BOSTON – During the early afternoon of April 15, 2013, Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray sent a text to Boston Athletic Association executive director Tom Grilk:
“Everything’s great. What do you think?”
It was a beautiful day. Everything was going smoothly at the 117th running of the Boston Marathon.
“Beat it,” Grilk texted back.
So McGillivray, who has been the race director of the Boston Marathon for 26 years, returned to the start in Hopkinton, where he got ready to run the course for the 41st consecutive time.
That’s where he was at 2:47 p.m., when the two bombs went off near the finish line, killing three and injuring 260 people. He got the phone call at 2:52.
“The state police brought me back,” he said Wednesday. “We were going about 100 mph. Got back in 20 minutes. My family was there, in the bleachers. I got in the secured area right away. I went in to the medical tent. Then I went to the finish line to find my family, and they wouldn’t let me up there.
“A police officer said to me, ‘It’s not your race anymore.’ That’s when it really hit me. The magnitude of this. And it wasn’t.”
A year later, it is once again McGillivray’s race. There was a public tribute Tuesday to the victims of the bombing. There was talk of the tragedy and remembrance of the victims and more tributes thoughout the rest of the week. Then there will be the race on Monday, the 118th running of the Boston Marathon, 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston.
“There will be a lot of remembrance and tribute and celebration outside the curbs, but inside those curbs, everybody’s going to be focused on that road race again,” McGillivray said.
There will be 9,000 more runners, 2,000 more volunteers, an estimated 1 million spectators, as well as more video surveillance, more undercover police officers, more restrictions on items such as backpacks, and also how many people will be allowed on Boylston Street near the finish line.
“Runners should be very confident coming to this race, that it’s going to be safe and secure,” Boston police Commissioner William Evans said.
On Tuesday, there was some concern in the city when a man was taken into custody after he left a backpack by the finish line of the marathon, allegedly telling police that there was a rice cooker in it. Police detonated two backpacks left there as a precaution. The bombs that exploded near the finish line last year were made with pressure cookers and placed inside backpacks.
“Within a minute, our officers were on him, and based on what he said, that’s why we went through the precautions we did,” Evans said. “You never can be too safe nowadays.”
As McGillivray said Wednesday, this is the “new normal.”
Initially, after the events of last year, McGillivray wondered if runners would want to come back to this year’s race. But they did, to the tune of 36,000.
“They’re coming back,” he said. “Fifty-six hundred weren’t able to finish, and 5,000 [of those] decided to sign up again. That’s a strong, strong statement.”
McGillivray said the marathon organizers had to process what happened after last year’s bombing, but also had to continue to move forward to make this year’s race safe.
“That was a delicate balance, because emotions are at play, and continue to be,” he said. “That’s been the way it’s been for 12 months. For all of us on the management side, it’s probably going to really hit us on April 22 more than ever, because we’ve had to keep our game-face on for 12 months and continue to lead this event for everyone.”
When McGillivray, 59, took the race director’s job in 1987, he worried that his streak of running the historic race would be over. But, no, he found that he could still run the 26.2 miles, after all the marathoners were dispatched and his duties were finished – although he is constantly checking his cellphone on his run back to Boston.
That’s where he was headed last year when the bombs went off. He didn’t get to run the course until 11 days later.
For him, this year’s run will be special. He’s running to raise money for the Martin W. Richard charitable foundation, in honor of the 8-year-old boy from Dorchester who was killed in the bombing last year.
“I think it means the same [to me] as it does for everybody else,” he said. “But for the first time in my life, I’ve tied it to a great purpose. For 40-plus years, it’s been just do it for myself, and now it’s do it for someone else. That’s what I’ll be focused on the entire time.”
Hartford Marathon director Beth Shluger has known McGillivray for years. She will be an observer in the baggage area and the medical tent Monday to glean insight for her future marathons and races.
“If anyone had to be tasked with this, it’s been given to the right person,” Shluger said of McGillivray. “He lives and breathes race logistics, and he has the most experience of anyone.”
“The way they handled everything that was unforeseen and needed handling – they did it with great class and respect for all the runners. I’ve watched every single thing they’ve done over the last 12 months. They have not missed a step.”
2014 Boston Marathon
Route: 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston