A free entry into a race changed the summer for local woman Katarina Marks.
Marks, originally from Pagosa Springs, was given a chance to run in an XTERRA off-road triathlon event in June in her hometown. She was no stranger to road triathlons, but this was her first off-road event. Being a longtime cross country runner at Pagosa Springs and for San Diego Christian College and Fort Lewis College, she figured she’d give the race a go.
She placed second in her age group in her first XTERRA event to qualify for the XTERRA USA Championship in Ogden, Utah. To gear up for nationals, she raced the XTERRA Tri the Torture event in New Mexico and blew away the field to place second overall in the women’s division and first in her age group (20-24). She found a way to squeeze the XTERRA events between her road triathlons she already registered for and crammed as much racing into the summer as possible.
But her success in XTERRA was so quick she suddenly found herself atop the regional standings in her age group and was crowned champion of XTERRA’s mountain region after her first two series events.
At the national championship race in Ogden, Marks again placed second in her age group and qualified for a trip to the XTERRA World Championship in Hawaii.
Marks flew around the course and finished the 1,500-meter swim, 20-mile mountain bike ride and 6.5 mile trail run in a combined 4 hours, 36 minutes, 47 seconds to place sixth in her age group and second among Americans.
“I was stoked to be in Hawaii and to be competing at the XTERRA World Championship for the first time,” Marks said in an email to The Durango Herald. “It was definitely just an honor to be there, to be surrounded with 850 of the fastest triathletes in the world.
“This was the toughest race I have ever done. It tested my mental, physical and emotional limits and pushed me way outside of my comfort zone to keep pressing on when it got extremely tough.”
Marks is an assistant coach for the Fort Lewis College women’s running programs. Running is definitely her strength, and her time of 1:02:51 in the 6.5-mile run at the world championship was the fifth fastest in her age group.
“Running is definitely my strength out of both the swim and bike due to being a former cross country runner,” Marks said. “I was a cross country (runner) for 10 years. It has definitely been challenging adding in swimming and biking.”
Marks has long loved cycling, road or mountain, and has competed in several duathlons. She said swimming has been the most difficult aspect of triathlons, and she was nervous about swimming the 1,500 meters in the ocean at the world championship, but she called that the easiest aspect of the race after cutting four minutes off her time from nationals.
She spent more time training for the bike and swim than the race this summer, following the mantra of “train your weakness to become your strength.”
“The bike course was brutal,” she said. “3,500 feet of elevation gain in 20 miles meant lots and lots of climbing. The run was intense, and I focused on trying to pass as many people as I could. One guy I passed said, ‘Boy, you sure are fast. Want to trade legs?’ During the run, I passed by two of the other girls in my age group, but I had no idea what place I was in, so I just kept trying to pass as many people as I could.”
Marks said she believes her experience in competitive races is an asset to her as a coach to the next generation of collegiate runners at Fort Lewis. Along with head coach Mark Dutro, Marks helped coach the Skyhawks cross country team to a regional appearance and regional ranking this season.
Marks competed in eight triathlons the last few months, so she plans to gear down with a few local races before completely shutting down for a few weeks. But she plans to keep running with the Skyhawks team throughout the winter to enjoy some unstructured training before gearing up for triathlon season again next April.
“Triathlons have become my passion, and I love to compete in them and hope that I can be an example and encourage the FLC teams that when you work hard and go for your passions and dreams, you can accomplish so much,” she said. “I want to help inspire and encourage the teams to be able to dream big and reach their goals, not only in running in school and life.”