LAST UPDATED: 11 September 2023
The 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing
Boston Marathon race director, Dave McGillivray, looks back at the dramatic events of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the response of his team.
On April 15, 2013, two homemade bombs planted by brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tarnaev exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. In the devastation that ensued, three innocent people lost their lives, while 281 others were injured, in what was, and still remains, the biggest ever terrorist incident suffered by a mass-participation sporting event.
In the midst of all this, Boston Marathon race director, Dave McGillivray, and his team, working alongside emergency services, had to deal with a situation never before encountered by a race management team, while working under huge stress and personal risk to help runners with very little concrete information to go on on what had happened and what might be around the corner.
Today with Dave’s help, we’re going to be revisiting those remarkable events that took place 10 years ago that brought the horrors of terrorism into endurance events and forever changed the security protocols major mass-participation races around the globe have had to contend with ever since.
We’re going to be going over the dramatic minutes and hours following the bomb explosions at the 2013 Boston Marathon, the response of the race management team, lessons learned from dealing with uncertainty when every second counts, as well as look at the aftermath of those events on security measures for the 2014 race and other races around the world, the impact these measures have had on race experience, and the legacy of the 2013 bombings on Boston Marathon and beyond.
In this episode:
- The amazing story of the Boston Marathon, the world's oldest annual marathon
- Contingency planning and emergency protocols prior to 2013
- The calm before the storm: going into the 2013 event in an upbeat mood following a near-canceled 2012 race
- Scrambling for answers and loved ones after the bombs went off
- Setting priorities in the immediate aftermath of the bombing
- Stopping the race and redirecting runners
- Working alongside and coordinating with emergency services
- The importance of team training, planning and efficient communication in handling unforeseen emergencies
- Improvising in the face of uncertainty
- The impact of the bombing on runners, race staff and the city of Boston
- Increasing security measures at the aftermath of the 2013 race
- The effect of additional security measures on the race experience, race banditing
- The legacy of the 2013 bombing on event operations and the "new normal"
- Boston Athletic Association - https://www.baa.org/
- DMSE Sports - https://www.dmsesports.com/
- Dave McGillivray Finish Strong Foundation - https://www.davemcgillivrayfoundation.org/
Thanks to RunSignup for supporting quality content for race directors by sponsoring this episode. More than 28,000 in-person, virtual, and hybrid events use RunSignup's free and integrated solution to save time, grow their events, and raise more. If you'd like to learn more about RunSignup's all-in-one technology solution for endurance and fundraising events visit runsignup.com.
Dave, welcome to the podcast!
Hey, Panos. Thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it.
Well, thank you very much for making the time to come on. It's a real pleasure to have you on the podcast. Now, usually, as our listeners would know, I like to start the podcast by introducing my guest, which is going to be a very easy job. In your case, I think most of our listeners would know who you are. I've been hearing your name ever since I joined the industry. You are, of course, the race director for the Boston Marathon. But what our listeners may not know, you also do a great deal of other stuff besides directing the Boston Marathon. You have, of course, your own race management, business, DMSE Sports, which we're going to discuss a little bit. You have your own foundation work, your charity work that you do. You do motivational speaking and, not to mention, of course, your very remarkable athletic credentials. You've run across the US. You've done hundreds of marathons. In your own words, when you get to introduce yourself to someone, when you go up to someone, what do you say about yourself, given that you do all of those things? How do you like to introduce Dave McGillivray?
Well, trying to keep it on that humble side. I'm just your average Joe, who has done a little running and done a little motivational speaking. But since I'm almost 69 years old, a lot of years have gone by. So I guess those years have been filled with a lot of different goal setting and accomplishments. So for me, I think the highlight of my, at least, business career is having been the longtime race director of the Boston Marathon. That's what I'm most known for. Athletically, it certainly is my 1978 run across the United States from Medford, Oregon to my hometown at Medford, Massachusetts, and finishing that run 3,452 miles in Fenway Park for the Boston Red Sox play in front of 32,000 people, and there's a whole bunch of things in between. And so the elevator speech is a racetrack to the Boston Marathon and athletically, having run across the country in '78.
Beyond the Boston Marathon, just sticking, I guess, with the day job, few people, I think, would appreciate how many other very prestigious races across the country you and your team direct at DMSE. Do you want to give us a brief list of the kinds of things you guys do?
Sure, I'll tell you actually how it started. Speaking about that run across the country, I was working for an actuarial firm, prior to taking a three-month leave of absence to do that run. And when I got back, I just felt that my passion was running. My passion was trying to motivate and inspire other people to take care of themselves. So the first thing I did was open up an athletic footwear and clothing store and a running store, and then I started putting on a few local events to promote the store. And then, I realised I like putting on events more than shoes on people's feet, and I just developed my own business when it wasn't fashionable back then. There weren't a lot of races around. So I started creating events and most of them, at the early stages, were actually triathlons. I had done the 1980 Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Hawaii, and I came back to New England and I said, "That was extraordinary. I like this. I'd like to create a few of those here in the New England area." And that's where I sort of got my start and one thing led to another and, since then, I've directed or consultant on over 1600 events all over the country all over the world - everything from, again, the Boston Marathon to the triathlon World Championship to US Olympic trials to national championships, and the list goes on and on and on. So generally speaking, pre-pandemic, we were managing our consulting on about 35 events a year. And then, everything went over a cliff, like, with everyone else. And now, we're slowly but surely rebuilding all of that. And now, we're at about 25 events this current 2023 season. And it's everything from, again, all the BAA events 5K, 10K, half, in the marathon. And then we have the TD Beach to Beacon road race in Maine, which is Joan Benoit Samuelson's race, who won the Olympic gold medal in 84. And then we have the ASICS Falmouth Road Race, which is one of the oldest road races here in the United States. We direct that and the list goes on and on and on. So yeah, it's not just the Boston Marathon by any stretch of the imagination.
And you mentioned the pandemic there, as you said, things went off a cliff for everyone - large race management companies and small. I remember actually being really surprised and really curious at the time to learn more about what you guys did during the pandemic, which is helping out with the rollout of the mass vaccination across the US in your part of the world. How did that come about? Like, how was DMSE sort of, like, tapped to come in and help people with all that?
As soon as in March of 2020, when we were hearing all about what was about to come, obviously, I got nervous. Over the years - doing this for over 40 years - I've always felt that our industry was bulletproof. In other words, nothing was ever going to take us down in good times and not-so-good times economically. Road racing and mass-participatory athletics always seem to rise above any kind of challenge along those lines. So in good times and the not-so-good times, people still get out there and focus on their own health and fitness. So I was pretty comfortable presently and into the future that all was good, all was well, and then the pandemic came and proved me wrong because every one of the 35 events I had sort of locked and loaded and contract-signed, one by one, went over the cliff. I didn't panic, but I was like, "Now, what are we going to do?" And we had to start laying off some full-time staff because we had no work for them to do. But we started thinking about what we do and is our skill set transferable? Can we do other things than just putting on road races? Putting on road races flew right in the face of the pandemic in terms of what not to do. Don't put a lot of people together in a small area breathing all over each other. You can't do that anymore. So then, we started thinking, "Well, what can we do?" And one of our assets is the equipment that we use in road racing, whether it's barricades or road cones, or whatever it might be, and we started helping restaurants with outdoor dining. We started putting on outdoor drive-in movies. And we pivoted in the vernacular of the time, but that was only a little bit. It wasn't, like, necessarily going to save us long-term. And then all of a sudden, we got a call from the governor's office saying they needed someone like us to help them set up some mass vaccination sites in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and I'm like, "What do we know about vaccination?" And the governor says, "Well, you're a logistician." I said, "I'm a what?" "You're a logistician." I said, "What's a logistician?" He's like, "Well, you know how to move people. That's what you do, and that's what we need you to do at these mass vaccination sites. We're gonna get tens of thousands of people that show up. Someone's got to be able to efficiently, safely, effectively manage them." I said, "Okay, sign us up." So we opened up Gillette Stadium in Boston, Fenway Park, Hynes Convention Centre, and Reggie Lewis Track Centre. And over the course of six months, 10 hours a day, 7 days a week nonstop, we helped vaccinate 1.3 million people. And not only did that give us all a good feeling of helping to save lives and keep people healthy but, also, we had an impact in bringing back our own industry. So that was a pretty fascinating dynamic, where the pandemic, the virus almost brought us to our knees but, in flipping it on its head, it also helped save us because of that whole vaccination effort that we were very fortunate enough to be able to secure. And then in 2021, we had eight or nine events and, in 2022, about 20 events, and now, in 2023, 25-26 events. And we think once we're through '23, we'll be back to full pace in 2024.
