sumner_usports© Copyright – 2016 – Athletics Illustrated

Queen’s University athlete Claire Sumner had her best cross-country season of her career this year. She won the 2016 U Sport Cross Country Championships Nov. 12 on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec and then two weeks later finished third at the Athletics Canada club championships in Kingston, Ontario.

U Sport was formerly known as CIS and CIAU, they went for a rebrand in 2016.

Sumner transferred from the University of Toronto, to Queens for this season and is currently training under the direction of Steve Boyd.

Sumner, formerly a hockey player, switched to running seriously during her final year of high school, following in the footsteps of her mother Kate Wiley and Aunt Alison Wiley, who were very competitive athletes in their day.

Alison finished second at the world cross country championships in 1983 and was an NCAA champion while attending Stanford University in the 3,000-metre event, while Kate owned the 3,000-metre Ontario scholastic record until this year. She attended Harvard and led the team to a fourth place finish in the NCAAs that year.

Sumner’s Personal bests

1500m – 4:27.72
3,000m – 9:54.44
3,000m Indoors – 9:45.03
5,000m Indoors – 16:53.96

Christopher Kelsall: You grew up in Calgary, yes? Which sports did you play? Did you hang out at Canada Olympic Park dreaming of competing in winter sports?

Claire Sumner: I actually grew up in Ancaster, ON (near Hamilton), so no mountain sports for me (but did move to Calgary later), other than a little bit of skiing on some Ontario slopes! My parents kind of threw us into everything when I was young. I played house league soccer, and swam. When I was about seven, I started to play hockey, which became my main sport growing up. I always did cross-country and track with my school, but hockey was always the priority until I was in Grade 10. At this point, I thought hockey was the sport I was going to be taking to a high level. I even had Olympic dreams about it at one point!

CK: Who were your hockey heroes?

CS: Being from Calgary (and my dad being a HUGE Calgary Flames fan), I would have to say Jerome Iginla, before he got traded, and then of course Sidney Crosby and Haley Wickenheiser. All the classics!

CK: Which position did you play, mostly?

CS: I played defense!

CK: When did you start running with seriousness?

CS: There is a running legacy in my family, since my mum and her sisters were high level runners back in the day, so I always loved the idea of the sport. When I was in elementary school and junior high, I always participated on the cross-country and track and field teams. I also did some road races (very casually) growing up. I always enjoyed running, at this point I think mostly because I wanted to follow in my mum’s footsteps.

Soon after we moved to Calgary when I was in Grade 8, I joined the University of Calgary Athletics Club (UCAC), coached by Mike Van Tighem. I was still playing hockey seriously at this point, so running was still not my priority. However, being a part of this club made me love the sport even more, and it became more of a real sport to me (instead of a side sport) as I got to participate in more competitions and train with a group of people who shared the same passion. After a couple years of being on UCAC, and the success I was having with running at this point, I decided I wanted to stop playing hockey, and focus solely on running. This would have been when I was in Grade 12. So long story short, I started running seriously in Grade 12.

CK: Where did finishing third at the national club cross country championships in Kingston fit into your goals versus your gold medal performance at the U Sport championships?

CS: It was more than I hoped for! I am still was soaking in my win at the U Sports championships, and I thought that this race would go completely different for me since now I would be running with all the big girls. Going in, my ideal goal was to be in the top six to qualify for the World Cross Country Championships in Uganda, and I did think I was capable of this after my success this fall. But I knew it would be very difficult with all the experienced, talented runners in the mix, so I wasn’t putting too much expectation or pressure on myself to make the team.  When I found myself in medal contention with about 3k to go in the race, I was very surprised (and excited!) Finishing with a bronze medal and a ticket to the World Championships was an incredible way to cap off the most amazing season of my life!

CK: Having home course advantage, did you get to spend much time running over the route?

CS: The Queen’s cross-country team trains up at Fort Henry usually at least once a week. That definitely gave me an advantage. I knew the 2.5K loop of that race very well. None of the ups and downs or sharp turns were unexpected. I think I’ve faced about every type of weather up there (wind, snow, rain, sun), so I was prepared for anything that day! The fort is definitely a real cross-country course-it is a grind. Being a runner who loves rolly, hilly terrain, I think this course played to my strengths.

CK: Can you take me through your U Sport Championships race?

