye can see, but McGillivray's eyes are drawn to those ruts left by the delivery trucks. "See all the damage to the fields there?" he says. "We gotta come back after the race and fix all that. The groundskeeper here is a nice guy, but he's got baseball season starting, and we're gonna have to pay for all that."
Soon McGillivray is driving the Gator seven-tenths of a mile to the starting line, through a residential neighborhood, the sun painting the sky in pinks and blues. The Gator glides past tidy houses, whose yards are pristine behind a continuous metal barricade. "The barriers are up to prevent runners from going to the bathroom in people's yards," McGillivray says. "Some of the residents complain, and I don't blame them; they've got nice homes and young kids, and they don't want to open the curtains in the morning to see someone using their bushes." Those homeowners who have complained the loudest have gotten attractive fences put up compliments of the B.A.A.
Across from the starting line in Hopkinton, in the basement of the Korean Presbyterian Church—a Rockwellian, white-steepled New England confection—McGillivray inspects the tiny gymnasium where the elite men and women will gather before their races. The starting line is only 150 yards away, through a tiny colonial cemetery in the churchyard. "Some of the foreign athletes didn't like walking through a cemetery before the start of the race," McGillivray says, "so we stopped escorting them past it a few years ago." Now they walk a longer, less karma-fraught route, along the side of the church and through a little barricaded walkway to the starting chute.
There, the starting line itself has been painted only three nights earlier. About the only thing on it are a series of tire marks. The course is still open to traffic until 7:30 a.m. on race day. "The big thing to do around here is to lay rubber on the starting line," says McGillivray, who doesn't mention that the other word just below the line under the enormous START is a smaller one, stenciled in yellow: DAVE.
This tribute to McGillivray is the work of Jack LeDuc, a local handyman who has been painting the starting line for 30 years (and doubling as race-day announcer for the past 16 years). LeDuc patrols the starting line an hour before the wheelchair start, standing there with a rag and a bottle of Greased Lightning, cleaning the skid marks off the line he had painted the previous Thursday. "Last year I made a stencil of skid marks and painted them on either side of the starting line in advance, in an effort to stay one step ahead," says LeDuc. "It didn't work. People laid real skid marks over the fake skid marks."
McGillivray howls at this. He is interested in every detail. Before the race, he and the race committee contact local churches, making sure the prerace races—like the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk—don't disrupt their Sunday services. "Did you see Jack's bottle of Greased Lightning?" he asks. "That's what makes this so great. New York has nine lanes of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to start. We have this small town and a two-lane road, 25 feet wide, for 27,000 runners—same as it was 100 years ago, when there were 100 runners. People ask why we don't increase the field. That's why."
McGillivray loves Boston, its sports teams, this race, and his spot—number four all time—on the list of runners who have completed the most consecutive Boston Marathons.
Boston loves him back. At the starting line, a woman waves to Dave from behind a police barricade. "Every year," he says, crossing the street to greet her, "this woman gives me brownies and sometimes photographs from the previous year's race. Watch. Brownies." She hands him a bag of, yes, brownies. "I'm happily married," says Cherry Scanzaroli of Hopkinton. "Really, I am. I'm not stalking you."
McGillivray takes his brownies into the Community Emergency Response Team's trailer, the automotive equivalent of the starship Enterprise, in which uniformed first responders oversee blinking phones and illuminated screens and the sniffer dogs who have already snuffled under the bleachers that overlook the blue-and-yellow masterwork of Jack LeDuc's starting line.
The spectators are gathered three-deep behind the barricades. McGillivray ducks into his private Porta-John—blessedly without incident—before starting the first of five races. From 9 a.m. until 10 a.m., he stands and faces separate packs of racers—mobility impaired, wheelchairs, handcycles, elite women—straining to run him over. He holds them back with outstretched arms before giving a hand signal—a slowly closed fist—to start the race.
Like most controlled avalanches, this one is triggered by the sound of a gunshot. The elite men burst from the line at 10 a.m., and so does the race director, 200 yards ahead of the pack, on the back of a Harley Classic motorcycle driven by his friend John Meade. In his hoodie, running shoes, and backpack, hitching a ride on a bike, McGillivray looks like a little boy.
He always has. In his sophomore year at Medford High, when McGillivray was cut from the basketball team, Coach Don Tremblay told him, "If you were five inches taller, you'd be my starting point guard." The boy went home and wrote out a sign that he taped above his headboard: PLEASE GOD, MAKE ME GROW.
Basketball had been an obsession. On the playground, where he could hit 80 consecutive free throws, McGillivray was always chosen last. "Girls were picked before me," he says. "The last one picked is supposed to be the worst one, and I'd go home every day with that feeling."
