Track and Field: Changco, Gutierrez going the distance

San Benito High runners Juan Gutierrez, left, and Elijah Changco are aiming for a great finish to their track careers.

Elijah Changco knew things would be interesting the first time he met fellow teammate Juan Gutierrez in the summer before their freshman year at San Benito High. Gutierrez showed up for a workout on the cross-country team with a cast on his arm, a result of a haphazard accident trying to dunk a basketball.
“I asked him how he broke his arm and just laughed,” Changco said. “From there I knew this kid was going to be a good one, and it was going to be an adventure.”
And what a odyssey it’s been. Now in the twilight of their prep careers, the two seniors are on pace to have their best season ever on the track. Changco and Gutierrez are more accomplished in cross country, as they’ve led the Haybalers to multiple Monterey Bay League championships.
Changco won an individual league title last season, and both runners have done well at the CCS Championships. However, Changco and Gutierrez aren’t too shabby on the track, either, and this season they’re banking on a breakout season on the oval.
Gutierrez is coming off a sizzling performance in the Los Gatos Top 8 Classic, posting huge 8-second personal-records (PRs) in both the 1600 and 3200-meter events. Against most of the top runners in the CCS, Gutierrez ran the 1600 in 4 minutes, 19.64 seconds and the 3200 in 9:36.39.
Gutierrez’s mile time is the third best in the section, and his two-mile time is the 10th fastest (Changco has the 11th fastest time at 9:37.11). Gutierrez also has the 13th best time in the 800. Gutierrez recently had a huge breakthrough in the 800, clocking a 1:58.90 in a dual meet against Alisal on April 20.
Gutierrez was so pumped with his performance that he looked toward the scoreboard before crossing the finish line.
“After I crossed the finish line, I screamed and shouted,” he said. “Right when I saw 1:58, I was thrilled at the time.”
With good reason. Gutierrez had only run the 800 twice previously this season, with times of 2:18.60 and 2:04.95, respectively. Changco was equally excited for his best friend’s performance, imitating Gutierrez’s actions at the finish line in front of a reporter. Changco and Gutierrez also competed in the prestigious Arcadia Invitational on April 8-9.
Both athletes ran together on San Benito’s distance medley relay team, and Changco also competed in the mile and 2-mile run. Changco said being at Arcadia was a memorable experience.
“It’s amazing we got to race there,” he said. “In past years, we didn’t have qualifying marks to get there, so we knew we had to take advantage of the opportunity.”
Changco wants to go sub-4:20 in the 1600 and the low 9:20s in the 3200. Gutierrez has the same goal in the 3200, and if he can repeat his time in the 1600 from the Top 8 Classic at any of the big meets ahead—including the MBL and CCS Championships—he’ll likely be in contention to win those races.
In addition, if Gutierrez can shave seconds off his 800 PR time, he’ll be in contention for a podium finish. Gutierrez plans on going to San Jose State as a recruited walk-on. He would redshirt his freshman year to get his times down before competing the following season. Changco has two offers so far from NAIA schools, but he’s keeping his options open.
Whatever happens, the best friends have literally run thousands of miles together ever since they met as freshmen. With the season winding down, Changco and Gutierrez have already had moments when they’ve reflected on their time together.
When Changco ran the anchor leg of the 4×400 relay in a dual meet against North Salinas on April 14, he couldn’t help but get emotional.
“I teared up a little bit thinking about Juan and a lot of other friends I have on the team,” he said. “Just knowing how we only have a couple of races left. It was my first and last home meet of the season, so it was an emotional day.”
Gutierrez has also thought about the day when he’ll no longer be running with his high school teammates.
“Once high school is over, everyone will be splitting up and going their own ways,” he said. “It’s kind of sad because it’s the end of one part of your life. But Juan and I will stay in touch because we’ve been through a lot together.”

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