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Advice From Boston Marathon Race Director Dave McGillivray

Longtime race director for the Boston Marathon Dave McGillivray shares his tips for runners preparing to tackle the 122nd Boston Marathon.

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Runners at the 2017 Boston Marathon. Photo by Byelikova Oksana /

Are you preparing to compete in your first Boston Marathon? Are you a veteran of the course, hoping for a personal best? Or do you aspire to one day snag an elusive BQ? If you answered yes to any of the above, then we implore you to keep reading.

With the 122nd Boston Marathon just days away, we spoke with Dave McGillivray, longtime Boston Marathon race director. Not only has McGillivray served as the race director for 30 years—he has also completed the race the last 45 consecutive years.

When he was first offered the race director position, McGillivray’s role changed from running in the race to running the race. “I had committed to myself to run Boston every year, but did not know how I could run it while also directing it. In 1988 when I was standing at the finish line, high-fiving everyone, I got a knot in my stomach. I turned to an officer and asked him to drive me to the start. He asked if I had forgotten something. I told him I forgot to run,” McGillivray said. He has been running the Boston Marathon at night, after the course is completely clear, ever since.

This way, McGillivray, who has completed a total of 156 marathons (including the recent World Marathon Challenge), gets the best of both worlds. “I get to see the crowds and see and experience the marathon. Then, eight hours later, I get to race. At that point, there is no more crowd, but I can super-impose what went on earlier in the day and pretend like it’s still happening. It is my time to reflect and think about what happened, and how to improve things for next year,” McGillivray said.

Given his extensive experience with the world’s oldest and most famous road race, we wanted to hear his thoughts about this year’s race and his tips for a successful Boston Marathon.

Ups And Downs

The infamous Newton Hills, a series of three hills which culminate in Heartbreak Hill, are iconic features of the race. “Once you come out of Wellesley, it can get tricky. It’s almost an optical illusion. You think that the first hill is at 17.5 miles, but there is a rough 10-percent grade hill at mile 16 that sneaks up on people. At that point, you might think that you ran the first of three hills, when you’re actually not even there yet,” McGillivray said.

It’s not just the hills that runners need to take into consideration. “Leading up to the Newton Hills, there is some severe downhill which can physically and emotionally beat you up, especially if you didn’t train on a similar course to get ready for Boston. But if you’re aware of it, you can survive through it.”

Patience Is Key

“As I analyze past performances, myself included, people’s best have come when they run the second half faster than the first half,” McGillivray said. “Given the course, most would think that would be the opposite. Patience is critical. Take it slow and hold back at the beginning even though the downhills will urge you to run faster. You will be glad you did by the time you hit the second half. If you have patience, Boston can be a fast course.”

Wacky Weather

Runners can control most race-day specifics, such as their clothing choices and fueling regimens. However, runners have absolutely no command over one essential element: the weather. Mid-April in Boston can bring any imaginable weather condition, from sweltering heat to freezing rain. “Conditions dictate ultimate performance for every runner,” McGillivray said. “On a hot day, pass away any idea of running fast; it’s just about survival. I’ve run the last 45 years, and there hasn’t been anything of any magnitude that jeopardized the race. But there’s always a first!”

Advice For The Newbie

“Try to take it all in and have fun. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to run hard or fast, at least not during your first year in Boston,” McGillivray said. “Just be thankful that you made it to the start line and to the promised land.”

Thoughts On The Elites

Many eyes will be on this year’s elite field, which includes six Boston Marathon champions, 23 Olympians and 17 top United States runners. “It is an amazing world-class field this year,” McGillivray said. “We are all very excited. I never make predictions. Racing is very unpredictable given all the variables—that is why they race.”

Boston Bombings

This year marks the fifth anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings. The homemade bombs, which detonated at the finish line on Boylston Street on April 15, 2013, killed three people and injured several hundred others. “The city has things planned for April 16, and we will be part of it,” McGillivray said. “We put our attention on the race and the security of the race so that it is a positive experience for all who participate.”


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