EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 5, 2013

The man and his race: Marathon director reflects on his experience in wake of bombings

Race director Dave McGillivray of North Andover, reflects on the day Boston Marathon changed forever

By Bill Burt

---- — Dave McGillivray is an emotional guy, but he rarely cries.

Last Tuesday, sitting alone in his Boston Athletic Association office at 40 Trinity Place in downtown Boston, 15 days after the Boston Marathon bombings, he wept.

“Things added up, got a little bit heavy,” said McGillivray, a 58-year-old North Andover resident, father of five and the race director of the marathon for 25 years. “I’m not ashamed of that. I needed a little release.”

Everybody was looking for answers about the bombings and the marathon’s future, and McGillivray is usually the guy people look to for those answers.

And he didn’t have them.

The BAA chose to remain silent while the investigation was under way into the terrorist plot that led to the deaths of four innocent people and injuries to more than 200.

Finally, on Tuesday, he was able to talk for the first time, though he still didn’t have answers to all the questions.

McGillivray is one of the faces of one of the world’s biggest sporting events. In a “normal” marathon year, the weeks after the race would have been a time for rest and reflection.

Not this year.

“I’ve received about 3,000 texts and emails,” said McGillivray. “Other than saying ‘Thanks for caring’ to so many people I haven’t been able to say much.

“We are still trying to figure a lot of things out. I realize people want answers. They want to know about what we are going to do with the runners who didn’t officially finish the race. They want to know about getting their medals ... They want to know about next year. It hasn’t even been three weeks yet. We still need some time. We need people to be a little patient.”

The week before the 2013 Boston Marathon, McGillivray was a happy man. Great weather was forecast.

McGillivray knows as much about wind chill, arctic freezes and jet stream as any lay person. As race director for 20 to 30 events per year, including the Thanksgiving Day Feaster Five in Andover, he knows that weather is to races what location is to real estate.

Last year, temperatures were in the 80s for the Boston Marathon, causing hundreds of runners to opt out.

So he was beaming when forecast of temperatures in the 50s proved true on marathon Monday.

He was the starting line in Hopkinton and rode back to Boston on the lead motorcycle.

“I remember driving into Boston thinking, ‘What a perfect day!’” recalled McGillivray. “It was just the kind of race and day we needed to recover from last year.”

About 50 yards from the finish line, McGillivray waved to his wife, Katie, and their two children, Ellie, 9, and Luke, 7, sitting in the bleachers.

“Everything was clicking,” he said. “I checked with the captains. I went over to check the medical tent. Then I went over to see my wife and kids. It was a great day.”

For 25 years, McGillivray has had a routine. He made sure everything was OK at the finish line, then headed back to Hopkinton to run the marathon route himself with a few friends.

This year, after going through his checklist at the finish line, he sent a text message to BAA Executive Director Tom Grilk to let him know he was headed back to Hopkinton.

Grilk sent a two-word reply: “Beat it”

McGillivray bolted for Hopkinton with his good friend Ron Kramer. They arrived at the starting point at 2:47 p.m. Normally, he wouldn’t remember the exact minute he arrived, but what happened minutes later will etch the time in his mind.

“Ron’s daughter called him and told him what happened, that there were two bombs,” said McGillivray.

“My first reaction was shock and disbelief. I remember thinking, Is this credible? Was she sure? But before long I knew we had to go back. We jumped back in the car and the two state police troopers on motorcycles gave us an escort to Boston. I think we went the 26.2 miles in about 20 minutes.”

The ride was tough. He knew his wife and kids were at the finish line.

“I couldn’t get a hold of my wife,” he said. “I didn’t know what had happened and I was worried for my family like a lot of people.”

McGillivray spent the next four hours reuniting runners with their families and trying to calm nerves as rumors ran wild.

“One big problem was people were talking about suspicious packages here and here and here. That went on for a while. But I can really say that I didn’t get a sense of people panicking, like you might expect. I honestly believe the experience of our team and volunteers is one of the biggest assets of the BAA.”

McGillivray’s wife and two small children were in the grandstand when the first bomb exploded about 50 yards away.

“They were right across the street from the first bomb,” said McGillivray. “Katie said she thought it was a burst of some sort. Then when the second one went off, everybody knew it was something very different.”

With their husband and dad 26.2 miles away in Hopkinton, the McGillivrays bolted onto Exeter Street, the first street near the finish line, and found a quiet spot to sit on the curb.

McGillivray finally contacted his wife, who with her kids got a ride all the way back to North Andover with a friend of a friend.

“Katie’s car was in a garage on Clarendon Street but she couldn’t get it out of there,” said McGillivray. “She just wanted to get the kids home and safe. She ended up coming back to Boston to get the car the next day.”

McGillivray didn’t go home that Patriots Day. He stayed at the BAA offices with a team of workers and volunteers, trying to makes sense of what had happened.

It wasn’t until Tuesday night that McGillivray returned to his home in North Andover and saw his family for the first time since the bombings.

“I hugged my wife and children,” recalled McGillivray. “The first thing Luke said to me was, ‘Are you OK? Are you OK?’ Then he said something to me that really struck home.

“He said, ‘I don’t want you to direct that race any more.’ I told him I appreciated his concern and that everything would be okay. He then asked if the bombers would come to our house. It was tough.”

As the terrorist drama captivated the country over the next week, McGillivray and BAA officials met to talk about what had happened and what it meant for the marathon’s future.

Meanwhile, McGillivray said, something wonderful happened. The world reached out to support the BAA and the marathon.

“We would come to the office and there would be staff lunches, already paid for, by ‘XYX Race,’” said McGillivray. “We got race banners, signed by thousands of runners and volunteers, from races all over the world, sent to our offices. It’s been very humbling.

“And honestly, it’s not just the running community,” said McGillivray. “Americans have reached out to Boston and this race. Actor Kevin Spacey, who was in Cambridge and wanted to meet the staff. What he said was better than any inspirational speaker could have said. It has been awe-inspiring in so many ways.”

Until this year, McGillivray had run in 40 straight Boston Marathons, the fourth longest runner’s streak.

“What some people don’t realize is I’ve been a participant longer than I’ve been a race director,” McGillivray said. “My first priority is managing the race. Once that is done, once I cover the course and make sure everything and everyone is OK, I run it myself.”

He kept the streak alive this year.

While the record book noted his time at 4:49:00, McGillivray completed the race 11 days and four hours after it started.

Now come the questions about next year’s race, and McGillivray doesn’t have the answers yet.

“The Boston Marathon is bigger than the BAA and everyone that touches the race is an owner of it,” he said. “There are cities and towns along the course, there are thousands of runners from all over the world, and there hundreds of thousands of spectators. The last thing we want to do is make a premature decision and then retract it.”

McGillivray had to catch his breath when President Barrack Obama, who met with BAA officials and volunteers a few days after the bombings, told the world that the 118th Boston Marathon would be bigger and better than ever.

“That’s easier said than done,” said McGillivray. “I know what he means. He really means the 118th Boston Marathon will be special. Now we have to figure out a way to make that happen.”

Above all, through all the heartache, tears and difficult decisions that lie ahead, McGillivray said he can say without hesitation he is stronger than he was three weeks ago.

“You know what they say about scar tissue. It’s stronger than the original skin,” said McGillivray. “I also know this: I’m very proud to be from Boston.”