How did the team take to switching gears and going into vaccinations and all that?
Well, what was interesting is when you look at the dynamics of the two - putting on a marathon and doing these vaccination sites - it's registering all these people or helping to register them. And then they show up and get them organised, where to park, all that, lining them up based on their registration, and then asking them questions, taking data, and then directing them to the vaccination station. It's almost, like, directing them along the race course. And then, once they're done, they need to recover - there's, like, a medical tent or recovery areas in a road race - and then making sure that they're okay after they get their vaccination or whatever, and then congratulating them and sending them on their way. Almost the exact same kind of concept as putting on a road race. So the folks on my staff, they were thrilled with being able to do something like this, especially in light of the fact that what they knew that they were doing in helping to save lives.
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, whoever said "You're a logistician. You're perfect for this," it made total sense. Now, one of the things I wanted to touch on - and it's something I personally wanted to touch on because I found really remarkable from your lengthy resume - was the work you did in the 80s with prison running clubs. And actually, yesterday, I saw, like, a press release or a news piece somewhere about a documentary coming out about the San Quentin Marathon, and they have a 1,000 mile club there and stuff. From just watching the trailer, I thought it was such an inspiring concept, and it seems to me like you almost, like, helped bring a lot of attention to that specific thing - helping inmates improve their lives, and grow through running, and setting up running clubs and races. Why did you decide to spend time getting into all that?
Well, a friend of mine worked at one of the prisons - Walpole state prison - not too far from where I live and not too far from Gillette Stadium where the New England Patriots play football. And he called me up one day and he said that the inmates had just completed building up a dirt track in the prison yard, and they wanted to have a race, and they were wondering who from the outside would be willing to come in to race against them? So the first person they thought of was famed marathoner, Bill Rodgers. He was a good friend of mine. And they called Bill and said, "Hey, would you be interested in coming in and running against the inmates?" And Bill thought about it and said, "You know? I think I'll take a pass." Okay, smart guy. And then they called me up. And they said, "Dave, you want to come in and run against the inmates?" And I went, "Sure, why not? What can go wrong?" Okay, then. So I went. It was an amazing initial experience being checked in and having to go through those ironclad doorways. You hear the door shut behind you, bang, thinking, "Am I ever gonna get out of here? What's it going to be like in there? There are four or 500 inmates in the prison yard. They don't know me. Are they all in favour of this?" And I said, "Well, I guess I'll find out. Another adventure." So, I get in there, and I see the track, and I see the guys who are going to run in the race, and I see all the other folks who are going to watch, and I was a little nervous, I must admit. But I said, "Well, let's give it a go." So they lined us up and someone yelled, "Go!" And off we went. There were probably about 20 of us. I was the only one from the outside. And we're running and we're running, and I was in about third place. And the one thing I said to myself when I was running it not to do is to win. Because if I win this, I'm just showing them up, and that's not going to be pretty. And I said, "Just kind of hang there in third place and do the 11 laps or whatever it was." So I did and I'm running along and running along and the guy in first place drops out. I said, "Oh, now I'm in second place. I'll just keep going." Keep going, keep going. Now the guy in first place drops out. Now, I'm in first place. Now, I get really nervous. What do I do? And then, the inmates on the side were yelling things at me that I really can't repeat on this podcast, but they were going to do to me. And I'm believing them because they probably done a lot worse to get in there. And I said, "Well, I'm trapped. What do I do?" And part of me said, "If I win, they're going to do some pretty bad things to me. And but if I drop out, they're going to probably do some pretty bad things to me." So I kept going and I heard ping, ping, ping. And I'm like, "What the heck?" And all sudden, I realised that throwing rocks at me, and it's hitting the chain link fence behind me. I'm saying, "Yikes, this is pretty serious." I said, "Well, what do I get to lose? It's a no-win situation." And I won. I broke the break-tape, which was a roll of toilet paper. And a bunch of the guys comes up to me afterwards and they put their arm around me and they go, "Hey, we're only kidding." "You're only kidding? You were throwing rocks. What do you mean you're only kidding?" But, at the end, we befriended each other and I came back, probably, another 5 to 10 times. I put on a marathon inside the prison yard. I put on races. I invited a whole bunch of friends in there. I created the first-ever sanctioned running club inside of our maximum-security prison - the Walpole Prison Yard Runners Club - and they all had to pay a little fee to join the Club, which they did, and we went from, like, 10 guys to 20. I think we're up to 50 at the time. I really enjoyed doing that. But then, I started getting ridiculed by people saying, "Hey, why are you doing that? Why are you helping these inmates when you could be helping a lot of other more worthwhile causes?" I said, "Well, my theory is this. A lot of these guys are going to get out someday. I'd rather have them better on the way out the door than they were when they came in. And all I'm doing is teaching them how to run. And what running is doing is helping build their level of self confidence and self esteem. And I bet you that 90% of the folks that are here are here because they had no self confidence or self esteem. And they started doing things that, otherwise, maybe they never would have gotten involved in. And so that's why I continued to do it." But then all of a sudden, the prison administration called me up and said, "You're no longer invited back here." I said, "Why?" And they said, "Because it's got too big." I said, "So I'm a victim of my own success with the programme?" They said, "Well, it's too clique-ey, and we're nervous about all these guys getting together as a group. And so we just got to disband it for a while." And I went, "That doesn't seem to make any sense." And then two of the guys that really helped me out a lot, they were transported to another prison in Chicago somewhere, and I was like, "Why did you deport them? They did nothing wrong when they were in there. They were model inmates." And eventually, the US Marshals decided to bring them back from the Chicago prison. As they were driving them back, they got stuck in a traffic jam in Hartford, Connecticut, and those two inmates escaped. And how do you think they got away?
