Bill Collins - Interview

"Why run long when you can run fast?" - Bill Collins, the World's best masters sprinter, telling it like it is

Quick Facts:

Bill Collins
Age 58
Houston, TX
Occupation: Owner - Acala Sports Training Systems
Open PRs: 100 yards - 9.25 (#10 World All-Time) ... 220 yards - 20.02 ... 440 yards - 45.72
Open World Records: 400 Relay/Indoor - 38.03 (Dusseldorf, Germany - 1977) ... Sprint Medley Relay/Indoor - 2:01.10 (Madison Square Garden, New York, NY - 1981)
Current American & World Masters Indoor Records ...
Men's 40-44: 200 - 22.19 (AR)
Men's 45-49: 200 - 22.57 (AR & WR)
Men's 50-54: 200 - 22.99 (AR & WR) ... 400 - 52.78 (AR)
Men's 55-59: 60 - 7.34 (AR & WR) ... 200 - 23.36 (AR & WR)
Current American & World Masters Outdoor Records ...
Men's 40-44: 200 - 21.86 (AR)
Men's 50-54: 100 - 10.95 (AR & WR)
Men's 55-59: 100 - 11.44 (AR & WR) ... 200 - 23.36 (AR & WR)
High School Achievements (Mt. Vernon HS): 2-time New York State Champion in both 100 and 220 yards (1969, 1970)
College Achievements (Texas Christian University): 4-time Southwest Conference Champion 100/200 meters and 4 x 100 Relay
Open Achievements: 2-time member of World Record-Setting Relays
Masters Achievements: 127 National Championships ... 25 World Records ... 27 World Championships ... Inducted into USA Masters Hall of Fame (2003) ... 5-time United States Athlete of the Year ... IAAF/WMA Male Athlete of the World (2006) ... USATF Male Masters Athlete of 2008
(Photo of Bill Collins courtesy of

There are superstars in every sport - the athletes whom the athletes themselves come to watch. In golf, it's Tiger Woods. In basketball, it's Lebron James or Kobe Bryant. And in the men's half of masters track, it's Bill Collins ... and has been for going on two decades. Unlike many masters stars, who come into their own in middle-age, Collins was tearing it up back in the day. He was a 2-time state champion at both 100 and 220 yards as a sprinter in high school, a 4-time Southwest Conference champion while at TCU, and a 2-time open World Record Holder as a member of the USA Indoor 400 Meter Relay Squad (38.03) at Dusseldorf, Germany in 1977, and an indoor Sprint Medley Relay Squad (2:01.10) at Madison Square Garden in 1981. So what did Collins do for an encore? He moved into the masters ranks, where he's broken 25 world records, won 127 national championships, won 27 world championships, and in 2006 was named IAAF/WMA Male Athlete of the World. Oh, and he won the 2008 USATF Male Masters Athlete of the Year, too - as if there was any room left on his trophy shelf.

Younger Legs caught up with Bill Collins (in a metaphorical sense, since there's no way these distance runner legs could ever actually catch Collins) for a Q & A on his past, his present, and a wonderful new book he's written in order to share his training knowledge with his peers ...

Younger Legs: You've been running so well for so long. Could you tell us about your earliest experiences with sprinting?
Bill Collins: As a young child, I was okay on my block. But as I entered junior high, I wasn't very good as a runner. I don't know what happened to me. I could only make the field event team - not the running team. So I started out as a high jumper.

I went out for the track team my sophomore year in high school, and I wasn't very fast at all. In fact, I was the second-slowest guy on the team. There were a lot of field event guys I couldn't beat. One of the shot putters came up to me, and he told me that the only reason I beat him was that he had a bum hamstring. I was devastated.

So I said, Why not just go and try the long jump. And that's what I did.

But I wasn't going to take "no" for an answer when it came to the sprints. So I kept working and working. And by the end of the year, I made a relay team and got to run a race or two. And it was history after that.

YL: You were determined to make it as a sprinter?
BC: One time, my Uncle was being interviewed, and they asked him why I didn't try running longer distances. When my Uncle asked me about that, I said, "Why run long when you can run fast?" (Photo: a comparison of the running form of Bill Collins and Tyson Gay, courtesy of

YL: Did you play other sports in high school or college, or were you track all the way?
BC: I played football and baseball. You get energized about trying to do things in sports. And I felt that way about football and baseball. But I kept breaking bones in football, and I got hit in the mouth with a baseball bat and that ended that.

