Dave McGillivray knows the Boston Marathon as well as anyone. But even the longtime race director, who’ll facilitate his 28th and run his 43rd Boston in 2015, admits he didn’t know what to expect in 2014.
Would the marathon feel the same with the enhanced security measures in place? Would the spectators come back after the bombings that marred the finish in 2013?
Then race day arrived, and the atmosphere was “second to none.”
“Last year, I’d never seen anything like it,” McGillivray said. “My takeaway was a level of respect -- [the spectators] just respected what was going on. There was no shenanigans. No one jumping out on the course and running with the runners.
“I never saw as many signs held by fans along the course as I saw last year. It was just mile after mile after mile of people holding signs, ‘Boston Strong,’ and ‘We will not be denied,’ and ‘Resilience.’ All of that was just everywhere.”
An event that was already incredibly complicated logistically became only more so after the 2013 attacks killed three and injured more than 260. With the increased security presence and emotions running high, McGillivray was sure there would be some slipups somewhere along the 26.2-mile course.
But there really weren’t any to speak of.
“I thought we nailed it. It was an epic day, all-around,” McGillivray said. “From the runners’ perspective, to the weather, to the operational side of it, to Meb [Keflezighi] winning.
“You could not have written a better script to last year’s race than actually played out.”
Now that the second anniversary of the bombings was remembered on April 15, as the 119th Boston Marathon quickly approaches on Monday, McGillivray thinks he has a better idea of what to expect going forward.
“I think the Boston Marathon is always a special day, a holy grail, and for some people a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. “This year’s no different. ... Certainly no one’s forgotten [what happened]. I think people are still going to be passionate about the event and about their freedom, and I think that expression is still going to be seen from start to finish.”
Tom Grilk, the executive director of the Boston Athletic Association, the organization that stages the event, said he hopes 2015 marks a first.
“I expect it to be the first marathon of the rest of our lives,” Grilk said. “We’ve moved beyond a two-year time when we had first horror, and then resolve and resilience.”
Now, he said, Boston should be back to what it was before 2013, a pure athletic contest that involves both the world’s elite and the dogged strivers, regular people ready to push themselves to the limit.
“It used to be that people looked first and foremost to, who’s gonna win?” Grilk said. “[I hope it’s] back to that. A little less emphasis on looking backwards. It will begin to show us what the future holds.”
Still, the events of 2013 will not be forgotten.
McGillivray, an accomplished runner, has a tradition of running Boston after the course closes. Because of the bombings, he didn't run in 2013 until 11 days later -- after the wild night in Watertown, the shelter-in-place order, and the manhunt that ended with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's arrest in a bloody, bullet-ridden boat in a Watertown driveway.
That run was emotional. And though it was different, 2014 was emotional, too.
“I was running it in memory of little Martin Richard,” said McGillivray, who ran for Team MR8, the charity team set up in memory of the youngest victim in the attack. “I was thinking of him, thinking of my own 8-year-old son and how things happen in life. You can’t control it all, so you do what you can and try to turn negatives into a positive.”
McGillivray’s son, Luke, is now 9 years old. And like many affected by the attacks of 2013, Luke is still coming to grips with what he saw happen.
“He’s still having a tough time going into Boston at all, for anything,” McGillivray said. “Bruins game, Red Sox game, Patriots parade, whatever. There’s a significant amount of hesitancy to do that.”
So when the 60-year-old finished his Boston run last year, his family wasn’t there to greet him at the darkened finish line.
“Right now plans are being made for them to not be there again,” he said. “I support whatever makes sense to do, but it is sad for me because I obviously like to have my family there. To see my family at the finish line was poignant. But at the same time it’s not about me. It's about them.”
As for how long he plans to continue in his role as race director, McGillivray said he’ll do it “as long as they’ll have me.”
“Strictly from a business, financial platform, I have five kids and the youngest is 5, so it doesn’t look like I’m going to be retiring anytime soon,” McGillivray said with a chuckle, “although that will be interesting to do before I’m 90.”
And when the day finally comes that McGillivray hands off the duties of running the world’s most prestigious race to someone else, of course he has a plan.
“Once I stop directing it, my hope is to jump back in there with the crowd again,” he said. “Then run another 10 or so with the crowd again before it comes to a grinding halt. My goal is to push that out as far as I can.”
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.