They ran. So all of a sudden, I'm getting US Marshals banging on my door saying, "Hey, you." And I said, "I had nothing to do with it. I just taught them how to run. I didn't tell them how to escape." And one was caught right away, and another one got away for, like, three, four years, and I never heard from him again because I knew that he knew that if he reached out to me, then I would have to report that. So I never heard from him again. And then all of a sudden, I'm watching a national TV show called Unsolved Mysteries, and it was about these two guys who escaped and one got caught, and the other one is still out there at large and he's dangerous. Well, he wasn't dangerous, but they said that. And he was actually watching the programme at the same time, too - I found out later. So he eventually got caught and brought back to Walpole prison. And then, he had befriended this woman down in-- he ended up in Florida. She contacted me and said, "I've been with him for the last three years, trying to put him out of the prison." So she moved up here and I helped her a little bit, and she got him deported back to Canada where he was originally from, and they got married in the prison in the cafeteria and I was the best man at their wedding. And now, he's free, but he can't come back to United States, but he's in Canada. So all this sort of happened during that time frame. And then, there was one guy - his name was Ralph. He was a tough guy. I mean, he was a bull. And I went up to him one day and said, "Ralph." The question I asked him, "I swore I'd never asked any of you guys this, but I'm going to ask you. I have to ask you." He said, "What?" I said, "Why are you here?" He said, "Well, I was a wrestler at the University of Arizona, and I was really good. I was winning everything. Then I went out and tried out for the Olympic team and I was the last one cut." I said, "So you get cut?" He was, "Yeah." I said, "Ralph, when I was a kid, I got cut, too, but I went in a different way. I got cut from team sports and I started running." Well, Ralph got cut and he couldn't handle it. He didn't have a support system or anything. So then he started living a life of crime. So again, it's all about who you surround yourself with. Support systems are that kind of a thing. And unfortunately, a couple of years later, Ralph was murdered in prison. I don't know exactly what the details were, but I remember thinking about that saying, "What a shame. This guy had it all going. He was a great athlete, was in the university, and then he got cut, and he got depressed - the feeling of rejection - and he went in a different direction, and he wasn't saved." That's when I said, "That's why I need to continue to do more of this because there are a lot of people on the edge that just need a little motivation, a little inspiration, a little kick in the pants, and they'll be able to go in the right direction." So that's what happened with all of that. Then, I get a call from some folks from San Quentin, and they tell me about this guy, Markelle, and that he was running in the prison yard and training for the Boston Marathon, and will I get him in the Boston Marathon? I was like, "Well, he can't run the Boston Marathon once he gets out of prison for us." They said no, he's due to be released soon. And once he's released, he'd like to come on the marathon. I said, "He's in." So he got released. I got him into the marathon. He came. I visited with him before the race. We went through the whole race, everything. And then he ran the marathon and he finished. And then, only about three, four months ago, I got a call from the producer of 26.2 to Life - the documentary I refer to. They said, "We're coming to Boston and we're going to show the documentary and Markelle is coming. He wants you to come in and see the documentary." So I did watch the documentary and met with Markelle again. And now, this particular documentary is being shown all over the country.
Yeah, absolutely. I didn't actually realise that there's a continuous line from your work at Walpole all the way to 26.2 to Life, which is a documentary, as you said, that I just saw the news about yesterday, which is really interesting. I mean, these running documentaries got me into running. So, I don't know, they have an unbelievable craft. They're very inspirational. I don't know if Markelle is the person in the documentary who says, "The earliest I can be out is, like, 2050-something." And you see these guys still having the motivation to get out of bed and improve their lives and go around and run and participate and compete and all that stuff - I think it's amazing. And although I understand prisons, maybe being a little bit nervous about, lots of people congregating and maybe can be gamed in some circumstances, or whatever, I think net-net, it's a really great thing because we all know the redeeming nature of running and sports and all of that stuff, and what better place to see that in action than in prisons. You do, besides this, of course, lots of other charity work more formally as well. You also set up, recently, the Dave McGillivray Finish Strong Foundation. Do you want to tell us a little bit about that - sort of what the mission of the foundation is, how much of your time you spent with that, and the kinds of initiatives you guys take on?
When I started doing these adventure things that I have done over my lifetime, the first one was the run across the United States in '78. I knew at the time to run 45, 50 miles every single day just because it was a personal goal would be extremely difficult. And I said, "I need to do this for a greater purpose than just myself. I need there to be some other reason for doing this, to get me through the hard parts." And I was working in the John Hancock Tower in Boston at the time, and I looked out the window and I saw Fenway Park, again, and I saw a sign out in right field that said, "Help make a dream come true. Support the Jimmy Fund." I wasn't even sure what the Jimmy Fund was but, later, found out it was the fundraising arm of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. So I said, "That's what I want to do. I want to raise money for those sick kids." And I went into the Jimmy Fund clinic and I saw the kids, and I knew at the time that the battle that I was about to fight by running over five and a half million footsteps across America was in no way as difficult as the battle that these kids are fighting for their own life. I just saw a sign in the Jimmy plant clinic and the sign said, "God made only so many perfect heads. The rest of them have hair on them." And I thought, "Wow, that's a powerful message turning negatives into a positive." And I just knew that, from meeting with the kids and knowing that we're helping to save lives, that was going to help me through the tough times, and it did. Runner's World Magazine said it was the first time someone had combined running with raising money for cancer research back in the 70s. So, just the whole concept of philanthropy and helping those who are less fortunate, and using my skill set as a runner, and maybe some notoriety as a runner, I could help make a difference and have an impact. So everything I did from that point forward, I was associating a nonprofit organisation with it, trying to bring awareness, trying to raise money. So over 20-some odd years, all my events and all the different athletic things that I was fortunate enough to be able to do, we were raising hundreds of millions of dollars for all these different causes. That's why I did it but, at the same time, I said, "Well, at the end of the day, what's the legacy? What am I leaving behind that can continue?" And that's when I decided to start my own nonprofit. And initially, it was the DMSE Foundation, then I changed the name recently to the Dave McGillivray Finish Strong Foundation - basically named after my third children's book, "Finish Strong." And basically, what it's about is what I consider three pillars, of least, my life. One is health and fitness - that we all have a responsibility and an obligation to take care of ourselves, and that's not a selfish thing to do, it's actually unselfish, because when you take care of yourself, eventually, bird and other people that have to take care of you for you, and you put yourself in a position where you can help other people. So health and fitness. And then secondly, education and literacy. I've written four books, and I want the kids-- three of them are children's books and I want them to read the books and act on the books. So I was very focused on education and literacy. And then, the last one is the whole philanthropy piece - giving back and doing acts of kindness. And so that's what my foundation now focuses on primarily. It's those three pillars of life and mainly focused on youth in America, and just helping them to set goals and not limits and never underestimate their own ability.
Meg Treat, our good friend, is involved in that. I think she does some of the events in the initiatives she runs at.
Yeah, she's been just a rock star. We hooked up about almost a year ago now. It's tough to do all this alone, and I said, "I'm not gonna make progress unless I have an experienced expert, dedicated, passionate individual who can just work with me side by side," and that's what Meg has done and helped to sort of relaunch the foundation and elevate it to a whole different level. The vision for the foundation down the road, there's no limits to it. We can do so much for so many, and we're now just trying to sort of get all the governance things organised, and get all the fundraising concepts in place, and then how we actually contribute to various causes. So all that has been what we've been working on over the last six months.
Yeah. I mean, it amazes me with people like you sometimes. We've had a few on the podcast because they're all very accomplished people in their own fields - how you manage to do all of that stuff within 24 hours and still manage to get some sleep and all that. So getting people, I guess, good people involved in helping you out is critical to leverage yourself and do more, right?
I think so. I mean, you're only as good as the people you surround yourself with. I've always said that, "I'm only where I'm at because of-- my strongest skill set is identifying individuals that can work not for, but with, me, in accomplishing the things that we want to accomplish. And I've been very fortunate over the years that there hasn't been a lot of attrition. People who jumped on board in the early 80s are still with me today. So I've had people associated with me and DMSE Sports for 20, 30, 40 years, and that's the thing I'm most proud of. Once they jump on board, they become as passionate about the objectives and the goals as I do. So yeah, I mean, that's the key. And for me, facetiously, I always say sleep is overrated. I suppose it's a little bit of a problem of mine that I really don't like to sleep only because I'm not accomplishing much when I'm sleeping. So I try to get away with as little as possible. But I also know that I'm human too and the body needs rest. And so, I gotta practice that delicate balance of getting enough but trying to make the most out of every day.