YL: You kept breaking bones and got hit in the mouth with a bat?!
BC: I loved football. But I wanted to be in every play. I'd get my fingers in someone's face guard - I seemed to do that on every play - and my fingers would get broken. I've broken every finger on my hands. My arm got broken once too, just making a tackle on defense. So my Mom thought that was enough of that.

In baseball, I was an excellent player. And I might have stayed with that. But then this one weekend, I went out to play a pickup game. That's something I would normally never do during the season. But I did. And no one wanted to catch, so I said, Okay, I'll catch. I didn't have a mask on, and I just had a normal glove, not a catcher's mitt. Anyway, I always played by the book, so when the batter hit a ground ball to the third base side, I had to back-up the first baseman. You gotta back up the first baseman in case there's an overthrow. So I followed the batter down toward first base. And about halfway there, the batter threw the bat behind him, just throwing it away, and it hit me in the face. It shattered my mouth and my nose, shattered my front teeth. And my Mom said that was the end of that.

My Mom already wasn't too fond of baseball. A lot of times, for practice, we would have to field balls without gloves, and I'd end up with bruises all over my hands and chest. We had some pretty crazy coaches back then.

Anyway, a little pickup baseball game, and here I am dealing with it 45 years later. Just recently, I had to go back to the dentist because one of the original caps came loose, and I have to get an implant.

YL: Okay, back to track - did you really compete on the same team with Fred Singleton [brother Ken played for the New York Mets] and Ken McBryde, and if so, just how good were you guys?
BC: Yes, all of us were together in high school. And I guess you could say we had a very good team. Back in the 1960's, we were ranked as one of the top teams in the country. In my senior year, we couldn't get a single dual meet. My last dual meet was the end of my junior year against White Plains. We beat them by over 100 points. We'd go 1-2-3-4 in every event.

We had the top athlete in the country at both hurdle races - that was Fred Singleton. And we had the best triple jumper in Ken McBryde. We set two national records that year indoors. And I won the New York State Championship in the 100 and 220 yard dashes two years in a row, my junior and senior years - the only athlete in New York state history to do this.

But it wasn't without work and preparation. I never took a day off. During the summer between my sophomore and junior years, I worked and worked. About 20 of us on the team decided to get up every morning and do a cross country run with the cross country team. It was tough. I had to get up at 4:30 in the morning and catch a bus. And at that time of the morning, the school buses weren't running, so I had to take a regular city bus. But we'd all get there, and pretty soon the whole team was showing up. It showed our team's consistency, our work ethic and power.

We had 127 athletes on our track team. It was larger than our football program. When we went to a meet, we went with 4 buses. We had that many athletes!

YL: Do you think that early success fueled the positive attitude you've maintained for the sport?
BC: The positive reinforcement came from my parents. Early on, when I wasn't winning, I was always a champion in their eyes. When I didn't do so well, you couldn't tell it in my household.

My mother only got to see about three of my track meets. With her schedule and work, she just didn't get to see me that much. She couldn't get the time off. She passed in 1985, and I wish she could have lived to see me run more.

The greatest thing my Mom ever did for me, going into my sophomore year of high school, she made me sit down to talk with her. She told me that my athletic skills were where they needed to be, and that colleges would be interested. But she also saw that I wasn't at the academic level that I needed to be at. She asked me, If an offer comes from colleges, will you have the grades to get into that school? And she didn't need to say anything more. I buckled down.

It's the lessons you learn early on. As a senior, I had 247 scholarship offers. And because I'd buckled down, I had my pick. A lot of my teammates had the same kind of offers, but they weren't able to take them. So that's probably the most valuable thing I learned from my Mom. She was my biggest fan. She just couldn't be there in the stands.

But whatever happened in my early career, I could always come home and have the love of my family. That's what's important. You come home and have the love of your family.

YL: At what point in your life did you realize that your speed was here to stay?
BC: My realization came after years of injuries. Because of those injuries, it forced me to study, to find ways to train and race free of injuries - along with maximizing the full ability to run with ease.

YL: You have a phenomenal workout routine, involving a mix of track work, resistance training, and core work. And now you've written a book about it [scheduled to be released next month by Illumination Publishers International -], in which you share your secrets to running success. Can you tell us how the book came about?
BC: Everywhere I go, I'm asked questions. How do you train? How do you keep longevity going on? What do you eat? Things like that. I thought it was time to open up and share. We all age. But how should you train as you age? We all mentally think like we're back in our 20s, and we want to train like that. We tend to rush. The book talks about patience. The whole thing is to not rush.

