Each week, The Washington Post will chronicle the race experience of an area cross-country runner. Mount Vernon's Christina Burleson, who did not qualify for the Virginia AAA championships last year, has developed into one of the area's top runners this season. She finished third at the Bull Run Invitational earlier this month and Saturday placed second behind Lake Braddock's Erin Swain (18:26.90 to 18:45.80) at the Octoberfest Invitational at Great Meadow in The Plains. Her race, as told to Post correspondent Bryan Tucker:

Burleson was the lone runner for the Alexandria school in the A race on the 3.1-mile course, which also will be used for the Virginia AAA cross-country championships Nov. 13.

"I was really nervous because I remember my sophomore year at States was freezing cold and my body did not react too well to the cold. It was a mental game in the beginning and I had to get over that to do well.

"I did 10 more minutes of a warm-up than I usually do. I did a 20-minute warm-up to make sure I was warm when I got to the line.

"I knew I wanted to be top five going out in the race, and from there I wanted to stay there. I knew Erin [Swain] was there but I did not know if [George Mason's] Colleen Winzeler was there so I just tried to stay in the top three.

"I did not hear my first mile time and I did not think it was too fast. I thought it was just right, even though it was really cold. I did not feel tired ... I felt pretty good.

"I was battling between second and third, we were back and forth with [Hampshire's Susan Davis]. I actually thought it was a really good second mile. They read my time off and it was 11:52 or a little bit above that. If I maintained a six-minute mile, I would have gotten under 18 [minutes]. A [six-minute mile] would have given me hope to finish under 18.

"I could see [Davis], but I didn't think I could ever catch her. I was just trying to get as close as I could.

"Up the last hill I was struggling a little bit, but once I saw the straightaway, I knew I had to give it all I had and I was definitely dead at the end of the race."

Burleson finished second, eight seconds ahead of Davis (18:53.80).

"I was really happy because at the beginning of this year I was a minute behind [Swain] at Burke Lake and that was one of my goals, to keep breaking down the time between her and I. I was really excited to be only 19 seconds behind her time."