Absolutely. Let's go back a little bit to the day job, I guess, you'll put it - the Boston Marathon. How did you get involved with that? That was back in '88, was it? The first time you directed the race? How did that transition into working with the BAA and directing the race? How did that come about?
Well, first of all, you've done your homework, I can tell. My goodness. You get all your facts squared away there. Good for you. Well, I started running in the marathon in 1972. I was a senior in high school. I decided as a runner that - I heard about the marathon - I was going to run in the marathon, but you had to be 18. So I guess you could say I was sort of an unregistered runner - a bandit, affectionately, what we call them now. And it wasn't that there were qualifying standards. It's just that you had to be 18, and I was 17. But long story short, I ran that year's race and dropped out in the hills about 20 miles, and got taken to the local hospital in an ambulance. My parents came and picked me up and I just vowed to come back next year and run it, which I did, and I was officially registered, and I was able to complete it. And I said to myself, "I'm going to run this race every year for the rest of my life." Lucky for me, I've done just that - 51 years in a row this past April, but 15 years into it. There was an opportunity to get involved with the marathon because, in 1987, there was a wheelchair accident at the start where the gun fired and the wheelchairs took off and it's a steep downhill for the first half mile. One chair went down and another went down and another one down and it wasn't a pretty scene. And then, that same year, the BAA used to have some officials hold a rope at the start just to keep the runners back. Then, obviously, they're supposed to remove the rope and then fire the gun. Well, they fired the gun first and didn't remove the rope and some runners-- in fact, the defending champion that year, Rob de Castella from Australia actually tripped and did a roll and got back up. But the whole start of that year's race was a little bit shaky. So the BAA felt that maybe they needed to find somebody who could pay a little bit more attention to how all that goes. So they advertised the position, I applied, and I got the job. My first title was technical coordinator. That was just the generic name of the position that they created for me. And so in 1988, I was a technical coordinator, but my main focus was the start. Basically, I implemented a wheelchair control start for the first half mile, whereas the gun would fire and I had State Police motorcycles in front of the wheelchairs, and they brought the wheelchair down the course first half mile at a very pedestrian pace like 12 miles an hour. And then, the motorcycles took off and the wheelchairs began to race. So that helped save the division because, otherwise, there was a discussion about maybe it's too dangerous and we shouldn't allow wheelchairs to continue in this race. So for the next 30 years, that's the way we did it without incident. And as far as the rope, all I did was remove the rope. I put a human chain of volunteers there. So I tell everyone, "They hired me, I removed a rope, and I've had the job ever since." But as I got more and more involved with the marathon, my role expanded and I started working the course, working the finish, and helping to do all the operations and the logistics and eventually, my title was changed to race director of the marathon. So that's been my title up until this past year. They've made some changes internally, brought some operations in-house, and divided up some of the roles and responsibilities. So they changed my title to race course director because my focus is more of the course now than anything. So it went from technical coordinator to technical director, to race director, to race course director. So I've had a bunch of titles throughout the last 37 years.
We're discussing sort of '87, '88. And for most people listening in, particularly since the running boom is a fairly recent thing, including myself, we all went into it in the 2000s, going back this far sounds like a completely different time. Of course, the race was actually first run in 1897. I think most people listening in would know that, but it is mind-boggling to think that this race has been going on for 100-odd years already - like, continuously run - which I guess is part of the amazing appeal the race has for runners. It also used to be - it still is - very, very tough to qualify. I think, if I'm not mistaken, it's not the toughest to qualify these days. Is it?
What do you mean?
In terms of qualifying times for age groups.
Yeah, I mean, the qualifying times are a little bit more relaxed today than they were in the late 80s, for sure. You had to run under three hours or something like that. And then, we loosened them up because the field size increased, so we could accommodate more. And then we got to the point where almost the opposite happened. More and more people qualified. And so we started thinking about tightening the standards more because the fact of the matter is, is that, at least personally, anyways, from my perspective, I'd rather have people actually not qualify and not get in that way versus to qualify, and then have us turn them away at the registration process because we build the field size. So we're always looking at those qualifying standards based on what the market is doing. And the whole reason why the standards were imposed, to begin with, was, back in the day, in the late 70s, the race was growing, it was a total volunteer organisation. And believe it or not, it was getting up to 1,000 runners and, to the BAA at the time, that was a lot. And they said, "We need to impose some mechanism by which we control this field size." So if we say you have to run under three hours, then that's going to reduce the number of people that could potentially run in this race. So that's what they did. But it almost backfired because, because they impose standards in qualifying times, that intrigued runners even more saying, "Oh, I want to qualify for the Boston Marathon," and it incentivized them to train harder and run faster. So even more people now want to run the Boston Marathon because of the qualifying standards than before they had the qualifying standards. So it's kind of up and down and up and down over the years. In 2007, I think we filled in eight hours and seven minutes. And so right after, we had to shut it down. We were getting a lot of emails that people were really frustrated because it had previously taken, like, seven months to fill. We opened in September and people could still register in March. And here, we opened in September and, eight hours later, we shut it down. Nobody who hadn't registered that day ever expected that to happen. And even though they qualified, we were closed. That was funny because I was getting emails from my colleagues and peers, race directors from all over the country saying, "Congratulations, you guys filled in eight hours. You must be so thrilled and so happy." I said, "So thrilled and so happy? I'm hiding under my bed. I feel crazy. I'm getting people ready to, like, you-know-what me because they didn't get in." I said, "We're got to fix this. This can't happen again." And that's when we went with a whole different system the next year where we said, "There's a registration window." And it's all about, now, how much you beat your qualifying time by, not that you're qualified. Just because you're qualified does no longer guarantee you a place. It guarantees that you can apply. And then once everyone's in the vault, then we compare you against everyone else, your age, your gender, and we take the best of the best. And that's really what Boston has been about over the years is the pursuit of athletic excellence. Right? And that's the most attractive part about this race. This is everyone's sort of Olympic Games who otherwise couldn't run in the Olympic Games. "I can't run in the Olympic Games. I want to beat you. I want to beat you. I want to be Boston-qualified." So it's been a very delicate balance between philanthropy, our charity programme, and the qualifying runners, and how many of these you'd take, how many of those you take, as well as taking care of your sponsors, your cities and towns. So, it's been interesting. And pre-pandemic, we were turning away, maybe, 5,000, 6,000 7,000, 8000 people who had qualified, and then the pandemic came and changed some things. There are less races now to qualify in. So in the last couple of years, everybody who has applied got in. What's going to be interesting is we opened registration for the 2024 Boston Marathon in September. Is that still going to be the case? Or are we going to get more people to apply than we have space for them to run? And will we start to turn away qualified runners again this year for the first time in the last three? Remains to be seen. Nobody knows until we get there.
But as a race - because, as you mentioned before being a race director, you were a participant in the race - it's not one for personal bests and stuff. It's not a particularly easy race compared to the other world marathon majors who are flatter, faster. Like, no one goes to the Boston Marathon for a personal best, do they?
Yes and no. My theory is this. Of course, one would think that flat equals fast. That's not 100% the case for everybody. Just because it's flat doesn't mean I can run my fastest on a very pancake flat course. Sometimes, what I call an undulating course or a rolling course gives people more of an opportunity to have different muscle groups working throughout the course of the race itself. Some people run faster on sort of a rolling course and then get into a pace and not be able to slow down or pick up by running on a flat course. For me, personally, I've run 167 marathons. My fastest marathon is on the Boston Marathon course. My personal best is on that course. Why? Because I live on that. I mean, I train, I live, I know that course as well as anyone on the planet. So I know where the hills are, I know where this is, I know how to do it, I know how to pace myself, I know about running negative splits. I train on similar topography. So to know a course gives you more of an opportunity to run it faster. Right? But to your point, I would agree that, typically, people don't come to the Boston Marathon to run either a world record time or to run a personal best. They come to experience what the Boston Marathon has been all about for the last 127 years.
