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Race director: Despite concerns, Boston Marathon turned out just fine

Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray (far right) paused at the start line during a moment of silence prior to the start for the mobility impaired participants.

Stephan Savoia/AP

Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray (far right) paused at the start line during a moment of silence prior to the start for the mobility impaired participants.

Bart Yasso of Runner’s World magazine declared this year’s Boston Marathon “the most significant marathon in the history of the sport.”

No pressure there.

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Since April 15, 2013, we have had to get through three monumental stages to reach the starting line of the 2014 race. After beginning to recover from the tragedy of the 2013 event, we had to conceptualize what 2014 would be, and then we had to make it happen.

So many from around the world offered ideas, suggestions, and recommendations. The challenge became daunting and overwhelming at times, but as the management team, we needed to continually keep our “game face” on and produce a world-class road race.

Driving to the office the week before the race, I received a phone call from Creigh Kelley, a follow race director in Denver. He asked how I was doing, and I said great. He replied, “Good, the entire country is counting on you!”

Huh? The entire country? At first I wasn’t sure how to interpret that but I then just took it as a compliment and moved on. The entire country! Wow. No pressure there, either.

Were we indeed ready? For the first time in 27 years of doing this, I really wasn’t totally sure myself. This was a very different feeling. I truly thought some things may not go as well as we had hoped, as there were just too many moving parts and too many people involved. But in the end, and to my amazement, I was dead wrong.

During the final planning month, we kept plugging and plugging and plugging away. Many things did seem to come down to the wire, something I am not used to and don’t like, but we had no choice this time around. I certainly don’t ever want us to be put in that position again if we can help it.

The week started with a very emotional remembrance ceremony that was both sad and inspirational. Once the American flag was raised at the finish line on Boylston Street, it signified that we had finally made it back and now were about to “move forward” – never forgetting, but not looking back as much anymore, just looking ahead.

It was time to put on a road race, but not just any road race. This is the Boston Marathon, and this one would be historic.

On the Friday before the race, I attend a function put on by CharityTeams. Amby Burfoot, the 1968 champion, and I spoke there along with eventual winner Meb Keflezighi. Meb and I and his brother Hawi walked back to the hotel together – a little over a mile – and Meb and I talked about his strategy for Monday. Little did I know what was about to come, although we now know his strategy worked pretty well.

The four running events we produced on Saturday were cathartic. Survivors had a chance to participate in a Boston Athletic Association event, all the while reclaiming Boylston Street. One emotional story after another came across the finish line, each full of hugs, kisses, and tears.

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Henry Richard competed in the BAA Youth 2014 Relay Races on Boylston Street.

All went magically well under beautiful weather conditions. Henry Richard, the older brother of Martin Richard, who lost his life at the finish line last year, participated in the relay. As I watched him run, I became a little choked up. How does that family do it? They came right back where it all happened and refused to give in. How can that not inspire you?

On Saturday and Sunday I made a few appearances at the Runner’s World clinics – always a highlight for me. Later Sunday afternoon I made quick stop at the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge pasta dinner to say a few words to the group of several hundred people.

On Sunday night, the BAA was invited to the opening ceremonies at Fenway Park. One highlight for me was running in side-by-side with Rick and Dick Hoyt. I’ve run into Fenway many times, but this one was different and very special showing because it showed a national TV audience that we were Boston Strong.

After the ceremonies, I headed back to the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel and made a very quick appearance at a John Hancock function. Little did I know I would end up in a photo with some of Boston’s most treasured superstars. Even while standing on a chair it was difficult to look some of them straight in the eye!

Next up was what we all had been waiting for, the 2014 Boston Marathon. People continually asked me ‘are you scared?’ and ‘are you nervous?’ I was full of anxiety, and I did find myself looking around a lot more this year.

This thing was so much bigger than ever before, with so many more people involved. I felt I had lost some control of whatever little I once might have had.

The day didn’t start out on the right foot for me. The person who was assigned to pick me up couldn’t start the new electric car that was to serve as one of our lead vehicles. I was hoping my own personal marathon wasn’t going to end up being a run from Boston to Hopkinton versus the other way around. After another vehicle picked me up, I heard about a traffic accident on one of the highways and thought there might be major traffic tie-ups.

