Born in Sonora, Mexico, Carlos Villarreal moved with his family to the US at seven years old. A passionate and competitive runner, Carlos is known for his furious finishing kick on the racetrack. He is the eighth Mexican in history to run under the four-minute mile and holds the national Mexican U23 record in the 1500 m, achieving gold at the 2019 Pan American Games.
Why running and how did you get started? I started running as a form of staying in shape for basketball. I grew up playing soccer on the streets of Mexico with my cousins but when I came to the US, soccer wasn’t a big sport here, so it was hard to find a team to play for that was close by. Instead, I picked up a basketball and played until I was 16. I tried out for the track team as a way of getting in shape for summer basketball, but my track coach quickly noticed that I had the potential to be a great runner. He convinced me to come try out for cross country my junior year and it became apparent that running was my true calling. I quit the basketball team to focus on track and I ended up winning 8 state titles in two years. This earned me a scholarship to run for Arizona, and yeah, that’s how I got started.
On days where you might not feel like training, what inspires you to get out there?
“If you’re not training, someone else is. Come the day you two toe the line, that person is going to beat you.”
That’s what I tell myself. This has been my motivation for when training gets tough. But my competitive nature is what really drives me to train, even when getting up at five may not be my favorite time to wake up.
Can you tell us about a race that taught you a few lessons in this sport? As a middle-distance runner, I always found that the cross-country races put me in check. Those were the races where I had to really dig deep to get over the hill while there was still 3k to go. The race that really taught me a good lesson was the 2018 Wisconsin Pre-Nationals. I remember toeing the line dreading the fact that it was 8k and I was not even supposed to come in the top 50. The gun went off and I found myself in the front pack. I stayed there the entire race and finally there was 2k left and in my head, I thought “I really am throwing down with the top guys in their own race.” I ended up placing 10th in that race, which was a surprise to everyone, especially myself. That race taught me to never count myself out regardless of the challenge.
Do you have a special pre-race ritual? I always need some carbs the night before. Whether it be in pizza, pasta or bread, I need my carbs.
Is nutrition a big focus for you? And, what would you say is your go-to meal after a tough run? Absolutely. As my coach used to say, “You have to fuel the Ferrari.” A big part of training is not just what you do with your legs but also how you fuel them. After a tough session, I love to have a good grilled chicken sandwich with avocado. That’s my absolute favorite.
What are your top tips for a speedy recovery after training? I would say sleep is key. If you can take a nap, then do so. If not, then stretch, roll out, do whatever you need to do immediately after a training session. Then, I would stay off my feet. This would be a great time to lay down and watch that one movie your friends have been telling you about.
Who is your “team”? My team is my family, friends and coaches that cheer me on whether I have good or bad race. They’re the people in my corner that I can always rely on. I truly love my team.
What was the best piece of running advice you ever received? Go out there and enjoy every second of it. A lot of times when getting ready to toe the line, people get caught up being too nervous to really enjoy the moment. For me, my best races have always been the ones where I enjoy every second of it.
Apart from running, what are your passions? I am a huge sports fan. I follow every major sport and back every single one of my teams 110%. The Phoenix Suns, Arizona Cardinals, Arizona Diamondbacks and my Arizona Wildcats are where it’s at. I am also a huge soccer fan, so I am a big Borussia Dortmund and Mexican national team fan. I’m also fascinated by languages, so currently I am trying to learn German. I’ve been taking German since high school and hope to one day be fluent.
If you could have dinner with any three people (dead or alive) who would they be? Kobe Bryant, Lionel Messi and Mark Hamill.
Who is your role model? My grandma in Mexico. She is one of the strongest people I know.
Finally, why On? I chose On because I wanted to be a part of a family. On’s ambition to learn and grow is something that I really loved about this brand. Every athlete has something to contribute and that goes a long way. As far as running goes, On is starting something truly special on the track and I am really excited and honored to be a part of it.