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Boston Marathon Race Director Dave McGillivray, right, greeted runners during the Boston Athletics Association 10K race in Boston. (Boston Globe via Getty Images)

The Boston Marathon Through The Eyes Of Two Men Who Love It

by Eyder Peralta
Apr 21, 2014

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Dave McGillivray likely knows the Boston Marathon better than anyone else.

McGillivray is the race's director — responsible for all the details of the oldest and most prestigious marathon in the world. And for the past 41 years, he has also run all 26.2 miles of the course. For the past 27 years, he's done so after his work duties are done.

Year after year, he heads out to Hopkinton after tens-of-thousands of runners have crossed the finish. He completes his 26.2-mile trek as the sun sets, after the spectators have gone home and the volunteers have cleared the water stations.

On Monday, the mechanics won't be any different.

But when we meet in February, he's fretting. The twin bombings of 2013, that left three dead and dozens injured, mean at the very least that an already complex event will be even-more-so. To begin with he says, the number of runners — 36,000 of them — will rival the field that ran the 100th Boston Marathon.

"I don't know how people are going to react," he says. "No one is going to know until we get there."

Last year things were on automatic pilot, he says. The skies were blue, the temperature perfect, few runners had to be treated by the medics. He texted the executive director of the marathon to say that 75 percent of the runners had crossed the finish line. He asked if he could head to Hopkinton to begin his 26.2-mile journey.

"Beat it," the executive director wrote back.

"At 2:52, I got the infamous phone call," McGillivray says.

Two bombs had detonated near the finish line.

McGillivray asked a state trooper to give him a lift back to Boston. The ride was a blur, close to 27 miles in 20 minutes.

He saw carnage when he arrived at the finish. McGillivray saw the emergency vehicles and the rush to save lives; he saw the panic and the injured.

He walked toward the finish line and a police officer stopped him.

"I'm the race director," he told the officer. "I need to go up there to see what's going on. It's kind of my race."

The cop looked at him. Suddenly, things were bigger than the Boston Marathon.

The officer said, "It's not yours anymore."

***

Tom Derderian has probably thought about the Boston Marathon more than anyone.

He's written a history of the race. In the mid-1970s and into the 80s, Derderian was running alongside greats like Alberto Salazar and Bill Rodgers. He was coached by Bill Squires at the Greater Boston Track Club. In short, Derderian was in the thick of it when long-distance running was dominated by Americans and inspired a nation. In 1975, Derderian set his personal best at Boston with a time of 2:19:04.

Now in his mid-60s, Derderian doesn't bother running Boston. As he puts it, he's "old and slow" so he's not a contender. Running instead of racing is "just boring."

The race has changed quite a bit over its 117 years. When it began, it was a few young men pounding dirt roads in boots. In the 1970s, when demand for the race outpaced supply, the Boston Athletic Association introduced qualifying standards to limit the pool, which made Boston even more popular.

"It sort of became the whole theme of the race," McGillivray explains. "That if it wasn't already the holy grail, it quickly became the holy grail of marathoning, because it was the only race other than the Olympic Marathon where you had to qualify. And that became the everyday person's Super Bowl and World Series and just bucket list item."

Dave McGillivray relishes the change, saying the "walls of intimidation have crumbled." In the 70s and 80s Boston wasn't about covering the distance, it was about how fast you could run it.

"It's a whole different purpose now," McGillivray says. "It's about feeling good about yourself."

The last time Derderian ran Boston was in 1986. He ran it in 3 hours and 10 minutes.

"There were tons of people cheering; but they weren't cheering for anything interesting," he says.

Derderian, as you may have guessed, yearns for the golden days — like that race in 1982, when Americans Dick Beardsley and Alberto Salazar fought over every inch of the course for the entire two-plus hours. It was a fist fight, a work of art in which both athletes gave so much of themselves that it ruined their bodies and neither one ever reached those heights again.

"The marathon is a mirror of history," Derderian says. "The original idea of the marathon was the 1800s idea, the 19th century notion of the young man sacrificing for country."

That's the myth of the Pheidippides, which gave rise to the marathon distance. As the story goes, the Greek foot solider was sent from Athens to Sparta (140 miles) to ask for backup against the invading Persian army. After a Greek victory in Marathon, Pheidippides was sent back to Athens (about 26 miles) to deliver the news.

"Rejoice! We conquer," Pheidippides screamed, before he collapsed and died.

Derderian says that myth rang true in the early days, when a marathon was seen as a "dangerous thing to do." It's been through numerous identities since, from an event in which warriors could test their strength to a popular spectacle worth betting on to a symbol of fitness and healthy living. The marathon's identity today is all about doing good and raising money for charity.

The bombing, Derderian says, may be bringing things full circle.

"People are flocking to the marathon because they feel they are putting themselves at risk in defiance," Derderian says. "They have come all the way back to Pheidippides, all the way back to 'Rejoice! We conquer.' Boston strong echoes Pheidippides, that's how we've come back all the way around."

