BIDDEFORD — When Biddeford outdoor track and field coach Chris Quint took over the program in the winter of 2017, he saw eagerness in distance standout Sam Mills.

Mills, who was a sophomore at the time, showed so much fervor that Quint often had to reign in Mills’ training in fear that his runner might get injured. 

MILLS

“When I first started coaching (Sam), he always wanted to go hard for every run and every race,” Quint said. “I really had to slow him down and keep him fresh.”

In Quint’s two years at Biddeford, he’s prioritized recovery and has incorporated strength training into Mills’ personal regime to combat the intense mileage the now-senior was tempted to do. The adjustments to his training have made Mills stronger, more resilient and less injury prone this season.

It also led to the best performance of Mills’ young career at the SMAA track and field championships at Falmouth High School last Saturday.

Mills showcased an understanding of his coach’s philosophy, a more conservative approach, while also maintaining his own opportunistic running style in the 3,200 meters. Mills jostled with the leaders for much of the race before making an aggressive move with just over a lap remaining that pushed him into first place. His efforts earned him a personal-best time of 9 minutes, 56.29 seconds – taking nine seconds off his previous best.

The win was just as sweet for Quint as it was for the senior.

“It was as if I’d won the championship with him,” Quint said.

And, for Mills, the win was a gigantic checkmark off of his preseason aspirations.

“My big goal this season was to break 10 (minutes),” he said. “So to do it in my first major win was so exciting.”

And on that big move with just over a lap to go? “That was just my own instinct,” said Mills, who describes himself as not particularly speedy. “In the past, I would just go to lead and keep the same pace with everyone else and they would just stay with me. So my thought was ‘when I go to the front, just breakaway.’”

The win on Saturday was a culmination of all the miles Mills has put in over the past four years. Even though Mils started running in sixth grade when he joined the cross country team, mainly because most of his friends were doing it, he didn’t take the sport quite as seriously until high school.

Once in high school, Mills, who also described himself as “not particularly talented,”  didn’t find immediate success. In his freshman cross country season Mills was often one of the last finishers in every race, and his fastest 5k that year was 22:06. But, despite a slow start, his love for the sport didn’t waver, and much of that had to do with the impact that was left on him by former Biddeford cross country and track head coach Will Fulford, who died of a cardiac arrest in December of 2016.

“Coach (Fulford) really made me passionate about running, and made it something that I really wanted to work for,” Mills said. “His impact is something I can’t even articulate.”

Mills saw vast improvement from his freshman to sophomore year as he lowered his 5k time to 17:44 in the fall and improved his 3,200 time to 10:20 in the spring. Then, as a junior, he finished 19th at the Class A Cross Country Championships (17:32), and ran 10:16 the ensuing outdoor season. There was no secret formula to his improvement over time, Mills said.

“You just have to run” he said. “All the other stuff – diet, good rest, good exercises – are really, really important. But the most important thing you can do to get good at running is just enjoy it.”

For Mills’ efforts over these four years, Biddeford’s coaching staff named him a captain of the track team this spring.

“His leadership has really helped with the distance runners,” Quint said. “I think a lot of the kids on the team who saw what happened on Saturday (May 25) know that he’s been working for that for a long time.”

In preparation for his final outdoor season, Mills ran between 50 and 60 miles each week during the preseason. As a way to make sure he wouldn’t get burnt out, Quint prescribed certain paces for Mills’ training runs. Even though Quint and Mills have built trust between each other, the coach was still cautious with his senior.

“For any kid like that, they just want to go,” Quint said. “He realized it after last year at the end of the outdoor season where he started to feel really sore.”

Under Quint’s tutelage, Mills has put together the best season of his career this spring. He ran a personal-best of 4:39.68 in the 1,600 on May 7, and his time in the 3,200 last weekend at the conference championships is the ninth fastest in the state — regardless of class. He also became just the third Biddeford runner to break 10:00 in the event, joining Jeff Gaudette and Justin Laverriere.

Mills’ high-school development gave him the opportunity to keep running at the collegiate level. He heads to Orono this fall to compete at the University of Maine. How the program developed local runners was a big deciding factor for Mills. The opportunity to learn under a roster of seasoned veterans was also attractive.

“I’m really excited to be a No. 6 or No. 7 guy, and just really have to get dragged through workouts,” he said. “I want to know what it feels to really hurt.”

But before he heads to UMaine, Mills gets another chance to experience “the hurt” as a high schooler at the Class A championship meet in Lewiston Saturday. In addition to his on-track expectations, Mills, who is seeded fifth in the 3,200, simply hopes to savor what could be the final race of his Biddeford career.

“I just want to have fun and enjoy it.”

 

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