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An interview with marathon runner, St. Petersburg race organizer David McGillivray

David McGillivray, who once ran across the country, is organizing a new half marathon and 5K in St. Petersburg.


David McGillivray, who once ran across the country, is organizing a new half marathon and 5K in St. Petersburg.

What motivated you to run across the country?

As a young child, I loved athletics, but I was vertically challenged. (He's about 5 feet 9 now.) Some of my peers stood 6-foot-5 or taller, and that was on a bad day. So it was tough to make the cut. I was usually the last one picked. But I never wanted to be denied an opportunity to participate and looked for alternatives. I decided in running you can't get cut, so I started doing that. Then I started becoming real aggressive in looking for goals. I knew people had biked across America before. I thought why not run across America. I did the homework and completed the run. That's been the highlight of my career, which also came on the first big event I ever did. Everything else has been anticlimactic after that.

At what point did you start to branch out into organizing running events?

Everything is relative in life. As we get older, our expectations get in line with reality. We try to set ourselves up for success, not failure. I started running a clothing store. Then I was director of promotions for a shoe company. But no one was really into the event management concept of races. I wanted to downsize, got everything else in line and really started focusing on organizing events. I think I've organized more than 800 events in the last 20-30 years.

What is the toughest thing about organizing a large race?

The two biggest obstacles are getting permission and getting financing. You have to make sure the race is in everyone's best interest. You have to agree on how long the roads are going to be closed, those kinds of things. Then you have to prove yourself to corporate America that it's a worthwhile venture. And probably the most important part of the race is the course. You want it to be a first-class event with a course that's unique to the venue and has a strong vision from start to finish.

Why did you decide to help organize the St. Petersburg event?

Dawna Stone, editor of Women's Running magazine, came up with the concept and asked if I would consider organizing the event. I thought, let's see, St. Petersburg in November, nice weather. I had to make sure it fit into my individual schedule, but it wasn't too hard of a decision. It's a great area for a race with roads so close to the water.

Why have running events become so popular in the past few years?

I think there's a real phenomenon that is occurring right now in the industry. Before events were viewed as strictly for those who are competitive and want to win the race. Those who just wanted to finish stayed away. But then a lot of ultracompetitive people got older or tired or family life started to come into play. Those that were really involved in the 1970s and '80s started backing off. Then charity events started coming into play, and there was a lot of goal-setting with individuals. There are now categories for everyone. And it's just exploded. The hardest thing is slowing it down. Races are selling out, and we have to turn people away. But still, it's exciting to see.

Is there one goal you would still like to accomplish as an athlete?

I would like to swim the English Channel. About 20 years ago, I was in England in August and was going to try to do that. But the conditions were never right for the week I was there. So I had to pack my bags and leave. Of course, that was when I didn't have any kids. I have five now. But we'll see.

Bob Putnam can be reached at

David McGillivray ran on rugged trails. He ran out of valleys and over hills. He ran until he was bent at the waist, staggering to find his legs. He ran and ran and ran. In 1978, McGillivray ran from Medford, Ore., to his hometown of Medford, Mass., covering 3,452 miles in a cross-country journey to benefit the Jimmy Fund and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Since then, McGillivray has completed a 24-hour bike and swim and 124 marathons, including 37 consecutive Boston Marathons. But these days, McGillivray, 54, is known more for directing races than running in them. He has organized or consulted on more than 750 events, including the Boston Marathon, U.S. women's marathon trials, Goodwill Games and 1996 Atlanta Olympics. This fall, McGillivray will be the race director for the Women's Running Magazine Women's Half Marathon and 5K in St. Petersburg. McGillivray recently sat down to talk about his epic run in 1978, the explosion of running events and his involvement in the St. Petersburg race.

fast facts

Women's Running Magazine Half Marathon and 5K

When: Nov. 22

Start times: 7:30 a.m.

Where: Downtown St. Petersburg

For: The race will benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

More information:

An interview with marathon runner, St. Petersburg race organizer David McGillivray 06/25/09 [Last modified: Thursday, June 25, 2009 9:45pm]
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