Coach Bill Squires is one of the most enigmatic coaches in our sport. I first met Coach in the mid 1980s, through one of my training buddies, Kim Wrinkle. Coach took me in as one of his own, helped me with my training and also helped me apply for a coaching position.
Coach Bill Squires:
By Joe Reardon
Bill Squires knew very early in life that his running talent would bring him to a certain level and he’d have to struggle to stay afloat. Born with a damaged aorta, the legendary Greater Boston Track Club patriarch still reeled off a 4:07 mile while attending Notre Dame, but when the pace was closer to 4 minutes, Squires’ body would rebel and he could feel the “gorging of blood” readying to attack.
“I’ve coached 4-minute milers and I knew I could have done it,” said the colorful Squires, who turned 80-years-old last November. “I held the world record for the three-quarter mile, but the minute I got over three-quarters of a mile I would taste blood. My aorta valve was deformed and was very, very small. If I wanted to run a real fast mile, I was in trouble. I brought guys to a 4-minute mile. They’d say, ‘would you lead me three-quarters Bill.’ It would hurt me mentally. That would be like someone in some other sport being able to run the bases two thirds off a way but not be able to go any further. I’d teach people how to run 4-minute miles and do the training, but I couldn’t do it.”
Coaches and runners alike first took notice of Squires when his then, virtually unknown protÃ©gÃ©, Bill Rodgers, became the first American to break 2:10 by winning the 1975 Boston Marathon in 2:09:55. Rodgers, who was wearing a makeshift Greater Boston TC singlet, had his breakthrough race a month after at the world cross country championships in Morocco where he captured the bronze medal. It was Rodgers’ sizzling run over the Newton and then and Heartbreak Hill that became a staple of Squires’ athletes
Fast forward to Boston 1979 on a wet, chilly Patriot’s Day afternoon. It was the day the marathon world got a heavy-handed dose of Squires’ GBTC soldiers. Rodgers, who repeated in 1978, ran Japan’s legendary marathoner Toshiko Seko into the ground over the Newton Hills and cruised home with an American and course record of 2:09:27, at the time the fourth fastest in the world. Behind Rodgers, Bobby Hodge, known endearingly as “Hodgie,” finished a surprising third (2:12:30) with Randy Thomas eighth (2:14:12), and Dick Mahoney the king of road racing on the South Shore, 10th (2:14:36), giving the GBTC four runners in the top 10.
Renowned distance coach Arthur Lydiard recognized Squires’ talents immediately and considered him one of the best ever. “Once Americans ruled the world of marathoning,” Lydiard once said. “That’s when Bill Squires was coaching a group of runners in the Boston area. His group was what the Kenyans are today – totally dominating races around the country. Coach Squires is undoubtedly one of the greatest marathon coaches the U.S. has ever seen and indeed one of the best in the world.”
Squires’ brilliance as a coach was the simplicity of his workouts and his revolutionary move of introducing speed to the 26.2-mile distance. Squires preached to his workouts that if they followed his program and ran smart on race day, they’d be home free over the closing miles.
“We knock you out early so when you get to the last four miles it’s a piece of cake,” he said.
While other coaches had their athletes putting in surges of 2, 3 and four minutes, Squires had designed workouts that, when race day came, his runners would put in back-to-back seven minute surges with two minutes rest between to gather steam for another charge.
“I’ve had international athletes who were average athletes,” Squires said. “And they know it. I put speed into distance running. When you train that way and do it, you can beat anyone at the game.”
Squires not only coached the likes of Rodgers, Greg Meyer, Hodge, Mahoney and Alberto Salazar, he also took Beardsley under his wing and mapped out a game plan for the 1982 Boston Marathon. Regarded as “The Duel In The Sun,” Beardsley ran as hard as he could over the hills in an attempt to shake the tenacious Salazar. The race came down to an all-out sprint on Boylston Street where Salazar edged Beardsley, 2:08:52 to 2:08:54.
Squires spoke fondly of the Minnesota farmer. “With every one, they all have a reason for greatness,” Squires explained. “With him, it was picking up 50-pound milk jugs. He was a farmer and tough as hell.”
Coaching has given Squires the opportunity to see the world. Not bad for a kid with a gimpy heart. “God gave me coaching and the athletes I’ve coached,” said Squires reflectively. “I’ve been to 42 countries and I’ve seen everything. I’ve been very blessed.”