Chris Winter and Kelly Wiebe

Chris Winter, after finishing fourth, third and second in the past three years topped the podium at last weekend’s national cross-country championship for the first time. His fiancé, Rachel Cliff, finished second in the women’s race. The two live together in Vancouver and will be married next fall.

We asked Winter some question about his first ever national senior title and what his hectic year ahead looks like.

Canadian Running: What did it mean to win at home in the last year of the four-year cycle the race was held in Vancouver?

After finishing fourth, third and second at the Canadian cross-country championships over the past three years, getting the win in the final year at Jericho Beach, in front of so many friends and family, was very special. It was my first senior national title ever and likely the biggest win of my career to date.

CR: A lot of post-collegiate athletes only race cross-country sporadically, but you seem to be a regular at nationals. What makes you come back and race each year?

I’ve always been a cross-country runner all my life. I love it. After a long track season, spending so much time on the rubber oval, I love the change of scenery. I love getting on the trails and racing some longer distances. You get away from the precision of splits, PBs, and qualifying standards and just race. It’s awesome! I also feel like, over the last four years, I have really progressed as a cross-country runner. It’s been fun to see the improvement.

CR: You recently got engaged to Rachel Cliff. Congrats! Is it hectic getting ready for your own races and trying to watch her compete in hers?

Thanks! We are very excited!

It can be stressful, for sure. Like this past weekend, she was racing while I was trying to warm up for my own race. I was trying to stay calm and relaxed but I also just wanted to sprint all over the course to cheer her on. That said, it’s also great that we have each other for support. No matter whether it’s been a good day or a bad day we know how it feels and what the other person is going through and we are always there for each other.

Chris Winter and Rachel Cliff
Photo: Melia Sorenson

CR: Are you planning to race the Pan Am cross-country and world cross-country championships? Is Rachel also planning to?

Unfortunately not. If you ask anyone close to me they will tell how hard this decision was for me. I take competing for Canada very seriously and I know these opportunities don’t come along very often and that they should not be taken for granted. However, I have some very big goals for this spring and with world cross-country champs so late in the year (March 28) it would have been too tough to try and do both.

That said, I think cross-country is a fantastic sport and wish all the best to the team Canada sends. Those trips are such great experiences.

Canadian Running: What does the ideal 2015 track schedule look like for you? Does both the Pan Am Games and worlds fit into it, if you qualify for both? The Pan Am team is potentially tougher to make than the worlds team.

2015 could potentially be a very busy year with both the Pan Am Games in July and the world championships in August (plus a wedding in September!). However, the men’s steeplechase is the deepest it has ever been in Canadian history and, with only two qualifying spots for Pan Ams and three for world’s, they are going to be very challenging teams to make, which is going to make for an exciting national championships in Edmonton!

Rachel is still in university, so she is still eligible for FISU [World University Games] this summer so she has even one more national team to juggle and qualify for. It’s going to be an exciting year!

Canadian Running: How do the two of you balance the next year, between the wedding, training and potentially busy international competition?

Don’t forget jobs and school on top of all that as well! To be honest, we are both very fortunate to have such great families around us who will really help to support us as much as possible. I know they will help to make the process as easy and enjoyable as possible. We are also looking to do as much of the big prep for the wedding ahead of time, in the winter, so that come Spring and Summer we can really focus in on our training and racing.

Canadian Running: You were designing the engagement ring in Glasgow. How was that while getting ready for your race?

Well, any guy will tell you the whole proposal thing is a tad bit stressful. I’m not a real artsy guy but I knew I wanted to design something unique and very “Rachel,” so I worked with a fantastic goldsmith here in Vancouver who really drove the process and helped me to land on the perfect design. I was in Glasgow when I first saw a picture of the finished ring and that was a pretty special moment.

This interview has been edited for style and clarity.

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