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Ok, now, let’s get back to the episode…
Let's go back to what happened in 2013, which is sort of the focus of the discussion today, and it's not an easy topic, obviously. Just as a recap for people like-- just a couple of lines on what happened that day. There was a twin bombing near the finish line. Two bombs go off. It's several hours into the race, I think, that that happened. Later, it was discovered that the attack was instigated by two brothers, the Tarnaev brothers. One was killed during the apprehension process and the other one was apprehended. He's currently serving a jail sentence. I was reading there's, like, all kinds of appeals between death sentence and life in prison and all of that kind of stuff. The very sad aftermath of all that, of course, was three people being dead from the bombing and a massive 281 more people being injured. This is April 2013. I guess, from your point of view, going into that race, that 2013 race, it must have felt like any other year, right? I mean, were there any kind of red flags or alerts or, like, heightened scrutiny or anything like that going into that race? Was there any kind of sign that there was an elevated risk?
No, not that I was aware of. And again, we work with our law enforcement, public safety partners, and they are the ones who monitor those kinds of things. Obviously, it's up to them to decide what is for public consumption and what needs to be kept confidential within the law enforcement world. But no. I mean, from a race management perspective, we weren't given any heads up or any tips or any information that there was anything like that, that we would need to be sensitive to. Interestingly, the year before 2012 was the hot year, and it was almost 90 degrees throughout the entire race. And I remember that year so well because we were inches away from potentially cancelling the event, which would have been the first time in a sense that the race would have been cancelled, but we decided to go ahead. We offered different minutes to people who were concerned about the heat, and said, "Hey, if you don't want to run tomorrow, you can defer your entry into next year's race." Over 2,000 took advantage of that because they just knew that 90 degrees is not the best condition to run a marathon in, but the rest showed up. And I remember standing on the status platform that morning, and I said to the runners, "Hey, listen, this is a team effort. There's you and there's us. However, we can't fit all of you in our medical tent. You're all not going to fit. We'll take care of what we can take care of but, really, what it boils down to is personal responsibility. You have to back off, this isn't going to be a personal best day. We want you to be safe. Just get through it. Don't be a hero. Don't push it - the whole bit." Even so, we treated 2200 People in our medical tents. We transported 250 to area hospitals. I mean, it was hard. It was really hot. Thank goodness, no one died or anything but, still, that was a hard day and a hard year. So when 2013 came, the weather forecast was almost perfect conditions. I woke up that morning and I went, "Finally, we got a good one! Today's gonna be awesome. Today's going to be great." So I get to the start at about four in the morning and start setting things up. Athletes are arriving. And right before the start, we had a 26 seconds - interesting number-- 26 seconds moment of silence for the victims of the Sandy Hook tragedy that occurred at that school only a little bit before then. You could hear a pin drop. It was amazing how people just really stood and paid tribute to those people who died in that massacre. A little bit I know that only a few hours later and, ironically, 26 miles down the road, we would be experiencing our own tragedy that day. Didn't know that then. Well, the racers all took off and I got on my lead motor scooter and went down course and got to the finish. As soon as I got to the finish, I saw my family in the bleachers and I went up and gave them a hug - my wife and daughter and son. Then I'm going about my business, checking everything out, meeting up with team captains, going in the medical tent - hardly any business compared to the year before. I was like, "Wow, this is awesome. What a great day." Hardly anyone is in there. Hung out for a while. Then, I said, "You know, things are just going along really well." I kind of check in with the team and see if it's okay if I head back to the start to do my run - as I run it nighttime now. They say, "Oh yeah, yeah, beat it. Go ahead. We're good. Okay, fine. Yeah, see you." Bang. I head out to the start. I get there around three in the afternoon - 3.15. All of a sudden, it's around 10 minutes to four, and I'm standing at the starting line. I had state police with me to escort me down course, and my phone rings, and it's a friend at the finish saying, "Hey, there have been two explosions at the finish line. You might want to get back here." I'm thinking of building or generators. I wasn't thinking of bombs. So I got in the car and state police escorted me back, going like 100 miles an hour. And I'm calling my family to make sure they're okay. Cell service gets knocked out. I can't even get a hold of my own family, who I just gave a hug to a few hours before, and now I'm finding out they weren't only just explosions, they were bombs. Like, where did they go off? Did they go up underneath the bleachers where my family was? Like, Are they okay? So we got back and the whole finish area had been evacuated, for the most part, by then. But I was able to get myself into the security area. The first thing I did was I went into the medical tent to see what was going on, and I had been in there a couple of hours before and there was nothing going on. When I went in this time, it was jam, but not with runners. I couldn't believe myself and I turned to one of the head EMS folks, and I said, "What do we got?" He goes, "Two gone." So I said, "Well, I gotta go find my family." And I knew runners were being stopped about a mile away - a little less than a mile away - and there were about projected 6,500 runners that were just standing out on the course, wondering what's going on at the finish, when were they going to be able to move, and I'm going up to the finish to find my family. A police officer stops me to say, "Where are you going?" I said, "I'm going up to the finish to find my family." He says, "You can't go up there." I said, "Well, I'm the race director. Here's my ID." He said, "Well, it's not your race anymore." Not my race anymore? And I realised how serious this was. And I still couldn't find my family. So I said, "Well, I gotta get back to work. I gotta focus on my job. They're doing their job. I gotta do my job. I got to figure out what we're going to do with these 6,500 runners." So I went down to where the gear buses were, where their gear was, because I didn't think they're gonna leave the area until they got their bag, because their car keys are in it or their hotel room keys or whatever they put in their bags. They wanted to get the bag and then get out but the police wouldn't let them in because they were fearful that there were other devices that might go off. How are we going to get rid of these 6,500 people if we don't let them in, but you can't let them in because it's unsafe to do so? So I commandered a bunch of volunteers and with some help from other team members from the BAA, and a lot of people were in lockdown in the hotel and other buildings. So they couldn't even come out to help because they weren't allowed to. So I just said to the police, "If we're not gonna let the run is in, can we get their bags and bring them out, and then let them get the bag and go?" So they said, "Okay." So we took 6,500 bags off of buses over the course of up to three hours. Runners were taking their bags. The eerie thing is, like, we're carrying a bag to put it down, and there's a phone in there and the cell phones going off, and you knew what was happening. Someone from around the country around the world heard about this and was calling their loved one to find out if they were okay, and no one was answering the phone obviously because it's in my hand. I couldn't answer every phone. I didn't even know where these people were either. So, we went through that whole process for four or five hours or so. And then, we reconvened as an organisation. We went into the host hotel and just tried to figure out what we're going to do and try to support one another and try to get through this together as a team.
So to jump ahead, a day or two later, I left the city of Boston and I was able to get home. And when I got home, my son came up to me and he was just kind of looking at me and he actually ended up gaving me a hug and he said, "Hey dad, I never want you to direct that race again," because he associated my job with danger. And so it was really eye-opening for me because that's when I realised that this impact-- there were more people impacted by this than those who are impacted physically, and people from my own family, people from around the country, around the world were impacted by what happened on that day.
