Sumner wins gold in provincial cross country Championship

Gaels’ women’s team finishes second despite individual gold and bronze finishes

Claire Sumner (right) won the Queen’s Invitational (picture) in October and the OUA Championship last weekend.
Claire Sumner (right) won the Queen’s Invitational (picture) in October and the OUA Championship last weekend.
Supplied by Robin Kasem

The 2016 regular season has been one to remember for Gaels’ cross country runners Claire Sumner and Julie-Anne Staehli. 

Last weekend, the pair led their team to a silver medal at the OUA Championships, with Sumner taking home an individual gold medal for her first place finish and Staehli an individual bronze. The Guelph women’s team claimed their 13th consecutive OUA gold while the Western men’s team ended Guelph’s 11 year tenure as reigning champion.

The Gaels’ men’s team finished the day in fifth, with their top runner, Eric Wynands, finishing in 10th individually.

The women’s victory comes fresh off the heels of the Queen’s Invitational Tournament two weeks ago, where Sumner and Staehli place first and second, respectively, in the first women’s eight-kilometre run in Canadian interuniversity history. 

“[The Queen’s Invitational] really made me realize how good I actually felt in the race situation. So, going into the OUA’s I was confident, but there’s so much competition,” Sumner said. “[Winning gold] was a shock still, but during the race I was feeling good.”   

Sumner finished the tight six-kilometer OUA Championship race with a time of 20:16.7, with U of T’s Lucia Stafford crossing the finish line a mere 0.4 seconds behind her. But, during the race, Sumner says she didn’t realize how close it really was. 

At the beginning of the race, Sumner joined the large front pack, which she says tends to help her performance during the race. 

“I do really well when I’m in a pack running,” Sumner said. “It gives me more energy and I feel more relaxed.”  

For the majority of the race, Sumner kept with the pack. When it came to the final kilometre, the group spread out, with Sumner taking the lead. This is something she finds can be both a blessing and a curse. 

“It’s hard to be at the front, because you don’t know where everyone else is, but it also helps because it makes you run faster.” 

In the final few moments, Sumner was in the lead and could hear the crowd’s cheers for the runners behind her. “You get nervous and excited, because you can easily go from being in first to being in eighth in these huge groups.”  

While the race was tight throughout, Sumner felt confident in the final few seconds that she would walk away with a gold. “I knew that I had it with less than 100 metres to go. I’m not used to winning so it was pretty surreal,” she said.  

Along with Sumner and Staehli’s top finishes, their three other teammates placed 17th, 18th and 19th, helping to solidify the team’s overall second-place win. Sumner says the depth of this season’s team was an important deciding factor in the team’s silver medal.  

One of the biggest shifts she’s seen in her racing has been in how relaxed she is during the race. 

“When I was younger, I used to get worked up about it, but the more experience I’ve gotten, I’ve realized the more relaxed I am, the better it goes and the more fun I’m having,” Sumner said. 

The next competition on Sumner’s horizon is the CIS Championship in Quebec City, hosted by Laval. Traditionally, the gold medalist of the OUA Championship is favored to win at CIS. This favorable position is motivating for Sumner, but she’s trying not to let it get to her.

“Running, I find, is 50 per cent mental and 50 per cent fitness,” she said. “The more confident you are, and the more competitive you are, the better you’ll do, that’s how it works for me.”

Sumner expects that teams from the West will bring stiff competition and she’ll be prepared for a tough race. “It doesn’t mean I’m going to win just because I won one race,” Sumner said. 

“I’m just going to try to keep the pressure off, but still run to win.”

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