After spending the last three years trying to hold on as long as she could in a race, Claire Sumner has made a name for herself in the running community.
Last weekend, she won her third race in a row, becoming the first women’s U Sports National Cross Country Champion on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec. She described the moment as surreal.
Four years ago, Sumner couldn’t imagine placing on the podium in cross country competitions. “My first year at U of T, I came 44 and had a lot of fun. I was happy to be there,” she said. “If someone told me then I would win in a couple of years, I would not believe them at all.”
Now in her third year at Queen’s, after transferring from U of T in her first year, the runner has succeeded in winning three consecutive individual golds, from the Queen’s Invitational, to the OUA Championship and finally the U Sports National Championship.
According to Sumner, anyone can win on any given day — it’s about who can run the course most strategically, while being able to physically and mentally push themselves.
Hosted at the Plains of Abraham, Saturday brought hopeful conditions for the Gaels as they proved no stranger to the course’s hilly terrain. The team benefitted from practicing on the similar rolling hills of Fort Henry, bringing home a silver medal in the overall competition.
Beatrice Cigagna, Shannen Murray and Lindsay Kary balanced the Gaels competitors, finishing 20th, 21st and 30th
“It was awesome to win an individual gold, but just having the team there and winning silver… that was just an awesome feeling,” Sumner said.
In the early stages of the race, Gaels’ teammate Julie-Anne Staehli led the pack. She eventually finished in 10th place, becoming the first Queen’s athlete to finish with All-Canadian status in all five years of her eligibility.
For Sumner, having Staehli keeping a strong pace helped her push for gold. “I was kind of gunning after her the whole time,” Sumner said.
The course was split up into three, two-kilometer laps. On the final time around the course, Sumner caught up with Staehli and worked alongside her to push for a Queen’s gold and silver finish. “We helped each other out a bit and then I kind of found myself in the front,” Sumner said.
Claire Sumner with her U Sports gold and silver medals.
Going into the last lap, Sumner explained she was feeling strong and had high spirits for gold — she was running to win. “It was a pretty amazing feeling seeing the finish and having the sun came out at the last kilometer.”
Until this year winning hadn’t been a regular occurrence for Sumner. Her three individual golds this year were the only podium finishes she had in her career.
“In previous races I felt like I was just holding on for as long as I can and then I would just drop off, but this time I actually felt like I could stick with them.”
After winning gold at the Queen’s Cross Country invitational, Sumner experienced a newfound sense of confidence. “I believe I can stick with the big girls,” she said.
For Sumner, Staehli also played a big role in this year’s turn around of events. “She’s been a training bud for three year’s now. She’s always been ahead of me, so I’ve always been chasing her. Never did I think I would catch up to her,” Sumner said. “Her success has definitely inspired me to do well too”.
In addition to Staehli, Sumner also credited her recent successes to her coaches and teammates. “Running is such an individual sport, it’s really nice to have a team behind you,” she said.
With three gold medals this season, Sumner proved to herself that winning was all about confidence.
“Running takes a lot of mental strength, but you have to believe that you can win.”
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