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The Boss Of Boston: 5 Questions With Dave McGillivray

We caught up with the longtime Boston Marathon race director.

Dave McGillivray has one of the hardest jobs in the racing industry: getting over 20,000 runners safely from Hopkinton to Boston on the third Monday of every April. The 58-year-old McGillivray, who founded DMSE (Dave McGillivray Sports Enterprises) in1981, has served as the Boston Marathon’s race director since 1988. Besides the Boston Marathon, McGillivray has also headed other notable running events such as the Beach To Beacon 10K in Maine and the Bellin Run in Green Bay, Wisconsin. When he’s not putting on races, McGillivray is an ardent philanthropist and an accomplished runner himself with a marathon personal best of 2:29:58.

As the longtime race director for the Boston Marathon, what are some specific tips you can provide runners to best prepare for the race? 

As most folks know, a lot of the early part of the marathon is downhill so preparing specifically for that is critical. Be prepared for any type of weather conditions as we have just about experienced it all here. Of course, if you live in the Greater Boston area, training on the actual course itself a few times can be a huge advantage to racing it well.

After this year’s suspicious Berlin finish, there’s been growing doubt within the sport about the importance, value or legitimacy of the World Marathon Majors Series. What do you personally think about this series? Are there any suggestions you have for improving the series in any way?

Duncan, I am going to take a pass on this question as it really isn’t my area of much involvement.

No problem, can you please answer this question instead: On your birthday you run a mile for every one of your years. How long do you plan to keep this up and what are some things you think about when you are out on the road for hours on end?

I started this on a whim when I was 12. Little did I know what I was getting myself into. Here it is 46 years later and it continues. The toughest part now is the fact that it takes just about all day to complete it. Each year I say to myself, “Well, I only have to do one more mile than last year,” and it continues on and on. I realize that soon it will all come to an end and I’ll have to “change the rules” from that point on. As for what I think about, well, I always run with a voice recorder as I usually come up with my best thoughts when I am out on the road running on my own. So, you can imagine how “full” my voice recorder is by the time my birthday run is over. Most of my colleagues know I did my run that day because they end up becoming the immediate victim of e-mails with the avalanche of ideas and thoughts I’ve had during the long day on the road!

The Boston Athletic Association has made some major changes to Boston’s qualification procedure. How do you feel about these changes? Do you think the race and the overall Boston experience has improved because of them? Will there be any future changes planned to registration/qualification that you’d like to see?

We needed to respond to the marketplace and we did just that. The sport has changed over the years as we all know. More and more people are running and as such more are qualifying for Boston. Given our start and finish area limitations, we have a field size limit and can only accept so many. The changes we made in the registration process and the qualifying times over the past few years just about solved all the issues we faced the year before when we closed out in just over eight hours. We have only heard positive comments from runners about these  changes. Our objective is about the “pursuit of athletic excellence” and these changes have gone a long way in preserving these goals and ideals.

Do you ever regret the fact that Boston cannot be certified for official world-record purposes? Would you ever want to see any change to the course that would allow it to be IAAF-certified?

I, of course, would love to see the day come soon that the current Boston course would be recognized for world-record purposes. However, I am not so sure making the changes necessary to our current course would be the direction we would ever consider given all the course dynamics in play here. However, we are constantly reviewing information at our disposal that may help to someday build a case to successfully reverse the current ruling.

What is the biggest challenge you face as a race director? What kind of things involving race planning and execution worry you the most and how do you deal with those challenges?

For Boston, it is mainly the weather conditions. You never know what you are going to get. Since we have an incredible, experienced team, I do feel pretty comfortable and confident that most of the operational aspects of the race will go well and according to plan. As for other races I direct, it is usually “growing pains” that challenge us the most. I know that is a “good” problem to have, but, it does bring with it many new challenges that smaller races just don’t experience.


About The Author:

Duncan Larkin is a freelance journalist who’s been covering the sport of running for over five years. He’s run 2:32 in the marathon and won the Himalayan 100-Mile Stage Race in 2007. His first running book, RUN SIMPLE, was released in July.