Photo by Peter Julian
When two bombs exploded near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, Boston Police Superintendent William Evans was still catching his breath after completing the 26.2 mile course in 3 hours and 34 minutes. He quickly swapped his running shorts for a police uniform, and spent the next five days running on-the-ground operations resulting in the dramatic capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Looking back at that week, Evans estimates he slept a total of about 10 hours. The stress was unimaginable. He got through it, he said, by running.
“I remember going out on Wednesday, just two days after [the bombing],” he recalled. “I was out at 4 in the morning because I needed a run so bad.”
On Monday, Evans will run the Boston Marathon for the 21st time, his 54th marathon overall. It will be his first time running the course as Boston College’s executive director of public safety and chief of police, a post he accepted last summer after a decades-long career in law enforcement. Although still responsible for public safety efforts in Chestnut Hill, the weight of the marathon no longer rests on his shoulders.
“I don’t have the concerns or worries that I did before,” he said. “I’m looking forward to running by my colleagues here at BC Police and all the students, and then getting into Boston where all my officers are.”
Evans first started running after joining the police force in the early 80s. At first, he limited himself to shorter distances, ignoring friends and relatives who told him to give marathoning a try.
“People used to say, ‘Do you think you’ll ever do a marathon?’ and I said, ‘Are you crazy? Those people are crazy,’” he recalled. “But then I did one, and I caught the bug.”
When it comes to training, Evans is a creature of habit. He’s up every morning at 4:30, pounding the pavement of South Boston in every kind of weather. During the coldest months, when many runners succumb to the relative comfort of a treadmill, he trades his usual coastal route for an inland one. He never runs with music.
“Running’s been the key to my success. When you think you’re having a bad day, you go on a run and things just seem to be better.”
For the last five years, two friends have taken to joining Evans for his morning runs, but for years he ran alone. During his tenure as police commissioner, he would sometimes return home from a crime scene at 3 in the morning, and go running instead of going to bed.
“I was used to not sleeping a lot,” he acknowledged. “It was neat because I’d run through every neighborhood in the city and it felt like I was keeping an eye on things, like I was the eyes and ears.”
Evans credits running with helping him process the stress that comes with a job in law enforcement. After the bombing, he met with a psychiatrist who confirmed what he’s long believed—that running is just as important for his mental health as it is for his physical well-being.
“I’ve always said, as long as I can get my run in every day, I can deal with anything,” he said. “Running’s been the key to my success. When you think you’re having a bad day, you go on a run and things just seem to be better.”
Marathoning has also given Evans a platform to support causes he cares about. In years past, he’s run for the Martin Richard Foundation, established in memory of the 8-year-old boy killed in the marathon bombing. This year, Evans is raising funds for Journey Forward, a nonprofit based in Canton, Mass. that works to rehabilitate patients with spinal cord injuries.
“They do amazing work helping all kinds of people,” Evans explained. “We have a secret service agent who was paralyzed in a bad car accident and they’ve been working with him to get him back on his feet.”
Joining Evans at the starting line this year will be his eldest son John, who graduated from the Carroll School of Management in 2015. At 25 years old, and with five marathons under his belt already, the younger Evans stands a good chance of beating his father to Heartbreak Hill, where BC students gather every year to cheer runners on.
“I beat him in the first one but now he’s smoking me,” Evans said with a smile. “I’m proud. I couldn’t care less about my time anymore, I’m more into enjoying it. I’m going to keep doing this until my knees won’t let me anymore.”
—Alix Hackett | University Communications | April 2019