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Running is in his veins

Exhaustion and satisfaction merge at the end of a run for sophomore Robert Arriaga. While many might be intimidated by the idea of running a mile in under 10 minutes, Arriaga runs three miles in 16:25. However, this isn’t unusual, at least not for him. After all, running is in his blood.

Arriaga has been immersed in running culture since he was five years old. His twin sisters, seniors Chloe and Emma Arriaga, and his mother have been training together since his sisters were in elementary school. The pressure to run that was placed on Arriaga by his family didn’t initially faze him, but, in his freshman year, Arriaga joined cross country and became passionate about his new hobby. The original basis behind joining cross country was to surpass his sisters and beat their times. Even though he had not played any sports, Arriaga took interest in running.

“I want to be the best. I’d like to get up on the [championship] wall and to have a legacy. I just want to keep going and get stronger, faster and be better than I’ve been,” Arriaga said. “When people see me I don’t know if they think of stronger, faster [and] better. It’s just a hidden thing that no one really notices. You’ve just got to look deeper.”

The dynamic of being in a family of runners provides a support system for Arriaga. He is able to rely on his family to motivate him through healthy competition and tough love. Living up to the standard of running that his family holds causes Arriaga to work to the best of his abilities. Arriaga has a deep-rooted respect for his mother, a Walnut alumna, former police officer and cross country runner.

“My mom is probably my biggest idol because she’s just that strong, and I want to be just like that and have that much willpower to just keep going. I try not to complain a lot,” Arriaga said. “My mom deals with eight kids at home. She cooks and cleans; she does everything. She really does keep the family together. She’s just a good person.”

Being able to bond over running strengthens his family’s love for one another. With so many siblings, having this same pastime brings them closer.

“We’ve become more competitive. We’ll tease each other about running, and I’m able to see who my sisters are competitively now,” Arriaga said. “We’re more understanding of each other now.”

In the short amount of time that Arriaga has been running, a significant improvement can be seen in his times. Arriaga holds a personal record of 16:25 for running three miles and 10:52 for running two miles, a three-minute improvement from his three-mile time of 19:34 from last season. Arriaga spent two hours a day running over the summer,  practiced high interval and low intensity strength training and ate a diet of rice, beans and protein to provide enough energy to complete his conditioning and to stay healthy.

“I didn’t expect my improvement at all. I didn’t feel that fast, and I remember at one race having a time that was faster than last year. It was an improvement that made me think I could get to varsity,” Arriaga said. “And then at the first race of the year, I beat that time by two minutes. It was crazy, I didn’t know how I did it. I couldn’t get that happy feeling out of my system for like two weeks.”

Arriaga also participated in a cross country retreta in Mammoth over the summer.. At this retreat, Arriaga trained with Walnut cross country alongside schools from across California. Arriaga ran 10 to 12 miles a day and adjusted to his new environment while bonding with his teammates.

“I remember [during] one run, I was trying to see how fast I could go. It was two miles of switchbacks [ascending hills] straight up and it went back and forth,” Arriaga said. “The switch backs got steeper as you went up, and I made it about halfway up and looked down and thought I wasn’t going to make it. But then there was this one coach who said to just keep running because it was going to hurt, but you just got to go for it. It was really just effort and hard work.”

His family, coaches and teammates are all factors in Arriaga’s development as a runner. Arriaga draws inspiration from everything around him and utilizes the advice he receives.

“Running brings a sense of euphoria, where you just feel awake in that moment, like nothing can be as real as that moment,” Arriaga said. “It helps take a load off. Everything else kind of makes me anxious, like doing my math homework and having to write stuff. But when you’re running you just forget about everything else.”

By Bhalpriya Sandhu, Sports editor
Photo by Ian Lee