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Getting to know Claire Sumner

Claire Sumner stole the show at the Canadian Cross-Country Championships. Who is this dark horse? We had a long chat with her to find out

Photo: Tim Huebsch

If there’s one thing that shook out of the Canadian Cross-Country Championships, it’s that spotting Claire Sumner at a start line anywhere in the country is something to get really excited about.

The athlete brought her A-game to the course last weekend and shocked even herself when she broke the tape for a first place finish. Sumner, a Kingston, Ont. transplant who hails from Calgary, won the 10K in 34:48.9 beating household names like Natasha Wodak and Rachel Cliff in the process. It was a heck of a run for Sumner who proved just how scrappy she can be out on the cross-country course. 

RELATED: The winners and losers of the 2017 Canadian Cross-Country Championships

Like many, we’re excited to see what else this runner has is store. But before we jump to her next races, we got a chance to chat at length with this star earlier this week. Sumner has a love for cross-country, comes from a family of runners (her sister runs for Princeton) and she enjoys outdoor activities and spending time in the Rockies when back in western Canada. As it turns out, she is also just as articulate and well-spoken as she is fast. Here’s some of what she had to say about her race, her running background and her inspirations: 

On her win

“I went into that race hoping for top six. I’m still really excited, I think it’s going to take me a week to wind down, it’s still sinking in,” she said a mere days after her win. Sumner is a strong runner, yes. Would most have pegged her to be the winner of the cross-country championships? Not exactly. And that includes Sumner herself. “I didn’t think it was impossible but I thought it was very unlikely,” she said. 

Photo: Tim Huebsch

On running with top Canadian elites

Most runners can relate to the feeling of anxiously sizing up competitors in the moments before the start. The country’s best runners do that as well. We asked this up-and-comer how she felt lining up with Olympians and top-level Canadian athletes and not surprisingly, she admitted to feeling the jitters. “It was last year when I realized I could run with them,” she said. “That was a bigger shock. It’s intimidating to see them – they’re my role models. I try not to get too caught up in the names. They’re nervous too. Everyone’s scared of each other.” 

Photo: Tim Huebsch

On realizing she could win it

This performance was one that Sumner almost couldn’t believe as it was unfolding.”I was waiting for them to take over. I was still at the front and I felt great. I had a moment where I was like maybe I could win this,” she says. After that registered, she went for it. She adds that when the moment that sinks in during a race, believing in the best possible outcome goes a long way towards getting the job done. 

On her love for cross-country

There are several different types of racing (track, road racing, cross-country, etc.). Everyone finds the style of running that plays to their strengths. There’s no question that for Sumner, the muddy cross-country course is where it’s at. When asked about why she loves cross-country, she talks quite excitedly calling it “a pure form of running.” She elaborates saying: “I love the grind of cross-country. You have to be adaptable and flexible and ready for it all. It’s a bit chaotic.” 

Photo courtesy of Claire Sumner

On her move to Queen’s University

One crazy fact that we didn’t previously know about Sumner: she wasn’t even planing on pursuing the sport a few years ago. This Queen’s athlete originally studied at the University of Toronto. After dealing with injuries and setbacks though, she was ready to throw in the towel. She transferred to Queen’s and changed her mind. “I wasn’t going to run actually. I kind of wasn’t as into the sport. I came to Queen’s wanting the college experience,” she told us. Well… we’re glad she had a change of heart. 

On her inspiration: her mother

Sumner’s mother is Kate Wiley who has run her own share of championship races. In fact, in 1984, she ran the Canadian marathon championships in Ottawa. That served as the Olympic trials to decide who was going to represent Canada in the first Olympic women’s marathon. She placed fourth. “My mom is the inspiration for this sport. She was a cross-country runner and then moved up to the marathon,” says Sumner.

Photo courtesy of Claire Sumner

On future goals

When a dark horse goes on to steal the show, many wonder what’s next. We asked Sumner that exact question.”I just want to keep improving. The bar keeps getting raised. I definitely want to improve my track times and get competitive on the track,” she said.

Photo: Tim Huebsch

On sticking with it through the tough periods

Sumner dealt with injury in high school and university. Then, she also went through the discouraged time period that, likely, most runners can relate to. Now, she’s crushing it. Her advice to runners in a rut? “Think if you really want to do it. If you do, be persistent. Results will come if you put in the work.” Oh, and make it fun! If it isn’t, Sumner points out, it’s more likely that runners will become disinterested.