Whilst my column last week featured former England and Premier League footballer Danny Mills and how running played a huge part in his career, his son, George, is most certainly following in his father's footsteps when it comes to representing his country in international competition.

However, not football, but athletics after what was a very successful 2023 where he finished in the world’s top 10 rankings for 1500 metres (3:30.95) and having ran the third fastest mile ever by a British athlete when recording 3:47.65 secs in the Diamond League Final.

Then just last weekend, in his second ever outing over 5000 metres, he recorded an incredible 12:58.68 secs in Boston, USA, which is just over six seconds under what is the Olympic Qualifying time for this year’s Paris Olympic Games.

Having known George from the day he was born what with fairly regular get togethers back then between what was my young family and Danny’s, I always thought it would be professional football which he was destined for. Just like one of his brothers, Stanley, who now plays for Everton. Especially as he would play for hours in his back garden whilst decked out in his England kit constantly smashing the ball into the back of his goal equally as hard with either foot.

I also remember a two-a-side game in my back garden between me and my youngest son, Craig, against Danny and George. Whilst me and Craig were equally competitive, they gave us a run around although I am sure Craig would say it was me they gave the run around to.

So, when speaking to Danny a few years later about George’s prowess as a schoolboy athlete and the times he was running particularly for 800 metres which at the time was also the distance which Craig (my son) was competing over, mine and Danny’s conversations went from talking about football and business to their running progress.

However, and then just like that, George seemed to really take off reducing his 800 metres time down in chunks whilst also going on to win the English Schools 800 metres championships aged 15, a feat he followed a year later prior to also going on to win the European Youth U18 Championships aged 17.

By this stage of course it was very clear that it was athletics he as going to give his full focus to. Being a chip off the old block in Danny I knew it would mean throwing everything at it to be as successful as possible.

Eastern Daily Press: George Mills credits his father, Danny, as his biggest influence

So, with this in mind, George kindly agreed to an interview with me which you’ll find below…

Q. How did you get into running particularly with such a football background and why did you choose running over football?

A. I would say it was almost an accident getting into running. What with being surrounded by football whilst growing up which of course was my first love, it was Dad who forced me to run from about the age of 10 with a big emphasis on the word forcing me out of the door. However, it was by about the age of 13 or 14 when I realised that I was a decent runner after winning a few competitions. Then by the age of 15 it wasn’t really a choice of choosing running over football but more by the realisation that my dream of being a professional sportsman was going to only come true if I focused on my athletics.

Q. What are the stand-out competitions and wins that stick out in your mind going right back to those early days?

A. Obviously when first winning a few races at school and in area competitions and then in Year 8 I ran 2:15 in the English schools 800 metres which I was pretty pleased about at the time. Then in Year 9 I came 11th in the English Schools Cross Country Championships. This was then followed up in the summer when I came sixth in the final of the 800 metres at the English schools in Birmingham in two minutes flat. I then set myself a target of winning it the following year. However, and before that I also represented the North East in the Schools Games and made a big jump when running 1:53. I did win the English Schools the following year, aged 16, too in 1:50. Looking back on it, it was the schools system and the English Schools which gave me the markers along the way to understand how to plan for further progression which I can say is what really got me fully into running.

Q. How did you train back in those early days?

A. I actually looked back with the lads the other day on our past training. I was coached back then by a lady called Joanne Day from the age of about 14 or 15 through to the age of 18 until I left for university. She was really good at bringing me through. She did a lot of things right and she gave me the the right sort of stimulus in training. Saturday was usually hills with longer reps or 400s on a Monday and Wednesday. Then on the other days of the week it was just one run a day with one day off. Sundays were what I thought was a long run of 10 miles. It was all about just getting regular sessions in and showing me what a regular training week should look like.

Q. Could you tell me a bit about your progress through the athletics system which also included winning the European Youth Championships – followed by progression into the senior ranks?

A. When winning the English Schools in 2015 when I was 16, I also went to the Commonwealth Youth Games that year which was my first international competition. That was down in Samoa. Dad came as well. I think I finished fifth and at the time it was pretty cool. Then the year after, I won the European Under 18s and looking back that was a very big thing for me. At the time I thought that was going to set me up for the rest of my career where everything was going to go up and up, but after that year I missed the next two years with two stress fractures and a hamstring tear causing me to miss 2017 and 2018. That was tough, but it was also a big learning curve. During that time, I joined John Bigg down in Brighton where I think moving away from home for the first time and a change of environment were factors leading into these injuries. It was tough and it took quite a bit of time learning to deal with that. It was just a question of keeping my head down and working at it because I realised that as a young athlete and when everything seemed to have been going so positive, that can also be a time when you learn that it can actually take longer to make it to the next step. Yes, it was a good experience for me about learning how to manage expectations.