***

McGillivray's love affair with the Boston Marathon began when he was just 17-years old. He was a senior in high school and told his grandfather that he was going to run Boston. His grandfather told him he would wait for him at Coolidge Corner, mile 24.

When the day came, McGillivray couldn't make it past the hills in Newton, which begin around mile 19. He ended up at the hospital. His grandfather spent all day waiting for him at mile 24. Later, after he learned McGillivray had dropped out, he encouraged him to try again the next year.

McGillivray's grandfather died two months later. So, that year, McGillivray thought about him as logged the training miles and once again made it to the starting line in Hopkinton.

"At 21.5 miles, I just couldn't continue," he says. So he sat down on the side of the road, crying.

"I look around me and realized that's where they buried my grandfather," McGillivray says. "He said he'd be there and there was his tombstone. Maybe he wasn't there physically, but he was there spiritually for me right there on the marathon course."

McGillivray picked himself up and finished in 4.5 hours.

"That's when I said, I'm going to run this race every year for the rest of my life," he says.

McGillivray had run Boston, uninterrupted, for 40 years before the bombings.

I met him at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. It's right smack in the middle of downtown Boston, right next to the Boston Public Library, the oldest in the country, and across the way from the Gothic revival building of the Old South Church.

The finish line is painted on the asphalt, blue and yellow and white. Stand there long enough and you'll see tourists get out of their cars and snap a picture. Or you'll see a runner pause for a moment, like a pilgrim at an altar.

Last April 15, McGillivray says he didn't think about his own run, about his 40-year stretch. He thought about his family and the victims. He thought about the three who were killed.

About 11 days after the bombings, McGillivray snuck out quietly to Hopkinton with a friend. With their two sons acting as a support crew, they ran the empty course. They ran through Ashland and Farmingham, through Wellesley and the hills of Newton. And finally into Boston.

He says he doesn't really remember running the course. He says he remembers feeling sad, but proud at the response. He said he doesn't remember thinking about the physical ails that afflict a body running 26 miles.

He made it to Boylston Street a little after 2 p.m. It meant closure.

"Runners won't be denied," McGillivray says."We lost a little bit. We were all victimized. But, at the same time, we're back. I always feel like a scar on your body is stronger than the original skin and that's how I feel about this situation."

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Runners, their friends and family members posed Sunday for photos at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, which is being run on Monday. (AP)

It's Time To Run Again In Boston: Here's The Schedule

Apr 21, 2014

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We don't need to go on at length about why today's running of the Boston Marathon is important.

We all know it's the first since the bombings near the finish line of last year's race. The explosions killed three people and injured another 260 or so. In the four days that followed, authorities say, the two suspects murdered an MIT campus police officer. One of the two brothers accused of carrying out the bombings then died after a gun battle with police. The other is in custody. The young Muslim men were allegedly driven by anger over the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Eyder is among the NPR journalists in Boston today to report on the race. His latest dispatch for NPR's Running Toward Boylston Tumblr blog is posted here. Our NPR colleague Jeff Brady is on the scene as well. He talked on Morning Edition about the increased security.

We'll be watching for news and updating if necessary. In the meantime, we simply want to point to some resources for those who want to know more about the 26.2-mile race and want to keep track of what's happening:

— WBUR has "A Spectator's Guide To The Boston Marathon." The day will begin at 8:45 a.m. ET in Hopkinton, where the race starts, with a moment of silence.

The first racers, those who are mobility impaired, will set off at 8:50 a.m. ET. Over the next 2 1/2 hours, other racers take off in waves. The first who are likely to cross the finish line will be from the men's "push rim wheelchair division," probably around 10:40 a.m. ET.

The "elite women" start running at 9:32 a.m. ET. The winner from that division is expected to finish just before noon ET. The "elite men" start racing at 10 a.m. ET. The winner of the men's race is expected to cross the line around 12:08 p.m. ET.

— The Boston Athletic Association plans to stream the marathon here. The BAA also has an interactive page for tracking runners.

— WBUR has "a real time map of Tweets and Instagrams" from along the course.

— WGBH is planning to post reports from its correspondents and some of the runners.

The weather report for Boston, according to The Weather Channel: 49 degrees and sunny at 9 a.m., 57 degrees and partly cloudy by noon; 62 degrees and mostly sunny at 3 p.m. ET.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Missing some content? Check the source: NPR
Copyright(c) 2014, NPR
Runners, their friends and family members posed Sunday for photos at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, which is being run on Monday. (AP)

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Apr 21, 2014 (Morning Edition) — Asimo is Honda's latest humanoid robot. This one, the third version, is more life-like than previous models.

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Runners, their friends and family members posed Sunday for photos at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, which is being run on Monday. (AP)

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Runners, their friends and family members posed Sunday for photos at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, which is being run on Monday. (AP)

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