2016-04-22 / Front Page

Boston’s top cop pursues marathon milestone

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

The Maine Coast Marathon is only in the fourth year of its second lease on life, but it is poised for a record run by a runner who may be its most notable entrant yet.

Boston Police Commissioner William Evans confirmed Monday that he will run his 50th marathon during the May 15 event, barring, of course, any unforeseen emergencies.

Evans was scheduled to run his 19th Boston Marathon on Monday, but elected to police the event instead, standing alongside his 2,100 officers. There were no specific threats against the marathon, which still runs under the cloud of 2013, when Chechen siblings set off improvised bombs that killed three and wounded 264. Still, an abundance of caution following the March 22 terrorist attacks in Brussels, Belgium, compelled Evans to withdraw from making a charge for the finish line, and instead keep a watchful eye from the sidelines.

“I had been training, but after Brussels and the threat level going up, I obviously got a little concerned,” Evans said, in a telephone interview from his Boston office Monday, less than an hour after the last runners crossed the line on Boylston Street. “I decided I’d better pull out and focus on the safety of the race. I said, ‘You know what, the best place for me to be is with the men and woman of my department who are policing it.’”

Evans, 57, began running in his mid-20s. Already a member of the Boston Police Department, one of his brothers got him into running and although his attitude about marathoners at the time was, “That’s crazy, I’d never do that,” he soon caught the competitive bug – not to compete against others, but, like all runners, to continually test his own limits, and crack his own best time.

And the medals that adorn his office wall are a testament to his success. Of the 49 marathons Evans has run, about half have clocked in under three hours. His best time: 2 hours and 51 minutes.

“Now, honestly, I’m happy if I do one in under 3:40,” he said with a laugh.

Still, even when he’s not actively training, Evans is up at 4 every morning, knocking out six miles though the streets of South Boston, then racking up another 15 over the weekend.

“I found it was a good way to stay not only physically fit, but mentally fit as well,” he explains. “In our job, there’s a lot of things we have to deal with and I found, for me, what worked best, was to run. I feel like, when I get my run in, there’s nothing I can’t do.

“And these days, I need that more than ever,” Evans said. “In this job as commissioner, there are a lot of things to deal with. But running is when I can unwind. It’s my free time. And even when I’m out on a crime scene early in the morning, and have only had two or three hours of sleep, if I can get that run in I always feel a lot better. I’m a little more relaxed and able to deal with the problems and the challenges that I face.”

Although the Maine Coast Marathon – which originally ran from 1980 to 1987 – has only been around since 2013 in its current iteration, Evans is familiar with the course, and the area. He and his family have owned a summer cottage at Goose Rocks Beach in Kennebunkport for 25 years.

“My wife and I went up to that area before we had children and we just sort of fell in love with that whole Goose Rocks Beach area,” Evans said. “My wife was pregnant with the first of our three children when we got the cottage 25 years ago, and it used to be that, as soon as the kids got out of school for the summer, we’d come up and they’d spend the whole summer up here.”

The kids, now grown, still make the annual trek – the youngest, 17, is a local camp counselor – as does Evans’ wife. But, since taking the commissioner’s job, Evans himself is a rare sight along the shore. He was only able to break away for four days last year.

Still, when here, Evans likes to trace a jogging route from Goose Rocks Beach, up Route 9 past Fortunes Rock, and then to Biddeford Pool and back.

“I love Maine. I love that area. And that’s one of my favorite runs. I love that whole loop through Biddeford Pool,” Evans said.

That unrivaled backdrop is what inspired Biddeford’s Charles Melton to bring the Maine Marathon back.

Founded under the auspices of the Marathon Sports Runners Club, based out of a long-extinct athletic store in Saco, the Maine Coast Marathon had a bright but brief history.

In 1983, Rhode Island resident Roland Davide finished the course in 2:15:13 – a result that stands to this day as the fastest marathon ever run in Maine.

That same year three runners, including Davide, used their Maine Coast times to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. But by 1987 the race was gone, the apparent victim of politics, in both local running clubs and the U.S. presidential race.

“At the time, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush was making a bid for the White House and the Secret Service said, ‘We don’t think we’re going to be able to let you run by here anymore.’

So, from a combination of things, it just went away,” Melton explained in an interview with the Post last year.

But the legend lived on, and it was about five years ago that Melton began to hear stories about the Maine Coast Marathon in local running circles.

Intrigued, he turned up an old course map and, from a blog post about one runner’s experience in the event, made contact with the original race director.

“I started looking at the course and realized that in various races and training runs, I’d done almost the whole thing. I thought, this would be a beautiful race,” Melton said, explaining his desire to bring the race back to life by seeking the blessing of founding organizers to use the “Maine Coast Marathon” moniker.

“I knew using the old name would give the race instant credibility,” he said.

The marathon begins at Kennebunk High School. The finish line is on the campus of the University of New England in Biddeford.

“It took a little while to get approval from the University of New England and I wasn’t able to open registration until November for the race in May 2013,” Melton recalled. “But we still got about 350 runners and it went great.”

In 2014, Melton upped available entries to 750, all of which were snatched up three months before the race.

Last year, the cap was set at 1,000 runners – on par with the race’s heyday – but it did not sell out.

This year’s event, which includes a half marathon on Saturday, May 14, is completely sold out.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Evans said. His most recent marathon was in Houstoin January where he ran a 3:37.

“I’ll be happy with 3:45 in Maine,” Evans said. “That can be a tough course, if you’ve got a tough day with a tough wind.”

Meanwhile, Evans says he won’t stop at 50 marathons. He’ll keep going as long as he can consistently finish in less than 4 hours.

“You get hooked,” he said. “It’s nice to go out on a Saturday and a Sunday and run all around the streets of the city I’m responsible for, but a marathon, especially along the coast of Maine, that’s a real break from the stresses of life.”

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