Colorado Year In Review: Record Breaking Riley Stewart

Riley Stewart reigned over Colorado's distance running scene for three years. 

In those three years she tallied a staggering eight state titles, and ran herself into the record books three times - twice individually, and once with Cherry Creek's record-breaking 4x800 squad.

To add to those already impressive stats, consider that Stewart's tally of state titles would've likely be higher had there been a 2022 track season.

Stewart entered the 2022 track season with one state record - the 1,600 - in her name, and she ended it five months later with two more - the 3,200, and the 4x800, making her Colorado's most decorated - and fastest - distance runner ever.

Excerpt from Riley Stewart Set To Cap Historic Career At State

But running a little fast has always been the theme for the Cherry Creek senior, who heads to this year's state championships as Colorado's undisputed Queen of the Distance events, AKA the Reigning Champion in three events, AKA the state record holderAKA the best ever to do it.

        "That was a little fast," Riley Stewart said between breaths.

        The Cherry Creek senior continued to walk the curve on the top of the track while coach Steve Lohman jotted down her 45-second 300 meter split. 

        Her arms swayed as she walked beneath the scoreboard that loomed high above the south end of the track. In large bold letters it read: "STUTLER BOWL" on top, and "Dedicated To Excellence" in italics below. 

        Meanwhile, just under a dozen of her teammates were sucking air behind her as they moved from a walk to jog. 

        On the day's agenda was a ladder consisting of three sets of 300-200-100 with recovery at half the distance, and a quarter jog after each set. While the workout seemed simple enough, it was designed to set the lungs on fire and get any cobwebs that may exist cleared out for this week's 2022 Colorado State Track & Field Championships.

        The goal pace was set just below each athlete's 800m personal best. For Stewart, that meant her 300m should've been right around 46-47-second range.

        She jogged around the track as her teammates caught up. They traded jokes and kept the mood light, despite their hearts humming at high levels. 

        Back on the line for the first 200m, she tore off around the top of the track. Her large, powerful stride ate up precious real estate while her blonde ponytail drifted in her wake like a sizzling fire. Within a few strides, she was running without a negotiable shadow, per the usual. 

        She backed up that fast first 300m with a comparable debut 200m: A 31-second clocking. 

        For the past three years, the Cherry Creek senior hasn't been beaten by a Colorado runner. She has dominated the scene outright since 2019. 

        As the rest of the workout played out, Stewart remained a stride ahead of the prescribed pace, capping the final set with a 46-second 300m, a 30-second 200m, and a 14-second 100m.

        But running a little fast has always been the theme for the Cherry Creek senior, who heads to this year's state championships as Colorado's undisputed Queen of the Distance events, AKA the Reigning Champion in three events, AKA the state record holderAKA the best ever to do it.

        Stewart's resume of six individual state titles, two individual state records -- three if you include the recent 4x800 -- four Gatorade Athlete of the Year awards and multiple meet records stand taller than her 5 foot, 11 inch frame. 

        And consider this: Her state title undoubtedly would be higher if you include the canceled 2020 season.

        It wouldn't be much of an argument to claim that Stewart is Colorado's best distance runner ever. And that says a lot coming from a state that produced (recent) stars like Katie Rainsberger and Brie Oakley, both of whom had their state records fall to Stewart in the past year-and-a-half.

        As the saying goes, records are meant to be broken, but perhaps it's fitting that Stewart's workout went a little fast -- there's only one way to break records, and that's to run into uncharted territories. 

        That's something Stewart is all-to familiar with.

        For the past three years, the Cherry Creek senior hasn't been beaten by a Colorado runner. She has dominated the scene outright since 2019. 


        As a freshman, Stewart finished fifth at the 2018 Colorado State Cross Country Championships and ran a Colorado personal best of 18:13 at the Dave Sanders Invitational. She qualified for Foot Locker Nationals and Nike Cross Nationals and went on to finish 21st and 37th, respectively. 

        On the track, she tripled at the Colorado State Track and Field Championships, finishing fifth in the 800m, third in the 1,600m, and third in the 3,200m. She ran Colorado PRs of 2:15, 4:56 and 10:55. 

        And then she really got going.

        Stewart won her first state title at the 2019 Colorado State Cross Country Championships as a sophomore. She ran a PR of 17:05 at the Cherry Creek Steve Lohman Invitational and later went on to qualify once again for Foot Locker National Championship and Team Cross Country Nationals, where she finished 17th and 31st.

        While COVID-19 derailed any attempt at claiming state titles on the track, Stewart only got stronger.

        And as impressive as her first two few years of high school were, she went on to defy the common theme of hitting any semblance of a plateau. 

        "A lot of runners in the past who start off really well in their freshman and sophomore year, as the pressure built on them, they start to collapse in key moments," Coach Steve Lohman explained. "Riley seems to just relish it. She looks forward to it. She loves it when there's good competition."