CS: That race did not go as I thought it would go (as is usually the case in all races). I’ve definitely learned to be ready for anything at this point. I loved the course on the Plains of Abraham-it was very similar to Fort Henry in the way it was hilly and tough. It was a windy day, so the plan was to go out with the lead pack but not to take the lead for the first 2k of the race at least. The race went out fast, with my teammate taking the lead right from the beginning. I stuck with the chase pack for the first two, 2k loops, as we tried to close the gap between us and my teammate out front. I found it very helpful to have the chase group to work with, as I have always been a strong pack runner. Going into the third lap, I was feeling very strong, and I was able to pull up beside my teammate out front. The last kilometer, I was just holding steady, feeling a bit in shock to be at the front. I think the adrenaline was keeping me going at that point! The feeling of crossing the line in first felt pretty unbelievable! To cap it off, the Queen’s women cross-country team finished second, everyone running incredibly on the day. It was a day I will never forget that is for sure.

CK: Would you suggest that there is more of a team feel to U Sport nationals versus club nationals?

CS: Most definitely. Particularly, the Queen’s women’s group is very team oriented. We had an extremely strong group of girls this year and we had big team goals that we were very close to accomplishing. I would say that the U Sports adds a big team aspect to the sport. There is a lot of focus on team standings, and on which team will come out with the title. I enjoy the team aspect of it, because it adds another element of excitement. Also, running being such an individual sport, it is nice to have a team goal to work towards as a group. It motivates me more, when I know I have a team behind me working as hard as they can. Also, during the race, it is not just about you, but about the other six girls who are laying it all on the line for the team. At nationals, the focus is definitely more on your individual placing, which is great, but I do enjoy the added team aspect of U Sports.

CK: What aspect of your training do you feel has contributed to your winning season this fall?

CS: This year, I would say my training hasn’t changed much from previous years here at Queen’s. Maybe I have incorporated slightly longer off-day runs, but overall the hard workouts have been pretty similar to earlier years. I would say that the biggest difference between me this year and me last year is my confidence when racing. Last year I always felt as if I was barely hanging on to the lead pack. This year, I have felt strong enough to stick with the leaders, and not only that, but that I am able to race them. I believe that I deserve to be with the leaders, which is different from what I have thought previously. I have learned to run to win. This is definitely partly due to good fitness and having had three years of consistent training injury-free, but I honestly believe a lot of it has to do with confidence, mental strength (competitiveness) and the race experience I have gained over the past few years.

CK: Why did you transfer from Toronto to Queen’s? Was it academic, social or athletics-related?

CS: It was not athletic related. It was mainly academic and social-related. My parents also went to Queen’s, which was a contributing factor. I really enjoyed my time at U of T, and the cross-country and track and field program is incredible there. However, I came to visit Queen’s during my first year at U of T and I just felt right at home on campus. I love the atmosphere here: the university town, the school spirit. Also, I switched my major to Life Sciences from Kinesiology when I transferred to Queen’s, which I feel is a program that interests me much more in terms of what I plan to do in the future. In regards to athletics, I came to Queen’s not knowing much about the cross-country program. I have thrived on Steve’s (Boyd) training program, and I owe a huge part of my success to him. I absolutely have no regrets about switching to Queen’s, because it has provided me with a balance academically, socially and athletically, which I feel has had a hugely positive impact on my performance this fall.

CK: Are you part of the Kult (Physi-Kult)?

CS: No, I am not! Not an official member yet. I am a proud Alberta citizen, so I am loyal to my Alberta club (UCAC), but I feel very lucky to be able to train with the “Kult” and under Steve. Maybe one day!

CK: Being a life sciences student. What to you is the most interesting area of study, of the usual biology, botany, zoology, microbiology, physiology and biochemistry?

CS: I would definitely say physiology. I am hoping to study medicine one day, so physiology is right in my area of interest!

CK: Dr. Sumner? If so, have you nailed down area of practice?

CS: Ha-ha not yet! So many options; many areas interest me at this point.

CK: You have the 2017 world track and field and world cross country championships, Pan Ams and indoor and outdoor seasons coming up. There is a lot to think about. What are your goals for indoors and outdoors this year?

CS: Currently, my main focus will be preparing for the Pan Am and World Cross Country Championships in March. I will do a few races on the indoor track throughout the winter to get myself race-ready, but I won’t be focusing on indoor track this year. As for the outdoor season, I will see where my fitness takes me! World track and field championships seems very unattainable to me at the moment, but anything is possible! But as for right now, cross-country is the priority. I want to be fit and ready to perform to my best (against the best) in March!