That feeling is literally the story of his life. He called his autobiography, written with Linda Glass Fechter, The Last Pick. Even now, he calls attention to his stature as a preemptive strike. When he's introduced at speaking engagements, he'll walk to the podium, lower the mic, and ask, "Who took the stool?" At home in North Andover, 5-year-old Luke greets a 6'4" visitor with: "Wow, you're even taller than Daddy!" To which Daddy roars: "Yeah, Luke, even taller than Daddy. Wow!"
When God did not make him grow, McGillivray went out for cross-country. Until then, his only real running experience was his annual birthday run, which began spontaneously on August 22, 1966, when he ran five miles around Spot Pond in Medford and Stoneham, then went for ice cream with his grandfather, Fred Eaton, after which he decided to run some more, until he reached 12 miles, to match his age.
On Patriots' Day 1972, a 17-year-old McGillivray abruptly decided to run that day's Boston Marathon. He borrowed a friend's bib from a Medford High cross-country race—number 942—and asked his brother Alan to drive him to Hopkinton Town Common. There, he easily joined the official field of 1,081 as a bandit, the kind of unregistered runner he now tries to keep out, though not at the risk of making a public spectacle. "Physically removing someone from the start," he says, "is worse than just letting them go and not calling attention to them."
That morning in 1972, before leaving the house, the boy phoned his grandfather, who lived less than a mile from the course. Grandpa Eaton said he'd walk to Coolidge Corner, at mile 24, and wait for Dave there. McGillivray, who hadn't even worn socks, never arrived. He collapsed at mile 19. A policeman picked him up and drove him to Newton-Wellesley Hospital. Grandpa Eaton, meanwhile, waited—and waited—at Coolidge Corner. He waited until the last runner, and then the cleanup crew, went by before going home. When his grandson finally reached him by phone that night, Grandpa Eaton said, "I'll wait for you next year."
He died two months later.
And so McGillivray ran the 1973 Boston Marathon in his grandfather's memory. Physically ill with a stomach virus, he stepped off Commonwealth Avenue between miles 21 and 22—the "Haunted Mile," where many runners expire—and leaned against a fence. He was unable to go on, having failed his grandfather a second time.
That's when McGillivray noticed that the wrought iron fence he was leaning on bore a small sign: EVERGREEN CEMETERY. To his growing astonishment, McGillivray realized he'd been there 10 months earlier, to bury Grandpa Eaton, who had kept his word after all: He was waiting for his grandson.
McGillivray stepped back onto Commonwealth Avenue and was swept away to the finish line, like a cork on a swift current. Thirty-nine years later, he is running his 39th Boston Marathon, 19 behind his friend Johnny A. "the Elder" Kelley, for whom McGillivray served as a pallbearer in 2004.
"Life ends," McGillivray says, as if it's a puzzle he's still trying to crack. "So my marathon streak will end at some point. It will have to."
Last year's elite Boston Marathon was going so well, and so swiftly, that McGillivray feared a small disaster. For a while, it looked as if the men, on an unforeseeably fast pace, might catch the elite women. They didn't, but so much else can go wrong.
On the motorcycle, a quarter-mile in front of the lead pack, McGillivray seeks out the problems lying ahead. "An errant four-wheel drive vehicle might get out on the course," he says. "How? We don't know, but I have to chase it down. Or an elite athlete will drop a water bottle in the middle of the road. They shouldn't, but it's there, so I'll pick it up before another runner can trip on it." All the while, he is yammering into his omnipresent recorder—"Water Station 3 had too few tables"—in anticipation of the next year's minor miracle, as every Boston Marathon is. "You have 26 miles of open road filled with spectators, kids, babies, wind, rain, and runners who aren't paying attention," he says. "And at the end, you wonder: How did that come off well?"
Thirty minutes after Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya crossed the finish line on Boylston Street in 2:03:02, having run the fastest marathon in history, McGillivray was still giddy. "A world best!" he said while walking the system past runners wrapped in foil. "He almost broke 2:03!" The IAAF won't certify Mutai's time as a world record because they don't count point-to-point races, but it's still the fastest marathon ever run. "No one expected that. No way. No one said anything about a 2:03." McGillivray was floating. "How do you top that?"
For the long-running race director of the Boston Marathon, there have been many highlights. "I saw my dear friend Johnny Kelley running marathons in his 80s," he says. "Few athletic performances can match that. Joanie [Benoit Samuelson], at the 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials, running 2:49 [at age 50] was unbelievable. But to be on the lead motorcycle for the fastest marathon ever run on the planet, to see it every step of the way, how many people can say that?"
