Jim Mills has run around White Rock Lake more than most, but who’s counting? Oh yeah — he is. There’s a certain level of compulsivity that goes hand-in-hand with long-distance running, and Mills is no exception. About 12 years ago, after a good 20 years of looping the lake regularly, Mills ran the numbers and then started keeping track of his treks. On July 30, at age 64, he made his 2,000th 9.2-mile trip, and the Advocate was there to cheer him on.
Do you remember the first time you ran around White Rock?
It was July 25, 1977. I had just finished two rounds of tennis at Samuell Grand. I was going to train for the White Rock Marathon that December, and I wanted to see what it felt like to run the 9-mile loop. During that first run, I remember there were swimmers at the Bath House and people sunning themselves on towels on the grass. That was the last time I saw swimmers — before my next run, the city had put an ordinance in place that outlawed swimming at the lake.
What else has changed since that run?
There are a lot more people out there, for one thing. That was a long time ago. The marathon itself has changed. In 1977, the runners — about 600 of them — went down and back a lakeside stretch. A few years later, they started running around the lake twice, and now they have about 10,000 runners and start Downtown [before looping the lake].
How did you do in that 1977 marathon?
I ran a 3-hour, 26-minute marathon, but I kept training and I went on to run a 2-hour, 59-minute marathon in Galveston. If you know anything about running, breaking that 3-hour mark is pretty tough. I quit running marathons years ago, but every Monday and Thursday morning, I run the loop, no matter what.
Do you ever skip a day?
I never miss. I might go out of town and have to run the 9 miles somewhere else — then I just don’t count it. About 12 years ago, Marci Novak [For the Love of the Lake volunteer group founder] noticed my consistency and suggested I start counting, so I made a conservative estimate of how many times I’d done the loop. I came up with 808, and from then on, I’ve been keeping track. It never crosses my mind not to do it — I wake up, and my feet find my shoes. It runs me; I don’t run it.
Does it ever get boring traveling the same path day after day?
My compulsiveness goes beyond my counting the loops — I also keep my mind busy counting the regulars I see out at the lake. Right now, there are 59 people I have pinpointed who are regular lake users — some are fellow runners, others are walking their dogs or biking. I know only some of them by name. I’ve been out here for 33 years, so the “regular count” changes.
What keeps you running?
I don’t really know how to answer that. I did once have a therapist ask me, many years ago, if I was running to or away from something. Back then, I think I was running from … but today I am running to.