Poolesville junior Nandini Satsangi rounded the final turn of the winding 5K course at the DCXC Invite on Saturday with no competitors in sight, staggering as she wobbled from side to side.
By the time she reached the finish line at Kenilworth-Parkside Recreation Center in Northeast Washington, completing the open course largely devoid of shade under a beating sun, Satsangi didn't have the strength to break the tape.
Instead, she dropped to her knees and collapsed, bringing the tape down to the track with her. She clocked 18 minutes 59 seconds to win the junior girls' race by 17 seconds.
"That was the toughest part of the race, finishing that last stretch after my legs gave out," said Satsangi, who had to be helped to the infield before being carried to the medical tent, where ice bags and cold water were heaped on top of her. "The heat just got to me there."
National Cathedral's Page Lester posted a similarly dominant victory at the meet, which divides races by grade level, as she clocked the fastest girls time of the day (17:34) in the senior race. Lester and Walter Johnson's Abbey Green found themselves in a race of their own, both finishing more than a minute faster than the rest of the field.
The two ran roughly on pace with each other until halfway through the race, when Lester started pushing to see how much Green had left and then gradually pulled away.
"Because it was so hot, I tried to start out slow," said Lester, who said she feels fresh after not competing — though still training — in her usual triathlon circuit over the summer due to an injury she suffered during outdoor track. Despite feeling physically fresh, the heat caught up with her, too. "For the last three-quarters of a mile I was just hanging on, trying not to die."
Green crossed second in 17:54 and helped lead Walter Johnson to the overall girls' team title. On the boys' side, Grafton's Price Owens won the senior race in 15:11 as the school from Yorktown, Va. ran away with the overall boys' competition.
In his first season running cross-country, O'Connell junior Max Greczyn finds himself in a period of trial and error with his race strategy. He chalked up last weekend's race at Oatlands Invitational to error.
"I was leading for almost the first mile, and then I finished 47th," Greczyn deadpanned.
He found a happy medium in the junior boys' race, cruising around sixth place until the final half-mile, at which point he let loose and kicked away from the field to win in 15:48. Adrenaline still pumping, Greczyn looked up and screamed as he entered the winner's circle.
"That was months' worth of training just let out in a yell," he explained.
Gonzaga's Gavin McElhennon won the sophomore boys' race in 16:24, while Marshall's Sophie Tedesco won the sophomore girls' race in 19:37. Leonardtown's Nelle Ray (19:58) won among freshmen girls and Grafton's Dylan Raney (17:39) among boys.
But as spectators filled every square inch of shade and runners shoveled ice onto their faces and necks after finishing the race, it was Satsangi who best captured the essence of the meet when asked whether she was smiling or grimacing while being carried off the infield grass.
"Both," she said.