When Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School senior Peter Burke made the final turn at the Vineyard Invitational cross country meet on Saturday, there were 10 runners in front of him.

They were all behind him when he crossed the finish line.

“I made my move at the baseball field,” Burke said after the race. “I was really surprised I won.”

The event marked Burke's first invitational win, and his time of 16:24 was a personal best by 10 seconds. His teammates drenched him in hugs as well as sweat.

The Manuel Correllus State Forest was filled with cross country runners on Saturday. — Jeanna Shepard

“It was a great race,” Burke said.

Over 600 runners and 17 teams participated in the annual event on Saturday, with some schools traveling from as far away as Worcester and Barrington, R.I. Throughout the day, Vineyard’s athletic fields were packed with tents, hammocks and huddles as racers prepared for the challenging 5K course that looped through the Manuel Correllus State Forest.

“It’s technically called a lollipop,” said Donald Brown, an indoor track coach who helps with the cross country team. “The first mile is the same as last mile, with a circle at the top.”

With rolling hills, sandy terrain, and a lack of shade in the meadows, the course proved challenging for the runners. And because the first mile is slightly downhill, that means, by its nature, that the last is slightly uphill.

Freshman Adrienne Christy finished 7th overall, with a time of 20:12. — Jeanna Shepard

“It’s a soul-crusher,” Mr. Brown said.

But the course wasn’t a problem for the Vineyard runners, who were familiar with its quirks and had been preparing for the race with practice jogs all summer. They’ve worked on surges and tempo runs at the course’s most difficult points, and have explored other parts of the state forest as well, running for as long as 10 lonely miles in anticipation of race-day.

“You are it,” coach Joe Schroeder said before the races began. “Let’s represent today and have some fun.”

The Vineyard’s varsity girls team was led by the Christy sisters—Adrienne and Eloise—freshmen twins. Adrienne finished 7th overall with a blistering time of 20:12. Her sister Eloise was close behind, finishing at 20:58.

Emma Sullivan of Shepherd Hill won the girls event, leading the field with a time of 18:56. The Vineyard girls came in 5th overall.

“The last mile was really tough,” Adrienne said after the race. “But I know the course really well, which helped.”

Despite palpable nervous energy on the boys side before the race began, the Vineyard team had a great showing, with all five runners finishing in the top-40 and the team taking 3rd place overall. But the real excitement came when, 16 minutes into the race, the first thing visible in the final clearing was Peter Burke’s purple pinnie flapping in the wind. He didn’t falter as the finish line approached, holding off Shepherd Hill runner Henry Weiland by six seconds to take the top prize.

Freshmen Eloise Christy was close behind her sister with a time of 20:58. — Jeanna Shepard

Burke came out of the gate hot, but ran two splits at approximately 5:30 before coming into the race’s final mile with at least a dozen runners ahead of him. It was then that he decided to shift gears, bulleting through the tough uphill section of the course with a nearly five minute flat split.

“He kept the leaders in sight and made his move,” said assistant coach Chris Porterfield. “That’s what you have to do. Running is a brutal sport. But it’s freedom and a gift to be able to be out there.”

Before the race began, Coach Schroeder gathered his runners in a circle in front of the starting line and gave them a little pep talk. When asked what he told the runners, Coach Schroeder laughed and gave a simple answer.

“Run fast,” he said.

On Saturday, they listened.