In the 26 days leading up to the Boston Marathon on April 21, ESPNBoston.com will share inspiring stories, detail important logistics and go inside the planning for what promises to be an event like no other in the wake of last year's bombings. There are 21 days until the race.
BOSTON -- William B. Evans has heard it all.
He should run the Boston Marathon for a 19th time this year. He shouldn’t run. It sends a strong message. It sends the wrong message.
“People have mixed emotions,” the Boston police commissioner said recently. “I’ve got a lot of people saying, ‘Oh, it shows that we’re resilient. It shows that we’re strong if you go out and run it.’ But my priority obviously is making sure the day goes off well. I’m the police commissioner now. When I signed up, I was the superintendent.
“My role is just making sure that day goes off well. I’ve got to put the city ahead of my own desire to want to run it and participate.”
Which is exactly what those close to him would have expected him to do.
“He’s as real of a guy as you’re ever going to meet,” said Josh Nemzer, the Boston Athletic Association’s operations manager and a longtime friend and running partner of Evans. “Very open and honest, very caring. A dedicated family man.
“He has a passion for the city and his service to the city. There’s nothing he wants to do more than keep the city safe.”
Evans and Nemzer, a pair of early risers, often hit the bricks for morning runs by 5, finish up around 6 and then shower and shove off to be at work by 7.
Both accomplished and dedicated runners, Evans and Nemzer also enjoy the opportunity to sound off on their runs. So who talks more?
“We take turns. He’ll tell you that I never shut up,” Nemzer said with a laugh. “And I’ll tell you that I do a lot of listening,” he said, laughing again. “We’re equally verbose. We just say, 'what is said on the run, stays on the run.' "
It’s safe to say, though, that the issue of whether Evans should run in 2014 has come up. He ran in 2013, but then, as superintendent, the bulk of his responsibilities lay in the run-up to the event rather than on the day of the race.
“I’m signed up because I qualified,” Evans said. “But right now, I’m leaning toward not running it. Because [the marathon is] quite, as you can see, a security undertaking. And I think my priority is the safety of the city and the safety of that marathon. So right now, I’m not running it. I’d love to. You know, I threw it by the mayor, if he wanted me to run it, I would step up.”
And that’s what you need to understand about Evans and the decision of whether to run. A slight man with short hair and long ears framing a narrow face, who speaks with a distinct Boston accent, Evans loves to run. Needs to, even. He likes to say that if he gets in his morning run, there’s nothing he can’t handle.
He’s a runner, and runners want to run -- headwinds be damned.
“Billy knows he has a job to do and he can’t really think of anything else until he knows that job’s been completed,” Nemzer said. “After that, we can figure out the fun part of running.”
Nemzer typically runs the course with Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray after the majority of the runners have finished, and he’s suggested that as an alternative for Evans.
“I don’t know if I can do that,” Evans said. “I’m usually an early-morning runner. My clock will be off a little bit.”
Whatever the final decision, Evans won’t stop running, despite all that comes with being named commissioner by new Boston mayor Martin J. Walsh in January after the retirement of Ed Davis. He’s already done two marathons since last April, including the Hyannis marathon in February.
Evans knows what kind of statement it would make if the Boston police commissioner were confident enough in his department’s preparation to run the marathon. He knows how much he’d like to cross that finish line on Boylston Street again, waving to his wife and kids in the stands.
“Symbolically, that would show it. But if I want to keep my job ...” he said, with a laugh. “Marathons, and I don’t mean to put down Boston, but you know I can find one to do at the end of April or May to run one. Boston is special to me, but the security of the city is more important to me than anything.
“I’m the top dog and unfortunately the buck stops with me. So unless the mayor says, ‘Hey, I’m comfortable, why don’t you do it?’ I’m not doing it.”
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.