Each week, The Washington Post will chronicle the race experience of an area cross-country runner. National Cathedral School junior Nina Eichacker placed seventh in the Mid-Atlantic Private School Invitational Sunday at Georgetown Prep with a time of 21 minutes 18 seconds, helping lead the Northwest private school to its fifth consecutive first-place finish. The hilly, 3.1-mile course was the site of the Georgetown Prep Classic on Oct. 16th, in which Eichacker placed 12th (21:17). Her race, as told to Post correspondent Aruna Jain:

"During the very start, we were called back because someone had fallen down within the first 150 yards. Things started off more quickly the second time. We were more eager to get the race over with.

"I thought I had gone out a little bit faster than usual -- I felt it later on in the race [and] it didn't feel like it was a good race by the end. When I found out I came in seventh it was really kind of stunning.

"A little more than halfway through the race, I really began to feel tired and I had a big stomach cramp. I'd eaten five hours before so it could have been hunger cramps. While running all I could think was, `Oh I don't think I ate the right breakfast ... maybe I ate too far in advance ... maybe I didn't.' Psychological things happen and you start second-guessing every choice you've made during the day ... `Did I drink enough water? Did I drink too much water?' That's the darkest part of the race when all you can think of is how long you've been running and how much farther you have to go, and you wish that it could be over. It's the mid-part where the end isn't in sight at all and you've started the second loop [of the course].

"Inside my head, the only thing I could think of was I have to pull around [Georgetown Prep's] campus one more time; I don't think I can make it. You end up going over hills ... where people don't come out and cheer -- it's more remote. I was worried because this was at the second loop from the halfway point and I was wondering why I had started quickly. I was thinking, `This is kind of hopeless ... and what would happen if I just pulled out of the race?' Then I felt like, `No you can't do that -- you can't let the team down that way, just keep going, just keep going.'

"To keep myself motivated, I saw myself saying `I can' in spanish -- `yo puedo.' It's an inspirational thing I find myself repeating ... a line from a song, a random coupling of words or a mathematical equation going over and over again. Just doing that made me able to finish the race. It gives you something to think about, rather than thinking about how much it hurts. Before the finish line I remember people cheering for the girls behind me and I remember thinking, `I can't let those girls behind me pass me.'

"People say you shouldn't care about what other people are thinking about; your hardest competitor is yourself. But all I was thinking was `I don't want anyone else to pass me.'

"At the same time, before the finish line, there were people who I knew cheering `Nina! Nina!' and I knew I couldn't let these people down. That was a huge motivation.

"Everyone from NCS is really just kind of shocked at beating Good Counsel, because we've always considered them as a pinnacle that couldn't be reached. At the end when we found out that we came in first, we couldn't believe we had won.