On Saturday, April 7, Canada’s best varsity cross-country runners battled the heat and tackled challenging terrain in St. Gallen, Switzerland at the World University (FISU) cross-country championship. Both men’s and women’s teams posted strong results over the 10K race.

Claire Sumner, the 2017 Canadian cross-country champion, placed 8th overall, and led the women’s team to a 5th place finish. Kristina Popadich of Western University was not far behind in 13th place.

Sumner had planned to mix it up with her international competitors from the gun. “My main goals were to put myself in a good position at the start and to hold a consistent pace throughout the race,” she says. “I think I was able to do that well! I got myself into the big lead pack from the beginning, and gradually picked people off throughout the race to have a strong finish.”

Sumner’s great showing is all the more impressive considering she and her teammates were made acquainted with an unfamiliar type of course. “Canadian cross country courses tend to have rolling hills, making them seem not too difficult until you are actually in the race. In Europe, however, they like to add obstacles to make the courses difficult. Here in Switzerland, we had to hop 24 logs, climb steep hills and also do several more laps of the course than I’m used to in Canada.”

Claire Sumner. Photo: Brant Stachel

The men’s team, led by Russell Pennock’s 25th place finish, was eighth overall. Pennock, a fourth year runner with the Calgary Dinos, is coming off a fifth place finish in the 3,000m at the U Sports track and field championship. Despite his strong showing on the track, Pennock stresses that he prioritized strength over speed all winter in preparation for the 10K. “I did not train any faster than 1500m pace, and properly tapered for the 3000m in Windsor (at U Sports),” says Pennock. “Following that race, I spent a bit over a week just easy running to build up a bit of mileage again. After that easy week I hopped right back into cross country workouts, leaving me with about six or seven cross specific training sessions leading into FISU.” Though it was Pennock’s first appearance at an international running event, he has previously represented Canada as a triathlete.

Russell Pennock. Photo: Brant Stachel

Team Canada’s head coach, Brant Stachel, a coach with the Queen’s University cross-country teams, is proud of the way the athletes performed.

“We had a nice mix of veteran Team Canada athletes and first-time national team members,” says Stachel. “It created a fun dynamic within the team, and the athletes grew close and supported each other on race day. The course was tough; the runners ran six times around a lap slightly longer than 1,500m with four logs to clear per lap. Claire and Russell led the teams and had great days, and Kristina Popadich of Western also had a huge run.”

“While we are in the middle of indoor track season here in Canada” continues Stachel, “some teams from European countries are just finishing up their cross-country season, and are better conditioned for this type of race. Additionally, some teams are already acclimatized to the warm weather. It was 22 C on race day, and our athletes were not used to this heat, having just trained through a long winter. Despite these challenges, our team had a strong showing – I am proud of how the athletes competed.”

Following the race, it was announced that Morocco was selected to host the next edition of the World University (FISU) cross-country championship in 2020.

Women’s race – Team Canada’s placing 

Claire Sumner – Queen’s – 8th

Kristina Popadich – Western – 13th

Stefanie Smith – Windsor – 24th

Aurélie Dubé-Lavoie – Laval – 35th

Danielle Jossinet – Guelph – 45th

Men’s race – Team Canada’s placing

Russell Pennock – Calgary – 25th

Sergio Raez-Villanueva – McMaster – 38th

Mark Patton – Guelph – 41st

Andrew Nebel – Windsor – 46th

Ben Carson – Western – 50th

Angus Rawling – St. FX – 52nd

Take a look at the complete results here.

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