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Boston Marathon Course section

Race director's heart is on the course

McGillivray runs for grandfather

By Tony Chamberlain, Globe Staff, 4/15/2002

Aside from the required muscles and fitness, the running shoes, the blisters, carbo loading, and water stops, this oldest and most historic Marathon in the world is all about emotion. And no one knows that better than race director David McGillivray.

Even when most of his professional life is spent in meetings, on the phone, planning, and dealing with sponsors and such, for McGillivray, the essence of the Boston race is just one short memory away.

''I was 16 when I borrowed a friend's cross-country bib number, pinned it onto my T-shirt, and jumped into the race,'' said McGillivray, who grew up in Medford.

More than any other marathon, Boston has always been a finely tuned blend of the thoroughbreds racing for cash and glory and the great majority running for personal fulfillment.

The 106th running of the Boston Marathon is today.

As frequently as McGillivray deals with the elite athletes, constructing the best race to showcase their talents, his heart is with the amateurs back in the pack, fueled by the quest for adventure and searching for inspiration. For him, that inspiration has become his late grandfather.

That first race as a teenager, some 30 years ago now, began in disappointment. ''My grandfather was waiting for me at Coolidge Corner [23 miles], but I never made it that far,'' McGillivray recalled. ''I had to drop out at Heartbreak Hill with blisters and muscle cramps.''

When he got home, McGillivray tried calling his grandfather, who was not home because he was waiting on the course for his grandson. ''I kept calling, but he waited there until 7 o'clock.''

Rather than show disappointment, McGillivray's grandfather used the moment to make a point. It might be a nice idea to run the Boston Marathon, but it takes homework, dedication to a long-term plan.

So the teenager decided to train for the next year's race, with a determination to finish it for his grandfather. But fate intervened. ''I would train and he would wait for me again, but he died a few months later,'' said McGillivray.

The young man ran anyway, and not until the 21.5-mile mark, when he passed the Brighton cemetery where his grandfather had been buried, did it strike him that both had kept their promise.

''I finished that race and he was there in spirit,'' said McGillivray. ''And it was at that moment I pledged to myself to run the Boston Marathon in his memory every year.''

And so he has. His string is up to 30 consecutive races, a fraction of the 112 marathons he has run all over the world. Once he discovered distance running, it seemed an answer to a prayer, which he voiced in the form of a sign over his bed: ''Please God, let me grow.''

As a younger boy, he was so small that when sides were picked for football and basketball games, Dave was chosen last. So his entrance into running, he said, ''made me grow in many other ways.''

But the pledge to honor his grandfather in every Boston Marathon ran into a snag when, in 1988, he was offered the position of technical director of the race. This would mean working during the race, not running in it.

But in taking the job, he figured out a way to do both.

''After much deliberation, I opted for the job, but still felt where there was a will, there was a way,'' McGillivray said. ''I was determined to also run. I decided to work the race and then run it at night after `punching out' for the day.''

Receiving assurances from the Massachusetts Track and Field Officials Association that someone would hang around late into the evening to give him a finishing time, McGillivray tried it - riding with race officials from Hopkinton to Boston in the morning, then heading back to the start for his own after-hours run.

Running a 26-mile race in the morning, when one is fresh, is a far cry from tacking it onto the end of a workday, McGillivray said. ''When I start, I already feel like I've run half a marathon,'' he said.

But after all these years, it's a routine day. First comes the crush of the race itself, and the endless blur of details that he must attend to, rarely putting his cellphone down. And then, at about 5 p.m., as all seems calming down in the city, McGillivray takes the long ride back to Hopkinton with brother Bob and friend Ron Kramer. At about 6, just as the post-race parties are getting into full swing, the director takes his first steps.

''Each year, rain or shine, the entire Hopkinton Marathon Committee is waiting to see me off,'' he said. ''Knowing that I've worked with all of them for the past five months makes it extra special and helps me overcome the nervousness that is now settling in. But once I start, I am fine. A sense of relief and peace overcome me. The tough part of the day is over. Now it's time to enjoy myself and reflect on the day.''

Though he has finished marathons under the 2-hour-30-minute mark, his Boston times are clocked from the noon start of the race, so his times are now recorded closer to 91/2 hours. But he still manages to stop for a few seconds at the cemetery for a private thought about his grandfather before moving on to the finish.

Along the road near Boston College, where the parties are in full swing, the typical greetings - rather than the cheers of the afternoon crowds - are more likely to be insults, such as, ''Hey, slug, the race has been over for a long time.''

McGillivray said he was amused one year when, as he was riding by on the official truck ahead of the race, ''a rotund fellow holding an alcoholic beverage yelled, `Hey, you lazy bum. Why don't you get out and run like everyone else?' Little did he know ...''

And while he enjoys the cool solitude of an April night - albeit feeling guilty to see all the trash left behind - McGillivray is rarely alone on the course. Friends pop up and run a few miles with him. In 1995, Jack Fultz, the 1976 winner, ran the entire course with him; now he proudly proclaims he is the only runner to have finished the Boston Marathon both first and last.

Like so many runners earlier in the day, McGillivray asks that painfully familiar question along the route. ''As I crept up the infamous Heartbreak Hill, I always question why am I doing this ... I could be at one of the numerous postrace parties, celebrating the day and all the hard work leading up to it.

''That last turn onto Boylston Street is so gratifying,'' he said. ''In the distance are those friendly faces who kept appearing out on the course. The cleanup crew is the only other reminder that something spectacular had happened here earlier in the day.''

Though he is mostly alone, McGillivray's finishes are rarely unheralded. Police often flash their lights and blow the sirens as he hoofs it down the street, and people rush out of nearby restaurants to see what's going on. One year, he remembers, a cop, in his uniform and boots, ran the last half-mile with him.

Another year, former winners Jacqueline Gareau and Rosa Mota held the official Boston Athletic Association tape across the line. And one year - his most memorable - his two sons held up the tape.

Combining profession with passion has given rise to his thriving Dave McGillivray Sports Enterprises Inc., a management company specializing in the production of participatory athletic events, with clients including the Atlanta Olympics, Triathlon World Championship, Goodwill Games, and Joan Benoit Samuelson's Peoples Beach to Beacon 10K Road Race in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

Johnny Kelley, who holds the Boston record for career races, told McGillivray he hopes that when his record is finally broken, McGillivray will be the one to do it. ''Between my grandfather and one of the greatest running legends of our time,'' said McGillivray, ''even when running at night gets difficult, the support of these heroes lights up my way.''

This story ran on page D9 of the Boston Globe on 4/15/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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