Track Files: Irene Riggs, Unbeaten NXN National Champion

by Steve Underwood

2022 NXN Championship photos courtesy of

The fastest runner doesn’t always win the prize.  An overwhelming favorite in a race doesn’t always come through when it counts the most.  A lot can happen, mentally or physically, between establishing your pre-championship credentials then actually getting the job done on the biggest stage and with the most pressure.

But for Irene Riggs, the Nike Cross Nationals Girls Championship last Saturday unfolded pretty much like every other race she has run this fall (and for most of her career).  She worked steadily, but quickly to the front of the pack, extended her lead, and then maintained it through another historically fast effort.  It looked in many ways like a business-as-usual effort – even though there was nothing so mundane about it.  Her final time was 16:40.9, #2 in NXN and course history behind only the 16:37 of 3-time champ Katelyn Tuohy.

“I figured it was best to go out with the strategy I have been using all year, which is to go out hard from the gun,” says Riggs. “I race best when I go out hard, rather than trying to conserve a ton. I was a little surprised that I ran much of the race alone, and it did give me some anxiety at certain parts of the race, that I was too ambitious. The wind and cold was definitely challenging, but at the end of the day, everyone on the line had to deal with it.”

Riggs had already taken down another Tuohy record in qualifying for NXN in a performance people will be talking about for years to come. When she crossed the line at NXR Southeast the previous week, the clock showed 16:02.1 – numbers that had everyone in the sport blinking their eyes to make sure they saw the clock or read the time correctly.  16:02?  Really???  Yes, really, the Morgantown, W.V. senior had really, truly crushed Tuohy’s 16:22.8 course record on the venerable WakeMed XC Course in Cary, N.C. – running what has been acknowledged as the 2nd-fastest 5k time in U.S. prep cross-country history.

Riggs admits she was a “little surprised” as she was striding to the finish and saw the time.  It was 30 seconds faster than she had ever run on any course.  However, she says, “I think it happened at the right time and provided me with some confidence going into NXN. All athletes struggle with confidence, but I think a great race can help boost your view of your fitness. The time itself was really exciting and honestly highlighted how much I’ve progressed from freshman year, when I ran 17:55 on that course, and even from junior year when I ran 17:17 there.”

In an interview with, Riggs revealed she had she missed three weeks of the early-season this fall after a car driven by the mother of a friend accidentally rolled over her foot one day after practice. Fortunately, she did not suffer any broken bones or significant damage. She was treated at a hospital and fitted for a special boot, and was able to cross-train until she could resume running.

Meanwhile, Morgantown’s team under coach Mike Ryan had an outstanding season all the way through, winning another West Virginia AAA state title and establishing itself as a key contender to make it out of the Southeast to NXN. At WakeMed, they placed 3rd with 164 points, just 38 markers away from a ticket to Portland.

“Of course we were disappointed when we did not make it to NXN as a team,” said Riggs. “The girls have worked so hard this season, and it was one of our end goals. With that said, I think this year, regardless of how our qualifications went, we represented West Virginia well. They all improved so much and it showed.”

Riggs said she had a fantastic weekend in Portland during her first trip to NXN and that she take home much more than just memories of the race itself. “My favorite part was meeting new friends and spending time with old ones. The running community is so amazing and so vast. When you go to races like this you get to meet people with the same mindset and intentions.  It’s something really unique and special.”

This or That?

AF1 or Air Max?   AF1

Chipotle or Sweet Greens?   Sweet greens

Pool or Beach?   Beach

Friday Night: In and Chill ... or Party Time!!   In and chill

Date: Dinner & Movie or Great Outdoors?   Great outdoors, but also with dinner.

Sports car or Pick-up truck?   Sports car


Gold medal or World record?   Gold medal



Favorite Song?   Silvertongue by Young the Giant

Favorite Book?   Never Let Me Go

Favorite Movie?   I’m more of a TV show person. I love Modern Family and Survivor.

Favorite Dinner?   Soup and salad

Favorite Animal?   Koala bear

Favorite Place?   San Clemente



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