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Director's cut is a late show

McGillivray has last word on event

Boston Marathon director Dave McGillivray has run the race for 19 years.
Boston Marathon director Dave McGillivray has run the race for 19 years. (Globe Staff Photo / Evan Richman)

He ran the race.

And then he ran the race. That's the way Dave McGillivray has been doing it for the last 19 years.

Patriots Day is Super Bowl Sunday and Election Day for McGillivray, race director of the Boston Marathon. He spends months getting everything ready for 20,000 runners. He immerses himself in every detail of the day. There's the two-wave start, the new technology, upgraded security, medical care, media accommodations, sponsorship, and those all-important port-a-potties. It's almost like a military operation, coordinating authorities in eight cities and towns, not to mention thousands of runners, many of whom don't speak English.

But when the race is run, and the day is done, McGillivray relaxes by taking a Boston Police car from Copley Square to Hopkinton and running 26.2 miles back to Boston. Try to imagine Mitt Romney taking a solo run down the luge after everybody went home from the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002.

McGillivray did most of his running in the dark last night. The two-tiered start put him behind schedule and he didn't begin his race until 5:26 p.m. Four hours, 19 minutes, and 53 seconds later, he crossed the finish line on Boylston Street, breaking a tape held by his sisters, Denise Potts and Susan West.

''The older I get, the slower I get," said the amazing race director. ''I just wanted to get the job done like the other 22,000 runners. I just wanted to feel what the others felt. It's great to organize this, even greater to finish."

It was an incredible scene at the finish line, as McGillivray broke the tape while workers disassembled the scaffolding on Boylston Street . . . in the dark.

''It would be terrible to do that, running in the dark," said three-time Boston winner Uta Pippig. ''Not a good feeling. It's almost like you are lost, but I guess he likes it."

''It's mind-boggling that he can do it," said four-time Boston winner Bill Rodgers. ''Dave is a very intense guy. He's the best race director in America. And he's an athlete, too. I can't even comprehend what he does. He must be running on Dunkin' Donuts coffee, fumes, and adrenaline. Boston is a city of traditions and now this is one of them."

Indeed. Marathon Monday would not be complete without McGillivray running through otherwise empty Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, Brookline, and Boston. He is the after-hours champion. His ''last call" run has become as much a part of the race as beef stew, Heartbreak Hill, and the Hoyts.

And now he's written ''The Last Pick," a motivational memoir about growing up and learning to succeed when you are a male athlete who is only 5 feet 4 inches tall.

''I always wanted to be an athlete," McGillivray said before doubling back to the starting line. ''I grew up in Medford and all I did was work out and practice sports. Basketball, baseball, tennis. But every time I went to the park, when friends picked teams, I'd be the last pick. It was devastating."

When McGillivray was a senior (and valedictorian) at Medford High School, he was the last player cut from the varsity basketball team. The coach told him he would have been the team's starting point guard if he'd only been 5 inches taller.

''That stayed with me," he recalled. ''I remember having a sign over my bed that said, 'Please God, make me grow.' In retrospect, He did. He made me grow in so many other ways. That's how I became an athlete. I started running. You can't get cut from running."

In the spring of his senior year of high school, he tried his first Boston Marathon. But he hadn't trained enough. He dropped out before the finish. His grandfather, Frederick Eaton, told him there was a lesson in that: Don't set reckless goals. Grandpa Eaton died a couple of months later.

In April 1973, McGillivray, then a freshman at Merrimack College (where he would be valedictorian, again) tried Boston for the second time. When he got to the spot where he'd dropped out the year before, about 21 miles into the race, he sat on a curb, ready to quit again. Then he remembered his grandfather's words. He got up and finished the race in 4 1/2 hours. He hasn't dropped out since. Last night he completed his 118th consecutive marathon, his 34th straight Boston. Not bad for a 51-year-old guy with four kids -- a guy who plans more thoroughly than Bill Belichick.

McGillivray started working on his book after he ran from Seattle to Boston, finishing at Fenway Park, to raise money for the Jimmy Fund in 1978 (he's done it twice and probably could sue the ''Forrest Gump" folks in ''Da Vinci Code" fashion). The Globe's Ray Fitzgerald was going to co-author McGillivray's tome, but the great Fitz died too young. Twenty-eight years later, Linda Glass Fechter has finished the job with McGillivray. Two-time Boston champ Joan Benoit Samuelson wrote the foreword.

''Dave's a unique individual, one of a kind," Samuelson said yesterday as McGillivray was getting ready to return to Hopkinton. ''I don't know how he does it or how many more years he'll be doing it. When we were talking on TV today, we said, 'There goes the second start,' and I said, 'Don't forget, there's one more start. Dave McGillivray still has his start.' "

McGillivray's late start came more than 12 hours into his day. He'd been in Hopkinton for the lunchtime starts, rode on a motorcycle in front of the pack for 7 miles, then scooted into Boston to prepare for the finish (he said he felt a twinge in a groin muscle when the motorcycle hit 70 miles per hour).

He was there to hold the tape when the Hoyts crossed the finish line in midafternoon, then gobbled an apple and a sandwich to get ready for his own run. He ran with (among others) Doug Kaplan, a magazine publisher from Chicago, and Josh Nemzer of Milton.

''I wouldn't say it's the easiest part of my day, but it's the calmest part of my day," said McGillivray. ''From what I've seen, this day has been almost perfect. The start was right on time and there were no issues anywhere. I was a little tired when it came time for my run, but I had no choice."

In the early years of his darkness run, he was hooted by some people along the course. No more. He's become a certified marathon tradition and last night he had a police escort to clear the path through the intersections strewn with paper cups, beer cups, and Mylar wraps.

''When I began, the tank was half-empty," he said. ''But I feel better than I have in the last 10 years. This was a magnificent day."

Just about everybody in Boston felt good yesterday. Our one-day Olympiad. Our best day of the year truly was one of the best days of the year and the international running community saw us at our best. The weather was perfect for the runners, and even the Red Sox delivered.

Dave McGillivray probably had something do with that, too.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is

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