A lot of pressure is put on us from our friends and family members. I'll get a call - "Hey, we've got this game of pickup basketball ..." - and people will want you to join in. Men will jump on this. They'll go out and do it, and then they end up injured back on the couch. But women think things through first. They don't rush into these things. They prepare first. They have a different philosophy. I talk a lot about that - women versus men in their psychological approach to things.

Back when we were young, we'd just go out and play all day. We could play from morning until the sun went down. We could eat less, and not even think about hydration. But as aging athletes, it's reversed. First we have to fuel the body and hydrate, take care of the preparation. Then we can go out and train.

One of the critical things about getting into a new program is that you're making a change in your life. And sometimes the change in your life is not accepted by all the people you know. That can include family and friends, who maybe want to go and party or do something else. They say things like, Why do you want to do this? ... or, Why are you still doing that? They think that because they don't want to do it, we shouldn't do it. I have people come to my training program, and they say, "I have a whole new group of friends now, because my old friends don't accept me." Those are the kinds of choices you have to make as an older athlete, and as you move into a new era of your life.

YL: You're well known for sometimes starting from a standing position. Do you have something against blocks?
BC: Standing starts were forced on me. Playing in a flag football game, I strained all of my stomach muscles. After that, I couldn't get down to do a block start, so I started standing - just to continue to compete.

YL: I'd heard it had to do with a hamstring injury - with some scarring of the hamstrings.
BC: That was years ago, when I was a senior in high school. After the state meet, I had a little soreness in my hamstring. We had one more meet coming up, and I really wanted to run it to get ready for the Golden West Invitational. But my leg was really getting sore. So I made the decision to see the same doctor who was treating Joe Namath. And I got a cortisone shot.

Well, you don't feel anything when you get a cortisone shot. So I get out in my 220 in the meet, and about midway through the turn, my hamstring exploded. I was in lane 3. And when it exploded, I left lane 3 and got thrown all the way to lane 8, and then onto the grass.

It was two years before I could sprint again. And that's the last time I ever had a needle put in me. I've never taken anything. I'd probably have to be on my deathbed to take an aspirin.

YL: That's funny, because the other best male masters runner on the planet, Nolan Shaheed, won't take even an aspirin either.
BC: Nolan's a great great guy. We always share a conversation at a meet. I've been fortunate to compete against some great guys in this sport. Payton Jordan was one. The first time I beat him age-graded, he thought someone had messed up the timing. But he was such a great guy. That's the thing about this sport. There's so many people you can look up to.

This sport is all about the people. And that's what my book is about - sharing what I've learned and been through. Everyone has a champion within themselves.

YL: You ran for a World Record-setting 400 Meter Relay Squad in 1977 as an open athlete. How did that feel?
BC: That was my first, and being in Germany with the USA squad - and with that being the only world record set in the meet - it felt great. I was really excited for my mother, who got to see me on TV, because she hadn't gotten to see me in high school and college very much.

YL: You suffered a rare defeat in the 2009 Masters Indoor Nationals in Landover, Maryland. I hear you had a stress fracture in your right lower leg. Could you tell us about the meet, what it was like running on the stress fracture, and how the injury's coming along?
BC: The flat track [Landover had a completely flat 200 meter track, without banked turns] was not a good place to run with a stress fracture. I couldn't push off the leg, and it became a little too painful to run. I started easing up after coming off the last turn. I was afraid that I'd really done some major damage to my leg. But I take nothing away from the winner. He ran the race of his life!

My doctors say the stress fracture is coming around. But it's not going to heal until I can take a two to three month break. They don't think it's gonna get any worse. I just have to deal with the pain.

The Penn Relays are coming up, and I've opted not to run the 100. I'm definitely going to run the 4 x 4, and maybe the 4 x 1 - we'll just have to see how it goes.

YL: Without giving away the secrets in your book, can you give us a quick piece of advice for an "older" sprinter who's training or returning to training?
BC: Just to take their time and realize this is going to be a little work. And to try and have as much fun as you can during the comeback.

YL: Okay, how about telling us one thing about Bill Collins that we might not know?
BC: For those who have seen me only from far away at track meets: I am not the fastest white man on earth ... I am Black!

Younger Legs thanks Bill Collins for the incredible interview. Your blogger will post a quick blurb and link once Bill's book is released. Or you can use the link above to check out the publisher now, then bookmark it.



Toivo said...

Great interview! I'm a "pure" marathoner, yet read every word!

Glorybelle said...

That photo comparison of Bill and Tyson Gay is amazing!!! Great interview!

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