        True to form, Stewart defended her state title in the seven-week cross country season at the 2020 Colorado State Cross Country Championships in 17:33 and ran a PR of 17:02 at the Colorado Classic XC Meet.

        Despite Foot Locker and NXN being canceled in 2020, she went on to finish second at the XC Town USA Meet of Champions Presented by the Garrett Companies and then was third at the AAU National Cross Country Championships.

        Stewart picked up her first state titles on the track in the seven-week 2021 track season, winning the 800m, 1,600m, and 3,200m at the 2021 Colorado State Track and Field Championships.

        While by that point her career was already one that most athletes dreamed of, her 2021 campaign was when she ran herself into the conversation of "Best Ever."

        In Colorado -- at altitude, mind you -- she ran 2:08.22 in the 800m and then claimed her first state record, a 4:44.13 clocking in the 1,600m on her home track at the Stutler Twilight.

        She also ran 10:31 in the 3,200m at the Colorado State meet. A week later, she ran a 4:40.66 full mile to finish second at the invitation-only Brooks PR meet in Seattle, Washington. 

        "A lot of runners in the past who start off really well in their freshman and sophomore year, as the pressure built on them, they start to collapse in key moments. Riley seems to just relish it. She looks forward to it. She loves it when there's good competition."


        "There hasn't been a distance runner at Cherry Creek ever that's as accomplished as she is," Lohman said. "She's by far the best distance runner this school has ever seen - and we've had some really good distance runners."

        When the dust had settled on her junior year, she owned one state record and five state titles. And yet, Stewart wasn't done. In her final cross country season as a high school athlete she tore through every course she set foot on. 

        "Every time I get on the track it's an opportunity to run fast and improve myself," Stewart explained. "I'm just motivated by my teammates."

        Stewart picked up her third consecutive cross country state title at the 2021 5A Colorado State Cross Country Championships, running 17:20. Several weeks earlier, she ran a Colorado PR of 16:56 at the Pat Amato Classic.

        In 2021, as Foot Locker rebranded as the Eastbay Cross Country Championships, Stewart qualified for the third time in three tries and finished fifth.

        But her best performance to date on a cross country course came at the Garmin RunningLane Cross Country Championships in November as she ran a PR of 16:28 to finish third.

        Stewart's time was the second-fastest ever by a Colorado runner behind Katie Rainsberger's 16:23 from the 2015 Desert Twilight XC Festival.

        What's left? 

        While Stewart still has one more weekend of racing in Colorado, she's already put her stamp on the 2022 season with two more state records -- a performance of 10:06.23 in the 3,200m, and last week's 4x800 state record of 8:53.43.

        While Stewart owns state and school records in the 1,600m, 3,200m, and the 5K, the only 'distance' related school record that she hasn't claimed yet is the 800m, which is owned by state record holder Jordyn Colter, who ran 2:04.56 at the 2015 state meet. 

        In other words, Cherry Creek athletes own state records in the 800m, 1,600m, 3,200m and the 4x800.

        In the process of Stewart's very consistent and clockwork-like rise, she's brought quite a few teammates up with her. 

        "It's tough for kids sometimes to see how good they are when they're comparing themselves to Riley," Lohman explained. "But on the other hand, she sets the bar. So all the other kids see what they need to do do be good."

        Cherry Creek currently has three runners inside the top seven in the CHSA Class 5A 3,200m this season, including Shelby Balding and Addison PriceStewart, Balding, Price, and Addison Laughlin are also in the top 10 in the 1,600m. 

        Additionally they own the top two times in the classification in the 800m, with Kinsey Christianson a second behind Stewart.

        "Having these girls to train with and keep each other going is an amazing thing to have," Stewart shared. 

        While the bond Stewart shares with her own team is strong, it spreads much further than that -- while in-season she lines up on the starting line in her royal blue Cherry Creek high school singlet, she's friends with many of her competitors who wear opposing school singlets. 

        "The Colorado running community is unlike anything else," she explained. "I'm best friends with a lot of the girls I race. And I train with Bethany a lot."

        The camaraderie shared even after the race or season's ends has clearly had its affect on the Colorado running scene -- some of the best performances in history have come out of recent years.

        Stewart's presence on the track and on the course has elevated the perception of what is great, and more importantly, what is possible. 

        "I always knew when she was younger that she was talented, but then she just kept getting better and better, to the point that there wasn't anyone who could beat her anymore," Lohman shared. "Riley is just in a different class."

        Along with all of her state titles and records, another impressive feat is her record in Colorado: She hasn't lost to a Colorado runner since May 18, 2019, when she finished third in the CHSA Class 5A 1,600m in 5:00.

        You might mark that as the day Stewart's reign began.

        Fast-forward three years...

        With her state title tally now at six, she heads to this week's Colorado State Track & Field Championships with the opportunity to cap her illustrious career.

        Editor's Note: Stewart went on to claim the 1,600 and state title, bringing her final tally to eight.

        For her efforts, Riley Stewart has once again run herself into Colorado's Top Storylines of 2022.

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