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Posted on Nov 18, 2017

Quincy’s Birrueta sets feet on the comeback trail

It sounds like the beginnings of a love song: He doesn’t know why he loves it, but he does.
A runner since the seventh grade, a time where he admittedly hated running, Gonzalo Birrueta is now on his third season of cross country running, and has begun running half-marathons.
Back in seventh grade, he didn’t know what cross country was. An avowed soccer fan (his email address carries the initials of Portuguese soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, and he sounds wary when asking people whether they like Lionel Messi), he only joined because his friends were doing it.
“I hated it, it was a struggle for me,” he said. “I was like, ‘Man, why is this a sport?’”
Looking back, he was just not in shape to be a runner, he says. He played soccer a lot but running is a different deal.
It took a year, but the sport began growing on Birrueta, and he started getting better year after year, to the point where he is now one of the top male runners for the Quincy high school cross country team.

Gonzalo Birrueta competing for Quincy at this year’s regionals.
Photo submitted

Alas, as it tends to happen, sometimes that love is reciprocated, sometimes it’s not. Birrueta, a standout runner, had what he called one of his worst seasons of cross country this year.
Pesky injuries and undisclosed personal issues derailed what seemed like a promising season, especially on Sept. 16, where he set a personal-record time of 16 minutes, 51.8 seconds at the Apple Ridge Invite in Cowiche.
“I only had two good races where I didn’t have any side pains,” he says. “I don’t like to make excuses but that was one of the factors.”
Nevertheless, love has a way of pulling you back, and Birrueta, instead of walking away, has started training again after a two-week break, so he can have a strong track season and a better senior season of cross country.
“I just love it. People always ask me why do I run, and I’m like, ‘Many different reasons,’ but mostly because of the feeling I get after I finish a race or a workout. It’s like ‘I accomplished something.’ It’s hard to explain.”
In track, he competes in the longer races, like the 3,200-meter run and sometimes the 1,600-meter run.
“I’m not good at sprinting at all,” he says with a laugh. “Almost anybody can outkick me in the 100 meters. People at school who hear I run fast are like, ‘I’ll race ya,’ but they are thinking like a 100 meters or so. I’m like, ‘You can probably beat me.’”
Change the scenery to, say, a race to the top of Monument Hill and the odds are probably in his favor.
The goals for next year go beyond playground dare-yas or even a good result while representing the green-and-gold of Quincy athletics.
A half-marathon runner since his sophomore year, he says he wants to run a full marathon before the end of his senior year.
A half-marathon is 13.1 miles, more than four times the length of your garden-variety cross country meet.
On his first half-marathon, he finished among the top in his age bracket at a race prior to Oktoberfest in Leavenworth, and he was hooked.
“It’s more of a mental thing,” he said of running the equivalent of four cross country races at one time, nonstop. “You have to be physically and mentally strong.”
Birrueta has had a lot of practice being mentally strong, maintaining a demanding calendar of training, all the while surrounded by all the ice cream he can eat.
His dad works at La Michoacana ice cream shop, which is owned by Birrueta’s uncle.
“I don’t eat it often,” he said with a chuckle. “I used to, as a kid, but I grew out of it. I got tired of it after so many years.”

By Sebastian Moraga, qvprsports@gmail.com