He's ecstatic, but not satisfied. An hour or so later, after the crowning of the winners with the traditional wreath of laurel, McGillivray is at The Fairmont Hotel, where the postrace press conferences take place. On a TV in the lobby of the Fairmont, a reporter is heard saying, "As Dave McGillivray would say, 'A near-perfect day in Boston'. . ."
"There are ways to improve. I saw little things out there. I'm proud," McGillivray says, eager to change into his running clothes. "But I'm also anxious. I can't fully enjoy this. It's halftime for me. One down, one to go." He gestures to a group of runners and says, "It's not like I'm one of these guys, going to the hotel for a beer now."
Nor does he want to be. "We put on about 30 races a year," he says. "And at all of those, I'm there after the race until everything is cleaned up." In the hours after the first Beach to Beacon 10-K, in Maine, his friend Joan Benoit Samuelson, who hosts the race, called McGillivray while he and 25 colleagues were breaking down barricades and scaffolding on the beach.
"Could you send a cleanup crew over here?" Samuelson asked. McGillivray replied, "Joan, you are the cleanup crew."
The Boston Marathon is the only race at which McGillivray runs the course afterward instead of cleaning it. And somehow the running is even less glamorous than the cleaning. Cheering throngs have been replaced by the occasional drive-by heckler. Says McGillivray: "We sometimes get, 'Hey, why don't you try training next year, you slug.'" But he's smiling. He loves it.
Back in Hopkinton and back at the starting line, the bleachers are being dismantled. The town common, heaving with humanity five hours earlier, is empty save for two little girls playing around a fountain. As traffic speeds past, McGillivray sits on the curb to tie his shoes.
He is running with five friends. Troopers idle their Harleys at the starting line. At 3:01 p.m., start coordinator Andy Deschenes fires the same starter pistol that set Mutai in motion. McGillivray's brother Bob—"B-Mac" to everyone—drives a mile and a half ahead of the pack in his Toyota Camry, pulling over on East Main Street across from Doggie Dave's Day Care to remove from his trunk a TV tray, on which he sets out an array of cookies and Cokes and energy drinks.
B-Mac has been doing his part for 24 years. "One year it was just me and Dave and his previous wife, and it was raining, and Dave asked me if I had any socks. I didn't. So I gave him mine and then started to bring extra socks."
McGillivray stops at every water break to check his phone for messages, retrieving his cell phone from B-Mac's Camry. "I'm still on the job," he says.
McGillivray's friend and DMSE colleague, Ron Kramer, drives another support car. Kramer, whom everybody calls The Captain, has accompanied McGillivray on many of his endurance feats. When McGillivray tried to swim the English Channel in 1987, the two spent seven days in a hotel in Folkestone, England, waiting for the weather to clear. (It never did.) When McGillivray tried to swim from Cape Cod to Martha's Vineyard in 1981, Kramer was among those who helped fish him from the water with hypothermia. (McGillivray later made the five-mile swim in reverse, from the Vineyard back to the Cape, though it took seven miles with the currents.) "Dave doesn't have time to train," The Captain says. "He has injuries like everyone else, but he does this somehow on memory."
In front of Wellesley College, Kramer finds a pile of signs discarded by coeds: KISS ME I'M A COWGIRL and KISS ME I'M JEWISH AND KISS ME I GO BOTH WAYS. As McGillivray's group approaches, The Captain rolls up a pant leg and waves a sign that SAYS KISS ME I'M CLASSY.
Back on the road, drivers honk and wave. "I'm not sure everyone who's honking is waving," says McGillivray, as trooper Big Bob Whittier—37 years on the force, veteran of 19 Bostons—leads on his motorcycle.
When Boston College approaches, Kramer says, "Dave made a promise to himself that he would run this race in memory of his grandfather, and so he does it. We'll go past the cemetery where his grandfather is buried soon, and Dave will say a little prayer to himself as he runs by." When the pack passes Evergreen Cemetery, B-Mac parps his horn. "Spiritually," Dave says, "Grandpa Eaton's out here on the course."
Three miles later, Kramer is shouting at the three support vehicles, "Let's go, let's go, stay tight now!" Kenmore Square is approaching. Years ago, without a police escort, The Captain got ticketed here for trying to stop traffic. "Three-hundred-dollar ticket," Kramer says. "Dave just kept running."
McGillivray runs past Fenway, where the Red Sox won six hours earlier. The light is leeching from the sky. Pedestrians cheer the motorcade over the final mile. As he turns up Boylston, tourists are taking snapshots at the finish line. They part, revealing McGillivray's entire world, holding a break tape that says DAVE'S RUN 2011. His wife is there, and his ex-wife, and four of his five children, and his sisters Susan and Denise and his brother Alan.