Q. When was the moment you knew you could make it as a full-time athlete?

A. This question is an interesting one because there is never really a clear pathway in track and field. I think everyone's is slightly different as there is a not a clear way to say how to make it as a full time pro especially in Europe. In the US it is a lot clearer as you have the college system and then if you are successful you can go to pro level. It’s just that in the UK and Europe it is all a bit random and I don’t know if there was ever a time when I thought I could really make it as a pro especially when I was at uni and dad was helping me out and people were saying you can’t make that much through track and field. So, when On came along in 2022 and gave me the opportunity to be a full time pro, that was probably the first time when I really felt comfortable and ready to do it full time.

Q. Which performances stand out and mean a lot to you when it comes to national and domestic titles and wins. Plus of course the international competitions which you have took part in such as your 3:47.65 mile last year?

A. Winning the English schools a couple of times and the European Under 18s followed by the British Champs in the covid year in 2020. That was a big one when it came to feeling I had gained a bit of success in that period of time. But looking back there has also been races which stand out as lows and bad races. However, this has also meant a lot of learning after doing things which I thought was right but was wrong at the time. I have still not been able to make an outdoor team which is something we are working on and hopefully will nail come this summer. Regarding the big international competitions, for me, it was at the back end of last season. Obviously I missed making the worlds at the British Championships, coming third, but bounced back a week later when running 3:31 for 1500m in Chorzow although I still finished eighth which is something you can’t really celebrate. Then it was a last-minute 1500m spot in Zurich only getting a call the day before from my manager Steven saying there was a lane available if I wanted it. I finished fourth in 3:30 which then set me up for going on a bit of a role when winning in Berlin in 3:34 and then a further three days later I front ran a 3:49 mile in Pfungstadter. Four days after that I came second in New York when running a 3:49 mile. At that point I thought my season was over, but another call from Steven (manager) saying there was a space for me in Eugene, if I wanted. It was a no-brainer for which I ran another PB for the mile when finishing third in 3:47.65. Of course, the 5,000m last Friday night is also a standout race for me. It is nice to run the standards and put good performances in but I suppose the ones I remember are very much in my early career before the lull for about three years where there was a bit of stagnation before I suppose you could say a bit of a breakthrough at the start of last season.

Eastern Daily Press: George Mills is planning on doubling up in the 5000m and the 1500m at the Olympics

Q. How do you see your rise from a junior athlete to international status and dare I say now a leading world class athlete?

A. I would never ever call myself a world class athlete. I think there are a lot of things I need to achieve before I can consider myself as that. Making world finals and winning medals is when you can call yourself world class. Right now, we are a long way off that. It was a rapid rise as a junior and then as I have said it was two years of injuries and setbacks. Then it was almost fluking a British Champs when trying to come back between 2019 and 2020. Then in 2021 and just when I thought I would kick on - I didn’t! I went to the Euro Under 23s and came fifth which isn’t great so at that point I spoke to John and we changed the training to a higher volume. Then when two months into it, the offer from On came along at the end of 2021 and they not only sold me a dream, but they delivered too so it was a decision I had to make and without a doubt the best thing I have done for my career.

Q. Your aims for the Olympic Games now that you have the 5,000 metres qualifying time and are you still going for the 1,500 metres as well which I guess is your favoured event?

A. So, for the Olympics. Obviously, I now have the qualifying time which is good as there are only two guys so far with it which I guess gives me a chance of making the team. The 1500m is my main event for now though so I want to qualify for this as well. If I do, then I would like to do both events. Since the start of the year me and my coach have always said we want to double up. However, you are right, the 1500m is my favourite event. I feel like I can really compete at world level over this distance which I think I showed when competing in the Diamond League last season. The 5K I don’t know so well. I have had two races over this distance running 13:18 in June and now 12:58 which is still a long way off when competing with the top guys who are running in the low 12:40s. So, there is still a lot of work to do to be up there with the best and for now I want to focus on the 1500m and make that my main event and if I can run the 5K as well that would be a great experience.

Q. With your dad having been a very determined sportsman himself, how has he inspired you to the best you can be yourself?  

A. Dad has been really helpful for me along the way in terms of support and learning how to be professional and conduct yourself. How to train and look after myself. Also the dedication and focus you need to have if you want to make it to the top in your sport. It pretty much has to take over and consume your life taking priority over everything or you will fall short. It’s been very cool for me to look up to a dad who has played his sport at the highest level and showing it is possible for which I think I was lucky to grow up with that. There are probably things which I now see as normal whereas others might think it is weird. For me it is very normal to train twice a day and the dedication of missing out on certain things and staying away from family and friends. However, having seen this sort of lifestyle when growing up sets you up for being a very committed athlete.

Q. Could you tell me a bit about your training and how your sponsor backs you and your group to be full time athletes and balance your life around athletics.

