Pittsburgh Marathon Training: Inspiration from Dave McGillivray, Director of the Boston Marathon

As the weeks roll by in our marathon training, we all hit points where we need a lift, could use extra motivation, or some encouragement.  On Friday, February 10, the Pittsburgh Marathon will provide just that inspiration when they bring Dave McGillivray, race director for the BAA Boston Marathon, to town to meet with local race participants.  Dave has a 30+ year running career, received a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from Competitor Magazine, and will definitely provide a spark to your training.  Continue after the break for my interview with Dave McGillivray, where he talks about organizing the most prestigious marathon in the world, running across America in 1978, his efforts to give back to the community, and a chance to receive a personalized, autographed copy of his book “The Last Pick.”

All photos provided by and used with the permission of Dave McGillivray

“I help raise the level of self-esteem and self-confidence for tens of thousands of people in America.”

That’s how Dave McGillivray, in his thick Boston accent, described what he does for a living.  He used to mumble quietly, “I’m a race director,” but now he sees his job and role as much broader.  However, before we get to that, some background about how McGillivray got to that point.

Dave had already run the Boston Marathon 16 years in a row when he was approached by the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) to become director.  The start of 1987’s race was inauspicious, marred by a wheelchair accident on the slick Hopkinton roads, and defending champion Rob de Castella tripping on a rope left on the course.  The BAA felt it was time to bring in someone new to oversee the details of the event.  Although, taking over the prestigious race was not an easy decision for McGillivray.  He faced a conundrum as he also wanted to continue his finishing streak; Dave explained

“It was a tough decision, and I had to ponder it for weeks and weeks.  You could say I needed the money, so I took the job, and I’ll deal with the concept of running in the race later.”

In 1988, McGillivray took over as Boston Marathon race director, instituted a controlled start for the wheelchair race, and put a human chain of volunteers at the starting line instead of a rope.  Dave chuckled, “I’m still involved after 25 years because I got rid of a rope.”

Dave remembers his first year as race director as one of his proudest moments.  His team took over, got the job done, and everything went well at the start.  However, as he watched the competitors crossing the finish line, a knot formed in his stomach.  He thought,

“I can’t believe I’m not running this thing this year.  So I turned to a state police trooper, tapped him on the shoulder and asked if he could drive me back to the start in Hopkinton.  The trooper replied, ‘did you forget something?’  I said, ‘Yeah! I forgot to run!’”

McGillivray was taken back to the starting line of the Boston Marathon at 8:00pm, and, after spending the entire day managing the race, he began to run, in the dark, alone.  He finished around 11:00pm, and he’s been running the race that same way, ever since.  “This will be my 25th year directing, 25th year of running at night, and 40th year running in the race itself,” he exclaimed.  In addition to finishing 39 consecutive Boston Marathons, Dave has completed 126 marathons total, as well as 8 Ironman Triathalons.  However, his best known run was a race of his own creating.

In 1978, McGillivray ran across the United States from Medford, Oregon to Medford, Massachusetts – 3,452 miles in 80 consecutive days averaging 40-50 miles/day.  Dave used this run to raise awareness and money for cancer research.  I asked what his strongest memories were from the run.

He remembered some of the difficulties.  For example, in Nevada, only one third of the way through his trek, his knee went out.  Dave recalled, “I thought, this is it, I’m done; I’m not even going to be able to walk anymore let alone run.”  He was taken to a hospital emergency room where he told the doctor he hurt his knee “jogging.”  The doctor had little to offer besides – stop running, and McGillivray was faced with either ending the fundraising run or coming up with a solution.  He came up with the simple solution of alternating running on both sides of the road, and discovered the knee problem went away.  Dave said, “it allowed me to be able to run another 2500 miles.”

Of course, he also called up triumphs such as finishing in Boston’s Fenway Park to a standing ovation of 32,000 people.  Dave remembered running a lap around the stadium, “the crowd wouldn’t stop, the players were cheering, the press was cheering, and former owner Jean Yawkey said it was the most memorable moment in Fenway Park.”

Regarding his run across America, Dave went on to say,

“It was a victory not just for me, but for all those people that believed in me, and for the charity I was running for, on behalf of the Jimmy Fund – the fundraising arm of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.”

McGillivray believes strongly that running is a tool to give back to the community, and help others.  In 2003, he established the DMSE Children’s Fitness Foundation to support physical fitness for children.  He also co-authored a book with Linda Glass Fechter titled “The Last Pick” – with all the proceeds going to the Foundation.  I asked Dave what his book is about; he said:

“As a kid growing up in Medford, MA, my only goal in life as a teenager was to be an athlete.  Because I was ‘vertically challenged,’ and not the tallest kid in the lot – I was always the last one picked by my friends, and the last one cut by the coaches.  That was really frustrating for a kid who felt he deserved to make the team.  I had to deal with the physical, mental, and emotional challenge, but then I started to run.  I wanted to be fit, and no one can cut you running – you just go out and run.”

McGillivray added, everyone has challenges in life, and the message of the book is to turn those perceived negatives into positives and “not be denied.”

Consistent with Dave McGillivray’s values of charity and giving back to the community, he has generously donated a personalized, signed copy of “The Last Pick” for my Pittsburgh Marathon fundraising effort for the non-profit Give Kids The World.  All you need to do for a chance to receive the autographed copy of the book is leave a comment at the bottom of this article (comments will remain open through Saturday, February 18, 2012).  While not required for the book giveaway, I hope you would also consider sponsoring me for the Pittsburgh Marathon – $1/mile ($26.20 total), $0.50/mile – ($13.10 total), $10, or even $1 – whatever amount works for you.  If only 40 people donate $26.20 to this effort, together we would raise over $1,000 for Give Kids The World VillageClick here to donate.

If you want to meet Dave McGillivray in person, and hear more of his inspiring stories, come to his presentation on Friday, February 10, 2012, 6:00pm at the Omni William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh.  Update 2/9/12: Pittsburgh Marathon officials informed us the event location and time has changed to 5:30pm at the Rivers Club, One Oxford Center, in Pittsburgh.

Click here for more details on Dave’s Pittsburgh appearance.  I want to thank Dave McGillivray for taking time out of his schedule to speak with me.  Remember to be eligible for “The Last Pick” giveaway, you need to leave a comment below.  Let us know if you will be attending Dave’s presentation, how your training is going, or just say “hi, I want Dave’s book.”  Click here for the next installment of my training efforts for the Pittsburgh Marathon.  For more running adventures, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.