McGillivray breaks the tape at 7:28 p.m., kisses his youngest children, then climbs up onto the announcer's podium and collapses into a plastic chair. He can't speak, except to say, "I need a bucket." It's his slowest ever marathon, at 4:27. "I'm proud to finish last every year," McGillivray says.
McGillivray has been awake for 17-and-a-half hours, and has overseen the fastest marathon in history, and then run a marathon himself, and is about to go to a postrace party where he'll be asked to speak. Then, it's one more night in the hotel where he has lived for the past week before returning home, and to the family, the next day.
"Hope you get some sleep," someone says.
"I'll sleep when I'm dead," he replies, though an e-mail sent to friends frighteningly early the next morning strikes a more philosophical note. "I'm just happy to be alive and able to do this," McGillivray wrote, acknowledging that the marathon-after-the-marathon is itself mere prelude to yet another marathon: "I have a 5 7-miler facing me in four months."
As a child, McGillivray collected coins, and a single vacancy in a book of quarters would haunt him. Among collectors, such obsessives are known as completists, and so it became with McGillivray and running. Since failing to finish his first Boston Marathon, he has run 126 marathons and completed 126.
He needs his boxed set of birthday runs, too. Last August 11, 11 days before his birthday, with a reasonably cool day forecast, McGillivray rose at 2 a.m. and ran out his door in pitch suburban blackness. Over the years, his birthday marathon has gone from a continuous run on his actual date of birth, to running his age in miles within a 24-hour period on or around his birthday. "My game," he says, "my rules."
For his 57th birthday, he ran sixteen 3.6-mile loops, from his house to the North Andover town green and back. He saw the sun come up and his neighbors' sprinklers come to life. Dogs barked mournfully from behind their invisible fences. He passed the same construction workers at least 20 times. One of them silenced his circular saw and shouted, "Are you ever going to stop?" Another yelled from a truck, "You're an animal!"
McGillivray knows he can't continue the tradition indefinitely, though he has no plan to stop. "It will be a relief when it's over," he says. "But it will also be bittersweet."
As a child he loved the Tarzan movies, starring Johnny Weissmuller. As a young adult, he was shocked to see the five-time Olympic swimming gold medalist on The Tonight Show looking haggard at 70. "That taught me an important lesson," McGillivray says, while running around his town green. "Age is Kryptonite."
He knows nobody gets out alive, no matter how fit, and so McGillivray has made a point to smell the roses, one in particular. In 2000, McGillivray met a 25-year-old woman named Katie Lynch, who came to his office in a wheelchair. "Can I run the marathon?" asked Lynch, who was 28 inches tall.
"Ask me a difficult question," McGillivray replied.
Lynch, who was born with a rare form of dwarfism, had never walked, much less jogged. Now she wanted to run 26.2 feet of the Boston Marathon course. "Fine," McGillivray said. "Your game, your rules."
On April 16, 2001, she arrived at the starting line to see the race director had barricaded the first 26.2 feet of the course for her. The helicopters hovered. News crews converged. The police lights bathed the entire tableau in red and blue. Lynch, in purple shoes, got out of her chair and clutched a wheeled walker. The gun went off. "We thought it would take her 20 minutes to finish," says McGillivray. "It took four."
When Lynch broke the tape, McGillivray was in tears. He put a winner's wreath on her head and a finisher's medal around her neck. Nine hours later, when he crossed the finish line of his own marathon-after-the-marathon, Katie Lynch surprised him there, handing him a medal of his own, and a laurel wreath she'd made.
Katie died a year later, making McGillivray acutely aware of two Latin phrases. One was Lynch's motto—parva sed potens, "Small but powerful." The other was carpe diem.
"I'd like to work a different job every year," McGillivray says. "Carpenter for a year, teacher for a year, pilot for a year, astronaut. My father was a master electrician at the Sexton Can Company for 35 years, and I wanted something more diverse."
He doesn't appear to be speaking hypothetically, but rather willing his wish into existence: "At the end of my life, I hope I have used everything I had until I simply. . .ran out of time."
If that life is no longer a to-do list to be completed, McGillivray still wants a job done right. Five hundred yards from the end of last summer's birthday run, three doors shy of his own home, he stopped at a lemonade stand. McGillivray wasn't carrying cash, so the brother and sister poured him a glass on the house. "I ran 57 miles," he said, "to get a free glass of lemonade."
When at last he arrived home—in the glorious comfort of late afternoon, another birthday run behind him—something began to eat at McGillivray. The completist wasn't finished. And so he found a dollar, ran back onto Bear Hill Road, and paid the two kids for their lemonade.