I mean, it is a completely unbelievable position to be in from a human point of view, from a race director point of view, being responsible for others. As you say, in your situation, you had to be rushing back. Who knows what went through your mind looking for your family and still having stuff to do. Was your personal safety sort of front of mind - or the safety of your team members - after the bombings while you were doing all this stuff - taking bags out and stuff? Because the interesting point I find is that, now, we know what happened, right? Now, we know there were two bombs that were set off in the spectator area. There were no more bombs and stuff. But at that point, no one knew whether there was more risk. You were handling bags, as you said. It must have been a very stressful situation caring about yourself and your team doing that.
It's interesting. You read all the stories all the time about incidences where people run into burning buildings or trying to rescue people in a car accident, not knowing whether the car is gonna catch on fire, or whatever it might be, or somebody who's been attacked, you try to help save them and it's strange because the last thing you're probably thinking about is yourself. You're reacting and responding, and you want to help, you want to save. So I didn't think once about-- honest to God, I didn't think once about me and my safety when I was in that security area during that time. I did think about these people. I was asking if they'd be willing to help because I said, they should just evacuate too. But they had the same mindset that, "No, people need help." And even when you think about the first responders, as they call them, once the bombs went off, people ran towards the bomb sites. They didn't run away from them. Their first reaction was that they wanted to help save a life. And I think it kicks in for most of us - maybe not all, but most of us, our first instinct is just to help somebody. And so, that's what we were going through there. Again, people ask questions like, "Well, did you ever prepare for bombs going off at the finish line?" I didn't. As a race director, I don't know what law enforcement was doing and public safety and what they go through in their own hypothetical tabletop sessions. I'm sure they go through all that kind of thing on a regular basis about any mass participatory event. Of course, they do, but not those of us who put on a fun family-friendly event. Right? Why would you think along those lines? You wouldn't think to plan for something like that. But the thing that I think saved us is that we did two hypothetical tabletop sessions. We did talk about if something happened and the bleachers collapsed, or the photo bridge-- something happened, or there was a building fire right there at the finish. We even, like, in advance, instead of our course going up Hereford Street down Boylston Street-- and in advance, what we do is we certify finish lines in other locations in case we can't go the specific course. We still want to see if we can salvage the event by having them cross another finish line away from an area that might now need to be shut down for whatever reason, and still get credit for running a marathon distance. So we think about this stuff in advance. There's a lot more that goes on behind the scenes and behind the curtain than just plan A. You're working on plans B, C, and D all at the same time because you want to be proactive, not always reactive all the time. And the thing that I love about these exercises that we do is-- it gives me one thing that I always need if I'm the one that's there that has to make the call and its confidence. You can't hesitate. You can't stutter. You have to be confident in your decision-making. Well, confidence only comes from input and information and having thought about it before. You don't have time to convene a committee. You don't have time to, like, "Well, if this, then that." It's going on right in front of you. You have to act. But that's instinct based on preparation and planning in advance. So did we, as an organisation, plan for bombs to go up at the finish line? If that did happen, I wasn't part of it. But we did plan for certain things, catastrophes happening - how would we respond to those? And I think I think that with what did happen, that response, that planning came into play. That's what saved us and helped save lives.
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that's what they say in many of these circumstances. You can't have a playbook for every single thing in the world, right? So you need to have an experienced team that works well together, so they can improvise and think on their feet, and deal with anything that might be thrown at them. Right?
Yeah. And you have to be aware of the assets you have. Listen, God forbid, but no place is a good place for bombs to go off. But if there was a place, we already had 500 to 1,000 medical personnel right there a couple of 100 yards away. I mean, there were more medical personnel there than probably in one of the local hospitals, right? God forbid, that happened at the start. I mean, not only are there more people there all at the same time jam-packed, but there's not even close to as many medical personnel there. You don't need them at the start. Only need them if someone needs a band-aid or something. Yeah, you plan for, like, if something bad were to happen, but you don't have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of medical personnel at the start, but you do at the finish. But their whole role is to take care of runners who have heat exhaustion or have some kind of-- they're just tired not to take care of bomb victims, but they did.
You mentioned that while there wasn't a protocol, there were lots of what-ifs and lots of other types of training that helped prepare you for this in a kind of indirect way. What is your personal philosophy when things like this happen? Are you the kind of team that is quite decentralised and, like, people on the ground are allowed and may be encouraged to take initiative and run with it? Or do you find the better approach is a more kind of, like, centralised command, just getting the information back to someone like yourself, synthesising it, and then getting back to teams? Do you have any views on what might work better in a situation like this?
I think you need both. And it's a case by case. For example, if it's a situation where weather is coming and you've got, like, where there are 30,000 people at the start and it's an hour before the start of the race, everything is going through the unified command centre. The weather, the this, public safety, cities and towns, race management company, the time - everyone's communicating with each other through a central station centre. You may get your direction from that unified command centre as to, "Okay, we're going to be on hold for a half hour. We've got the sense that the weather is going to pass and we should be good to go in 30 minutes. Let's stay in touch. Blah, blah, blah." So not one person standing at the starting line is making that decision. However, all of a sudden, gun fires and the race is going down course and, just all of a sudden, a bunch of people chained together, run out in the middle of the street, and they're protesting something right in front, then somebody who's right there at the time needs to make the call. What happens? Does the race just all of a sudden stop? Does it get redirected down a side street and circumvent the impacted area? There might be one police officer sergeant who's standing right there at the time that needs to make that call because he has no time to be making phone calls or getting on his two-way radio because it's about to happen in the next 20 seconds. So it's both, and that's why I am such a firm believer of communication, communication, communication, planning, planning, planning, and not only planning But the senior administration senior advises key leadership, but boots on the ground. It's the people who are there on event day that this information needs to trickle down to, or they need to be in on these meetings, too. You can't just have the captain or the superintendent in the meetings. You've got to have those people who are the lieutenants, and the captains, and the sergeants, and whoever is going to be working that day part of this whole process too, because, I mean, it's not fair or right to put the burden of responsibility on them if they don't have all the information that they need to make an intelligent decision, an informed decision.
Speaking of cancelling the race, I guess, after what happened in 2013 after the bombs went off, was there-- I mean, I can't even think there was, like, a formal-- given the chaos and everything going on, did someone actually say the race is cancelled or something? What happens at that point? Are runners just pulled off the street? What happens?
That was a good question. I wasn't there, so I can't answer that question with 100% accuracy. But my understanding is, as soon as bombs go off, the race-- that's why the police officer said to me, "It's no longer your race." In other words, it's a crime scene now. law enforcement totally takes over. We're there to assist them. And someone within the unified command centre, someone within the Boston Police Department made a decision to not send the runners down Boylston Street. So police officers, up course, ran out right in the middle of the street, and just put their hands up, and said, "Stop, stop." No one said the race was cancelled at that very moment. They just said, the first stage or step was no more going down Boylston Street. It's a crime scene. More bombs? We don't know. Stop. So in a sense, the race is over because you just stop them. Is the event over? I don't know, yet. And then, obviously, once everyone recognise the severity of what happened, then we had to redirect the runners and send them in a different direction and not down the race course. And for them, none of them really got a finish time or anything like that. They all did end up getting a finisher medal, and I believe we extrapolated their time as to what their pace was going over that checkpoint right before they were stopped, and then added that amount of time that would have taken them at that pace to cross the finish line, and that's the time we gave them. But at the same time, we invited all of them to come back the next year. The 6,500 runners were invited to come back to run in the 2014 Boston Marathon.
Was there an effort in the hours after the bombing or maybe the next day, given the severity of the situation and all that had to be done, to actually account for every runner, like, to make sure that people were safe, that they had somehow found their way home or something like that - just to tick boxes to make sure that everyone in the race was okay?