Once in Hopkinton, all seemed to be going very smoothly until a loud bang occurred at the Athlete Village and everyone was prepared to evacuate. Fortunately, it was immediately determined that a bus tire blew in the parking lot. Now why would something like that happen for the very first time, especially this year?

First up were the military marchers from the National Guard. I spoke to them as a group at 6 a.m., and I’ve never had a group pay such close attention to me. At about 6:20 a.m., I sent them on their way to Boston, and it was a very inspiring way to start the day.

About 100 members of the Massachusetts Army and Air National Guard marched the Boston Marathon course.

Bill Greene/Globe Staff

About 100 members of the Massachusetts Army and Air National Guard marched the Boston Marathon course.

I had to do a number of media interviews that simply added a little more pressure to the morning given the very tight timeline. Additionally, the BAA is having a documentary film made of the 2014 race and as such I was being “shadowed” the entire day by camera totting videographers. I know the end result will be stunning, but it can be a little nerve-wracking knowing your actions are being recorded every moment of the day. At least they didn’t follow me into the portable restrooms.

Then the races started. When the elite men came out, I took a deep breath and truly paused for a moment. After 12 long, hard months, we were minutes away from sending off 36,000 runners from Hopkinton to Boston. What a relieving feeling.

More than 32,000 runners started the race, and 99 percent finished.

Barry Chin/Globe Staff

More than 32,000 runners started the race, and 99 percent finished.

The crowds were amazing, greater and deeper than I have ever seen. Later, I was also informed that only 15 non-registered runners (without bibs) jumped into the race at the back of the pack in Hopkinton. That was incredible. Even the general public heeded our requests this year, and everyone was cooperating.

And what a race it was. Meb was so gutsy to take it out like that and keep the lead. I’m sorry, but even I had my doubts near the end when the gap shrunk from 45 seconds to 8 seconds. I greeted Meb at the finish thinking this guy is first and in about 11 hours, I will be back here again myself finishing last.

As I look back on the overall execution of the race, I am amazed. I was wrong in thinking many more things would not go as well, as they ended up just fine. Of course, that is all due to a lot of hard work and a dedicated and experienced team of professionals at the BAA, Dave McGillivray Sports Enterprises, and so many other groups.

Courtesy Dave McGillivray

Jack Leduc painted a memento for Dave McGillivray near the start of the Boston Marathon course to commemorate the number of times he’s run the course.

Finally, it was my turn. Because of what happened last year, it was decided that I would wait at the finish line until close to when the clocks were to shut down at a little after 6 p.m. I then headed back out to Hopkinton to begin my 42d Boston at about 7 p.m. There was no fanfare, no large crowd, just a few friends – Sean Ryan from Green Bay, Doug Kaplan from Chicago and a new friend Brent from Concord, N.H.

For the most part, the run was pretty easy, especially the second half. I seemed to be getting stronger as the run progressed toward Boston. However, it was later than usual and I was getting tired from the long day. As such, there were a few moments when I felt I was on the edge of bonking, but I quickly recovered. My legs never once bothered me. But it was dark and unusually quiet for most of the run. One of the DMSE guys who worked the Athletes’ Village, Brian Knight, decided he’d be the jokester by driving the course and stopping at all the bars to drag out patrons to cheer us.

I finished at 11:09 p.m. A nice crowd had assembled of family members, running friends and media. Meb was the first American and I was the last American and about 33,000 others finished in between. We finally got our race and finish line back.

On April 30, the Boston City Council presented Tom Grilk and the BAA with an official proclamation and also named it Dave McGillivray Day in Boston. I asked if that got me something like free parking in the City of Boston or dinner for two and they just laughed at me! It was a very kind gesture just the same.

Now it’s time to bring on the 2015 Boston Marathon! I’ll be back. I suppose a few others will be, too!

The Podium: From the BAA: Thank you, Boston | US runners had plan to help Meb Keflezighi| More Boston Marathon coverage

Dave McGillivray runs Dave McGillivray Sports Enterprises and is the race director of the Boston Marathon.
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