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Bill Squires, 89, went the distance as the Boston Marathon’s premier coach

Mr. SquiresHANDOUT PHOTO

Years before Bill Squires became the Boston Marathon’s most dominant coach, he entered the running world inconspicuously, clad in an oversized pair of gym shoes when he walked up to Arlington High School’s track coach in 1950 just days before summer vacation and asked for a chance to race.

At a City of Boston summer meet a few weeks later, competing in the mile for just the second time, he almost outran a 21-year-old college star. That December, he set a Metropolitan Track League indoor mile record, and then lowered his record three times in the next two months.

“Look at him go,” Arlington coach Doc McCarthy told the Globe in April 1951, once the outdoor track season had begun. “Would you ever believe by watching him that he never saw a cinder track until less than a year ago?”

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Mr. Squires, who surprised coaches, competitors, and fans alike during a record-setting career as a premier figure in distance running, was 89 when he died Thursday, according to information his family placed on a funeral home website and in a death notice.

He had resided for four years in Reading, after previously living in Melrose, Quincy, Wakefield, and Arlington, his family said.

So successful was Mr. Squires that various points in his career were festooned with records or unique accomplishments.

At the conclusion of the 1983 Boston Marathon, four runners he had coached held four of the five fastest times posted by US runners in the race: Alberto Salazar (2:08:51), Dick Beardsley (2:08:53), Greg Meyer (2:09), and Bill Rodgers (2:09:27).

Bill Rodgers, right, got some water from his coach, Bill Squires, during the 1980 Boston Marathon.Frank O'Brien/Globe Staff

As a longtime distance runner, Mr. Squires believed that running on the Boston Marathon course itself was the best way to train for the race. That meant putting his runners through the paces during Boston’s wintery bluster.

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“You run in all that wind all winter, and it makes you hard,” he told the Globe in 1980, during his heyday coaching the Greater Boston Track Club.

“Our runners learn how to attack those hills and they don’t have the fear,” he said. “So when it comes they’re waiting for other runners to buckle and give in. Plus, they’re running with four pounds of sweat clothes on in the winter, and come spring, they peel it off and they’re running with four pounds less. It makes a difference.”

His complicated wizardry with words was such that runners sometimes found it cause to worry when they seemed to grasp every point Mr. Squires made.

“Anybody who has ever been coached by Squires wonders if you can interpret everything he’s saying to you,” Meyer told the Globe in 1993.

Shortly before that interview, his wife had been chatting with another top runner and confessed she was worried about Meyer. When the other runner asked why, she replied: “He’s starting to understand Squires.”

However, those who trained under Mr. Squires and took his wisdom to heart often went home with top honors.

In an interview with Scott Douglas for a 2011 Runner’s World profile, Mr. Squires said that “running is a simple sport. You don’t need all the zoopy zoopy” — he invented words when the dictionary couldn’t keep pace with his ideas.

Born on Nov. 24, 1932, William J. Squires initially lived in South Boston and was diagnosed early on with a heart defect.

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Moving as a youth with his family to Arlington, Mr. Squires followed medical advice to stay active, spending up to three hours daily playing various sports.

At Arlington High he narrowed his focus to running and became a repeat state champion in the mile.

During his college career at the University of Notre Dame, Mr. Squires held the individual records for the indoor mile, outdoor mile, and indoor half-mile, according to Paul Clerici, who wrote the 2020 book “Born to Coach: The Story of Bill Squires.”

While serving in the Army after college, Mr. Squires trained Special Services runners and posted a 4:05.6 time in the mile, according to Clerici. By way of comparison, Roger Bannister of England had only broken the mile’s 4-minute barrier in 1954, while Mr. Squires was in college.

As Mr. Squires recalled in the Runner’s World profile, he was back in the United States after his military service and awaiting word on a job application while working out at Wakefield High School when some students asked him to be their running coach.

He turned his high school charges into state champion caliber runners, and then was hired by Boston State College in 1964 to coach its newly-created track program.

While there, he coached his runners to 49 team championships and turned out 16 All-Americans en route to being honored as NCAA coach of the year three times, according to his University of Massachusetts Boston biography.

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He wrote books about running and was the second person to receive the National Distance Running Hall of Fame’s Bill Bowerman Coaching Award. For Mr. Squires, a love of running was as important as all the training.

“I think the most important thing was his enthusiasm and passion,” Rodgers told Runner’s World, recalling being coached by Mr. Squires. “Billy got you fired up.”

By the time Mr. Squires sat for the interviews for Clerici, he had been a runner for decades and was past his dominant coaching years. As professionalism took hold in running, his importance guiding runners in an organization such as the Greater Boston Track Club began to fade.

“So intense were our talks and so intent was he to get all of this on record that within a month after we finished our initial last interview, he suffered a stroke,” Clerici wrote in his book.

Mr. Squires was modest when he spoke to Runner’s World in 2011, saying his hope was “that when I drop there’ll be five or six guys around the United States who say, ‘You know, that friggin’ guy knew what he was doing.’ ”

In 1956, he married Sally Ann Kuhn. They had three children and their marriage ended in divorce. She died in 2018.

On the dedications page of “Born to Coach,” Mr. Squires praised his former wife, their three children, and “all the athletes I have been blessed with — from the greats to the almost-greats — who all paid the price for improvement. I tried to give my best each time, as they did in their performances. Amen.”

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Mr. Squires leaves his daughter, Mary of Quincy; two sons, William Jr. of Reading and Gerard of Stoughton; six grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and three great-great-grandchildren.

A funeral Mass will be said at 11 a.m. Saturday in St. Agnes Church in Reading.

Though Mr. Squires increasingly found himself to be the subject of interviews and profiles as his coaching success grew, he preferred to keep the spotlight on the runners.

In 1975, after Rodgers won his first Boston Marathon in a then-American record time of 2:09:55, Mr. Squires headed to his car, leaving the awards ceremony to those who had run the race.

“You know what? If I go there, that means I get press. I’d get as much press as them,” he said, as Clerici recounted in his book. “But I want the story to be them.”


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.