Yeah, I mean, you can imagine what that kind of effort would take because it's hard to know where every single person's whereabout is. But, obviously, we had data as to who crossed the finish line. But again, we were told to evacuate too and, sometimes, when you evacuate, you don't have access anymore. So we obviously knew that if somebody contacted us saying they don't know where their loved one is, then we would focus on trying to track down that person. Eventually, everyone was located and everyone that didn't finish was safe. But at that moment, it was more, I think, about taking care of the wounded and it was to try to find people who others didn't know where they were. But everything was happening simultaneously.
It was a lower priority, I guess, at that point, given what was happening, right?
During that time, you're told this is not your race anymore. I mean, I guess you're the race director, so that could have been the end of it for you. While you were doing your own thing with a team going through the motions, taking the bags off and all that stuff, how is the communication with the emergency services supposed to run in a situation like this? Like, was someone keeping you informed? Were you supposed to keep the emergency services informed? Because you said the communication with a team run, sort of, like, clockwork, but in terms of how you and your team worked with the police, with the ambulance service, with the fire service, all of that stuff, how did that work?
Yeah, even though the cell service got knocked out temporarily, we still had our two-way radios, and we did still have some amateur radio operators that were still there and helping us communicate with the unified command centre, with the Boston Police Department. Law enforcement commandeered one of the ballrooms - I think it was in one of the hotels right there at the finish line. So I just went up there just to see what was going on up there for a little time, and then I said, "I gotta get back out on the street and help figure out what our next move is going to be." So they had assembled themselves literally right there pretty much at the finish. And so law enforcement was managing all of that while we, on the race management team, was strictly focused on the runners who were stopped and trying to figure out how do we communicate with them, how do we get them in their gear bag, how do we get them away from the affected area in a safe manner. And again, there weren't a whole lot of us because the place had been evacuated.
At what point did you and your team thought, "Okay, we're sort of done here"? Was it the next day? How long did you stick around doing stuff?
A few days. I mean, the Feds controlled it from there because it was a crime scene. And we ourselves couldn't even go to the finish line and gather up our equipment or survey the area until they gave us Boylston Street back. We couldn't even step on Boylston Street, but some of us-- I mean, I think I stayed for the next two nights. And then, some of us had to put on hazmat suits and go into the medical tent and start cleaning that all up, which was hard to do- to do it the right way under medical supervision - and we eventually started collecting up all the equipment. Everything was all over the road - tables knocked over, all that kind of stuff - so we had to clean that all up over the next few days. Some of the runners who didn't get the gear bag had to come back the next day, so we had to take what was left, put it in a building, and then runners came the next few days, and eventually picked up their gear bag. And as they did, we gave them a medal. So we were doing some of that work over the course of the next two or three days.
Hearing you describe all that, it must have been exhausting on the team, not only physically but mentally. It must have been a very, very tough few days, and a very tough job to go through - seeing all these, having to deal with all this when it eventually struck home because, as you say, I'm guessing, the first couple of days, it was all, like, do, do, do. But then the dust settles, you look back, how was the mood in the team once you had a chance to catch up with them?
Yeah. You have the game face on sometimes. Sometimes, you're not affected by something like this until, like, a week later when you start thinking back about it once you're maybe by yourself. You're out on a run and you start thinking about what just happened, and then that emotionally can start working at you at that time. The day after the race, one of the elite athletes came up to me who I know and we were just talking about it. She said, "I don't know that I can ever come back." Again, the whole concept of a family-fun-friendly event turned into something that was not that anymore. But then, over the next couple of days, the opposite happened. Not only the city of Boston or the region or the world started sending us letters, cards, posters, and banners, and just the office was just like a museum, just full of Boston Strong and we will not be denied and we're coming back, and we're taking back our race, and we're taking back Boylston Street. And we're all thinking how are we going to do this? And typically, sort of the day after - or at least a week after - we start doing after-action reports and just critiquing the event, the good, the bad, and not so good, start thinking about next year and what we can do to improve upon it. Well, we haven't even got to do that at all about the race itself. We were so focused on the recovery. So we didn't even start planning for 2014 for three or four months when we normally do a week or two after that year's race. And then, the added challenge was the world wanted to come. How do you decide who's in, who isn't? Then we decided, first thing, to invite back the 6,500 that got stopped. Well, then, 65 added on top of-- at the time, it was 27,000. But then, all these other people wanted to come, so we increased the field size by another way, which was another 9,000 people. So we went from 27 to 36 in 2014, which was our second-largest race ever in the history of the marathon. But we had the second largest race in the history of the marathon coupled with the highest level of heightened security you could ever imagine. Like, how are we going to do this? And what is the security plan? And it was interesting. I remember asking, "Are we going to build security around the event? Are they going to want us to build the event around security?" And the initial reaction was, "No, you plan your event, we'll build security around it." And as we went along, the opposite really was happening. They had to make a decision first as to what was allowable and what wasn't, what was going to be more highly secure than ever before, and what we could or couldn't do. So we couldn't make plans until we knew what their plans were. So we were just doing assumptions the whole way for, like, six months. Can we put a tent there? Can we put a truck there? Can we transport gear bags from the start to the finish? No more? Well, if you can't transport gear bags when they cross the finish line with their stuff, well, you gotta come up with a different plan. Oh, well, that's a different plan for the first time in 100 years. So part of it was almost, like, starting all over again with the second-highest number of participants and the highest level of security the race has ever seen. So it was a daunting challenge to do that. And then the race came and you couldn't have written a better script. Right? I mean, the crowd along the course-- I've ridden in the lead of the race for the last 30-some odd years on motor scooter and stuff, so I'm very aware of the entire course where there are packs and where there's a little less than-- and oh my goodness, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. And what I was seeing more than anything was people holding signs. I'd never seen so many signs in my life about, we're gonna persevere, Boston Strong. I mean, people were just so glad to be back and cheering on the runners, and cheering on freedom more than anything. And then, you get someone like Meb Keflezighi wins, and it was funny. Meb and I are good friends, and we went out to dinner a couple of nights before. Walking back to the hotel, I said, "If you don't mind, what's your plan for Monday?" He says, "Well, my plan is--" he tells me his plan. Oh, the gun fires. I'm on the lead motor scooter. I said that son of a gun is doing exactly what he said he was going to do, and where he's going to make his move. I mean, he so desperately, in his head, wanted to win. The first time, an American would have won this race in 20 years or whatever it was - 30 years. He had the names of the four victims on his bib number who died that day, and that goes on to win, and it was epic. It was the most memorable Boston marathon of all times - 2014. That's when I grabbed onto the moniker or the mantra, "The comeback is always stronger than the setback", and it was just that, that day,
I don't think people expected anything less of the race and of the team and of the people and of the city. As you said, the months that you spent focusing on security, like, it's mind-boggling because - obviously, we have hundreds of race directors listening in - it is unfathomable to consider how to beef up security in a marathon that is, like, completely open to spectators, anyone can show up. It almost feels like a pointless task in a way, but you need to try - right? I mean, you need to be practical about it and try to get started somewhere, I guess. Was that the approach? Because I can also see very easily sort of spiralling out of control, particularly with the trauma of what had happened.
