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Longtime Marathon director faces security, health tests

“I’m anxious. I feel confident in what we can control, but there’s so much more that happens around it,” Dave McGillivray says.Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff

Dave McGillivray has five kids of his own, ranging in age from 23-year-old Ryan to 4-year-old Chloe, enough to keep any father busy. But each spring, as longtime director of the Boston Marathon, McGillivray finds that his horde grows to thousands.

He feels an almost paternal responsibility for each of his runners, never so much as this year’s field of 36,000 men and women, ranging in age from 18 to 83. All the runners matter to him, from the first one to fly over the finish line to the last one to straggle in.

Two years ago, the Marathon nearly melted in 89-degree weather, with 200 runners taken to the hospital and hundreds more treated in the medical tent. But last year, with perfect running weather, McGillivray recalls having few worries. Then the bombs went off.


In ways large and small, it will be a different Marathon this year, and as April 21 approaches, McGillivray is a different man. The Boston Athletic Association race director, he has overseen 26 Boston Marathons, but never one quite like this. The logistics of putting on one of the world’s highest-profile races have been transformed, and no one is more aware of that than he is.

“I’m anxious,” he says, sitting in his home office in North Andover on a recent morning. “I feel confident in what we can control, but there’s so much more that happens around it. We’ve got 26.2 miles of road, both sides of the street, so about 52 miles. That’s a lot of real estate.”

Dave McGillivray, his wife, Katie, and their children Luke and Elle, at the Marathon finish last year. This year McGillivray’s family won’t be attending the event with him.McGillivray family/Handout

From a personal standpoint, there is one big difference in this year’s Marathon for McGillivray: His family won’t be there. Last year, his wife, Katie, was in the bleachers with their then 7-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter.

“We saw both explosions,” says Katie. “They’ve expressed fear about going back.”


This year, along with their 4-year-old daughter, she and the kids will do “something totally different.”

“We’ll either go away or have a party here at the house and watch it on TV,” Katie says. “I’ll be happy when it’s done.”

Before then, McGillivray must tend to a multitude of other details, each creating ripples of its own.

One of the biggest changes is that runners won’t be able to carry or stow bags on buses traveling to the starting line in Hopkinton and back to the finish. McGillivray, knowing spent runners will need something to warm them at the finish, is making sure each runner is presented with a lined, hooded poncho at the end of the race. Made by a California-based company called Advanced Flexible Materials, the thousands of ponchos, which cost about $7 each, will be stored in containers on Boylston Street beyond the finish line.

“If there’s cold weather, they’ll cross the finish line and have no gear to put on,” he says. “We felt obligated to give the runners something with more warmth and protection from the elements.”

Among other changes is the addition of a fourth wave of runners at the starting line to accommodate the increased field; 9,000 more runners will participate than last year. There will be public address systems at the 24 water stations along the course for race announcements; runners stopped in place last year had no idea what was going on, or where to go. At 6 a.m. the morning of the race, 130 National Guard soldiers will march the entire course.


More doctors and nurses will be available throughout the event, and 10,000 volunteers will be on hand — 2,000 more than last year. On the Saturday before Marathon Monday, 10,000 runners will participate in a 5K run starting at the Boston Common and at Copley Square Park, and 2,000 people — survivors, families, friends, first responders — will do a 1-mile Tribute Walk/Run.

And those are just a few of the major race adjustments. The more mundane issues — the 1,000 portable toilets, 108,000 safety pins, 1.4 million paper cups, 4,000 Band-Aids, 900 IV bags for dehydration, 26 oxygen tanks — are no less formidable.

McGillivray is a high-energy type who speaks with his hands, which are in constant motion. He says he doesn’t need much sleep and is often up in the middle of the night pondering race details. He doesn’t do it alone, of course. He works with staff at the BAA, which sponsors the race, and with his employees at Dave McGillivray Sports Enterprises, which he founded in 1980 to work on athletic events throughout the world — 30 of them, including Boston, which he works on year-round. He’s paid by the BAA, of course, and says he is already working on the 2015 Boston Marathon.

Katie McGillivray, his wife of 10 years, says he loves the work, always has. But she notes, “there are a lot more layers this year.”


A stunning diagnosis

Beyond the logistical and emotional challenges of mounting the race in the wake of the bombings, McGillivray has been dealing with serious health issues. In October, he learned he has severe artery and vein blockage and chronic heart disease — despite a lifetime of long-distance running: nearly 150,000 miles and counting.

Since his diagnosis, he has changed his diet and shed 27 pounds, now weighing in at a lean 128. (He jokes that he’s 5 feet 5 inches tall “on a good day.”)