A. In all honesty, there is absolutely no balance. I am throwing everything I can at it to be the best athlete I can be and hopefully medal at an Olympics one day. So outside of training every day and recovering and dedicating my life to the sport there is not a lot else going on in my life just right now. As for training we base our training very similar to the Norwegian model which is very high volume and threshold based. So, we do two double threshold workouts a week and then on another day a harder work out. In between this we do double run days. We take one afternoon off a week which is on a Sunday after the long run. Then during our peak volume, we are running over 200km a week. Yes, it’s pretty substantial! The week before the 5k in Boston is the first time I dropped under 100 miles a week since the start of October. Yes, we have a big emphasis on high volume and consistency. The only thing which might change is the key session a bit. We have a team of about 13 athletes through On who really have been amazing. They support us as full professionals along with a full time coach and physios. For which I have to say a massive thank you to them. I don’t think there are too many other brands out there that would back you like they do.

Q. Is there a good camaraderie among the top British middle-distance runners?

A. I don’t really know the other British middle distance guys too well. If I see them then of course we just say hello, but we have not really spent any time together. It would be difficult anyway what with us all going for the same spots.

Q. Back in the 1980s, there was that period when, Coe, Ovett, Cram and Peter Elliott to an extent led the way when it came to being the best in the world. We seem to be in a bit of a golden era once again for which I wondered if you have any thoughts on why it has all clicked again?

A. I am not really sure with regards to the golden era coming back. I guess sometimes things come and go in waves. Sometimes you have good periods and other times quieter periods. I do think success breeds success though. So if people are performing at a high level then others have to also perform at a higher level if they want to make teams and win races. I guess you could say that when the bar gets raised you either have to rise with it or your stay where you are and fizzle away. I think we are in a good period where everyone is pushing everyone especially in the 1500m.

Q. Where do you see your running going as you get older George?

A. There is always a joke in the team about where my running is going when I get older. I am always joking saying I will move to the marathon one day when my track career finishes. But for now, and the next Olympic cycle I very much see myself as a 1,500 and 5,000 guy and want to just focus on that. As for coaching, it’s hard to talk about it now. I am only 24 and maybe it is something to think about later on but for now I can’t think that far ahead and just want to be in the running game for a long time to come before I hang up my running spikes.

Q. Who did you look up to as a youngster when it came to athletics?

A. I would not say I had a role model in track and field when I was young. Purely because it was not a sport I knew too much about. It would be easy for me to say it was Mo Farah when winning Olympic Gold in 2012, but in truth I did not really know too much about what it meant back then. Obviously by 2016 I was more into the sport and had people I looked up to, but in truth I more looked up to dad and what he achieved. I guess right now when surrounded by team mates such my best mate on the team Tom Elmer you see different athletes around you who you look up to when seeing how they conduct themselves.

Q. What advice would you give to any youngsters who have a talent for running?

A. It’s a tough one because I feel like it is a really tough sport to make progression in. But I would say listen to your coach and do your research on training and maybe take a bit of responsibility yourself. Make it clear on the stuff you want to do as well when it comes to training methods as opposed to always listening blindly if it does not feel right for you. Don’t try to make big jumps too quickly. Being consistent is so important though and if you can make small steps consistently over a long period of time you will progress. If you can run every single day within yourself as opposed to running three times a week really hard, if you look at it from the volume point of view then the first option is likely to give you the biggest improvement. Everyone is different and will progress at different rates. Even if others are making bigger jumps than you at the time, it will eventually level out although this was something I struggled to understand when I was younger.

Q. Who was your biggest influence when growing up?

A. As already said, dad has been my biggest influence. Having someone so direct who lived a high performance life was pretty cool to see and look up to.

Q. Running sub 13 mins for 5,000 metres is phenomenal especially when it comes to being just a second outing over that distance. What are your thoughts about doing it?

A. Yes, running sub 13 is cool, but my main goal is to really make championships and compete at a high level. For me it is more like I have ticked a box in helping myself qualify for the Olympics hopefully this summer. Coming over to Boston I knew the main goal for me was to make the standard. I knew from my training I was going well so I also knew a quick time was on the cards. However, being very inexperienced over the distance I was still unsure as to how I might feel at 3k and at 4k and if I would be able to take what was going on; but it did all work out and I feel good now that I have the standard. However, it is now time to get back to work before the Millrose Games mile in New York on February 11 before then flying back to South Africa to get seven to eight weeks training in at altitude. Yes, ready to get back to work!

Q. Having seen your competitive streak as a very young kid would you agree that this is something you have always had?  

A. Ha, yes I have been as competitive as hell since I was a kid. I think you could say I was a sore loser if it was just playing football in the garden to playing Fifa on the PlayStation. When I lost I was never happy. However, I think I have now learned to put things in more perspective with a more mature outlook. The place I was in during those bad years made me realise it wasn’t possible to win every race and that is what I was alluding to for the youngster because if you have expectations to win every race you can be disheartened when things don’t always go your way.

A huge thank you to George for taking the time to answer my questions and I think many of you will join me in wishing him the best of luck in hopefully making it in to Team GB for the Paris Olympics.

If you want to follow George and Tom Elmer’s ’s progress, then please do so - @georgemills800 @_tomelmer_on their journey to hopefully making the Paris OlympicsThe 5k Guys on YouTube.