Yeah. I mean, it's, again, a delicate balance. And to your point, you have to try and you have to show an effort. And you have to at least give people the impression that we're out there, we're watching, because if you just lay down and do nothing, because you said, "Anyone can do anything they want, anytime they want, this seepage everywhere, maybe, but maybe not. They don't know. And so I think you have to make the effort to show that there is a significant amount of security throughout the entire event. And again, that's up to law enforcement to determine what that is. Prior to 2013, I think we were rated. You don't get rated, and we're rated what's called a SEER 2 level event, meaning what type of assets get allocated to the event and how much federal assets get allocated. And it's SEER 1 with, like, Superbowl or the inauguration of the President, whatever it might be. And then, of course, in 2014, we went right up to SEER 1, which meant that we did receive a lot of federal assets. So it wasn't just local law enforcement, but it was local, state, and federal. So a lot of law enforcement assets were deployed and continued to be deployed at the same level. Even though we haven't had an incident like that - thank God - for 10 years, maybe we haven't because of the amount of law enforcement that's out there, and folks who might have thought about doing something like this said no because of the amount of security. A lot of us said, in 2014, right before the race, that I think the safest place to be in America right now is right here at the Boston Marathon because there's so much support that has been dedicated to the event. I think that's still the case.
Do you think that the race experience has been impacted at all by any additional measures that were taken in 2014?
Maybe in the first year after the bombing because people have to get used to a different way. Those who have been here year after year, we're creatures of habit. "We used to be able to bring that bag to Hopkinton and have it brought back to the finish line. We can't do that anymore. That stinks." Whatever they may say. But eventually, they sort of buy into that new normal, if you will, and they accept it. And I think people recognise it's only to their benefit that they go through this kind of procedure in order to ensure their safety. So how can you argue with something like that? So, no, I think everything is fine right now in terms of people feeling inconvenienced. I don't think so.
I read somewhere, the very long-standing, I guess, unwritten policy of the race towards bandits, which was quite welcoming of people like that, like, taking part in the race in a controlled and-- there was a kind of, like, agreement how bandits would take part in the race that sort of switched after 2013 - maybe the attitudes towards bandits because there are people who are unregistered - because the security risks may have changed. Is that the case?
Again as far as pre-2013, yeah, there were a lot of people who jumped in the race who weren't registered - i.e. bandits. I don't know that. We certainly didn't encourage that, but there wasn't a lot in place that we could do to prevent it. So it just grew on its own. But we knew in advance that we needed to plan for that because it was going to happen. So let's just say we would have 25,000 people in the race registered. We needed to sort of plan for 28,000 because we knew that maybe 3,000 unregistered runners were going to show up at the start. And would they take water, would they use our portable restrooms, would they take up space? Yes, yes. And yes. So even though you only had 25,000 registered, you needed to plan for something greater than that. The unfortunate part about it is that there was no way to know who they are, and what their level of fitness was. We couldn't keep track of them, and didn't know when they were going to show up. And if they did run, then if they became a medical encounter, you have to treat them. You can't just ignore them. So all that headache comes into play. But then after the bombing, there was so much security that the bandit sort of phenomenon almost went away entirely, at the start, anyways. There are very few bandits that jump in the marathon at the start anymore, the way it used to be. The only thing we see a little of is maybe someone jumping in along the course to run with a loved one the last few miles, and even that we don't encourage, obviously, because we don't know who they are. Law enforcement is not happy with it because we don't know who they are - someone out on the course who doesn't belong. But for the most part, and I'm not saying this is the silver lining and there's any silver lining to the bombing but, the impact of the bombing was that it pretty much subsided the concept of running in the race unregistered. That doesn't happen that much anymore.
Do you think that whatever additional measures were taken in 2014, I guess, at that point, maybe some of them as part of an emergency kind of beefing up of measures? Do you think any of that will be rolled back? Or is it going to be, like, the new normal going forward forever?
I think a lot of what our law enforcement is sensitive to is not only what's going on right here where we live, but what's going on in the world. If you just look at the concept of blocking vehicles on perpendicular roadways, the amount of dump trucks, or school buses, or backhoes or whatever is put out there to block anything from coming on to the course, I mean, that never happened 15 years ago, and now, just that effort of securing that many vehicles of that nature, and then putting them there and the whole bit-- but do I see the day coming when they're gonna say, "Oh, everything's safe. We don't have to do this anymore"? I doubt it. I doubt it. I don't think anyone wants to take that chance to roll it back, and then have something bad happen. I mean, as a civilian, someone who's not in law enforcement, I might look at some of that and say, "Really? Nothing has happened since. Can we just relax this a little bit.? But that's my naive, ignorant way of doing business. I'm not as sensitive to all the craziness that's going on out there in the world as they are. And as far as I'm concerned, if I'm one of the runners in the race and they got blocking vehicles all the way down course, fine with me. It's one less vehicle that's going to come out on the course and get me. So whatever they feel is necessary, is what we need to continue to do.
Well, yeah. And actually, on the back of what happened in Boston, one of the more immediate impacts of that was on similar events across the world. Unfortunately, Boston was the one to be impacted but, by this-- unfortunately, it might have been some event that had to be impacted for these additional measures to be put in place. But most other events in the world - London, New York, other places - benefited, I guess, quite a lot from additional measures being put in place.
I think so. I mean, I don't see many events that I go to now that haven't ramped up their security measures since 2013. But again, everyone has to decide for themselves what their tolerance level is for risk assessment and what that might be in their neck of the woods. I mean, I don't know if one race is more of a target than another. I don't know what goes into the minds of these people as to why here and not there. We're all targets. And so we just got to be vigilant. I mean, it's really what it boils down to is you can't relax. You have to be on your toes. You have to be watching out. You have to plan for the worst and hope for the best.
I guess for you now and the people in your team that were there in 2013 showing up on race day, it must be very difficult to escape, going back, at least, momentarily, to the events of the day, right?
I mean, I'm standing on the start line and there are helicopters and 30,000 runners and media from all over the world, and I'm saying to myself, "Talk about being a target." And so I'm looking around-- why wouldn't you, right? But I mean, I don't expect anything and I know I'm safe, but I might be just a tad more sensitive about my surroundings than maybe I was in 2012 and before. Just awareness is the key to a lot of this.
I sincerely hope it is the last incident of this nature we get. We haven't had one since, which is great. And I think it was particularly shocking. I can't quite put into words why this happened in Boston because of all the history and how the race started out of the Olympic ideal, which is all centred around peace. And for that to happen in Boston, I think, sort of hurt a little bit more because of all of that stuff. I sincerely hope this is the last we see of it. Do you think if someone on the back of this podcast may want to reach out to you, they can do that?
Of course, we're all in this together.
How can people reach out to you?
They can get my information on our website, which is just dmsesports.com. And my contact information is up there.
And the foundation-- is there a way that people can support the work you do there?
Yeah, it's davemcgillivrayfoundation.org.
Awesome. I want to thank you very, very much for this discussion today. I hope we didn't dig up too many bad memories in the course of it. The whole point of this was, basically, as I think we discussed before the podcast, to give people some insight into being a race director in that situation. Hopefully, none of the people listening in will have to go through this, but it's still interesting to hear what you went through and what the team went through, and your response to the whole team. So I hope it was helpful to people from that point of view. And I want to thank you very, very much for this. Also, I want to thank, incidentally, the BAA who greenlighted this and who obviously has a very, very big say and a very big stake in this whole thing. So thank you very much for everything you've done for the race, for the industry, and for coming on to the podcast. It was a real, real pleasure having you here. I hope you enjoyed it.
Definitely. And, again, I'll just emphasise, it's always about the team, right? I'm just one individual that has personal experiences. All I shared with you is my personal experiences. Other people had their own experiences that could have been very different, could have been much the same. But at the end of the day, it's not about any one individual. It's about the team that comes together to support one another and get you through what otherwise would be an impossible task. We were able to get through it and be able to come back and, like I said, the comeback was so much stronger than the setback and continues to be.
Absolutely. Thanks again and thanks to everyone listening in. And we'll see you all on our next podcast.
Thank you for listening to today’s episode on the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing with Boston Marathon race director, Dave McGillivray.
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