From 1936 to 1951, Bill Wicklund was a regular at the Boston Marathon, running in 14 of the BAA classics during those years. Yesterday, at age 71, Wicklund was again in Boston--but this time just as a spectator.
Yet this veteran of more than 50 marathons and over 100,000 miles of running is still devoted to his sport and expecially to the Boston race.
"It's the fastest race in the world," said the resident of Passaic, N.J., who has watched all the Boston races since he stopped running here. "They start here like they're running a one-mile race and either you keep up or you drop dead. That's the way it was in '36, and it's the same thing now."
Wicklund, who claims he never gets sick and never gets a cold, said he still runs ten miles a day, despite a recent operation in which doctors replaced a section of an arthritic femur bone with a ten-inch stainless steel shaft.
"On the 29th of April, I'm planning to run a 10,000-meter race in Central Park. I have a ten-dollar bet with my doctor on whether or not I'll finish," Wicklund says. The septuagenarian also plans to run in October's New York City Marathon and finish in under four hours.
Wicklund's past is truly a memory-studded one, but he has been unable to fulfill his two main aspirations--running an Olympic Marathon and winning in Boston. He qualified for the 1944 U.S. Olympic team, but because of World War II, the '44 Games were cancelled.
"I could have killed Hitler myself," Wicklund says.
And in Boston, Wicklund came close twice, finished seventh in 1943 and fourth in 1944. But back then, Wicklund remembers, the Boston race took a somewhat different form.
"We followed a policeman who was on horseback, and the only path he could clear for us through the crowd was on cobblestones on the trolley track. We ran the last six miles over cobblestone following a horse's ass," he said, adding that he ran in "one dollar sneakers with 15 cent inner soles because there were no running shoes back then."
But the marathon, in any form, has been part of Wicklund's life for more than half a century.
"I have run in three inches of snow and slush going the last six miles with frozen feet," he says. "I've also run when it was 90 degrees out. Then they used to weigh us before and after the race. I started at 130 pounds and finished at 119. My wife wouldn't go out with me because people thought she starved me, he said, smiling
Spoken like a true marathon man.