Ironman Billy Collier Redefines Endurance Athlete

61-Year-Old Computer Programmer Recently Finished Double Ironman

Thursday, March 20, 2014 - by John Hunt

You've probably seen the stickers on the rear windows of cars and even on the bumpers.

Some say 13.1 or 26.2, broadcasting to the world that they have completed a Half-Marathon or Marathon in recent times.  Still a few others have a 70.3 or a 140.6, indicative of their success in a Half-Ironman or an Ironman distance.  This writer even has one that says 0.0 for obvious reasons.

Bet you haven't seen one that says 281.2.  What? A 281.2 must represent the distance covered in a Double Ironman.  For the common person, that includes a 4.8-mile swim, a bike ride covering 224 miles and a double marathon, which is 52.4  miles.

Most people can't comprehend covering distances like that at one time.  Even less are capable and even willing to try.

Billy Collier has one.  He even has a T-shirt saying the same thing.

Collier is a computer programmer for Shaw Industries who turned 61 on February 9.  He's been into triathlons and other endurance events for the better part of 25 years.  But on Feb. 28, he began an event in Tampa where he successfully covered the double distance.

Oh, it took 34 hours and 43 seconds, but he crossed the finish line in tenth place overall with a smile on his face and a feeling of incredible satisfaction and accomplishment in his heart.

Collier started running in 1976 when he was living in Atlanta.  He heard about a 10K race on July 4 called Peachtree and that's what got him going.

He did road races exclusively until 1988 when he started doing shorter distance triathlons to take some of the pounding off his body.  He completed his first Ironman in 1990.

"I got a postcard advertising the Ironman, so I rode my bike from my house in Marietta to my grandparents house in East Lake, which was 102 miles.  Then I ran around the block and I knew I could do it," Collier explained earlier this week in the lobby of the downtown YMCA.

He has since done 10 Ironman events with a personal best of 12:34 in Louisville in 2011.

So what made this fellow change his focus to a double ironman distance?

"It got to be a hassle with so many people and I knew an event like this wouldn't be as crowded.  There were 29 entries in Tampa with four countries represented.  There were 17 finishers, including the winner from Hungary in 21 hours, 45 minutes," Collier recalled.

"It was my third attempt at this distance.  I didn't know anything about them at first.  Last year I dropped out at the 38-mile mark of the run," he recalled painfully.

"I did the same event this year, but I learned about nutrition and that made all the difference in the world.  I had a good swim and a good bike ride, but I lost all concept of time.  I laid down for an hour and got some good solid rest at the start of the run, but I got up feeling fine and ran the last 40 miles.

"I really felt good the whole time and I never had a major problem.  My feet started hurting after the first marathon, but I put on trail shoes and ran the rest of the way on the side of the road.  In the last 100 yards or so, they give you a flag representing your country and they play your national anthem as you approach the finish line.

"I was just hoping and praying that I didn't drop the flag or trip and fall, but I made it just fine," he added with pride.

The logistics for this race are enough to make a man crazy with all the repetition.  The 4.8-mile swim included 76 laps in a 50-meter pool while the 224-mile bike course included a little more than 31 laps on a seven-mile loop.  The 52.4-mile run was 30 laps on an out-and-back 1.8-mile loop.

So what kind of training did Collier do for such a monumental challenge?

He swam four days a week, normally covering 2500-3000 yards per session.  He also biked four days a week, averaging 150-175, while running three or four days for an average of 18 miles a week.

"I didn't do anything crazy with my training.  I did so 10 all-night rides in Chickamauga Park, which was an unforgettable experience.  You see so many pairs of eyes looking at you, but you don't slow down to find out what's behind them.

"I was trying to work on how to deal with sleep deprivation.  I would ride about 75 miles on those five-hour rides.  It's about time on the road and not about distance.  It's about being able to keep going, no matter how tired you think you are.

"I'm not sure I want to do another one as I have my sticker now.  I would like to do a 100-mile trail run and I'd like to finish an Ironman when I'm in my 80s.  The clock is ticking, so I need to keep moving.

"I just enjoy working out.  It's been a little more than two weeks and my legs are still tired and I'm still really fatigued, but I'm jacked up and ready to start training for Ironman Chattanooga. 

"I like the Ironman distance as I know I can finish.  You just never know in a double.  It was devastating the first time I didn't finish.

"You just have to fuel yourself for a long time and you learn how to train on tired legs.  And you have to learn how to deal with the mental aspect, which may be the most important of all," Collier added.

So now that the double is in the books, what's next on the list?

"The 3-Mountain, 3-State bike ride is my next event, but I'll do the Waterfront Triathlon and Lookout Mountain 50-miler and the Ironman Chattanooga," he nodded.

"They just announced that they are having a triple ironman in 2015.  There's a good chance I'll do it, but the key is getting the right crew together.  We'll just have to wait and see," he concluded.

Those folks who do ultra-distance races are a unique breed.  Billy Collier is very level-headed and seems to have a pretty good handle on life, but he's found something that he enjoys and that he's pretty good at.

And there are no huge crowds of participants to get in his way.

Billy Collier is in a league of his own.  It's also fairly safe to say that he likes it that way.

(This is the fifth in a series on runners in the Chattanooga area, including members of the Chattanooga Track Club who are runners, officers, volunteers and sponsors.  If you have an idea for someone worthy of a feature, email John Hunt at nomarathonmoose@Comcast.net)


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