Well after the participants crossed the finish, the legendary race director started out for his 47th consecutive Patriots’ Day run.
Dave McGillivray has been associated with the Boston Marathon for three quarters of his life, from an 18-year-old participant to his current position as race director. The latter is a role that, for the last 32 years, has required him to run the race hours after the winners, such as Lawrence Cherono and Worknesh Degefa, break the tape on Boylston Street.
But this run, his 47th consecutive Patriots’ Day trek from Hopkinton, is different.
There’s still a state police escort and the small entourage of friends, too. But his legs are aren’t as strong as they normally are, victims of starting from scratch for this marathon cycle.
Six months ago, McGillivray underwent triple bypass open heart surgery. Though the father of five knew his long-term health was more important than a road race, he still had one burning question for his surgeon prior to the October operation.
“I asked him, there’s this little jogathon race in Boston in April, and I’ve shuffled through it a few times, what do you think?” McGillivray told Runner’s World. “He looked at me and he gave me the greatest possible answer. He didn’t say no, and he didn’t say yes, but he did say, ‘I would be extremely disappointed if you couldn’t.’”
The surgery was a success. McGillivray was home in time to watch his Boston Red Sox win their ninth World Series title (“I don’t think it damaged my heart any more”). His recovery included walking—first once daily, building to three times a daily. He went for his first postsurgery run in early December, and has tried to reduce his everyday stress to keep his heart safe.
He knew beforehand this marathon wouldn’t be his fastest; he’d rely on his lifetime odometer (over 150,000 miles) to help him through the course. The hardest part wouldn’t be running the race, but physically making it to the start line.
“I break all the rules that we should be following within 24 hours of a marathon, whether it’s get off your feet, eat properly, rest properly, I’m doing just the opposite on all of it,” McGillivray said. “It’s not the best way to run 26.2 miles, but it’s what I got.”
The race director wakes up just after three. By the time the first buses leave Boston Common for Hopkinton, McGillivray has already inspected the athlete’s village and had the first of many safety check-ins. He brings an energy bar with him on his motorbike during the course inspection, then floats around the finish line and operations center through the early afternoon.
“The most important thing truly is my job,” he said. “I committed to this, and there’s 30,000 people depending on me and my team to produce a world-class, quality event. I can’t be worried about me and take my eye off the ball, so I have to be focused on that first, and I am.”
This year, for instance, with thunderstorms hitting parts of the marathon course just three hours before race time. McGillivray and his team had to decide whether or not to delay the race. Thankfully, as the system moved out, so did the stress.
Once he has deemed the race’s remaining tasks are accounted for, McGillivray swings by his hotel room, changes, and returns to the start for his own run. He takes off not from the iconic 39-foot-wide blue and yellow line, but from just behind it, where a small “DM 47” has been painted on state route 135.Dave McGillivray has been associated with the Boston Marathon for three quarters of his life, from an 18-year-old participant to his current position as race director. The latter is a role that, for the last 32 years, has required him to run the race hours after the winners, such as Lawrence Cherono and Worknesh Degefa, break the tape on Boylston Street.
He’s able to leave Hopkinton just after 4 p.m. His group is 16 deep, including seven friends made during the World Marathon Challenge.
“We would do anything for Dave, we love him,” David Samson, of Plantation, Florida, told Runner’s World. “Once you run seven marathons in seven days on seven continents with someone, you’re family.”
McGillivray isn’t ready to talk and run yet, though he maintained a conversational pace for most of the run. Had he been able to chat, the 64-year-old could have told the pack tales spanning the last half century, like when he DNF’d as a 17-year-old bandit in 1972 or when he prepared for the worst by packing a defibrillator for the 2018 “night shift” run.
“Right at the start line, he said, ‘Hey, listen guys, we’re going to take it a mile at a time, when I run, run, when I walk, walk, and let’s see how it goes,’” Samson said. “He actually got stronger as the race went on. He actually carried all of us to the end.”
McGillivray hadn’t trained too much on the course during his buildup, joking he “knows the course pretty well.” Instead, he opted to run out and back loops near his home in the off-chance he felt new pains in his chest. He doesn’t feel pain while running, just discomfort, likening the sensation to a T-shirt with thick ink rubbing against your skin.
The shuffle is interrupted by walk breaks, walk breaks broken up by brief stops at aid stations in the form of the trunks of support cars. Cars honk, pedestrians cheer. Some know the story of the comeback, others assume it’s a pack of stragglers who met their fate on Heartbreak Hill.
At the crest of Hereford Street, McGillivray stops. He wants to make sure he individually thanks each member of the team, which now includes his son Luke, by embracing them before the swarm of camera flashes and speeches. They continue together, but pull back at Exeter Street, allowing their friend Dave to take in the cheers and camera flashes from dozens of friends, family, and media.
As he crosses the finish line, he’s presented with two medals. One, the traditional finisher’s medal, is identical to the tens of thousands distributed in the same spot hours earlier. The second is a unique heart-shaped piece of hardware, given to him by the Joseph Middlemiss Big Heart Foundation. McGillivray carried Jack—a young boy who received a heart transplant last year and is the namesake of the foundation—in the final meters of Boylston.
Samson put the group’s time at 5:42. It’s not quite good enough for a 2020 age group qualifier, though McGillivray would have until September to break 4:05.
“I wasn’t going for time, but I was able to surprise myself and do better than I even hoped,” McGillivray said.
With another Patriots’ Day marathon completed, the race director plans on taking it easy the next few months. The only distance event on the horizon for McGillivray is running his age in miles on his birthday, a tradition dating back to his preteen years. This year he’ll turn 65, an age classically associated with retirement. The racing icon thinks the goal may be “too aggressive,” yet he also had similar thoughts when he turned 60.