Sumner impresses on world stage at FISU Championships

Gaels graduate finishes eighth at final university race in Switzerland

Brant Stachel and Claire Sumner at FISU.
Supplied by Claire Sumner

Over the past five years, Claire Sumner has gone stride for stride with Canada’s best runners—all while becoming one of the best female cross country runners at the collegiate level. 

In April, the Queen’s PHE ’55 Alumnae award winner continued to impress, this time on the world stage representing team Canada at the FISU World University Cross Country Championships. In her final university-level race, Sumner finished eighth in a field of 64 athletes.

“I did go in confident … I was happy with the finish,” Sumner said in a phone interview with The Journal.

The race, which was hosted near the Swiss Alps in St. Gallen on Apr. 7, welcomed 24 countries and over 120 athletes from both men’s and women’s fields. Sumner was selected due to her performance at the 2017-18 U Sports Championships, where she placed second. 

Her teammate Branna MacDougall, who finished third in the same race, was invited but chose to not attend the competition.

Sumner had a familiar face helping her from the sidelines, as Queen’s cross country assistant coach Brant Stachel assumed the role of Team Canada’s head coach.

The 10 kilometre race, which required seven laps around the course, was starkly foreign to Sumner and her teammates. With each lap requiring runners to crawl up a small but steep hill and leap over four separate logs, Sumner was unsure of what to expect going into the race.

“We were a little nervous beforehand but we practiced the day before and felt more confident,” Sumner said, recalling the uneven ground being another source of concern for her. 

“I didn’t actually twist my ankle, but you always felt like you might slightly roll them. There were little dips so you just had to watch your step.”

The race also presented an air of unfamiliarity for Sumner, who had not competed with many of the runners before—something that is less of a problem in smaller-scale provincial and national races.

“When you’re in U Sports or OUA you know where to go, so in these ones it’s difficult because you don’t know where you should start or if you’re going too fast,” Sumner said on international races. “You just have to trust your fitness and go by feel.”

In spite of this, Sumner was aware that a number of  national teams would be absent. Unsure of her expectations, Stachel told Sumner to try to stick with the leading pack of runners.

“When I got there and realized what teams were missing, [Stachel] did tell me to aim for top ten,” Sumner said. 

On race-day, any fears Sumner seemed to have fell away. After  falling slightly behind the lead pack in the early stages of the race, she climbed her way back to the eighth spot, where she would remain for the final few kilometres of the race.

“I felt pretty strong and it was nice to be able to pick people off throughout the race. I think I stayed pretty consistent throughout the race,” Sumner said, fondly recalling the course’s terrain. “It was a good little steeplechase experience.”

With her university running career firmly behind her, Sumner is currently awaiting a response from the University of Alberta for medical school; however, Sumner plans on staying in Kingston for the upcoming fall term.

“I’d be happy to stay here for a bit longer,” Sumner said, mentioning the possibility of assisting in Kingston’s local junior running programs. After five years of travelling across the country and abroad while completing an undergrad in life science, Sumner said she feels time off would be optimal.

“It’d be a nice break,” she said.

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