McGillivray has also lost some of his innocence about the prestigious race he oversees.

“It’s not like starting all over again,” he says, “but we’re assuming nothing. We have to spend a lot of time going through all the details.”

If there is a face of the Boston Marathon, it belongs to the wiry 59-year-old who, besides directing the race for the past quarter-century, has run in it for 41 years. He always starts off a few hours after most of the runners are in. Last year, he ran it 11 days later.

To say he takes the race personally is an understatement. For him, it’s not work, it’s a passion, and he speaks of it in superlatives.

“To be involved in an event that has the most experienced and dedicated professionals who produce arguably the greatest marathon in the world is a unique and coveted privilege,” he says.

After the bombs exploded, McGillivray rushed to the finish line and showed police officers his ID card. “This is my race,” he said.


“Even you can’t go in,” he was told.

Running has been his life since he was a kid growing up in Medford. In 1978, he ran 3,452 miles across the country, averaging 43 miles a day for 80 days, to raise money for the Jimmy Fund.

He doesn’t just run in various races, he also runs them, or many of them, and has raised millions of dollars for charity. McGillivray’s home office is a shrine to his sporting life, the walls covered with plaques and photos. A coat rack is draped with hundreds of medals. Trophies vie for position. A replica of the blue and yellow Boston Marathon finish line serves as a welcome mat.

“I guess you’d call this my man cave or ego room,” he says wryly, dressed in his trademark running pants and a blue “Boston” T-shirt.

Framed in a far corner is the Sports Illustrated cover of The Boston Globe photo that shows an older Marathon runner thrown to the ground by the blast, with three police officers approaching.

Though McGillivray doesn’t give specifics, he says he has remained in touch with some of the bombing victims, including Jeff Bauman, who lost both legs.

He remembers the mood at the start of last year’s race was good, though poignant. “We had a 26-second moment of silence to remember the 26 victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School,’’ he says. “As I look back and think that only five hours later we were going to undergo our own tragedy, it’s still overwhelming.”

Indeed, it is still hard for McGillivray to grasp that the unthinkable happened last April. He knows the eyes of the world will be on Boston this year.

“[I]t’s different, for sure,” he says. “There are a lot of unknowns. There’s more people involved, especially in public safety.”

A spontaneous decision

Special invitations to run the Marathon were extended to survivors and family members, including Bill and Denise Richard of Dorchester, whose 8-year-old son, Martin, was killed. Their 7-year-old daughter lost her leg, Denise suffered an eye injury, her husband some hearing loss.

Though the Richards aren’t running the Marathon, they are giving the numbers to those who will run on behalf of the Martin W. Richard Charitable Foundation, which they established to honor their son’s message of peace by investing in education, athletics, and community.

At the foundation’s recent rally at Fenway Park, McGillivray addressed the group of runners and then spontaneously decided — and announced — that he wanted to join the Richard team by raising money for the charity.

“Their goal is to raise $500,000 and they’re almost there already,” he says. “They’re thrilled with that. This is part of the healing process the family needs.”

Like many health converts, Dave McGillivray is now preaching the gospel of “staying alive,” as he calls it. “Being fit does not necessarily mean being healthy,” he says, adding that he has dropped red meat, beer, soda, and sugar from his diet and lowered his cholesterol by 70 points.

“I’m so excited about running the Marathon this year,” he says, “mainly because it’s the first time in 15 years that I feel I’m in shape, finally.”

In January, three months after he learned about his heart problems, McGillivray went to Disney World to speak at the kickoff for the Dopey Challenge, a four-race event that starts with a 5K run and ends four days later with a marathon. He was just there to speak, but McGillivray being McGillivray, he decided to do the 5K. The next day, he decided to do the 10K, the next the half marathon. The fourth day, he woke at 2:30 a.m. and changed his flight so that he could do the marathon, too.

“It was the first marathon I’d run since October and I felt great,” he says.

This October, a year after his heart disease diagnosis, he hopes to do the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii: a 2.4-mile ocean swim and 112-mile bike race followed by a marathon. McGillivray has done it eight times — though not for the past 25 years.

But first things first. After all of the runners have crossed the finish line on April 21, he and three friends will take to the starting line in Hopkinton. Normally, he starts the course earlier, around 3 p.m., but this year, he’ll wait until the race officially closes, at 6:10 p.m.

“At 6:10:02, we’ll be running,” he says. He pauses. “Well, maybe closer to 7 p.m.”

As always, he’ll wear bib #100.

If he has any fear about this year’s Marathon, he doesn’t show it. “I think it’s going to be the safest place on the planet.”

Bella English can be reached at isobel.english@globe.com.